The Box Off: Johnny Nelson captaining Leeds in tournament featuring Ricky Hatton, Tom Skinner and Jaykae

Johnny Nelson will captain the Leeds team. Image: Jess Hornby/Getty Images
Johnny Nelson will captain the Leeds team. Image: Jess Hornby/Getty Images

Leeds, London, Manchester and Birmingham are all cities with proud boxing histories.

A brand new tournament, named The Box Off, will give fans the opportunity to see these cities lock horns.

Famous faces are leading teams of boxers representing each city into battle, with Johnny Nelson acting as captain and mentor for the five-strong Leeds team.

Manchester’s team is being managed by the legendary Ricky Hatton, while rapper Jaykae is leading Birmingham.

The London team is being captained by TV personality and boxing enthusiast Tom Skinner, known for his catchphrase ‘bosh’.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Leeds captain Nelson said: “These guys remind me of the opportunities that weren't there when I was at this level.

"It's a chance for grassroots to come through. Friends and family can come at affordable prices to watch the birth of fighters coming through.

“One of these kids will say 'I want that to be me, I want the cameras to be here for me'. It's inspiring, inspiring, inspiring. Grassroots is so important. It's alright seeing the big shows at the O2 and Wembley but you've got to start somewhere.

"Not everyone has the springboard of an Olympic medal or an illustrious amateur career. You've got to start somewhere and that's what this is about.”

The competition has a knock-out format and will be hosted at Telford International Centre tomorrow (September 16).

Each team consists of five fighters, with one from each weight class.

Boxers will compete over four rounds at the semi-final stage, fighting for a place in the final.

Finalists will earn four points for their team, with champions gaining six.

The winning team will be the one with the highest points total amassed over the two stages.

Hatton, Manchester’s captain, said: “There is young unearthed talent out there, training in a boxing gym. Because they don't have the pedigree or the background some people have, there's not going to be opportunities for them.

"There's not going to be any contracts. This is an opportunity for a fighter to get an opportunity they might not have normally get. It's a chance for them to springboard their career, get a little bit of exposure.

"In getting a little bit of exposure, it helps with sponsorships and things like that. We all want to produce world champions and train world champions.

"There's a lot of fighters out there not getting opportunities. These lads and ladies are going to get half a chance to springboard and put themselves somewhere.”

Seeing up-and-coming fighters vying for opportunities to progress has proven nostalgic for Hatton, who found himself in a similar position as a prodigy.

He said: “It's nice to pass the knowledge on and seeing them so up for it. It's like turning the clock back 20 years, when I was in the same boat, just a young professional wanting to do the best he can and make a headway in boxing.

"I'm all about giving something back to the sport that has been so good to me. That's why, over the years, I've done promoting, managing and training. It's always about giving a little bit back

"I was fortunate to go there and do it. The advice I'm giving probably hits home a little bit more than it would do coming from someone else, which makes me very proud.”

The Box Off is a project that has been developed over the course of three years. It is the brainchild of founder Razi Hassan, who was keen to capitalise on the momentum behind a rapidly changing boxing world.

He said: “The boxing space has changed and evolved, especially over the last few years with the rise of YouTube boxing. It's at a point where there is so much momentum behind it.

"We felt there is an opportunity to do something slightly different here, which will have mass appeal and will talk to the heart of where fighters are from. We thought, boxing is an individual sport, but there is an element of community about it.

"Boxers are the product of the upbringing and the salt of the earth of where they're from. It's often to those communities and people close to fighters, in their cities and in their towns, that support them and help them along the way.

"We felt there was an opportunity to engage that audience and bring that to the fore.

"There is an issue to some extent that pro boxers are not able to always make as much money as some of the YouTubers. That’s the reality of it. We need to do something for these fighters at that level, to enable them to make a living from the career they they choose."

Rivalry is a cornerstone of sport, although in boxing the battles are often personal rather than territorial.

The Box Off has a different feel, instead putting the emphasis on hometown pride in the same way sports such as football and rugby do,

Hassan said: “In the north, we've got Ricky Hatton and Johnny Nelson reliving the Wars of the Roses, Yorkshire against Lancashire. It's super exciting stuff.”

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