Sean Anderson talks to Army coach and pro cruiserweight Chez Nihell, who also employs his wife as his assistant trainer
Unless amateurs that turn over to the professional game are fortunate enough to pen a lucrative promotional deal with the likes of Frank Warren or Eddie Hearn, they are likely to have to hold down a day job too.
For unbeaten Aldershot cruiserweight Chez Nihell that job is in fact as an amateur boxing coach of the highly successful British Army boxing team, whilst serving as a Lance Corporal. Nihell first spent six years boxing full-time on the team before turning professional and taking on the coaching role. That period was extremely successful and if you were to have taken a look at either the heavyweight or super-heavyweight rankings during this time the 32-year-old from the Isle Of Wight was regularly in either top 10.
It was in his final season as an amateur in 2017-18 that Nihell had his greatest success, managing to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Joshua, Joe Joyce, David Price and Audley Harrison, among others, by winning the Elite national super-heavy title. This was quite an achievement for a man who was undoubtedly small for that weight.
“The decision to move up was taken out of my hands but it acted as a bit of a blessing,” Nihell recalls. “To win a national title can prove to be a golden ticket and my pop-and-move tactics were well suited to the three-round format. Once I had achieved this I knew it was time to turn pro.”
Nihell decided to move down in weight when it came to the professional game and he made his professional debut at cruiser on the undercard of James DeGale vs Chris Eubank last February. To make his pro bow on such a high-profile fight at the O2 was an experience he described as a “dream come true”.
Nihell went on to win a further two times before the year was out. A fourth bout scheduled for December was curtailed by the fact his wife and assistant trainer, Alanna, went into labour in November and gave birth to a baby boy named Maxwell.
Alanna was also a decorated amateur, winning Commonwealth bronze at Glasgow 2014 as well as numerous other titles. She in fact contested the first ever female boxing bout in Ireland, against a certain Katie Taylor.
Whilst a boxing husband and wife may be rare, the fact that she also helps out in his corner is equally unique.
“She actually got her trainer’s license the day I got my boxing license. She was in the corner with my coach Johnny Edwards and the rest of my team for my first two fights.
“She was pregnant and too big for my third fight. She is back in my corner now and that is something that I consider beneficial as she has seen me boxing ever since the early days on the Army team.”
At 32 years of age Nihell turned over relatively late having sought that national title, but Chez suggested he will not be taking any undue risks anytime soon.
“I’m still at six rounds but didn’t hang around at four-rounders and only had one,” he notes. “I’ve got to clock up these fights and clock up the rounds.
“I do not want to rush but a lot of prospects will have numerous four-rounders. My first fight was actually meant to be six-rounder but because I was a floating bout at the O2 it got reduced.”
Asked whether the longer format of professional boxing suits the boxer attached to 27 Regt RLC, he is in little doubt.
“After my second fight I said to Alanna as we left the ring how much I prefer it,” he relates. “You have longer to figure someone out and can navigate the rounds with no rush. I think I’m going to be made for when the fights get longer.
“I honestly believe I could step up to a 10-rounder now but in the pros a loss on your record early on can be significant, rightly or wrongly. I am just listening to my team and trusting them with what direction I go in.”
If 2019 was the perfect start to his pro career, Nihell is looking for even more in 2020.
“By the end of the next 12 months I would like to be in some form of title contention,” Chez explained. “This next fight will be my third six-rounder and then in March I want to step up to eight-rounders. That should then put me in a position to challenge for the Southern Area by the end of the year or whatever route my management advisor Ron Boddy suggests.”
If this year goes the way he plans, Nihell may well align himself for a title fight against one of numerous ex-amateur opponents. An example of this is Commonwealth champion Chris Billam-Smith.
“In 2014 I fought Chris in the national quarter final,” he remembers. “He is a good fighter and we know each other well as we trained on the England squad together. I won when I boxed him in a very competitive fight but he is a well-established pro now. I’m still at six rounds so I’ve got to clock up these fights and clock up the rounds to get myself into a position.”
In that 2014 championships, Nihell lost to James Branch in the semi-final, another boxer making his way in the pro ranks.
“It was his first year as a senior and it was real close,” Chez remarks. “That could be another bout further down the line.”
After more than holding his own against amateur boxers that have since been successful in the pro game, Nihell has also taken confidence from how he has performed in high-quality sparring sessions with some top domestic names
“I’ve sparred Isaac Chamberlain on numerous occasions and that has always been good competitive sparring,” he says. “I’ve also sparred prospects such as Sonny Taylor and Mikael Lawal. It has all been tough sparring which is all part of the learning experience.”
One thing that you can be sure of when you spend time with Nihell is that he is very thankful for what the British Army has done for his career.
“27 Regt RLC release me to work with the boxing team and it works really well around training four times a week down in Guildford as well as sparring in London most Fridays,” Chez tells me. “I jump on lots of the Army sessions and spar some of the Army guys too. I’m very lucky that my job complements training as a pro and I am thankful to my regiment and the British Army for that.”
Nihell concludes: “For now it is one step at a time. Gain the experience and get the wins. That should then put me in the position to fight for titles. If that is against boxers I have previously fought as an amateur it will certainly add to the story of the fight.”
That next step takes place on January 31 when he takes on Lithuanian journeyman Dmitrij Kalinovskij on a show billed as “Battle Of Aldershot”.