Young boxers set their sights on 2020 Olympics

November 2015

The first students to enrol with the UCB Boxing Academy have declared themselves fighting fit – and dreaming of Olympic glory.

The Academy, the only one of its type in the West Midlands, gives top young sportsmen and sportswomen aged 16 to 18 the opportunity to combine their athletic endeavours with vocational training.

Once they are assessed by GB Boxing as having elite potential, the students join the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) programme. Fitness, training and boxing takes place alongside studies for a BTEC Level 3 Sport Performance and Excellence Diploma and an NVQ Diploma in Achieving Excellence in Sports Performance.

We caught up with two of UCB’s rising stars, Carl Fail and Molly Perkins, during a sparring session at the Pat Benson Boxing Academy in Digbeth.

Height-wise, there may be more than a foot between them – at 6ft 3in, Carl towers over Molly, who is 5ft 2in. But the 18-year-olds share the same burning desire to make the grade and represent their country at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Molly Perkins

Molly, of Warwick, fell in love with contact sports when she started kickboxing as a five-year-old. She admits she wasn’t great at team sports – “I would lose my temper” she says – and took up kickboxing on the recommendation of her father, Rick.

“I was tiny. I was a real dot,” recalls Molly, who won the English championship when she was eight.

Molly took up traditional boxing as a nine-year-old as a way of developing her punching skills, but she enjoyed it so much she stuck with the sport and gave kickboxing the boot.

She says: “I fell in love with boxing, I didn’t want to do anything else. I got bored with kickboxing. I didn’t want to kick any more – I wanted to hit people. It sounds really weird, does it?”

Molly says her friends think she is mad. “They say, ‘Why do you like being punched in the face?’ And I don’t like blood. I am a proper girly girl.”

She wears pink nail varnish and pink hand wraps underneath her boxing gloves. “I am in a man’s sport but I don’t have to be a boy,” she adds.

Molly had to wait until she was 11, and weighing just 29kg (about 4 ½ stone), for her first full contact fight. She lost that bout and a few others as she made the transition from kickboxing to boxing. “I had Bambi footwork when I started. That frustrated me quite a lot,” she adds.

It proved to be a minor blip and Molly has gone on to compete at national finals. She won the Amateur Boxing Association of England junior female title at 16 in 2013 and followed it with the youth title in February this year. She also went to the European Championships in Hungary.

Molly, a light flyweight, relishes the prospect of competing at senior elite level in 2016. She then hopes to make the grade for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast and finally the 2020 Olympics.

Until then, there is plenty of training, including two sessions a week in Digbeth; strength and conditioning work at UCB’s gym; training at her club gym, Far Cotton, in Northampton; and regular runs of between three to five miles.

Then there is the study. “It takes a lot of determination,” says Molly. 

Carl Fail

A skirmish at school made Carl see the error of his ways.

His family had always loved boxing and believed Carl would benefit from the discipline the sport instils, especially after he got involved in a fight with another pupil. The 12-year-old started sparring and training and soon discovered he liked everything about competing.

Carl, a light welterweight/welterweight, says: “The discipline and the hard work defines me. It separates the strong from the weak. You need a lot of dedication and you have to make sacrifices.”

He has lost count of the times he has turned down invitations to birthdays, parties and nights out with his mates: “At 18, everyone is going out but I have to train and have early nights to stay in shape.”

Carl won a youth national title and gold at the tri-nations this year. He represented England in the Brandenburg Cup in Germany, fighting five times in four days and winning silver, and is set to compete in the European youth championship in Poland later this month.

Carl says: “I would like to do as well as I can as an amateur. I want to get on the GB team and go to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“My dream is to go pro and win a world title. I will go pro no matter what happens. When I was a kid, my dream was to go pro. I didn’t ever think of boxing for England and look what I am doing now.

“I have got a chance of getting on the British team and going to the Olympics. It is thinking big, but I don’t plan to do anything else.”

Carl is a big fan of the UCB Boxing Academy and says it is important for young boxers to get a good vocational qualification.

He says: “If you are a boxer you can be doing well but if you break your arm that is your career over. This course gives you a back-up plan in sport.”

  • UCB boxing Academy is planning an open day at The Maltings sports hall in Bath Row, Birmingham on January 23. For more information, please email Ivan Cobb, head coach and assessor: