Bristol Boxing Say Goodbye to St. Paul's

04/02/2015

Chris Sanigar presided over the end of an era when Bristol's premier professional boxing gym closed its doors for the last time this month.

A much-loved venue among pugilists, the Empire Club gym in Newfoundland Road had produced a steady production line of fighters for 55 years.

But when time finally caught up with the gym created by club founder Den Welch in 1959, the decision was taken to move to a new premises located a stone's throw away on the other side of the St Pauls roundabout.

Bristol-based trainer and promoter Sanigar is thrilled to now be housed in a state-of-the-art gym at The Mill in Easton, but he admits he will miss his old surroundings in the church building at St Agnes.

"It's a case of mixed feelings," admitted Sanigar, who launched his amateur career at the Empire Club in 1973 and later returned to train and manage the next generation of Bristol boxers in 1986.

"Of course, I'm sad to see the old place go, because it holds so many good memories. I had a strong sentimental attachment to the place and nothing can replace it in that respect. But the building was very old and more and more of our funds were being taken up with maintenance costs. You cannot stand in the way of progress and, when the chance arose to move to new premises, we didn't really have a choice.

"We have fantastic facilities at The Mill, but we will never forget the old Empire Club."

When it comes to producing professional boxing champions during the past 20 years, Bristol is second only to Sheffield.

While legendary trainer Brendan Ingle was manufacturing a string of title winners in the steel city, Sanigar managed a succession of British, Commonwealth, European and World champions from his headquarters in east Bristol.

Ross Hale, Dean Francis, Glenn Catley, Adrian Stone, Lee Haskins, Darren Hamilton, Jamie Arthur and Lee Selby have all won major titles while campaigning under Sanigar's banner and the old Empire Club played a huge role in putting Bristol on the national sporting map.

Champions past and present convened for a special reunion at the Empire Club headquarters at the weekend, some travelling from beyond Bristol to take one last look at their former gym.

"It was good to see so many old champions," said Sanigar, who based his professional boxing operation at the Empire Club following the death of Den Welch in 1999.

"We've had some great times in that gym and produced so many good fighters. The fact we are second only to Sheffield says it all really. We'll probably never see the like of it again."