Melanie Interviews Frank Bulgioni
I met Frank when he had just become British light heavy weight champion. We were both Guests on Soho radio I found him very interesting and extremely humble considering the win. When I asked him if I could come watch him train and interview him for the website he said yes straight away.
So I went to Punch London to do that very thing as he prepares for his next fight.
Frank Buglioni is the British Light Heavyweight Champion
M:: Ok, so tell me about the fight that you’re prepping for now, who’s the guy?
F: So, for the fight at the O2 I’m fighting a guy called Ricky Summers, he’s unbeaten. I’ve taken quite a few unbeaten records, so that will be another one I’ll take.
M: How do you choose who you fight?
F: It all depends on what you’re going for, so Hosea Burton, he was the British champion; I was chasing him because I wanted that British title. Once I won it I get what’s known as a voluntary defence, so I can defend it against anyone that The British Board sanctions or deems worthy as a challenger. So I’ve chosen this Ricky Summers, he’s undefeated, he’s quite fit and strong but his style suits my style so that’s why I’ve selected him. He’s also one of the guys who’s said yes to a fight, a few guys rejected it.
M: What’s he like as a person? If they’re a bit of an idiot is it better, in a way?
F: It doesn’t matter too much, when I fight someone in my head they’re my enemy so now I kind of respect him, he’s not a bad guy at all. But when I’m training I’m training to hurt him so when it comes to a fight regardless of how nice he is or what he said or what he’s done, I want to go in there and take his head off.
M: And do you look at the footage of him, is that how you know how he moves, what his patterns are?
F: Exactly that, so I’m seeing his strengths, his weaknesses, how to exploit them. I’m at the stage where I focus a lot of my own game and know full well that my strengths are going to outweigh his. So I’ll concentrate on myself but I know little signs that he might show. I’ll look at the way he’s fighting and I’ll get sparring partners to mimic him and I’ll just adjust my own style but I wont change completely.
M: And how long do you train for before a fight?
F: I tend to train all year round.
M: So you’re not one of those who goes to seed in between each fight. I find that amazing when athletes do that.
F: I can kind of understand it because when I have a couple of weeks off I do put a lot of weight on.
M: How much? Do you drink and just eat whatever you want?
F: Yes, but I’m not a big drinker. I kind of eat what I want and that might just be a few bowls of pasta. So I tend to limit certain foods, so I can put on anything from two stone, two and a half stone.
M: And do you just do a few hours of training a week during that period ?
F: Yeah, I’ll just tick over.
I go for a few runs, maybe do some strength conditioning. I kind of like to just be in the gym environment and I’ll still look after myself. But I can appreciate if guys, they’re so dedicated and they come from maybe a culture where they like to go out every weekend and they shut themselves off from that, so when they do get the opportunity they go crazy. But I think it’s more few and far between.
I love training and I love looking after myself and I get a sense of well being just from eating good food and working hard so I think I’ll always keep that up whether I carry on doing boxing training I might prefer more yoga and running and that sort of thing.
M: You must stretch a lot?
F: Yeah, I do and warm up before and after my sessions but I do yoga maybe two or three times a week during my camp.
M: So how does the camp start, so you don’t start hitting anyone until much later on is that right? What do you do?
F: So for this camp, I’ve pretty much been in since after Christmas, so since the New Year I’ve been training consistently and then I’ve had sparring for the last fight and then obviously when I got cut I took a week off and went away, had a holiday and then I got my head clear, came back and carried on training and that would have been boxing, abs work, shadow boxing, I also started a my strength conditioning programme, building up to this next date and then I start bringing the running in and start stepping up the intensity. So it’s kind of like you’re stepping up each week that goes by and then obviously when you come to the fight you take a few days off and you peak nicely.
Prepping For The Fight
M: So you don’t do anything two days before?
F: Maybe just a little bit of light shadow boxing, some stretching, and maybe some light road work (running).
M: How many are on your team?
F: I have two trainers in Luke Portanier and Dan Charles. Dan Charles is the head trainer, Luke’s second although they kind of split the training between them. They both bring different things to the game. And then I’ve also got Ian Duberry who’s Dan’s assistant trainer coming in and keeping an eye on things. So that’s the boxing, then I have my physio James Duffin, I have my strength and conditioning trainer Anthony Charlton and I have a Don Sergeant my nutritionist.
M: So does somebody cook for you or there’s a plan and you do it?
F: Yeah, pretty much a plan but maybe someone will drop off some deliveries of certain foods about two weeks before the fight to get really high nutrient food into me, make things a little bit easier and he’ll be on call the last maybe three or four days leading up to the fight so he can cook me clean, really light foods and then obviously refuelling after the weigh in.
M: So how many hours a day training do you do and how many meals? You’re a machine really aren’t you? And you’re being fuelled for a specific moment. Us mere mortals will do an hour maybe a day and a protein shake after. I’m guessing it’s heavy on the protein? Do you take loads of supplements?
F: I take some supplements but I try and get most of my stuff from conventional food because I think it’s the most widely available form of nutrients. So I’ll definitely lean towards natural foods, I’ll try and stay away from processed foods and keep it as natural and organic as possible. And then in terms of the training it’ll be on average one or two hours of yoga, off to the gym for three hours and then an evening session, so about five or six hours of training a day and then have an hour or so of physiotherapy a few times a week as well.
M: How does it affect your people around you who aren’t trainers and aren’t involved? Do people make sacrifices because of you, Your friends and family?
F: It certainly made a positive effect on my family because my sister works in nutrition and she’s a qualified nutritionalist and her kids, they eat really healthily and they’re great for it. And then my brother, he’s into his training and my mum, they like their training, they like their yoga, I’ve introduced that to them. It’s certainly had a positive effect on my family. And then my friends, maybe just because of the industry that I’m in or because that’s what I’ve been interested in, they’re all into sport.
M: How did you get into boxing? How old were you?
F: I was about twelve or thirteen when I first started.
M: Is that normal age to start boxing?
F: A lot of guys tend to start earlier but can often burn out. I think I was about the right age.
M: And what brought you to it?
F: I was playing football at the time and I was a competitive swimmer and then a friend of my dad’s his boy started doing it and he said ‘oh, it’s really good for the fitness and his confidence why doesn’t your F: try it?’ And as soon as I tried it I said, ‘I don’t’ want to do any other sport, boxing only’.
M: It is very addictive, I’ve done little bits of boxing training over the years because most gyms do have box classes now and bags .I don’t think there’s any other training that I do that is as effective as boxing is in terms of the endorphins and actual results. I mean it’s got the lot hasn’t it? But it is the hardest.
F: It’s almost like a stress reliever as well when you can punch something.
M: There is that!
F: Again it comes back to a primal instinct of fighting and I think, in modern times, we’ve lost that, where no one can kind of release their inner rage and have a fight. I think you need that; it’s built into us so to be able to go and do that in a controlled environment, kind of relaxes me. I know if I’m not sparring or I’m not training, I get a lot more rage and switch a little a bit quicker, say if someone cuts me up on the road I’d be more likely to respond.
Injury, Recovery And The Importance Of Breath
M: When did you first get clumped proper?
F: About twelve or thirteen. But obviously when you’re that age you only get hit by another twelve or thirteen year old. You’re taken to an environment where you’re going sparring, and my nose would go every time, there’d be blood everywhere, so I’d keep coming home, ‘You’re nose is going again…’ ‘I’ll get him back next week.” With my brother ; he was a very skillful boxer but when he took a shot he took it personally and would have an emotional response, lose his temper and try to hurt the opponent instead of ‘boxing clever’ Whereas I see it as sport and it didn’t really bother me.
M: And I know it sounds like a really dumb question but when you’re in a fight situation, so not sparring actually in that moment with all the adrenalin that must create, do you feel every bit of contact, does it hurt?
F: It depends where you get hit. I’ve had perforated eardrums that obviously is painful and kind of dulls your senses. The cuts, again, not too bad but you’re worried about the referee stopping the fight if the blood blocks your vision. If You get a thumb in the eye it kind of blurs your vision also but the shots that you take on your chin or around the temple that take you off balance, they’re obviously a little bit more panicky because you can’t get your feet and you cant set yourself and then you’re thinking I’m going to get knocked over. I’m always thinking about points in a fight rather than pain. Obviously you can’t take too many shots or get cut because it influences the judges and the crowd. Whereas if you can do the same to the person and you nail a big shot and he starts wobbling, well then the round for you.
M: So when you land a good quality shot on someone, how do you keep yourself calm enough to to continue not get excited by it. Keep yourself in check? It’s such a mental game isn’t it?
F: Yeah, I think that comes with experience and the more fights you have and the higher level you go, you’ll see the guys at the top, they can control themselves a lot more but if you’ve got someone going you tend to kind of finish them off. And in my last fight he was on unsteady legs so I just charged at him and the referee just jumped in and stopped it. So sometimes you’ve got to let all your shots go. And then you need to be careful you don’t punch yourself out. So you’re always kind of weighing things up.
M: So have you been the distance rounds wise?
F: Yeah, I’ve been the distance a few times.
M: And how hard is that to recover from when you have gone the whole way?
F: Depending on who you fight, I’ve had fights where I’ve gone the distance and been ok within a few days, but then after the World Title challenge against Fedor Chudinov I needed some time off to recover from perforated ear drums, broken nose and a swollen jaw. I had a cracked rib going into the fight too so it was a gruelling camp and fight and it certainly took its toll on my body, so I definitely needed a good few weeks off after that one. I actually went up a weight after that period.
Then in the last fight, the British Title fight, again I had maybe about 16 stitches in my face so that took me a while to recover but because I’d won the British Title my mindset was completely different and I felt great the day after. And you have a couple of weeks off just to let everything recover and maybe you should probably give it three to four weeks to let your hormonal system come back. Because a lot of people neglect that.
M: Your hormonal system?
F: Yeah, you can get what’s known as adrenal fatigue because you’re working so hard and you suppress your adrenal glands, you’re not producing the hormones you need to recover. And then you have too much cortisol which holds fat, stores fat in your body. So you want a good balance. Over the years I’ve learnt this and everybody’s different, so there’s no set plan for it you just have to experience it for yourself, you have to have trial and error and that’s why you tend to have fighters who get really good after maybe, five, six, seven, eight years. Because they’ve been through the process and if they’ve lasted that long then they’ve got a mental and physical toughness that most haven’t. They’ve also got the knowledge and the experience.
M: I’m reading this Tony Parsons book at the moment, he loves boxing, in a scene in his book his main character has a boxing session and he describes how you can absolutely empty yourself out and yet and you can still have a reserve that comes from somewhere. We all have that don’t we? What is it adrenaline ? Why can we always find something else?
F: I think it is certainly adrenaline that gives you that extra bit and there’ll be times when you’ve got a hard fight and they’ll say bite that on your gum shield and that’ll release a little bit more adrenaline. So there’s little tricks and things, there’s obviously controlling your breathing, so if you’re breathing through your nose, dumping it, it’ll keep your heart rate lower. As soon as you start breathing through your mouth it’ll actually raise your heart rate, it’s a system I suppose back to your reptilian brain.
So as soon as you start mouth breathing your body knows that you’re ready for something. So there’s all different little tricks you can do and then obviously having the full extent of knowledge of your own mind and body to push yourself that little bit extra. But you’ll see some guys, they’ll give it absolutely everything and then they’ll go into their reserves and then they’ll, once they’ve used their reserves then they’re wiped out. It’s digging down deep and the more you dig down deep into your reserves obviously the bigger the reserve becomes.
M: What about your family, can they actually watch you fight?
F: Yeah, my mum doesn’t come to the fights anymore because she finds it too tough. As I started stepping up and the guys were giving me punishment back and there was obviously a lot more blood she couldn’t watch. But they all enjoyed the last one, my brother and my dad will always be ringside, they’ll be pretty much in the corner.
The Next Fight
M: Who is your sporting hero?
F: I love Sugar Ray Leonard. As a fighter he had charisma and intelligence. He was a gentleman outside the ring and plenty of heart and skill inside it.
M: I know you said when you were thirteen you realised boxing was it. but when did you know it would be your career?
F: When I was an amateur boxer, I had some good coaches saying that I could go quite far in the pros and then when I was in the Olympic Team I knew then that I had a future within the sport. Because I was following in the footsteps of past champions so that gives you the incentive and the drive. And I always wanted to do it and always wanted to be the best at it but probably not for other sports. Because I was still studying at the same time and in the back of my mind I always thought if I don’t make it to the top I don’t really want to go into boxing unless I’m going to be the best because it’s too hard a way to make a living. So I had the building surveying and the studies to fall back on.
M: So how many weeks have you got left before the fight?
F: About three and half weeks now.
M: Do you dream about it? How important is sleep with all of this?
F: Massively, I get a lot of sleep, minimum eight hours a day, probably an afternoon nap as well if I’m training hard or doing double sessions, so sleep is absolutely vital.
M: And towards the date, can you sleep?
F: Yeah, where I’ve had the experience now, I’m very confident in my team, I don’t lose sleep.
M: It’s at the O2, so it’s a big old place, do you love that? What’s your music that you come out to?
F: No my music now will be Edwin Starr, War. It’s a Motown classic. I had a friend of mine, he worked for James Blake, he’s a sound engineer so he got my own music to it and remixed it.
M: And where did the Wise Guy come from? Is that because you’re Italian?
F: Yeah, a little bit from Italian but also the fact that I was studying at the time and I was at Uni and my agent he came up with it. It works well, something different.
M: So the day of the fight, do you eat at all?
F: What I’ll do is I’ll keep my diet similar to training. So when I have a spar I’ll eat the same things the night before, the morning and after the spar as what I will on a fight day so it’s all foods that I’m comfortable with, it’s all timings that I’m comfortable with, quantities. A lot of guys, after a weigh in they’ll gorge because they’re trying to get their weight back on, they not to drink too much.
Whereas I’ll keep it as similar to my training weight as possible.
M:Well because then you know what you can do at that weight?
F: Exactly, so I’ll get in the ring at the same weight as what I spar at. So there’s no difference between my training weight and my fighting weight and that’ll probably be about 12lb over the weight that I make. So I’ll weigh in at twelve and half stone and that’s the official limit, 175lbs and then I’ll get in there at 187lbs to 190lbs.
M: You were saying you have coffee before as well?
F: Yeah, I’ll have, again, all things natural, I’ll have a coffee before the fight and I kind of limit myself with the amount of coffee I have, I’ll only have it before hard training sessions or hard spars. So it’ll give a nice boost.
I usually have a single espresso before training but then when it comes to the fight we’ll double or triple it up.
Caffeine helps your mindset as well, makes you a little bit sharper, your reactions are better, the sort of things that are important in boxing.
M: And the night after the fight or the night of the fight how do you feel after it’s a performance isn’t it? Do you run through every single second of it? and how good does it feel to win?
F: Well I usually spend the next three or four hours in hospital getting stitched up so by the time I get home I’m laying wide awake. In the early days it used to be straight out with all the fans and have a bit, well fingers crossed it’ll be like that in the next few fights.
M: And finally what is your favourite Boxing movie of all time?
F: It has to be Cinderella Man with Russell Crowe. I like the story behind it and how James Braddock fought through adversity to get his life inside and outside of the ring back on track. I also liked the fact he was a tough fighter but a gentlemen too.