A favourite of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea fans, a fighter cut from naturally athletic cloth, backed by a prominent sports promoter, a canny manager and fighting out of the country’s hottest gym… Buglioni has all the tools to reach boxing’s summit but the affable chap remains admirably grounded.
The Trad TKO Boxing Gym is tucked away in an industrial corner of Canning Town, east London’s Docklands area. BMWs are parked out front, a tough 6’3 Prizefighter: Cruiserweight champion Wadi Camacho guards the door to a concrete stair block I ascend to get into the open gym. There are three rings of different sizes, testosterone, sweat-soaked heavy bags, the sound of skipping ropes, of gloves punching head-guarded temples and the blare of some God-awful rap that renowned coach Mark Tibbs dims before asking me if I’m Alan.
There’s an unmistakable professional vibe in the gym. But, while this is a place where pugs with a TV-backing come to train, there are also amateurs, white-collar boxers, gym rats and your every day man just wanting to pant after a day’s graft at the desk or construction site.
I’m a little early. But I’m not made to wait. Another man walks over whose face is 40% head-hair, 40% beard. He’s Frank’s manager, William Storey. His main task in his own words is to make his client more money outside the ring than inside it. Buglioni already has more sponsors than I can count, so Will is already on his way. He’s got clients ranging from FTSE 100 companies to footballers but knows his boxing. Buglioni’s in good hands. Whether it’s Will, Mark, his promoter Frank Warren or his Sky Sports appearances, Buglioni can only move one way – forward.
We settle down in the TKO office. Posters depicting the sport’s all-time greats adorn the walls yet there are none of Buglioni’s idol; Arturo Gatti, an iron-willed blood-and-guts slugger and a cult hero due to his famed trilogy of give-and-take wars with Micky Ward.
It is perhaps his internal desire to fight, rather than to box, that began Buglioni’s ever-increasing fan-base. He has, after all, an aesthetically-pleasing style, a hadouken uppercut and an ever-swinging engine. As an amateur he sought the knockout blow, as a pro – under the tutelage of Tibbs – he fights with more intelligence, countering opposition movement and punching whilst retaining his trademark ferocity.
Buglioni, though, insists it is more simple than that: ‘It’s blossomed from friends to friends and from person to person. I’ve got a loyal following, a lot of support and they come out in numbers. You’ve got to embrace it, training is important but you still have to make time to go out, meet people.’
One of the areas prospects struggle with when they make the transition into the paid ranks is selling tickets but Frank’s following now exceeds 500 at every show he’s in, regardless of where he is on the fight card. Knowing he’s a Blue, I ask if his fan-base is mostly Chelsea.
‘It’s all mixed! It’s not all Chelsea fans!’ He laughs. ‘It’s Tottenham and Arsenal mainly because I’m North London. I’ve seen Joe Cole and Jack Wilshere at my fights, Jack was at my first fight at Wembley Arena. It’s good. I’ve had a few rugby players come down with their wives and girlfriends too.’
Buglioni doesn’t look like your typical boxer. He lacks a boshed-up nose, black eyes or facial scars but, rather, has model-like looks and his physical attributes (6’1 tall, 12st weight, 78inch reach, 15in bicep, 42in chest and 32in waist) suggest a natural athleticism. I knew he had a background in football, so ask if he ever trains with athletes from other sports.
‘I’ve trained with some of them [rugby players] but boxing is my thing. I haven’t branched outside of boxing. It can add dimensions to rugby training, their strength and conditioning is superb but rugby may not add to my training as I don’t want to bulk up.
‘We’ve worked with runners, some cross-country runners over in La Manga [Sports Club in Murcia, Spain, one of Frank’s many sponsors]. I have a swimming background, football background. There are transferable skills maybe but mainly it’s good to have a top fitness base, good athleticism.’
I mention an old legend I heard about undefeated heavyweight Rocky Marciano, who compensated for his lesser height with brutish knockout strength by punching underwater. The resistance, it is said, aided the might in his upper body… 43 of his 49 victories ended by way of knockout.
‘A lot of fighters use the swimming pool. Rocky used to go out and chop down trees, too. I’ve done that. Done laboring. Too much and it wears and tears on your back.’
There is currently little wear on Buglioni’s body. When Here Is The City spoke to him, a little over a month ago, he was a week and a half into a training camp that would see him feature in the Saturday, September 21 bill at the Copper Box Arena in Hackney, topped by Frank Warren Promotions stable-mates Dereck Chisora, Frankie Gavin and TKO gym-buddy Billy Joe Saunders.
‘I fight on the 21st at the Copper Box in my first 10 rounder, we’re gearing up for a Southern Area title shot. I fight a lot better when someone is there to stand there, fight me and try to win.’
So how does a typical camp start? ‘I come into the gym and Mark beats me straight away. We don’t go crazy with the runs, it’s just me… no entourage. I run when and where Mark tells me. He tells me to run before 7, before breakfast, I do that.’
For an Englishman, Buglioni could not learn in a better environment. While I arranged to meet him at 19:00, he was not the only recognisable pug in the gym at that time. Camacho, a victor in Matchroom Sports’ revolutionary Prizefighter tournament series was present, joking around with Frank, as was Erick Ochieng, a highly-likeable junior middleweight who I watched spar Bradley Skeete in nearby boxing club; Peacock Gym, a matter of days prior.
‘It’s a great gym here, you get a lot of boys here, some great sparring with amateurs coming up,’ Frank said.
When it comes to sparring, Buglioni has traded blows with the best. Whether it’s recently-defeated light-heavyweight titleholder Nathan Cleverly, or four-time super middleweight champ Carl Froch.
‘I sparred Cleverly in Wales. They’ve got great facilities, a ring, a cage, bags, great strength and conditioning area. Him and Carl Froch have been the best to spar. Unbelievable work-rate. [Cleverly has] got the strength of a light heavy but the work-rate or engine of a lightweight.’
Buglioni will face late opponent Bronislav Kubin on the Copper Box card and there is little doubt the 24-year-old is looking at the regional title scene over the next six to 12 months.
‘Callum Smith, Rocky Fielding…’ Buglioni says after I ask for names of the calibre of opponent he’d want to be boxing over the coming months. Frank has the benefit of campaigning in and around Britain’s strongest divisions and has seen his name linked with a number of domestic stars-in-the-making such as Chris Eubank Jr or James DeGale.
‘Mark and Jimmy have both said… three years, then the training wheels come off. Whoever is out there, we’ll be calling out.’
There is just 12 months left on that three-year career plan but if there's one thing to count on, it'll be that there will be even more eyes and even more attention paid to one of the nation's top prospects as he continues his upward trajectory in the fight game.