[Written by Stephen Wright]
For Leo Richardson, boxing is more than just a sport he is deeply passionate about – it has been his salvation.
First, as an amateur fighter and now as a coach, Richardson knows more than most about boxing’s power of reinvention.
When released from prison 26 years ago after serving a nine-month sentence for drug offences, Richardson knew it was time he turned his life around.
“I came out of jail in 1997 aged 27 and had my first amateur fight two years later,” Richardson told Bernews.
“I’d been on the streets doing a pack of ignorance. I went through a lot, but when I was out of jail, I was like, ‘I can’t live that life anymore’. Boxing was the turning point for me.”
Richardson always had a natural propensity with his fists and turned to boxing to divert his energy from the streets to the ring.
He soon found himself stepping between the ropes to face the late Devrae Noel-Simmons at the Number One Shed, a cruise terminal on Front Street and the former home of local boxing, before being demolished in 2008.
In his corner that night was trainer Chuck Renaud, who ran the former Controversy Gym at Mills Creek in Spanish Point; the pair formed an instant bond.
“I was self-trained for my first fight but had Chuck in my corner. We just linked from then on,” said Richardson, who adopts the moniker “Lionheart” as a fighter and hopes to have Renaud in his corner once again on Saturday.
“Chuck was the father figure in my life around that time. I had my daddy, but Chuck played a big part when I started boxing.”
Now 52, Richardson will make a comeback on the amateur undercard of Fight Night Champion against Rafal Von Burdon at The Shed in Dockyard on Saturday [October 28].
“I’m in the best shape of my life and getting better!” said Richardson in his deep and distinctive gravelly voice.
“We’re looking to start an over-40s league, with three two-minute rounds, for a few guys who want to get back in the ring.”
For the past decade, Richardson has taught the “sweet science” to youngsters of all ages, races and backgrounds at The New Controversy Gym, located underneath the Queen’s Club, opposite Victoria Park.
Among the unpolished gems to have stepped through the doors at the no-frills basement gym are Birmingham-based professional Tyler Christopher and Adrian Roach, the top Bermudian amateur.
“I’m proud of them,” Richardson said. “It makes me want to continue coaching because I know more kids like Adrian Roach and Tyler Christopher are out there.
“It’s about these kids having somewhere to go so they can have the opportunity to box. I’m just keeping the opportunity open for everybody.”
It is not just those who yearn to test themselves within the squared circle who Richardson believes can benefit from the many positives of boxing.
“I started coaching because I know what boxing did for me,” said Richardson, who runs an afterschool boxing programme for boys and girls.
“We don’t discriminate against anyone down here, and some of the kids might be going through similar things I went through. I can relate to them, and they can relate to me.”
Richardson shudders to think where he might be if boxing had not entered his life when it did.
“Boxing changed my life and rejuvenated me,” he added. “It will be my way of life until my last breath.”