Having been announced as the new Sky Academy Sports Scholarships spokesperson, Johnny Nelson spoke to us about his own boxing career and the culture shock of moving into the working world.
We spoke to Nelson about his new role for Sports Scholarships in the first part of his interview and attention now turns to the highs and lows of his own boxing career and moving into the media after retiring.
With regards to your boxing, Johnny, you've said you had some problems early on in your career and without Brendan Ingle you would never have achieved what you did in the sport. How exactly did Brendan help you turn things around so dramatically and become world champion?
By getting me focused, giving me self-confidence, self-belief and that's what he did. He made me grow up and accept responsibility. If you're training or you've got a coach - you're on the track, you're on the field, you're in the ring - your coach will only be with you so many hours of the day. So when you leave the coach, he's got to trust you to do the right thing - eat the right food, get the right rest and not to put yourself in the situation where you might injure yourself or over train.
Therefore, what your coach has got to do is, they've got to give you self-worth, make you understand how important it is for you to look out for yourself and how important it is for you to take responsibility for yourself. So if things don't turn out, that's your fault. If things do turn out, expect it. It doesn't mean you're a big head, it doesn't mean you think you're better than everybody else. It means you know you've put the work in so expect the results. That's what a coach is there for and that's what Brendan did for me and that's what I want to do for these guys.
So was there one moment that made you realise that you needed to change things and make you focus, that gave you the belief that you could reach the very top? Or was it a more gradual process?
It was a gradual thing. Brendan persevered with me. It's a very thin line, once you cross the line you realise the line is very, very thin between success and failure. Now I had experienced failure and Brendan knew how thin that line was but I just couldn't see over the line so that's why he persisted. Once I passed over the line I thought 'my god, was it that simple?' That's all I had to do, that little bit of a push.
With me I think when I boxed for the world title against Carl Thompson, to me it was my last chance in my head, to me I'd been through any experience any fighter could go through, every fighter could go through. I'd been all over the world, I'd won, I'd lost, I'd drawn, I'd been ripped off, I'd let myself down, I'd let people down. Any aspect of boxing, I'd been through it.
So when it came to the night of fighting for the world title and Brendan's talking to me there was no other excuses for why I shouldn't do it because I'd been through every situation. So all of a sudden I thought to myself 'so why shouldn't you win?' You train in the gym with Herol 'Bomber' Graham, 'Prince' Naseem Hamed, some outstanding fighters. You do exactly the same, if not more than these guys. You've sparred with the best in the world and played with them so it was fun. You've been employed to help them get ready for fights so why shouldn't you? So all of a sudden the realisation of 'well, yeah.' It was that simple.
I can remember driving down the street with Brendan and in the papers I wasn't expected to win, I said to Brendan 'I don't understand how they think he's going to win.' All of a sudden I couldn't see the negative I could only see the positive, whereas before I could only see the negative. I could see Brendan have a wry smile on his face as if to say the penny's just dropped. I was blind to the negative; I could only see the positive.
He knows it's not front because I'm very honest with him and I said, 'I don't see what they see.' He said 'that's all you need to see, Johnny. You don't need to see what they're seeing. They just can't see what you're seeing; now you're on the other side.' And that was that thin line. I remember we were just coming back from the sauna, we'd had a chat and people at the sauna were saying, 'you know it's a hard fight, Johnny' so I can remember driving back.
Mental is everything. If I'm 80% fit and only 20% mentally strong, somebody that's only 20% fit but 80% mentally strong will beat me. So if you're mentally strong, you can pull it round. That's why Brendan persisted with talking to me, reciting the history of other fighters. His main saying was 'same story, different actors.' That was Brendan's saying. He kept referring it to parts of history. People in history, sportsmen in history - it didn't just have to be boxing. So for these guys, I'm trying to say to them look, same story, different actors. So it's exactly the same situation, it's just different individuals.
With that in mind, was that the high point of your career, the fight with Carl Thompson? And conversely what was the lowest moment for you?
That was the high point. It wasn't even the actual fight, it was the realisation. So when I got into the ring I expected to win. I didn't expect anything else. I even predicted the round. All of a sudden I was that confident that people mistook it for arrogance. From being this shy no confidence kid, I'm an arrogant kid because all of a sudden the penny had dropped.
The lowest point was when I first boxed for the world title, I was only 22, I was a boy in a man's body, so physically I looked the part but mentally I was a child. It would be like put a school leaver behind the wheel of a car, a flash Porsche, and saying 'if you can drive this down the road without crashing it, you can have it.' Then all of a sudden I can't drive. So the lowest point was that. But actually, I wouldn't change it for the world because it made me the person I am today, it made me see different sides of life.
I boxed for the world title against Carlos De Leon, 1990, and I had a load of good-time friends and I was very popular and then when I lost then I saw two sides of the game. People were being very negative, cool, nasty and that's why with the scholars I've got to prepare them for all of that. It doesn't mean you have to go someone's face and say 'ha ha, I told you so.' It just means I want them to be humble enough and to be strong to accept compliments but not take them to heart. Accept criticism but don't take it to heart.
I used to read magazines that said Johnny Nelson put in an outstanding performance blah, blah, blah. They'd tell me how the fight went and I'd think 'no, that's not how it went' but that's what they wrote. So if you start to buy into the publicity all of a sudden when the publicity changes on you and it becomes negative, you are starting to buy into the negatives. So if they tell you you're rubbish you're going to believe that you're rubbish. If they tell you that you're useless or you're chinny or you're weak, you've got no stamina, you start to believe that you're weak ,you've got no stamina, you're chinny.
It's important to get these scholars to understand that it's very nice to have the fame, the fortune's even better, but you've got to understand, keep it real. Don't believe in the hype, believe in fact. Only you know and your coach knows what fact is and as long as you believe that no matter what is happening around you you'll always be successful.
Of course, now you're working for Sky Sports on Ringside. Was the media always something that interested you and that you wanted to be involved in or was it did it just come about by chance?
I knew when I boxed it wasn't what I wanted to do. I didn't think that was all my life consisted of, I thought that it was just a stepping stone in my life. I didn't know where I'd end up. The media side of it, it's a new challenge, a completely new challenge. It's not like fighting where if you're in a sticky situation you can punch your way out. This is a completely new game.
I've got to learn how to deal with pressure, mental pressure, because now I'm being assessed on my personality, it's one thing I can't change for a thousand people because if I make him happy, I'm going to annoy him. I've got to be myself and therefore you've got to be confident in yourself. This takes time. I've not had years of training. I don't know the corporate world, I know the sports world. So I'm a school leaver all over again but it's still another challenge and because of the sportsman in me I like a challenge.
It's just now you've got to be mentally fit more than physically fit. I understand that at first there are blips, I understand that at first it's not easy, I understand that at first it knocks your confidence but I also understand that if you keep putting the work in eventually the penny will drop and you'll cross that thin line because I'm my own example of it. I know that's it's right there, I just need to step over it. Once that penny's dropped, I'm thinking 'I like this.' My experiences through sport are to help others youngsters coming through. It's a pyramid of life but there are always youngsters coming through who will have to do the same.
A couple of the scholars have mentioned that moving into the media after they retire is something that appeals to them. Is that an area you think you could give them advice on?
Of course, I've got to try and help them translate the individual that they are, the individual that has got them to this point in their life, to translate that individual across on screen.
In the past you've spoken about missing the camaraderie of the gym since retiring. Does working on Ringside and be around the crew and the guests help to fill that void to some extent?
It does, just remember, these scholars have never had a proper job. So they don't understand work ethic, they don't understand having to go to work every day. They don't understand that. They know sport and that was the same for me. I was in an environment where people were working every day. I'd never been to a work's Christmas do! I had to adjust and it's nice and you know what it's like at work.
You have people that are supporting you, people that want your job - that's how it is but you've got to learn to get on with everybody. But if you're alright with people then you'll get on. The one thing that people I'm working with can't have are the experiences that I've had. So the scholars have got to realise that they have experiences that nobody else can replace. So when it comes to doing their media work they'll always be alright. What they have is something very, very special. They will come across people that will know the history of their sport inside out, better than they do but they don't know the sport and that's the difference.
When you have boxers on the show, in particular those who are still fighting, how do you find the balance between asking the difficult technical questions for example, that people will want you to ask, and not wanting to be overly-critical of them?
I put myself in their situation, their position, because I was exactly like they were. I understand the make-up of their attitude, I understand what's insulting and what isn't insulting. I understand what's being critical and not negative so I understand how to ask the question.
I know when I was a sportsman and I had a reporter asking me questions, if I didn't think he had any knowledge of the game I didn't respect him. Therefore, I'd just tell him whatever I wanted to. If I came across another ex-sportsman that was doing a job I had more respect for him so I knew I could talk in-depth because I knew he got it. That's why it makes it easy to relate to the sportspeople.