Billy Hussein: Team work makes the dream work

By Anthony Cocks

Billy Hussein is not one to rest on his laurels.

The promoter, trainer, matchmaker and owner of BodypunchBoxing Gym in Lakemba in Sydney’s inner west is preparing seven boxers from his stable of 20 to feature on this Friday night’s inaugural MJA Platinum co-promotion ‘Inception’ at the Emporium in Bankstown.

But the busiest man in boxing wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve got good team, I don’t do it all on my own,” Hussein said. “Obviously Mike Altamura has always been a big help from day one. As you know, Mike’s always been there and we’ve always done things together behind the scenes. But myself, my brothers Hussy, Maz and Skinny, the four of us train the boys and run the events with a few close friends. Obviously John from JNI Promotions is a massive help all the time. He helps with the promoting part of things.”

Inception will feature the return of talented super featherweight Paul ‘Showtime’ Fleming, welterweight entertainer ‘Gelignite’ Jack Brubaker and featherweight contender Luke ‘Action’ Jackson, supported by an eight-fight undercard stacked with talent including Lauryn Eagle, Youssef Dib, Bobby Antonakos, Dylan Emery, Ben Sila, Alex Hanan, Humzak Khalid and Shawn Kader.

Hussein says that the key to preparing so many fighters simultaneously is everyone understanding their responsibilities.

 “In regards to training the boys, it’s pretty easy,” said Hussein.“ Most of them are pretty professional and know what they’re doing, making my job a lot easier. Everything is rehearsed, they know exactly what we have to do in the dressing room. I don’t need to tell them or teach them, they know it already. They know how to warm up, when to warm up and get ready, things like that. 

“They’ve got responsibilities too. They’ve got to know when to stretch and warm up and I teach them responsibility. You can’t just rely on your trainer to do everything for you, to put your boots on for you and everything, they’ve got to do it for themselves.”

Hussein cut his teeth as an assistant trainer to Hall of Fame boxer Jeff Fenech during the heyday of Team Fenech 15 years ago. His brothers Nedal ‘Skinny’ Hussein and Hussein ‘Hussy’ Hussein were both leading contenders in the lighter weight classes who challenged for world titles abroad in the 2000s, with Skinny famously dropping Manny Pacquiao in a closely-contested super bantamweight bout that he would eventually lose by cut-eye stoppage in the 10th. This wealth of big-fight experience that informs Hussein’s training methods and fight strategy, making him one of the most sought-after coaches in boxing.

The veteran coach has worked with a who’s who of Australian boxing including world champions Vic Darchinyan, Billy Dib and Sakio Bika, but with so many boxers at different stages of their careers preparing simultaneously for fights on Inception you could be forgiven for thinking it was a juggling act. 

“No, that’s the easiest part for me now,” Hussein said. “I know what I want to do with each and every one of them now. They’re all individuals, they’re all different, but what I do every day is perfect the fundamentals and basics. Because I believe if you perfect the fundamentals and basics it will take you a long, long way. 

“Even if you lose your speed and you’re not as powerful as you used to be, if you’ve got great fundamentals and great foundations from the start it will take you a long, long way. Hence why Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, Andre Ward were able to fight for a long, long time because their foundations, their fundamentals were perfect from day one. 

“If you build a house perfect from scratch, it’s going to last 200, 300 years. If you build a shonky house from the start, if you start from the second level and leave the first level half done, the house is going to break in a year or two. And in boxing, I start from scratch.”

It takes more to be a successful coach than simply slinging a towel over your shoulder and barking instructions from the corner. Hussein is a big advocate for understanding his fighters’ individual psychology and communicating with them accordingly.

“Everyone is different. Some of them are very sensitive and you’ve got to take the time to get to know them before you talk to them,” Hussein said. 

“It’s my job to get to know them before I put them in the ring. That’s why I don’t take a lot of kids on and get them straight into fights. I get to know them first. That’s my job, that’s my responsibility. To get to know the kid in the gym, outside the gym, before he walks into the venue and all that stuff. 

“You’ve got to get that understanding with them and everyone’s different. Like you said, you’ve got to speak to them in their own language. Some kids can handle criticism, some can’t. Some can handle you being strict and vocal;you’ve got to deliver things differently. I train female fighters and you’ve got to communicate differently with them again. Look, it’s challenging at times, but we get the job done and we’ve got that mutual respect anyway, no matter what level the fighter is at.

“Each and every one of these kids that’s on that card is an individual to me. They train together, but they’re working on different things. They’ve got different strategies, different styles. So I’ve got to do my best as a trainer to adjust to each and every one of them, communicate with each of them differently. I’ve got a job and a responsibility too.”

The fighter-trainer relationship can be a strained one, particularly in light of a loss. But Hussein has the unique ability to build positive, longstanding relationships with his fighters that extend far beyond being a mentor in the gym.

Nowhere is this more evident than with featherweight contender Luke Jackson, who will be looking to get back in the winner’s column at Inception this Friday night after suffering his first career loss to interim WBO champion Carl Frampton in Belfast last August.

“I had a whole month off after the fight and ate everything under the sun and put on a lot of weight,” said Jackson 16-1 (7). “But I sort of knew when I was overseas I wanted to fight again, that it wasn’t going to be the last time I was in the ring.So I was on holiday and I messaged Billy Hussein, my coach, and asked him what he thought about it, if he thought it was okay if I went round again. 

“Because if Billy says no, then it’s over in my eyes. I wouldn’t train with anyone else. I know he has my best interests at heart and if he says ‘No Luke, it’s time to hang them up’, then I’m going to listen to him.”

Hussein is confident that Jackson still has a lot more to offer the sport.

“Luke did say ‘Coach, if you say retire, I’ll retire, but I’d love to have another fight’,” Hussein said of their discussion.

“The good thing about it is we haven’t taken a lot of punishment. Even in the Frampton fight, we didn’t take a lot of punishment. He got caught a couple of times here and there, but not to the extent that people often do in world title fights where they get damaged. That’s why we stopped the fight when we did, because he could’ve taken a lot of damage and it could’ve affect him in the long-term.  

“When we spoke he was very respectful. He said ‘If you say to me don’t, then I won’t’. I spoke to his promoter Adam Wilcock and his manager Mike Altamura and the three of us decided to give him another crack at it and see where he goes from here.”  

Undefeated featherweight Paul Fleming 25-0 (17) returns to action on Friday night after a year on the sidelines. The 30-year-old father-of-four is looking to get some momentum going ahead of a planned world title tilt in 2019.

“Flemo has just got to put in the hard work and then put in two to three good, solid back-to-back performances, which he has done in the past,” said Hussein. “He fought a couple of tough Mexicans and fought some Filipinos and they’re tough, they’re a good gauge. The champion we’re gunning for is Masayuki Ito, the Japanese, and I really believe Paul can do something against him. 

“But it all comes down to Friday night. He’s got to perform.He has had a year out of the ring but he’s looking okay in the gym you know. At times he looks dynamite, at times he looks flat, but I know he’ll rise on the night. Hopefully he gets the victory, if God’s willing, and then we’ll sit down with him, me and Mike and MTK and Top Rank and hopefully come up with a strategy for the first quarter of the new year.”

Hussein regards Fleming as a genuine threat to the current world champions – all they need is the opportunity.

 “I’m not afraid of putting him in with any of the champions,” Hussein said. “Tevin Farmer or Ito, any of these guys. I don’t like the Gervonta Davis fight, I don’t like that fight at all, but every other fighter I’m happy to put him in with... He’s not 21, 22, he’s 30-years-old now. He’s got to go for it now, otherwise it’s too late.”

Inception will showcase some of the best up-and-coming talent in Sydney and Hussein says there are a few fighters to keep an eye on. 

“I’ve got a young kid, Alex Hanan, who’s fighting on the card who I’m very excited about,” said Hussein. “And this could be Lauryn Eagle’s last fight before we put on a world title fight for her, a legitimate world title. Hopefully in April, I’m trying to build a massive show in Sydney. I’m trying to bring out the IBF world champion for her, so we’re looking to get her a decent victory as well. Things are looking good – I mean they always have been looking good – but we’re just trying to put on a big show for her. 

“Youssef Dib is my little protégé… Youssef is just one of those guys who’s like a little brother, you just want to see them do everything properly and look after them properly. He was scheduled to fight Blake Minto but he fought Mark Ramirez [on the Jeff Horn versus Anthony Mundine card],that was his first fight in almost a year because he had a bad elbow. 

“Alex Hanan is a good kid to look out for, the Kiwi, he could be something in the future. He’s only a baby right now, 20-years-old. He’s got nice credentials. It’s still very, very early but he’s got nice credentials and he’s got a good manager in Kevin Gibson, so he’s definitely one to look out for.”

MJA Platinum’s inaugural ‘Inception’ card at the Emporium in Bankstown, Sydney takes place on Friday 21 December. Doors open at 6:30pm, first fight at 7:00pm sharp. Tickets available by calling 0414 302 754.