Boxing is in our blood, but its while since Jewish boxers stood toe to toe. Radcliffe’s Natalie Lewis isn’t a boxer, but she’s sure fighting her corner. Here in her own words, the breakaway industry professional reveals what it’s like to wrap the hands of champions as she trains to become the UK’s first cutswoman.
I’ve always been a black sheep. My mum sent me to ballet, but when I saw the guys playing rugby, I knew I wanted to do something ‘harder’. I lost my grandpa Jack Yaffe when I was young, but was inspired by all the stories I heard about him travelling the world as a professional wrestler.
Although I loved watching boxing on TV, I never dreamed of working in the sport. Seven years ago, I was working with guide dogs, and my friend Martin knew I was an avid gym goer, so asked if I wanted to try out this new place. It happened to be the world-famous Oliver’s Gym, run by Oliver Harrison, who coaches boxers from Amir Kahn to Rocky Fielding. I was doing boxing drills with the lads, just for fitness. I had no ambitions to become a fighter myself, I just enjoyed being in that spit and sawdust environment.
One day Oliver calls me and tells me he’s restarting his promotions company, and asked if I’d be interested in working for him. He must have seen something in me, and it definitely wasn’t my boxing ability. But I always set my standards high when I train, so I think he saw that dedication. I started off providing the boxers in the local area a platform to progress their careers, while working towards my second’s licence, which meant I could work in the corner with the boxers on fight night.
Once I had my license, I was suddenly working with massive promotions such as Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions and Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport. The second corner I did was on the Anthony Joshua undercard at the O2 arena. Yailton Neves, the fighter I was co-managing alongside Oliver, was up against Eddie Hearn’s protege Felix Cash, now the Commonwealth middleweight title holder. We rocked him a few times, gave him a good run for his money. Some trainers could wait a lifetime and never have that opportunity. There I was, on a pay per view fight being aired in over 40 countries across the world.
Because of Oliver, I was thrown straight in at the deep end, and being one of the only girls in the sport working corners at the time, I quickly started to receive recognition. But out of the blue, Oliver was diagnosed with cancer. He fought it hard for two years, while I was left holding the gym, doing promotions and matchmaking, with the help of ex-boxer turned coach Pat Barrett. A former European champion training out of the famed Collyhurst and Moston boxing club, he has a real reputation across the city, with a record of 52 fights and 50 knockouts. When Oliver passed, I told Pat I was going to pack it all in. I’d lost my mentor and didn’t feel I could go on in the industry without him. But Pat picked me up and said: “listen girl, go get your manager’s licence – you can use my gym.” He made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
I’m now the only woman in the UK to have a manager’s license and a second’s licence. Pat built up my confidence to be more hands-on – I wanted to be in the trenches with the lads. Sitting in the office, there’s no guts, no glory. He provided a new platform for me; I’m now on TV wrapping champions’ hands for title fights and training to be the UK’s first cutswoman.
A good cutsperson can be the difference between your boxer winning or losing the belt. Without them, the fight ends and everybody goes home, and nobody wants that. You have 40 seconds to attend to your fighter and stop the blood flowing – it’s a really high-pressure situation.
I’ve only been in the game for a few years – I’m a baby still – but I have great people around me. I’m lucky to have master cutsman Jumbo Johnson take me under his wing and teach me everything there is to know about the craft.
On my journey, I expected to face so much adversity and be shot down every step of the way. But from the British Boxing Board of Control, which is governed 95% by men, right down to the fighters, I can say from the bottom of my heart, no-one has ever spoken down to me. Everyone has only wanted me to succeed.
Maybe it’s because I stay in my lane. I’m not shouting for female power and I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody. If they want me to scrub the gym toilets, I’ll scrub the toilets. Hopefully people have seen I genuinely love what I’m doing and just want to be around the sport.
For those women out there passionate about exploring a career in boxing, who feel they might not be welcome in the industry – just go for it. More girls are coming into the sport than ever – you have three big promoters putting women’s boxing top of the bill. There needs to be more of us in boxing and this is our time to shine. The support is there, we just need you to come forward.
What I’ve struggled more with is my own self-belief. I’ve come to realise I suffer with something called imposter syndrome. I can’t believe how quickly I’ve got to where I am, and I’ve held myself back as a result. A cutsperson is typically a big, tattooed guy in his fifties. He looks hard, he looks the part. And then I’m standing there, this five-foot-nothing blonde Jewish girl, giving pep talks to six-foot-six heavyweight champs. I sometimes catch myself wondering, what are they thinking about me? Then I say to myself: you got yourself here, you’re doing really well, and everyone has a lot of respect for you. And once I show that I’m confident, everyone is confident around me.
My path isn’t having my own gym and training my own fighters. My path is answering the call of boxers fighting for the world championship needing someone to get them through the next bout. On the horizon, I’m working corners on a fight night with Chris Eubank Jr, Katie Taylor, Tasha Jonas and Ricky Hatton’s son Campbell on the bill.
But what I’m looking forward to most is Pat’s first show since lockdown with all our lads. It’s special because these are the fighters I’ve worked with day-in-day-out at the gym, watching their careers’ progress. I’ve seen the blood, sweat and tears, from the highs of helping them make weight to the lows of having their noses bust up. Seeing your fighter walk into the ring like a gladiator to face their opponent, it’s a great feeling.