“Tough as Fuck, Never Give In, All of That Stuff”: Craig Docherty Looks Back

Broken glass litters the street corner, along with empty cans of lager and small stones. Swanston Street is an area frequented only by factory workers or aspiring fighters. The cursing heard from the burger van positioned between two damaged lampposts, rapid-fire and barely understood, was pure Glasgow. The greasy snacks sold in the icy open air could tempt a number of the area’s would-be fitness fanatics.

The general public, though, would have no need to wander down this particular part of Dalmarnock. It mainly houses removals companies and old factories. There is also a large yard selling caravans and mobile homes, where an angry-looking man smoking a cigarette throws accusatory glances at those who approach Morrison’s Gym.

Inside, Craig Docherty is perched on the edge of a weight bench, greeted warmly by every man, woman, and child that passed him on their way to the ring. Turning up at the gym brought back the memories of big nights and adulation. Boxing had been a massive part of his life at the peak of a successful professional career; now it seemed that the sport occupied a more of his thoughts. What if? What now?

A nippy older man, dressed in a tracksuit and preparing to lead a mixed group of members in the gym next door, zigzags his way toward Docherty. “Get the boys going, Doc!” he demands. Ronnie was a regular.

“Oh, he’s an old pirate, so he is!” said Docherty. “He was a bit of a boy back in the day, aye, he boxed amateur. There’s a lot of the keep fit people that only come because Ronnie’s coming, so he comes because he doesn’t want to let them down. He gets everybody fit and doesn’t take a coin for it—he just likes the banter.”

Ronnie was one of several characters that passed through the gym that day. Others included Christine, Alex Morrison’s daughter, and John, who kindly demonstrated an imported massage technology, which seemed extremely effective. Posters of three-weight world champion Ricky Burns and former British champion Willie Limond lined the walls of the gym, which had suffered a terrible fire seven years ago. It was a working-class establishment, filled with good people, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries.

Docherty, now forty, got himself settled—then fidgeted—but eventually settled again in what seemed an uncomfortable position. He opened up, tackling subjects that had he’d left buried from a childhood spent between two very different areas in Glasgow.

“Milton’s where I was brought up, but my ma stayed in Ibrox. I grew up with my granny in Milton. My ma was going out with this fucking arsehole. So she didn’t get a house until I was about five or something. It was ‘Feed the World’ and all of that, that was on [the telly] when she moved into her house.

“She was involved with this guy since before then, but I never really settled in that house. I moved back to my granny’s, but when I got a bit older, she left that guy, and I started staying there on and off. It was a crucial part of my life. At that stage, you need yer ma, and she wasn’t really about—she was there for all the good times, though.

“I’ve fell out with her, on and off for years. It’s not been great at all; she’s not been great with her grandkids, my weans, or nothing. She’s kinda ignored me. There’s no bond there and if that’s it, you can’t force a bond. You can’t pick your family. She [my granny] was everything. She was tough, but she would let me away with murder! I could do what I wanted [laughs].”

As with most working-class children brought up in 1980s Glasgow, Docherty patrolled the streets with a football in hand. Mischief could still be found in local parks or passing between post codes, with gangs and disputes common across the city.

Docherty just wanted a hobby. After a chance interaction with an older boxing trainer, he was soon invited to lace up his first pair of gloves at Bellahouston ABC, under the tutelage of the father figure he’d lacked since the passing of his grandfather when he was a toddler. Billy Ward was stern. He was an inspiration to the young Docherty, empowering a boy and subsequently developing a man.

“I was only a wee boy, maybe eleven year old [when I met Billy],” Craig explained. “From twelve to eighteen, I was at Bellahouston boxing club. We were in the sports center, and then we moved. But he was just a brilliant person. I took to him straight away, so I did. One of life’s good guys, aye.

“He would never tell you his age, but when I was in the hospital, and he was passing away, the nurse came in and gave his date of birth. I said, ‘Fuck—is that what age you are?’ He was like that, ‘You bastard!’ I think he was seventy-four. He was brilliant for his age. Built like Bruce Lee and a mad pull-up champion, too.”

It would be that tough, aging Glaswegian trainer who instilled belief in the young Docherty, showing him the possibility of a life beyond books and uniform. Ward and Docherty would work closely, forging a bond that both probably assumed was unbreakable. Docherty went on to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia, in 1998, where he lost in the second round. Docherty shared time with future foe Alex Arthur during the trip.

On his return from Kuala Lumpur, Docherty had hoped to clinch an impressive professional contract, but boarding that plane without a medal of any description hampered his bargaining power. Edinburgh’s Arthur had captured gold, and his former teammate admitted that even then, he knew their paths would cross. However, life as a professional wasn’t always a sure thing, and without financial backing or sponsorship, Docherty pondered picking up a trade.

“The key to my amateur career was just to get that springboard into the professionals, do you know what I mean? That was the dream. I didn’t know it was definitely gonna happen, it was just a dream, and on every report card I had from school, they would tell me I was a dreamer. I’m no good with numbers, but I would have had to do something. I wanted to build a bit of collateral [with a medal], aye. It didn’t work out like I was hoping for [laughs].”

He continued, “I was back home and getting offered club shows and stuff. I’d already been down at Kris McAdam’s gym, and I had stopped a couple of his pros in sparring. McAdam was like, ‘You really need to go pro, you’ve really got something.’ I wasn’t too sure; still, I didn’t want to turn pro and become a journeyman, because I was only eighteen. I didn’t know if I was ready, but Kris said, ‘Naw, you’re ready, wee man.’”

It seemed that everything was falling into place, but just as Docherty put pen to paper on an exclusive deal with Tommy Gilmour, he was dealt a significant blow. Billy Ward and Gilmour had been butting heads for years, with the pair seemingly unable to overcome their differences, leaving Docherty with a serious decision to make.

“I went to see Tommy Gilmour because he was the biggest name up here. He had been creating champions, and nobody else was at that time. Tommy said to me straightaway, ‘Listen, wee man, I want nothing to do with Billy Ward.’ They had a bit of beef, I don’t know what the story was with them, but Billy just couldn’t be annoyed with him. He just didn’t like him. He said the da’ was a good guy, but the boy. . . .

“I done a selfish thing—I signed up with Tommy. He said to me, ‘You’re gonna need to go and speak to Billy.’ I made a boo-boo. I went to see Billy, and I told him that, well, I was gonna go my own way. He was gutted. We never spoke for years. I had it in my mind that I was gonna bluff him in, further down the line. But he said he couldn’t work with Tommy, he said Tommy wouldn’t want anything to do with him, either, and then I realized, ‘This just can’t be worked.’ The two of them just couldn’t [tolerate] each other.”

Leaving Billy behind was the toughest decision of Docherty’s career and one that clearly still bothers him, yet he paid homage to Tommy Gilmour’s management, which ultimately led him to prime-time television spots and various title fights—hard to find for prospects north of the border. Thankfully, the former British title challenger found closure before Ward died, spending time at his bedside and papering over the cracks.

“Years had passed, and I came down to Bellahouston boxing club. I spoke to Billy, and I just tried to be about him. We started to make up. I said to him exactly what I said to you, but he was some trainer. When he was dying and that, I was just gutted. I was so, so gutted. It was horrible. He really did make you a better person, that guy. “

Docherty, who won the Commonwealth super-featherweight title in 2003, went on to battle some of the biggest names in European boxing. His 2004 bout with Russian veteran Boris Sinitsin, a man Docherty dubbed “an auld sneaky bastard,” provided a chance to snatch the European title, but experience prevailed. Docherty couldn’t get going, finding himself tangled up in the Russian’s arms for most of the night, dropping a decision, and once again leaving empty-handed. Docherty told an intriguing story, describing a relationship between Sinitsin’s female manager and the fight’s referee—allegedly seen frolicking after-hours. He held no grudges, though. That was boxing.

He would later fight tough Welshman Gary Buckland, traveling stylist Ashley Theophane, and fellow Scot Lee McAllister (now remarkably a budding heavyweight). But Docherty would fall short in each contest. There had been two fights, however, where the rugged challenger had truly shone under the harsh lights of subscription television and the unrelenting pressure from fans and his domestic boxing media.

One of which was a grudge match between his former Commonwealth Games teammate, Alex Arthur, in a fight pitting Scotland’s two great cities against one another. Arthur, from Edinburgh, was the British champion and Scottish boxing’s poster boy, who would later go on to capture a world title. He had returned from Malaysia with a gold medal and, as such, had been operating at a higher level than “Doc.” Arthur had always been the bigger man—but with a glint in his eye, Docherty fancied his chances, even seven years previous.

“I was never his pal,” Docherty explained, bluntly. “I knew him, I went to the Commonwealth games wi’ him, and I sparred wi’ him before that when we were sixteen or seventeen or whatever—but he wasn’t a pal. We had mutual respect for each other and that was it. I didn’t go through to Edinburgh and have a fucking drink or anything. . . . Aye [I knew we would be fighting down the line], but I was just the same. Alex’s sound. I’ve met him a couple of times, and I’ve had a drink with him [since], he’s all right.”

“I kinda blanked out a lot of it [the build-up]. I done my training, then went back and sat in the house. I never read the paper. I would skim it—but I would fling it! For about six weeks solid, people were phoning me saying, ‘You seen the paper today?’ I was thinking, ‘Right, what’s this cunt saying about me?’ I just remember thinking that I wanted this fight out the way. It was quite intense. I approached the fight and fought brilliantly. I just was beaten by a better fighter on the night, you know?”

On April 8, 2005, Arthur stopped Docherty in the ninth round at the Meadowbank Sports Center. “I performed in the Arthur fight and I just thought I was gonna batter him. I didn’t like him at the time, I never liked him one bit, but I always had respect, and we were cool after the fight. He was very respectful and I was the same. He landed that shot and it broke my nose. It smashed to bits and it was just weird; I couldn’t fucking breathe. I went to piss after it, and it was just black with the amount of blood I swallowed.”

Rebounding from his loss to Arthur was tough, as big fights temporarily dried up. But it was a classic war from 2003 that stuck with many fans—when Docherty defended his Commonwealth title against an unknown challenger with arms like planks of wood.

He’d been set to face Eric Odumase, a former victim of compatriot Scott Harrison. When that contest fell through, they were presented with a fellow Ghanaian and mystery man, Abdul Malik Jabir. To this day, over a decade later, messages come flooding in, paying respect to a fight remembered by all who either watched it live, or since on YouTube. Docherty won by decision. Blood, sweat, and tears dripped from both fighters as they embraced in the middle of the ring, though it seemed inevitable a contest like that had taken something from a prime Docherty.

“I knew nothing about him. I was hearing that Michael Brodie had him over for sparring. Brodie was the IBO champion at the time—a cracking fighter. Brodie had got word to us saying, ‘You need to watch this guy, he is a fucking animal.’ We tried to get through the first few rounds, and then we’d have a chance. Last-minute, the opponent got changed, and we were fighting this mad bastard with dreadlocks from Ghana. He was stepping up, and he was huge. We heard he was like a rock and that he could really shift, going through the gears.

“I was close to getting stopped—but then I started to get my rhythm. My lungs were bleeding, I just trapped him in a corner and threw so many punches I broke his heart. I couldn’t see out of one eye, either. It was blinding me and he was hitting me with this baseball bat of a shot, whack! I remember shouting to the ref, it was Ian John-Lewis and he actually talks about it in his book. He says this fight was one of the highlights out of all the fights that he’d done. He started to see that I was getting myself back into the fight, so I shouted out, ‘Don’t stop it, for fuck sake, I’m all right.’ I just wanted to win. I was never, ever gonna let that guy beat me.”

It was perhaps his crowning moment, and it was gone too soon. He insisted his love for boxing continued, even when fighting unknown Eastern Europeans on a Maltese license, but it seemed hard to swallow. It wasn’t that Docherty was lying—far from it. But the “Stockholm Syndrome” associated with fighters often masks the effect that boxing, or the lack of boxing, has on its participants.

Docherty admitted that when beating one of his last opponents, Tomasz Mazurkiewicz, he never even raised his hand in celebration. That seemed a more sobering image. Loving boxing and having it as your only constant are two very different things. Looking back on a career of highs and lows has left Docherty considering his future. Would he lace them up again, if the phone started ringing? Sharply, he replied, “Nah, man, I don’t need boxing.” Before cautiously continuing,  “I would like to fight again. If I could skip the training camp—I would love to fight, aye.”

When packing up and preparing to leave Morrison’s Gym, he discussed the human tendency to reflect on the good times, while not appreciating the moments themselves. The parties, the drinking, the women, and the mild sense of celebrity passed Docherty by “in a bit of whirlwind.” Before he knew it, he’d slipped four or five places down the bill. His opponents for upcoming events were taken from him and handed to more popular ticket sellers, often leaving him scrambling around, fighting whoever was available on short notice. That, too, was boxing.

Ronnie, the pirate from Docherty’s arrival an hour earlier, was busy in the next room, leading that group of enthusiastic, middle-aged members, “getting them working,” as he would say. John, armed with his DMS machine, had long gone—off to post thousands of flyers through doors of all shapes and sizes. Christine Morrison was guarding the front desk, pleasant, but taking time to throw digs at Docherty, whom she’d known for years. The gym felt like a home for Craig, perhaps even his sanctuary.

It seemed criminal that a fighter who offered as much as Docherty, with as many colorful stories, had been left to gather dust on the shelf. After his fight with Michael Gomez, the pair partied for days, with Gomez waking up in Docherty’s house, panicked because he had missed a court date. Docherty was also a true character—a throwback. He hadn’t lived life perfectly, but he was trying.

“I want to be the best trainer in Britain! If something presents itself, if somebody presents themselves and gives me 100 percent, then I’m ready to give that back. I’ve got a lot of knowledge to pass on, and I’ve got a knack for doing it, I think. I would love to do that, you know, go on their journey. I’ve had a couple. Somebody will come along. I had Kash Farooq for a couple of fights, but I just never had my license at the time.

“I just want people to think I was an honest, good guy that gave his all. Just a good guy that would help you, if he could. I would rather help somebody than hinder them. I was tough as fuck, never give in, all of that stuff. There’s life after boxing, and my life is going good now. I have some access to two of my kids, I’ve got another one on the way with my partner, and I love her to death. That’s all I need.”