Jordan Gill is the next big featherweight to watch out for. A month ago, the 26-year-old, nicknamed ‘The Thrill’ beat Cesar Juarez of Mexico to win the WBA International Featherweight title. WBA, boxing’s oldest sanctioning body, ranks Gill as the fifth-best featherweight in the world.
In his corner stands Dave Coldwell: a successful British trainer, manager and promoter who has worked with popular boxers such as Tony Bellew, Dereck Chisora and Jamie and Gavin McDonnell. Together, the pair making waves in UK boxing is also flying the flag for their Indian heritage.
“It’s exciting times. We are pushing on toward some top fighters in the world, towards a world title shot, and the Indian support is a really big thing for me,” Gill (26-1) tells The Indian Express over phone from Coldwell’s gym in Rotherham. “I have a lot of Indian fans. Sikhs and Gujaratis and everybody else get in touch with me and wish me well.”
Gill’s grandfather came to England from Ludhiana in 1965 in search of a better life. His father was born in Cambridgeshire.
“I’m a third-generation (Englishman) but feel I’m still flying the flag and represent my Indian heritage to some extent,” Gill says.
Coldwell was born in then-Calcutta in 1975 to an English father and a mother from Shillong. The family moved to Ecclesfield, Sheffield when he was 18 months old. Growing up an Indian kid in a predominantly White region was a nightmare.
“It wasn’t like it is now. Everywhere you go in Great Britain, it’s multicultural now. We were the only Indian family in the village,” recalls the 46-year-old Coldwell.
“Going to the park every night, I had to pass a house and every time I’d get stones thrown at me. ‘Paki, black bastard, go home’ and all sorts of names. I once got thrown into a stream at the local park.”
School was equally rough for Coldwell, who says it “didn’t help that I was small” (5’4-1/2).
“I was in a metalwork class when the kids locked me in a metal cupboard. They started pushing paper towels in at the feet. I’m in this little corner. I’ve got paper towels being thrown at my feet, and the next minute, the paper towels are on fire. So, I’ve got fire on my feet. I broke the door of the cupboard down and remember thinking ‘okay, this is it’. That pushed me into boxing.”
Coldwell’s fighting career was less than stellar — “do we have to talk about my boxing days?” he laughs — but it wasn’t for the lack of skill but being told constantly that he was no good.
“My problem was that I was very good in the gym. But growing up, I was always told that I wasn’t any good at anything. I’ll never do anything. Constantly being told you are never going to do anything, constantly made fun of or belittled. As an amateur, I’d be walking to the ring thinking, ‘what you’re doing this for, you’re getting battered’. You can’t go into a fight and expect to win with that mentality.”
Paired to perfection
As a trainer, Coldwell famously led Tony Bellew to the WBC cruiserweight title from 2016 to 2017. Bellew twice knocked out contemporary boxing legend and former WBA heavyweight champion David Haye and challenged for the undisputed cruiserweight championship in his final fight.
“I’ve worked with a lot of good fighters. Like Carl Froch, David Haye, George Groves… but right now, skill for skill and ability-wise, Jordan’s definitely the best fighter I’ve ever worked with,” says Coldwell.
But what drew him towards Gill?
“I’d heard about Jordan in the gym talks. This kid – but he was bubbling away forever. I remember he was supposed to be fighting at an event. He sat there in the changing room, gloved up all night. They’d swapped his opponent with somebody else and he didn’t end up fighting at all,” says Coldwell. “I remember the devastation on his face. A few months later, we had a chat and he told me how his career just wasn’t moving and nobody had any confidence in him. I genuinely felt sorry and saw a bit of me in him. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Gill sheds light on Coldwell’s contribution to his growth.
“There were a lot of hard times and sleepless nights,” Gill remembers. “I had left home at 17, turned pro on my 18th birthday and had my debut seven days later. And time after time, I was getting meaningless spots. It wasn’t happening for me. So, for me to now be in big fights, and to have a trainer or manager that wants the best for me, is really pleasing.”
Looking back, looking ahead
Always the popular, strong kid at school, Gill realises “I’m lucky that I am the next generation” and grew up in a different time which wasn’t as bad as Coldwell’s.
“At the same time, I did know what was different when I was going to school and that I had to protect myself and be different from everybody else,” he says. “It wasn’t that I was bullied or harassed. I went to the gym because I always had too much energy and the teachers wanted me to burn some of it.”
An English mother and Sikh father who grew up in Cambridgeshire meant the household language was English. Gill’s Punjabi vocabulary thus is limited to “tussi cha peeni (will you have tea)?” and “haan ji, yes ji.” The food, however, is a different story.
“Growing up, I loved Indian food because we didn’t have a lot of money and Indian food was easier to prepare. Now, of course, I have to watch the diet but after my last fight I had some lamb saag, paneer and aloo gobhi.”
Coldwell’s love for red hot chillies has mellowed with age, but the desire to revisit his birthplace has only grown stronger.
“I would like to go back to Calcutta and see where I was from. We lived in Paul Mansions and I’ve googled the place. My mom was from Khasi Hills in Shillong and she’s given away the farms to other people in the family. Revisiting the place is always a possibility.”
But for now, both Coldwell and Gill are looking ahead. The trainer wants a position for his ward on the undercard to the massive heavyweight unification fight between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, being targeted for June or July.
“If that happens, I’ll be over the moon. But if not, there’s going to be other big fights for me,” says Gill, who has fought twice during the pandemic and was on Sky Sports’ first domestic card live last August.
“Dave’s done a great job and gave me some big fights. I appreciate staying active during the pandemic but it would be better with the crowd. For example, after a wonderful fight last time, it was a weird situation where we didn’t know where to look, or raise my hand as there was no crowd to celebrate,” Gill laughs. “But I’m sure next time we fight, there will be a crowd and I can do three fights’ worth celebrating.”