Alex Arthur: Late Leith boxing legend Joe Fortune made me a pro
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He was the tough talking, no nonsense boxing sage who helped a generation of young fighters punch well above their weight.
Condolences poured in last week following the news that lifelong boxing trainer Joe Fortune, who devoted decades to his craft at Leith Victoria AAC, had died at the age of 90.
A legendary figure in the local boxing community, Fortune steered the likes of Brad Welsh, Alex Arthur, and Stephen Simmons to great acclaim and success.
Commonwealth gold medallist and former WBO world champion Alex Arthur MBE was coached by Joe from childhood until the age of 22.
The Edinburgh-born fighter, who retired in 2013, says it was Joe who transformed his life, instilling in him the required self belief and skills to make it in boxing.
He says: "He was like a boxing coach from a Rocky movie, that’s the impression he gave me straight away.
“He took no b******t and you just knew he was due respect and that he’d been a good fighter in his day. He just knew boxing inside out. Everything he said I took as gospel."
While Arthur, 42, admits his own life as a youngster had been full of challenges, it was knowing that Joe had experienced such unspeakable personal trauma that taught the young boxer never to complain.
He said: "I’d had a pretty rough background, but once I got to know him I understood what he’d been through in life. He lost his son, then his wife, and had to quit boxing to look after his kids on his own and keep up his window cleaning business.
"If you ever moaned or felt a little bit hard done by, how could you complain to Joe when he’d been through everything? He was the one responsible for making me tough and he always found the words to perk me up when things weren’t going my way.
“All the stuff that I done with Joe, that all set me up for my professional career."
As a schoolboy, Alex says Joe gave him the greatest accolade a young Scots boxer could possibly receive, comparing him favourably against one of this country’s all-time greatest talents.
Alex said: "He actually said to me when I was about 14 years old that I was better than Ken Buchanan. He said I punched harder and with more variety and had more stuff in my arsenal.
“He’d watched Buchanan coming up, seen him fight, but that was just his view. Right until the end he still thought I was better than him.”
Going on to enjoy an astonishingly successful and trophy-laden career, that would include eight professional titles and the WBO World Super-Featherweight belt in 2007, Alex Arthur’s early amateur days with Joe undoubtedly peaked at the Commonwealth Games at Kuala Lumpur in 1998. The young Arthur defeated Canada’s Marty O’Donnell in the featherweight final and returned to Edinburgh a few carats heavier.
Alex says: “Joe’s reaction to the Commonwealth Games.. I remember it like yesterday. When I came back to Scotland and put the gold medal round his neck his face was just unbelievable. I’d never seen him smile like that. I’ll never forget it.”