Anthony Crolla v Jorge Linares: Joe Gallagher on tears, 16-hour days and a lost marriage
|World title fight: Jorge Linares v Anthony Crolla|
|Venue: Manchester Arena Date: Saturday, 25 March Fight: 22:00 GMT approx|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 live and follow text updates on the BBC Sport website & app.|
A fighter wins. As his trainer hoists him, those watching see a picture of glory. They do not see the tears.
They do not see the marriage lost to the sport, the deaths of father-figure mentors, the voluntary work, the 16-hour days and decades of relentless commitment.
Trainer Joe Gallagher's deep love for his sport and fighters is undeniable. But it becomes clear the success of Gallagher's Gym is built on an all-consuming desire to prove people wrong. The mantra is clear in this Bolton-based sweatbox: Us versus the doubters.
Days before Anthony Crolla bids to regain his WBA lightweight crown from Jorge Linares, BBC Sport sits in on his last big workout. The gym is once again on the world stage, the way Gallagher dreamed it, through years of toil.
'Barbados' and a siege mentality
Gallagher has his laptop on a makeshift desk next to the ring. He has four YouTube tabs open as he runs the rule over video footage of opponents.
Former world-title challenger Pat Barrett arrives with nephew Zelfa, who will spar with Crolla. "Joe, your gym is like Barbados," he says. The heat generated from an industrial-sized blower is searing, a ploy to ready fighters for conditions under show lights on fight night.
The detail has delivered world titles to the gym through Crolla, Liam Smith and Scott Quigg - now trained by Freddie Roach in the USA. A dozen British titles have passed through Gallagher's Gym, along with three European belts.
Gallagher - the first Britain-born coach to win Ring Magazine's Trainer of the Year award in 2015 - is careful in who he allows to train here. Egos or the work-shy could upset what he calls a "solid unit" of 11 fighters under him.
"I am a sucker for people telling me about a fighter and saying, 'he can't do anything,'" says Gallagher. "I have to have an affinity with them to bring someone in.
"When Anthony came to me, people said: 'He won't do anything. He's too nice, can't punch. He might win an English title.' I thought: Really? I'll show you."
Gallagher admires Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and those accustomed to creating a siege mentality. He believes his love of such a stance stems from his roots on the colossal council estate in Wythenshawe, south Manchester.
He takes me to his stats board, almost hidden on walls carpeted in fight posters and next to highlighted rankings which show his fighters alongside the world's best.
On the whiteboard, every result of his pro-coaching career from 2001 is listed. There have been 272 fights, 25 defeats and 43 titles won.
We revisit the battle mantra. "When people are putting me down or having a go, I look at that and think: 'That's not bad is it?'" says Gallagher, 48. "I like that mentality - everyone hates us, I don't care. When people say my fighters are finished, I just think: 'We'll see.'"
'The ex-wife thought I was off my head'
Crolla enters, bouncing, shadow boxing, loosening up. Inside the Gloves Community Centre - where this gym is based - the handful of people present stare as the 30-year-old stretches. But there's a warning during his sparring session.
"Be smart with your feet, Anthony," Gallagher bellows. "Don't admire your work, whatever you do. Linares can land it back."
The sweat runs from under Crolla's head guard. He trains late to replicate his expected fight time. Gallagher is in his 14th hour of the day in the gym as he fits in the individual sessions needed for fighters peaking at different times.
This is a man who made his own fight debut as a 5st 12lbs 11-year-old, who later ploughed eight years into amateur coaching before guiding pros, and who risked missing the birth of the first of his two children in 1997 so as not to leave a young fighter on his own for a boys' club final.
Through such commitment, something must give? Indeed, the road to sold-out Manchester Arena bouts claimed a marriage.
"There's boxing for you," he says. "I missed so many kids events and parents' evenings by taking people sparring. I didn't blame my ex-wife. I was besotted with boxing.
"When I got two European champions, I thought: I'm packing work in. I had a good job, healthcare and pension. The ex-wife thought I was off my head and called it a hobby."
Gallagher, now with another partner, says his children get "plenty of daddy time" and, through a deep laugh, adds: "I am trying harder to switch off. It's just so hard to get away from boxing. It's not a job, it's a lifestyle."
'You're a bad, bad man'
Sparring ends. Crolla's shirt and hair are stuck to him, his shoulders lifting and dropping with each deep breath.
"Do a bag, Anthony," says Gallagher. "Three rounds." Crolla grunts and mumbles respectfully: "You're a bad man. A bad, bad man."
Gallagher knows his demands are hard but having started out laying roadside kerbs alongside his dad on Sir Matt Busby Way, he knows this life is a dream.
Those in the gym - such as undefeated fighter and ex-Manchester City footballer Marcus Morrison - tell me they draw confidence from the fact Gallagher is hooked on the sport. Some believe he is "obsessed" but attention to detail adds gravitas to his fight strategies.
"Some trainers in the past have had wins and gone out for a month," says an animated Gallagher. "I can't, I'm not like that. Plus, the moment belongs to the fighter.
"When Callum Smith won the European title on a Saturday, I phoned Anthony the next day and said: 'You need to be in the gym.' He said: 'What for? I'm not due in.' I said: 'Now you are, you're in.' It was just to show him that I've not forgotten him."
'Crolla's caught me crying'
Rarely does Gallagher stop to enjoy the moment. He was hurt by losing three world titles in 2016 - Crolla against Linares, Liam Smith's loss to Canelo Alvarez and Scott Quigg's defeat by Carl Frampton.
Some in the stable, such as Hosea Burton, 28, have worked under Gallagher since the age of 11, so when defeat arrives, the emotional trauma stings more than placing a dreaded 'L' on the stat board.
With Crolla sitting two feet away, Gallagher looks to the ground and shrugs: "Crolla's caught me crying in the changing rooms. That's how it is. You take it personally.
"You want the best for them and when you know they've put everything in, you just think: 'Why not? This kid deserves this.'
"Last year, the hardest loss came last. Hosea Burton lost with a minute of a fight to go.
"Afterwards, I was wrapping Callum Smith's hands and Hosea comes over crying his eyes out saying 'sorry' to me. I couldn't stop and hug him as we had to go to the ring. When I got back to the changing room, he'd been taken to hospital. My head was all over the place.
"You get down, a bit depressed. But eventually you have to just take the losses the way you take the wins. I'm now 'foot to the pedal' with all of them. There are more rewards for the fighters in this gym."
'Prove it again'
Crolla has pummelled the bag, yelping with each heavy shot. He's sent for two rounds on the speed bag before ending his session with chin-ups, stretching and abdominal work.
"When I won the Ring Magazine trainer award, I used to ring him and say: 'How did we do this? How have I won this? And how are you a world champion?'
"I want to prove what we've done wasn't a fluke. I want to win that training award again.
"I want my stable to all retire happy and all of them to have a house. I don't want them to be a slave to a mortgage. That's a success story.
"I've insisted that this current crop of fighters, when it's over for them, it's over for me. People say: 'You are kidding yourself.'"
I tell him that I think he is. He laughs.
Crolla prepares to depart, shaking hands with everyone in the room, as every other fighter has, before leaving.
There's a warmth to this title factory and it seems key to all that it is.
Gallagher will be last out, having been first in.
Bout 273 draws closer, and perhaps world title number four.