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Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 14:38 UK
Johnny Nelson isn't called Johnny
Johnny Nelson
Johnny Nelson

Johnny Nelson is over six feet tall and what you notice before even speaking to the former boxer is his enormous beaming smile, and perhaps his timekeeping.

If you've ever met Johnny he might have left you hanging around wondering where he is. For some time.

Johnny admits that he's always late - he even turned up over 15 minutes late for his interview with Rony.

And punctuality is what Rony tackled him on first.

"I'm working with the prison service at the moment, helping inmates on their life management skills, helping them to straighten out their lives and motivate them.

"I've been spending some time at a prison in Doncaster, hearing some life stories. I didn't want to interrupt them when they were speaking to me this morning and I was running late.

"I spoke to a guy who's doing a 12 year stretch. Me and this guy started together as amateur boxers, we were both the same weight - he was a much better fighter than I was. I just think, that could've easily been me."

Why wasn't that Johnny?

"I stuck at it. I'm determined and stubborn enough to let something go. He's probably thinking the same: that could've been me."

But why is Johnny always late?

"I do not know, I'm always late. I'll be late for my own funeral. I get such a hard time about it from my friends and family. I never missed a fight though."

Who are the important people in Johnny's life?

Brendan Ingle with Johnny Nelson
Boxing trainer Brendan Ingle is Johnny Nelson's best friend

"I've had many important people in my life who I class as friends. A lot of important people in my life have made a big difference to me. There will be people who I haven't seen in years but I still consider them friends. It doesn't mean they're not my friends. There are so many. I've met so many people who have influenced me on so many different levels.

"Brendan Ingle is just my best friend ever, he has been my guiding light, a teacher, a friend, a saviour. If you would ask for anything from anybody, you would Brendan. I think I would be in prison telling somebody my story if it wasn't for him, he straightened out my life. He has made me appreciate everything.

Ivanson Ranny Nelson

Johnny was born in Sheffield and still lives in the city to this day.

"I started at St. Vincents' Catholic school in Sheffield. On my first day my teacher struggled to pronounce Ivanson - she kept saying it wrong. I was a real cry baby, my bottom lip was going…

"She saw and she decided to make up a name for the day. She began going through all of the names of the apostles. We landed on John but there was already three other Johns in the class and somebody shouted Johnny. All the kids started to snigger so the teacher thought that they liked it and then, boom! I just remember that day in class. I used to get jokes, 'Can I borrow your rubber Johnny!?' "


Johnny's biological father and mother split up when he was a young boy. He didn't reunite with his father until Johnny was his in thirties.

"My first real memory of my dad was when I was about three or four years old. I remember him and my mum in the street arguing, my dad had one of my hands and my mother held the other and his brown Ford Cortina was parked in the middle of the street.

"I was always curious about him when I was growing up. My wife knew that I always wanted to know more about my father, as there were a lot of gaps. Strangely her relatives knew of my dad because they were based in Huddersfield and knew of him from being in a dominoes team. She managed to get hold of him when I was in my mid-thirties.

"One day there was a knock at the door and as soon as I answered, I said, 'You're my dad, aren't you?' He said, 'Yeh' and he stepped in and that was it.

"He explained that he and my mum just didn't get on and that she was his girlfriend. We got in the car, we drove around Sheffield and he showed me where he used to live and play dominoes. It was really hard. He kept calling me son.

"But my dad to me was Benji, he is the only person I remember as a father figure, he was my mum's husband and my stepfather who took on six of my mum's kids. He was the guy I looked up to, so when my biological dad kept calling me son it felt like I was betraying my step dad Benji."

Self-confessed coward

Johnny wrote an autobiography called Hard Road to Glory and in it he admits to being a coward.

"I used to hope that my boxing opponent wouldn't show up. I would be in the dressing room before the fight wondering why I had picked this sport and why hadn't I picked golf or tennis. I just did not want to get in the ring.

Brendan said to me, 'Your not going to be good boxer until you are in your thirties and I just thought, I don't want to be boxing in my thirties
Johnny Nelson

"It's not until you are through it that you can say that. My approach to fighting and most things in life were being a coward. I can say that now because I'm over it.

"I was speaking to the former boxer Chris Eubank. I told him that when I was boxing, I wasn't willing to die in the ring and that's what distinguishes me between outstanding boxers such as Chris and Nigel Benn. I didn't want to be there. I had 13 amateur fights and I won three. In my first five professional fights I won one. These weren't because I was beaten by the better person but because I didn't want to be there.

"Brendan Ingle told me that I wouldn't be a good boxer until I was in my thirties and I just thought, I don't want to be boxing in my thirties. He told me that I was a mummy's boy and that I needed to stand on my own two feet and assume the responsibilities of an adult and then I'd come good. I never questioned what he said, even if I didn't understand it.

"He made me do a back flip before a fight and we had an argument about it. Brendan wanted me to do it and I didn't because I thought I'd look an idiot. He explained that the opponent's corner men are country Irish men, so they were very manly and macho and that this back flip would cause them to go hysterical and unsettle the corner. When he was telling me, I thought - one, this is the wrong time and place to be giving me a history lesson about country Irish, and two - what if I don't land on my feet?

"I did it and exactly what Brendan said would happen did happen, the corner men started shouting and it caused disruption in their corner. I walked back towards Brendan and had a wry smile on my face and thought Brendan was a genius. I beat this kid. And that to me, set my faith in Brendan in stone."

Dark days

Johnny experienced hard times early on in his career. It was a difficult period which helped him grow as a sportsman.

"I had to deal with it and figure it out. I boxed Carlos DeLeon in 1990 at the City Hall in Sheffield. That was the darkest day of my life. I was in front of my home crowd, friends, family and people who I had grown up with, even people who I had watched on TV were there.

"I just thought, 'Oh my god, these people know me.' I was so scared of losing when I got in the ring, I just wanted to survive.

Johnny Nelson
Johnny in the ring before a fight in 2003

"That scared me. I had a dream two days before my fight which turned out to be true. I was being booed by the crowd but couldn't work it out because my arm was in the air.

"The crowd were booing their disgust at my performance because I had drawn against Carlos and had failed miserably on a national stage. It was awful and it took me over five years to get over it. I wouldn't wish that experience on my worst enemy.

"I couldn't go anywhere without people abusing me. I came close to giving up boxing but my stubborn streak wouldn't let me.

"I was in town with my girlfriend at the time and we were going into a restaurant and she was trying to cheer me up. Two big burly guys walked up to me, they were talking about me really loud, not at me.

"We came to pass each other and they blocked our way and they carried on talking about me as if I wasn't there, pressing me and my girlfriend up against the wall. These guys just carried on talking in a really nasty way. I was heartbroken, fuming, devastated.

"I just thought, before this fight I was a hero in this town, doors opened and things were so so different and in one night my whole life changed, not just my career but personally among your friends and family.

"I love Sheffield, people are very straight - if people like you, you'll know it and if they don't like you, you'll know it."


"Boxing is still important to me, I hate retirement. I hate missing the camaraderie in the gym, the potential of fighting. A lot of sportsmen don't realise this. I think sports psychology will become big in the coming years. If you think of big sports personalities such as Gazza and people like him they can't do without it. They don't understand what has happened. It's the endorphins that stop and you need something for that fix.

"I was like a 40-year-old school leaver when I retired. I could stay up late, I could eat what I wanted, I could drink. I could do all the things that I had to restrict myself from doing once I had retired, that's when life can become sticky and tricky. I've figured it out. I've assumed the responsibilities of a man."

Rony's Envelope questions

When Rony speaks to his guests he always asks some questions which are drawn from a mysterious envelope. Johnny's first question was, what is his favourite song?...

"Funkin for Jamaica - it's the song I came out to when I had my last fight in Italy. It was a real nasty crowd and the song is cool and funky and it made me feel alive. It gives me some great memories."

Does Ivanson Ranny Nelson pray?

"Yes I do, I pray to God, I'm Catholic. I'm not a practising Catholic but no one can tell me how I worship God. I appreciate God and respect him. Sometimes I doubt him and doubt my prayer."

Would God like boxing?

"How do you know what he'd like and he wouldn't like? People die, people starve and die of certain illnesses so how can you ever understand God?"

Injury forces Nelson retirement
22 Sep 06 |  Boxing
Ingle makes hall of fame
08 Jan 08 |  England



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