Clinton Woods; Cinderella Man

Some fighters are best remembered for their losses in the ring. Former heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry is one such name that springs to mind. At his peak in the 60s and 70s he is remembered more for his losses to Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton than for any of his fifty-three wins. Quarry always fought to win but he was acutely aware of his own shortcomings. He found a way to express his feelings on the matter through his interest in poetry when he said, “I fought with heart / but needed much more / a bridesmaid but never a bride.” Fighters who fall short of winning world titles seem destined to become mere footnotes in boxing history, or at least it seemed that way for Sheffield’s Clinton Woods.

In 2002, Woods was the mandatory challenger for Roy Jones Jr’s WBC light-heavyweight crown. Roy Jones Jr was considered a boxing demi-god. Already a triple-weight world champion, he possessed a level of skill, speed and artistry that made good fighters look inept. In his previous fight he knocked out Australian Glenn Kelly with a right hander he didn’t see coming because Jones Jr threw it from behind his back.

Jones Jr was the absolute best in the business and he wanted to prove it against Clinton Woods. For two rounds Woods made it a fight forcing Jones to the ropes and causing a slight swelling over his right eye, but ultimately the champion’s class prevailed and he stopped a bloody, beaten but defiant Woods in the sixth round.

From that point, Clinton Woods could have returned home and faded in obscurity content in the knowledge that he had produced a valiant effort against the greatest boxer on the planet. He could have told his children that he would have been world champion had circumstances been different. Boxing is full of ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda,’ stories, but let’s be clear Clinton Woods is not one of them.

It took the Sheffield fighter four attempts to become a world champion. With every set back he suffered he dusted himself down and rebuilt his career. He is one of the true success stories in British boxing; one which is characterised by hard work, sacrifice and perseverance especially in the face of certain failure.

Speaking on the phone from his home it only takes a few minutes to understand that Clinton Woods is a modest, softly spoken, Yorkshireman. The 44 year old former pro professes to not being a boxing fan himself but he can wax lyrical on the virtues of some of his favourite fighters, Sugar Ray Leonard and ‘Marvelous,’ Marvin Hagler. He almost seems nostalgic for that era when fighters built their reputation on hard work, skill and facing adversity in the ring. Things Woods took pride in doing all throughout his career.

As a schoolboy amateur Woods won 60 of his 70 bouts for Hillsborough ABC but when he became a father at 15 he left school to start work and his boxing fell by the wayside. He earned a living as a plasterer and worked on building sites with his older brothers. Too tired to go to the gym in the evenings he preferred to go drinking with his brothers which often resulted in bar brawls and brushes with the authorities.

Woods describes how six years after he quit the amateur game he found his way back into boxing, “I was getting fat and getting into trouble so I decided to sort myself out and get fit,” he exclaims, “Someone told me there was a boxing gym nearby so I went down there with nothing in my mind other than to box again to get fit.”

The gym that Woods found himself in happened to belong to local scrap dealer-cum-boxing promoter Dennis Hobson. He was impressed with Woods and offered him a professional contract in November 1994. “I went along with it,” admits Woods, “but I never thought it would happen.”

Within three years Woods was undefeated in 18 contests and had won the Central Area super-middleweight title. He was considered a decent pro, effective with a good chin but no world-beater. In December 1997, with 10 days’ notice he beat Mark Baker in a gruelling 12 rounder for the vacant Commonwealth super-middleweight title on the undercard of the Vinny Pazienza v Herol Graham fight at Wembley Arena.

The difficult nature of the win over Baker may have been influenced by Woods approach to boxing at that time. “I was still playing at boxing, still boozing,” he admits, “I was a big underdog for that fight but after every fight I won I thought that’s as far as I can go, if I lose the next one I’ll pack it in. That was the way I was all through my career.”

As chance would have it Woods did lose his next fight against future two time world title challenger; David Starie. The Suffolk fighter gave Woods all he could handle but there were more pronounced reasons for his first professional loss, “At that time I had no one doing my weights and I was taking protein supplements that I didn’t fully understand,” he said.

“I was training down in London and a guy suggested I take Creatine. I didn’t understand at the time that Creatine makes your muscles hold onto water. I was miles over the weight a few days before the fight.”

“I think making weight weakened me too much. Every time Starie hit me in the stomach he winded me. I felt I let people down with the result but I wasn’t bovvered or upset. I was a grafter and I could go back to work on site. I wasn’t bovvered.”

Woods repeats the statement ‘I wasn’t bovvered,’ several times during the course of the interview. At times he is at risk of sounding like a character from The Catherine Tate Show, but in reality it reflects the cool, calm and collected approach he adopted throughout his professional career.

For ‘Clint the Mint,’ his calmness under pressure combined with the ability to largely fly under the media radar served him well in comparison to other more high profile Sheffield fighters during the 90s. “Everyone talked about the Ingle fighters; Ryan Rhodes, Junior Witter, Johnny Nelson and Naseem Hamed but they weren’t talking about me. All the pressure was on them, not me. I wasn’t afraid of losing, after all I wasn’t meant to win nowt.”

After his first reverse in the professional ranks Woods made the decision to move up to the light heavyweight division and within a year of the defeat to Starie, Woods earned himself a shot at British, Commonwealth and European light-heavyweight champion Crawford Ashley.

Ashley was a bigger puncher than Woods and had fought a better calibre of opponent including; Johnny Nelson, Carl Thompson, Michael Nunn, Dennis Andries and Virgil Hill. In almost the first exchange he bloodied Woods’ nose, “He bust my nose and its needed three operations since,” admits Woods.

Things may have not looked favourable for the Sheffiled man but uncharacteristically for Woods he employed aggressive tactics taking the fight to Ashley and halting proceedings in the eighth round. “I knew Ashley weren’t a better boxer than me, so I thought I would take him through a few rounds and tire him out.” The gamble paid off but it was perhaps it was the first glimpse that Clinton Woods was more than just a decent pro with a good chin.

He followed the victory over Ashley with ten consecutive victories seven inside the distance perhaps suggesting that Woods was finally punching his weight. It was then that the offer to fight Roy Jones Jr was put on the table.

“I wasn’t good enough to beat Jones Jr,” admits Woods, “At least not at that time. A few years later it would have been a better fight. I’m not saying I would beat him, but I feel that at his best and me at my best it’s a twelve round fight. It was after the Jones Jr fight that I came home and knew what I needed to do.”

Woods rebounded and notched up three more stoppage victories before facing ‘The Road Warrior,’ Glen Johnson for the vacant IBF light heavyweight world title in November 2003. The pair battled to a split draw, “It was a draw but I believe I knocked Johnson down in the last round,” explains Woods. The rematch in Sheffield three months later saw Johnson walk away with a unanimous decision and the world title.

“After the second Johnson fight I changed a few things,” explains Woods, “I was training really well for that fight but I was coming home from the gym feeling absolutely knackered. I went to see a doctor who discovered I had an iron deficiency. After that I started taking B12 injections and I brought a guy in to do my diet and supplements. I was a different fighter. It was easier.”

It marked a significant change in the career of the Sheffield fighter. He stopped Australian Jason DeLisle in the last round of a scheduled 12 round eliminator for the IBF title relinquished by Johnson when he elected to fight Antonio Tarver.

In March 2005, Woods was rewarded with a shot at the vacant IBF title against the dangerous Rico Hoye. The American was 18-0 (14 KOs) and was being tipped as a future world champion. “The guy was tipped to win everything,” Woods said, “He would have been a superstar if he had been with a big promoter.”

“That fight I had one of the best training camps in my career,” explains Woods, “I believe I would have beaten anyone that night.”

Woods fought out of his skin that night in Sheffield. He caught Hoye on the inside with short hooks and set up even more stinging shots with his jab which ultimately led to the fight being stopped in the fifth round which saw Woods finally being crowned world champion.

“I felt like I proved everyone wrong,” explains Woods when asked what it meant to finally win a world title. “Nobody thought I would win a proper world title and I liked how we did it, we did it on our own. I started in a small gym in Sheffield, we had two bags and when it rained we trained in puddles so to come from that to win a world title it was like the cat finally getting the cream.”

Despite fulfilling his career ambition Woods didn’t receive the recognition for winning the world title at his fourth attempt. “The day after I won the world title England won the Ashes,” Woods said, “The papers just focused on the Ashes but there was a cartoon in one of the papers and it was entitled, ‘Cinderella Man.’”

“I believe that’s the way I’ve been all my career, people call me the Cinderella man of boxing but I wasn’t bovvered, I fought the best, all the top names and I was never really hurt.”

In comprehending Woods’ achievements as a fighter it is impossible not to be struck by his determination and mental strength which helped him remain in perhaps at best an unforgiving sport. “I’ve always enjoyed the hard training,” he explains, “I just had the desire to be a world champion and be the best. A lot of it is down to Dennis Hobson. He always had belief in me from day one and I thank him for that.”

During this brief moment of reflection the Sheffield fighter’s thoughts turn to his former trainer Neil Port and he becomes noticeably upset. “Neil was like a brother to me. He was one of the reasons why I carried on. He would always say that I was going to be world champion. It’s very sad to talk about it.” Neil Port was stabbed to death some time before the Hoye fight and never saw Woods win the world title.

Woods would go on to make four successful defences of his world title, with victories over Julio Cesar Gonzalez (twice) Jason DeLisle and the rubber match with his old foe Glen Johnson. He lost his title to Antonio Tarver in 2008 in a fight that effectively signalled the end of his career.

“I knew I was going to lose,” explains Woods. “I hurt my back doing some weights but I’d lose my title if I pulled out. I had a terrible training camp in America, the sparring partners were supposed to be 6ft tall like Tarver but they were small and they were only amateurs. All the way through I was bickering with my trainer. We had a few disagreements and I should have pulled out.”

Woods lost a twelve round decision to Tarver. “I was embarrassed,” he admits, “After the fight I just wanted to get into the changing room, get showered and go to my hotel. It was shocking, I just wanted to apologise to everyone.”

A fiercely proud man, Woods returned to the ring with a points victory over Elvir Muiriqi which set up another tilt at the vacant IBF light heavyweight world title this time against Tavoris Cloud. When Woods lost by unanimous decision he concedes that he felt relieved, “I just didn’t want to go out in boxing like I did against Tarver but after the Cloud fight I was just relieved to be able to retire.”

A loyal servant to British boxing Woods has been able to lead a quiet life in his native Yorkshire. “I hadn’t earned enough money from boxing not to do anything. I had to do something so I did some landscape gardening, then I did some plastering. I’ve always been a grafter.”

Woods couldn’t completely escape boxing opening Clinton Woods Boxing Fitness Gym where he now runs boxercise classes. “My life is brilliant,” exclaims Woods, “I’ve got a great wife, I’ve got great kids and I’m able to look out of my kitchen window every day at trees and green fields. I still hang around with the same friends from school, it’s a nice life.”

When asked his views about Roy Jones Jr and his decision to continue a career in boxing well-beyond his prime Woods is earnest in his answer, “People give boxers a hard time. If he wants to fight, let him fight. Jones Jr must be desperate to keep on fighting but if he loves fighting then why not? It’s his own choice.”

“I get the odd message from Jones Jr asking for a rematch,” Woods said, “we could phone him now and make the fight but there’s no point.”

The lure of the boxing ring does not have the same hold on Clinton Woods that it has on some of his former foes. Why should it? The man has nothing more to prove.

Woods is an honest, no nonsense character. He probably doesn’t believe in fairy tales but he has accomplished some extraordinary achievements, more than some fighters could even dream about. He has also achieved something that few world champions ever see within their own lifetime, a genuinely happy retirement. Perhaps that is the real fairy tale ending for boxing’s ‘Cinderella man.’

Clinton Woods Autobiography written with Mark Turley is on sale later this year.

Journeymen; Boxing’s Unsung Heroes

In May 2016, undefeated super-middleweight Callum Smith entered the ring in front of a sold out home crowd at Goodison Park. His opponent that night was the unknown Cesar Hernan Reynoso, who had never fought outside of his native Argentina in his five years as a professional.

Perhaps Reynoso could have been spared his airfare from Buenos Aires as the hard punching Smith dropped the Argentinian three times on route to a sixth round stoppage. Despite being out of his depth, Reynoso produced a spirited performance, taking Smith’s best shots, landing some of his own and overall making his opponent work for the victory.

Fighters like Reynoso serve a valuable purpose in boxing. For promoters eager to develop a prospect into a genuine world class fighter they need opponents who will be competitive, take the prospect a few rounds but who ultimately lose.

It sounds unfair, almost as if boxing lacks integrity but in reality this is the business end of the sport. Boxing needs losers like a plant needs water.

These so-called, ‘professional losers,’ are known as ‘Journeymen.’ Perhaps a fairer definition of their title is that they are fighters who have ability but are not outstanding. At least not on paper.

“People don’t understand what a Journeyman is,” explains Lewis, ‘Poochi,’ Van Poetsch, a former soldier and retired ring veteran. “Nine times out of ten, a Journeyman is there to put a win on his opponent’s record.”

The 26 year old Van Poetsch should know, in a professional career spanning four years he amassed a record of 4-46-1 (0 KOs). In that time he served as the ‘opponent,’ for six fighters making their professional debuts and he lost to these novices on each occasion.
During his career he fought a host of domestic names including; Sam Eggington, Lee Markham and Curtis Woodhouse. He lost each of those encounters but he believes the role of a Journeyman is vital in the development of fighters.

“A Journeyman’s job is to separate the men from the boys, the less talented fighters from the better ones. If you feel your opponent is on a level par with you then you have to push them, otherwise they are going to end up being a Journeyman as well.”

Journeymen have elevated losing to an art form. It requires skill to lose a fight every month and still be able to turn a profit. In 2015, Van Poetsch fought sixteen times, winning only once but there are valid reasons why Journeymen shouldn’t bite off more than they can chew.

“If you are a Journeyman who wants to fight every fight then it’s going to be a short career for you,” explains Van Poetsch, “I’ve been stopped nine times, but I’ve only been stopped properly about three or four times. On all the other occasions it’s been the result of a cut. If you get injured then you get suspended for a month, so that’s a month with no pay.”

It doesn’t pay to take risks in the ring but that doesn’t stop some Journeymen from wanting to take the fight to their opponent.

“I wouldn’t call myself a Journeyman,” says Harry Matthews, “I would class myself as a ‘danger-man,’ because I always turn up to fight and try to win.”

“I’ve not got the best record,” Matthews admits, “but I’ve never passed up a challenge. I’ve always stepped up to the plate and I’ve fought quite a few top lads.”

Part-time personal trainer Matthews 28, holds a professional record of 14-21-2 (2KOs) and has fought Nick Blackwell, Lee Markham, Tom Doran and Chris Eubank Jr. It becomes apparent from speaking with both Van Poetsch and Matthews that neither men started their career with the intention of becoming a Journeyman.

At one point in his professional career Harry Matthews was 9-0 (2 KOs) but a loss to fellow journeyman Ciaran Healy in Belfast on the undercard of Paul McCloskey’s defence of his European title against Giuseppe Lauri in 2010 shifted the dynamic of his career.

“I don’t know what happened me,” explains Matthews, “Maybe the occasion got to me, I was 21 years old at the time and I don’t think I took boxing as seriously as I should have. If I was in that position now I would handle it a bit better because I am more mature. It was probably all due to a lack of experience.”

Van Poetsch offers a different perspective on why he became a journeyman, “when I was scheduled to fight on a show I would have to sell a certain allocation of tickets by a certain deadline. If you don’t sell your tickets then they either pull you off the show or you are made box for free. I just decided I didn’t want the stress of having to sell tickets. I am from a small town in Gloucestershire so it’s hard. I decided it was much easier to be on the road to turn up, get paid and do what I do.”

The issue of ticket selling is a real pressure in the life of a Journeyman as Matthews confirms, “It’s a hard sport to make money in. When you are selling tickets you can’t have your top line until you’ve sold your purse, your opponent’s share and your promoters cut.”

“I couldn’t live on boxing without my work as a personal trainer or my sponsor,” he adds, “If I’ve made a loss on tickets I’ve been able to make it back with sponsorship. I wonder sometimes would I be better off on the road just fighting for the money.”

Seeking fortune on the road isn’t always the answer either as Van Poetsch discovered, “There is a standard price for a four round fight, its £1000 but you pay 25% of that to your manager or trainer. Basically, you are left with £750 for twelve minutes work.”

“Sure everyone says, ‘Yeah I’d go to Doncaster and get banged out for that kind of money,’ but what they do see is all the hard work behind the scenes, like the training and making weight.”

“Usually I would get a call on short notice, but if I said I wanted more money because I’ve cancelled plans, the promoter would say, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ Next thing you would see someone else getting the fight. It doesn’t matter how much you think you are worth, someone will always box for the fee the promoter is offering.”

Life as a road warrior isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, fighting up and coming fighters in their own backyard can be daunting, nobody expects the out of town fighter to do anything other than lose so when there are close contests the Journeyman can end up feeling more than a little disgruntled.

“I had a couple of fights on the road, won one and then got a few dodgy decisions,” explains Van Poetsch, “I’d be in a 50/50 fight and I’d quite clearly have taken three rounds but the judges would score it 10-10, or I would get one round. In the end, you wonder to yourself, what’s the point of turning up and trying to win?”

Boxing is subjective. In a close run contest a judge perhaps might be swayed by the crowd, they are only human and with that in mind Journeymen must win convincingly when fighting on the road.

The British Board of Control (BBofC) who regulate boxing in the UK insist that the standard judging and refereeing in the jurisdiction is of the highest quality. However you don’t need to be a world class judge to tell who would be expected to win a fight. “You just have to look at any boxing programme in the country and you can pick the winner yourself,” explains Matthews.

A fighter couldn’t do the job of a Journeyman without feeling a little sore about losing. It’s probably what keeps them motivated to come back every week and take on the challenge laid down by promoters and matchmakers.

Perhaps nobody outside of the boxers themselves will ever appreciate what it’s like to be a Journeyman. It can be a solitary existence at the best of times, training for fights they aren’t expected to win. It was the Journeyman lifestyle that eventually led Van Poetsch to hang up his gloves.

“I had started to fall out of love with boxing,” he admits, “I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, the travelling, making weight and waiting around for hours not knowing if you were going to be on a show. My favourite part of it all was the final bell.”

Journeymen don’t always get the opportunities they deserve for the service they provide boxing. However in March 2015, Lewis Van Poetsch fought Harry Matthews for the British Masters Bronze super-middleweight title.

“The fight with Harry Matthews was my first 8 round fight,” Van Poetsch recalls, “I knew Harry had been in with Eubank Jr and I thought I had better take care of myself.”

“My dream has always been to win a title,” explains Matthews, “It was a good night when I fought Van Poetsch. I had to sell enough tickets to cover my purse, his purse and sanction the fight. It turned out to be a nice little earner.”

“I knew Poochi was tough,’ admits Matthews, “he had fought a lot of good fighters on the road. I dropped him in the seventh with a body shot and then he came out in the last round and he gave me a fight.”

“I won the first few rounds but he won the fight on his work rate,” exclaims Van Poetsch, “I haven’t seen Harry since, but if we met again I’d probably have a beer with him.”

For Matthews the victory against Van Poetsch was a special moment in his career, “It was very emotional that night,” Matthews admits, “After all the setbacks, all the losses, feeling like I had never gone as far I should have in boxing, that was the night I wanted to go out and hold the belt up after winning. It may have been a British Masters title, but to me it meant the world.”

After the Matthews loss, Van Poetsch was back in action the following month. He would embark on a twenty eight fight losing streak, before he was scheduled to fight Andy Holmes in Hull in September 2016.

“My licence was due to expire in October, so I decided to take on Holmes as my retirement fight,” explains Van Poetsch, “The first round he came out swinging and I could see he wasn’t fit enough to maintain that pace.”

“As the fight progressed I started unloading punches and I began to catch him. I started enjoying it. It finished a draw which is as good as a win to a journeyman. At the end, I got a standing ovation from the crowd and I got a bit emotional because I knew I’d never box again.”

Van Poetsch has no regrets about retiring from boxing. He may not have had the glittering career that all fighters aspire to have but he gave his all as a loyal servant to boxing. He admits, “I wasn’t a diva. I just turned up and did what was expected of me. I was courteous and shook everyone’s hand. I wished everyone the best of luck and I prided myself in being a sportsman and a nice guy.” Van Poetsch is now training to be a barber.

For Matthews the wheels keep turning on his career. Since he beat Van Poetsch he has fought twice, winning one and losing the other. He remains determined to take something from boxing, “I’ve dedicated half my life to the sport. I’m not willing to quit until I at least get a house out of boxing.”

For fighters considered professional ‘losers,’ the desire and will to win is still strong in Journeymen. “You sometimes see these fighters who come out of nowhere and get a world title shot,” Matthews says, “Look at Mickey Ward, he had his own fair share of losses but he persevered and eventually won a version of the world title.”

“I’ve made a name for myself fighting big names,” says Matthews, “but I still have the drive to do better. I believe one day I’ll knock out someone who’s really good and it’ll all turn around for me.”

Harry Matthews will fight the undefeated Marcus Morrison on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s defence of his IBF heavyweight title against Eric Molina on 10th December 2016.

“I regret calling Sugar Ray Leonard Fat!” -Donny Lalonde

Twenty-eight years after his epic clash with Sugar Ray Leonard in Las Vegas, former Light-Heavyweight world champion Donny Lalonde provides an insight into his boxing career and shares his memories of the Leonard fight.

There are very few fighters who can say that they had Sugar Ray Leonard bloodied and on the canvas. Donny Lalonde is one of them.

On the 7th of November 1988, Leonard was bidding to become a five weight world champion and Lalonde was standing in his way. The WBC Light-heavyweight champion dropped Leonard in the fourth round and for a moment it seemed he could cause an upset.

Unfortunately for Lalonde there would be no upset that night. Leonard cemented his place in boxing history with a ninth round stoppage of his opponent.

It would seem logical that Lalonde should feel aggrieved in some way about his defeat but when asked about his memories of that fight his initial response is unexpected.

“I regret calling Sugar Ray Leonard fat,” Lalonde says, “It just wasn’t my style.”

It was a surprising reaction to the Leonard fight, but then Lalonde’s style has always been unconventional.

Donny Lalonde did not get an easy start in life. He grew up in Winnipeg in a household where he was subjected to an abusive step Father. That relationship had a profound influence on the young Lalonde, his self esteem was greatly affected and in many ways he spent much of his life trying to prove his worth to a violent and bullying father figure.

Lalonde left home at 15 hitch hiking to Kitchener in search of work. He discovered boxing and his first amateur trainer was Hook McComb who also trained a young Lennox Lewis. It was in McComb’s gym with no equipment per say apart from a heavy bag that Lalonde discovered his talent and desire for boxing. He wanted to be the first Canadian boxer to make a million dollars.

In 1979, Lalonde lost to Pat Fennell in the national finals. Lalonde had been setting his sights on the Olympic Games in 1980, but he was impatient for success so after fifteen amateur fights he decided to turn professional.

Nobody thought Lalonde would make it in boxing. Like so many Canadian’s his first love was hockey. When he was 17 he suffered an injury to his shoulder, when during a hockey game he was clobbered in the shoulder by a player in the opposite team. He had to have surgery, which was unsuccessful and as a result he could not hold his left close to his body, which also made it difficult to throw a jab.

Undeterred Lalonde began a professional boxing career, under the tutelage of Peter Piper and Al Sparks in his native Winnipeg. He was also managed by Dave Wolf, a former journalist from New York.

Wolf would have a significant influence on Lalonde’s career. “Dave was a character,” explains Lalonde, “A New Yorker who never had a drivers licence. He was witty, intelligent, well read and a lot of fun. He was a genius and a real blessing to me in my life.”

He rose to prominence in his native Canada making a name for himself against experienced domestic opposition.

He travelled to Toronto and notched up an eight round decision over Don Hurtle, “I was in his home town and afterwards he visited my hotel with beer and pizza to make me feel welcome,” remembers Lalonde, “He was a nice guy.”

After fifteen bouts he won the Canadian Light Heavyweight title with a tenth round stoppage of Roddy MacDonald in 1983. MacDonald was a heavy puncher as Lalonde explains, “He hit me on the left side of my face and that my head rattled. I have never been hit so hard in a fight as I was in that one.”

Lalonde would later defend his Canadian title against Jimmy Gradson who was managed by former heavyweight George Chuvalo.
“The defence against Gradson was my first fight after a second bout of surgery on my shoulder. Gradson was another hard puncher, my plan was to stay out of range and keep moving.”

Within thirty seconds of the first round Lalonde dropped Gradson for the first time in his career. A minute later Lalonde flattened the challenger with a solid right.

Lalonde soon earned himself the nickname “The Golden Boy.” The moniker just added to his marketability. In a sport dominated by Black and Latino fighters Lalonde stood out with his blonde mullet and ‘surfer dude,’ image. He was handsome and articulate which were not stereotypical characteristics for hardened fighters in the ’80s.

Lalonde admits, “I was not a conventional prize fighter. When I first started as a professional I was nicknamed ‘Dynamite Donny.’ I didn’t like it. I had a desire to represent boxing in a different light. I wanted to be something more positive. Someone came up with ‘Golden Boy,’ and it just stuck.”

Lalonde was quickly moving from a prospect to a contender. However he still encountered detractors particularly in the press who felt he would amount to nothing.
“I could understand why people questioned my ability. I had a bad arm, I was awkward I had no amateur experience. In a way you have to question your own sanity, but I boxed an exhibition with Tommy Hearns and that woke a lot of people up to the fact that I could fight. That inspired me to achieve my ambition.”

The fight which really made people take Lalonde seriously was against Mustafa Hamsho in 1987. Born in Syria, the New York based Hamsho had unsuccessfully challenged Marvin Hagler for the middleweight world title in 1984 but he had beaten notable world champions; Alan Minter, Bobby Czyz and Wilfred Benitez. He was a seasoned veteran but Lalonde beat him over twelve rounds by a unanimous decision.

A world title challenge was looming. The light-heavyweight division was wide open in 1987 with the undisputed champion Michael Spinks having moved up to campaign as a heavyweight. Lalonde signed to fight Eddie Davis for the vacant WBC title in November 1987 but his detractors were still nipping at his heels.

“Nobody gave me credit for getting my title shot or a chance to win the fight,” remarks Lalonde, “People were saying the only reason I was getting a shot was because my manager had manipulated the sanctioning body. The Canadian media didn’t even send a journalist to the fight, two guys; Rick Frazier and Tom Brennan paid their own way to go down. Other than those two there was no coverage of the fight. Everyone was saying I didn’t belong there.”

Eddie Davis had beaten future world champion Murray Sutherland he had proved his quality in losses to Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Michael Spinks. He was a tough fighter but any notion that Lalonde didn’t belong in his company was quickly dispelled. Davis was dropped twice and stopped in the second round by Lalonde. Finally people would have to take notice of the Canadian.

Despite the joy and exhilaration of winning a world title the main emotion Lalonde felt was relief. “Mentally going into the Davis fight I had put a lot of pressure on myself. I had said after one professional fight that I wanted to win a world title. I had then devoted my 20s to boxing, I had to win or face having wasted perhaps the most productive years of my life.”

“My trainers Bobby Cassidy and Tommy Gallagher worked their butts off to get me in shape. I rose to the occasion that night, it was a legitimate title shot and I beat a legitimate guy. It was the ultimate way for an underdog to win a world championship, with no mistakes or controversy.”

Lalonde followed his championship winning performance with a difficult first defence against former WBA Light-heavyweight champion Leslie Stewart in the challenger’s homeland of Trinidad and Tobago.

“Stewart was known for his toughness and durability,” Lalonde recalls, “There was talk at one stage that he would move up and fight Mike Tyson. Once again, there was a lot of pressure on me in that fight. I remember jogging on the running track in the National stadium in Trinidad and Tobago and the locals coming up to me and threatening me. It did get nasty at one point. On the day of the fight the place was surrounded by police with machine guns and Doberman Pinchers just in case the crowd got out of control.”

The locals could have no complaints about the result of the fight. Lalonde stopped Stewart in five rounds. The win provided a much needed boost to Lalonde’s self-esteem, “Leslie was a great fighter. I had beaten someone who was considered a great champion, it validated me as a professional and I could now claim to be the legitimate Light-Heavyweight champion of the world.”

Lalonde’s career was on an all-time high. He had fulfilled his life’s ambition to become a world champion, now he had set his sights on setting himself up financially for the rest of his life. It was at this point in his career that Lalonde was asked if he would consider moving down in weight to fight Sugar Ray Leonard.

By his own admission Lalonde did not take it seriously, effectively it meant a Welterweight fighting a Light-heavyweight. Not only that but Leonard was thirty-two years old and had been inactive since he had beaten Marvin Hagler for the world middleweight title in April 1987. However with Tommy “The Hitman,” Hearns cementing his place in boxing history as a world champion in multiple weight divisions, Leonard was considering his own legacy and did not want to be out done by his rival.

The Leonard camp shrewdly negotiated the terms of the fight scheduled for the 7th of November 1988 in Las Vegas. The bout would be fixed at 168 lbs the weight limit for the newly created Super-Middleweight division. The inaugural WBC Super-middleweight title and Lalonde’s Light-Heavyweight title would both be on the line, enabling Leonard to capture titles in two divisions on the one night.

Lalonde had been a Light-Heavyweight for his entire career but he was optimistic about fighting in the lower weight division. “I thought I could make it no problem, I was always disciplined and I was a vegetarian so it was easy for me to lose weight.”

However the terms of the contract did weigh heavily on the outcome of the fight. A verbal agreement had been put in place that if Lalonde couldn’t make the weight, for every pound he was over the 168lb limit he would be penalised $1 million a pound. This stipulation would have a significant bearing on Lalonde’s training camp.

“In terms of how the verbal agreement would have impacted my trainer’s share of my purse, they would have lost $100,000 for every pound I was overweight. My trainer at the time was Tommy Gallagher and he wanted to make sure that I was underweight. I sparred ten rounds a day for seven weeks of the eight week camp. I over trained and by the weigh-in I was 163lbs. I was nowhere near the strength I should have been. If I had been my natural fighting weight which was 173lbs I would have destroyed Ray Leonard.”

It was during a press conference for the fight that Lalonde branded Leonard a “old fat welterweight,” something he now has reservations about doing, “I do regret calling Leonard a fat welterweight,” admits Lalonde, “I only said it to get into his head in respect of his natural weight. I just thought you can’t gain weight and still be effective.”

Lalonde’s natural size and strength did have a bearing on the fight, in the fourth round he dropped a bleeding Leonard to the canvas. The momentum should have turned in favour of the Canadian but ultimately Leonard would emerge victorious with a ninth round stoppage.

“The fight was over when I abandoned my game plan,” explains Lalonde, “I would fight with my left held low because I held it oddly it was always perceived as weak. I would pretend I was vulnerable then nail him with the right.”
“After the knockdown I thought the next time I hit this guy the fight is over. I started waiting for the opening and I guess he saw this and took advantage. Bob Dylan was in the audience that night and he said to me afterwards, ‘why didn’t you keep throwing the jab and then throw the right?’ and I asked, ‘where were you between the fourth and fifth rounds?’ (Laughs).”

Lalonde’s last hurrah came in the ninth when he launched a final assault on Leonard. He unleashed thirty one straight punches at Sugar Ray, who retaliated with a series of hooks before a straight right sent Lalonde to the canvas. He rose and gave Leonard a knowing nod. Leonard resumed his attack dropping Lalonde to the canvas with a vicious left-right combination. Lalonde fell awkwardly on the ring apron and the referee signalled the end.

Despite the loss the fight with Leonard would have a life changing effect on Lalonde. The fight had been promoted under the banner of Victory Promotions which in effect was a co-promotion between both fighters. Leonard reportedly received $15 million and Lalonde $5 million for the fight. The year before Lalonde had made $500,000 between the Davis and Stewart fights and before that the most he had earned was $20,000 for a fight.

Lalonde was effectively financially secure for the rest of his life. It marked a significant change in his personal life.

“Life turned crazy after the Leonard fight, I couldn’t go anywhere without being recognised. The freedom that money brought changed my life tremendously. It was a heck of a fun time.”

In 1989 Lalonde retired from boxing as a result of damage to his throat cartilage, “I had a sore throat for months,” Lalonde recalls, “eventually my manager made me go and see a specialist who discovered half of my larynx had been crushed. I had been close to death without realising.”

Despite what seemed like a career ending prognosis Lalonde found it difficult to completely turn his back on boxing. He made a series of comebacks in the 90s and 2000s unsuccessfully challenging Bobby Czyz for the WBA Cruiserweight title in 1992 and dropping a ten round decision to long-time rival Virgil Hill in 2002.

Lalonde is adamant his ability to box well into his forties is as a result of his interest in alternative medicine. The shoulder injury that had plagued him for his entire career had been healed using “Active Release Technique,” (ART) which had been developed by Mike Leahy of Colorado Springs.

“I realised early in my career if I wanted to be a successful athlete that I couldn’t rely on a doctor. I had a very poor experience of surgery with my shoulder. I started to read up on alternative medicine and learning about the relationship between food and our health. I am a walking example that we don’t need a lot of what Western medicine tells us. I haven’t taken an aspirin since I was 21 and I don’t deal with any form of pain, discomfort or surgery with anything other than natural remedies.”

Today Lalonde enjoys the simpler things in life. After boxing he moved with his wife Christie and two children Dylan and Bailey to Costa Rica to start a real estate business. He remains an anti-child abuse advocate and an advocate on the awareness of alternative therapies for contact sport athletes through his TKOOO initiative. He currently resides in Malta where he is writing his autobiography.

Although he regrets his comments about Ray Leonard he does not have any regrets about his boxing career, “The proudest part of my career was winning a world title but also getting in and out of boxing without being damaged. That’s a big achievement.”
In a long and varied career for Donny Lalonde it is nothing short of a triumph.

In the name of the Father: An Interview with Michael Carruth

Ireland’s former Olympic champion pulls no punches in a revealing interview. He talks about the relationship with his father, his friend Billy Walsh, winning Gold in Barcelona, the frustration of his professional career and he provides some sound advice for the Irish Olympians turning pro.  

Sons are extensions of their father, yet people used to tell Michael Carruth he was nothing like his dad Austin. They would tell him that he didn’t look a thing like his father or share any of his personality traits but what he did have was Austin’s calmness and that was huge for a boxer destined for glory in the Olympics.

Michael Carruth won the Gold medal in the Welterweight division at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. It was a historic victory that saw him become Ireland’s first Olympic champion since Ronnie Delany won the 1500m in 1956. Moments before the final Michael turned to his father and told him, “I’m going to win this fight, Ronnie Delaney’s time is up.”

With that Michael Carruth went out and fulfilled a promise that he had made as a seven year old. That he would win an Olympic Gold medal and that he would do it for his father.

The Michael Carruth story remains an inspiration to Irish athletes and central to that success is the relationship he enjoyed with his father.

Michael Carruth affectionately describes his father as, “My mentor and my tormentor.”

“Sometimes we were more like brothers rather than father and son. When he needed to be my father, he was my father, but we had a relationship based on absolute mutual respect. That’s how the pair of us got on so famously.”

Austin Carruth was the head coach at Drimnagh ABC, in South Dublin and had served as his son’s trainer for his entire amateur career. He was a master tactician, a meticulous planner and he had an unwavering eye for detail.
During the 1992 Olympics Austin Carruth was his son’s room mate while they stayed in the Olympic village.  Barcelona was Michael Carruth’s second Olympic Games. He suffered the disappointment of an early exit in Seoul in ’88 boxing in the Lightweight division he struggled with dehydration while trying to make the weight.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of Seoul, Austin would rise each night in Barcelona at 3am and wake Michael with a glass of water to keep him hydrated.

“He’ll never know how close he came to concussion,” laughs Michael.

“He would wake me up from the depths of sleep to drink that water, but it worked. I was spot on my weight.”

Carruth firmly believes that his father was ahead of his time in his training methods and approach to amateur boxing. He introduced Michael to weight training, something the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) questioned, but a move that helped deliver underage and intermediate titles to Michael in his late teens.

“My father was thirty years ahead of himself in terms of strength and conditioning training. It took people a long time to realise what he was doing before the High Performance Programme kicked in.”

Austin Carruth’s innovative coaching practices were crucial in ensuring his son made it to the Olympic finals in 1992. In the lead up to the National Championships that year Michael broke his hand while incorporating gymnastics into his training. With his hand in plaster until Christmas he was unable to spar.

Undeterred Austin devised a cunning plan for his son. He took Michael to a sports psychologist in Dublin who used a series of relaxation techniques that got him visualising how he would handle his upcoming opponents. Michael sparred over four hundred rounds in his mind’s eye.

Without having physically sparred one round of boxing Michael Carruth was aiming to regain the Irish National title from the man who had beaten him the previous year; his close friend Billy Walsh.

Michael drew Martin McBride from Edenderry in the first round and won in style. “My father said he never saw me throw so many punches before in my life.” Michael recalls.

“My mind-set was perfect. A week later I drew Billy in the final and I never boxed as well.  I knew I won and if I am being honest he knew it as well. I got the score and it was 13-9.”

Despite beating Billy Walsh in the National Championships the Central Council decided that Carruth would have to fight his friend once more in order to qualify for the Olympics. It was the third meeting in two years. It was a hard fought battle for Walsh on the scales, as he came in nearly seven kilos overweight but in the ring Carruth beat him on the same score as the previous meeting. Any doubts about Michael Carruth’s place on the Olympic squad were quashed.

Carruth and Walsh may have been rivals in the ring but they were very much firm friends outside of boxing;

“Billy was like another son in our house. When he used to come up from Wexford to Dublin for training he would stay in our house. He called my Mam his ‘Dublin Mam.’ When I was getting married his name was the first name on the guest list.”

After his own amateur career Walsh would go on to have a ‘second career,’ as the head coach of the IABA’s High Performance Unit and senior team. He led Irish boxers to Olympic, World and European gold medals, but in 2015 he resigned and left Ireland moving to Colorado to become the head coach of USA Boxing.

“I was surprised by the way he handed in his notice,” Carruth admits, “but Ireland can’t match the American’s level of funding and even if they could I think he would have left anyway because he wanted to chase that ambition of taking on the most successful nation in amateur boxing.”

The USA’s male boxers claimed a Bronze and a Silver medal at this year’s Olympics in Rio while middleweight Claressa Shields won her second consecutive Olympic Gold Medal. It was a marked improvement on the previous Olympics in London where none of the USA male boxers claimed a medal.

“Amateur Boxing in the USA is in a poor state at the moment.” Carruth declares, “The male boxers are being pushed into the pro ranks too early chasing the dollar. Billy has arrived and is feeding them the High Performance tablet, he has different training methods and he is a great man-manager. His goal will be to guide a US male boxer to Gold in Tokyo in 2020.”

Michael Carruth knows only too well that nobody hands out Gold Medals for free. It requires hard work and determination, which is why his relationship with teammate Wayne McCullough played such an important supporting role in Carruth’s Olympic glory.

“For a start it was a great story,” Carruth admits, “It was a Protestant from Belfast and a Catholic from Dublin. People would have thought we couldn’t be friends. Wayne has been my friend all my life. He still is. Boxing is like Rugby in Ireland, it’s always been united. We all boxed for Ireland. Nobody cared if you were a Catholic or a Protestant you just got on with it.”

The relationship between Carruth and McCullough was more than just a positive story for the Peace Process in Ireland or good PR for the Irish Olympic team there was a genuine bond and competitive spirit between the pair which propelled them both to succeed.
“We were an inspiration to one another. We were the only two surviving members of the Seoul team, so we had a little bit of experience behind us and we were a bit more streetwise in ’92. Wayne would usually fight before me, and win, so then I would say, ‘the little fecker,’ now I have to win.”

The chemistry between both fighters enabled them both to progress to the final. They would both be facing Cubans, who were notoriously difficult to beat. It would be a monumental task made all the more difficult considering how the tournament had taken its toll on both men.

Carruth explains, “When we had both qualified for the Olympics we were both injured and we had to keep it quiet. Wayne had had an absolute bloody war in his semi-final and his cheek bone was badly bruised. I had won a decent semi and I thought I could save something for the final, but both my hands were broken. I wasn’t really bad, I could still punch. Wayne was tender but nothing was going to stop us getting an Olympic title.”

On the day of the final Michael Carruth weighed in, had his breakfast and then slept for over an hour. He maintained his relaxation throughout the day despite watching his friend Wayne McCullough lose in his final to Joel Casamayor, “Wayne had an engine like a Rolls Royce. He wasn’t getting the best of it in the first two rounds, but he had a great last round,” concedes Carruth.

Wayne McCullough’s Silver medal in the final did at least affirm something in Carruth’s mind, “Wayne proved to me was that the Cubans were just human like the rest of us. I thought Wayne’s best could be my worst. By the end of his fight I started getting my head together. As the fight grew near my dad looked a bit nervy and that’s when I said, ‘Delaney’s time is up.’ I wasn’t being disrespectful I was just adamant I was going to take the Gold medal.”

Michael Carruth was a formidable boxer, tough and physically strong but perhaps the greatest weapon in his arsenal proved to be his mind.

He had overcome adversity in many forms during the qualifiers, he had carried significant injuries throughout the tournament and he was written off by the pundits in the final, against the 6’3 world amateur champion; Juan Hernandez.

After nine minutes of superb boxing which still ranks as one of the greatest Irish sporting performances Michael Carruth was crowned the Olympic Champion. His leaping celebration on the day remains iconic to a generation of Irish sports fans.

“I should have won the high jump as well,” he laughs.

Austin Carruth may have preferred his son to do the gentlemanly thing and shake his opponent’s hand after his victory but at the end of a magic fight all was forgotten as both men embraced in a moment which confirmed both the universal appeal of sport and the unspoken bond between a father and son.

Michael Carruth was the new Olympic champion and it took a while for him to adjust to that reality, “You are pinching yourself every couple of minutes.” he explains, “You’re thinking, ‘I’ve just won Olympic Gold and I’ve got a nice shiny medal in my pocket to prove it.”

The story could end there and the credits roll with Michael Carruth as the Olympic Champion, but a year later he embarked on a professional career.

He entertained a number of offers from the US, famously turning down Top Rank when promoter Bob Arum continually got his name wrong, “It just seemed like he couldn’t be bothered.” Carruth was also offered a contract with Jimmy Wheeler a promoter from Louisiana, which he almost signed before eventually opting for the London based Promoter Frank Warren.

The decision to sign with Warren appears to be the sole regret in his professional career, “I cursed myself not going to America. I should have gone. My ultimate aim would have been to fight Oscar De La Hoya. We would have seen who the real ‘Golden Boy’ was.”

“I was only married two years to my wife Paula and I thought it wouldn’t be fair dragging her all around the world and keeping her from her family.”

With that Carruth based himself in London accompanied by a new trainer; Ernie Fossey, perhaps better known in the trade as a cut man. Carruth admits, “I loved the bones of Ernie, but all he would tell me to do was throw an uppercut.”

In 1997 after fourteen professional fights Carruth earned himself a world title shot in Germany. It was against the undefeated Romanian Michael Loewe who was making the first defence of his WBO Welterweight title. Carruth lost a narrow split decision with two judges giving it to the champion by a point and a third by a landslide majority. Carruth has his own theories about the judges that night.

“I honestly believe I won that title in Germany. I believe one of those judges was bought. My father was in my corner and he told me I had to win the last four rounds and I did. You just to have to look at the footage of the fight to see who was in the worst shape at the end. If I had been anywhere else that night I would have been champion, but because I was in Germany I didn’t win.”

Loewe would retire after his fight with Carruth, a hand injury prevented him from ever boxing again. Carruth has his own theory about that as well, “He never fought again because he knew what I would do to him.”

The fight in Germany effectively severed all ties with Frank Warren as Carruth’s promoter. He admits at this point in his career he went into limbo. He found himself a Dublin promoter but he was not fighting regularly and it had a detrimental effect on his career.

“I was fighting in Dublin in smaller arenas and I only fought twice in two years. I was supposed to fight WBC Light middleweight champion Javier Casillejo but then that was called off, so I went home and I became undisciplined.”

The end of the road came in April 2000 when Carruth fought Adrian Stone, he battled hard with the scales and it resulted in a fifth round stoppage loss.

“It goes down in the history books that I quit on my stool,” admits Carruth, “My Da’ was in my corner that night. He warned me that I was dehydrated and that he wasn’t bringing me home in a coffin. I said, ‘pull the plug.’ It was just one of those things. That’s boxing.”

Michael Carruth’s experience as a professional boxer serves as a cautionary tale for amateurs transitioning into the paid ranks. In a sense they are two different sports, amateur boxing is about technique and skill. Professional boxing is blood sport. That said, Carruth himself affirms the decisions made by the former Irish Olympians who have now decided to throw their hats into the professional ring.

“I’m pleased Michael Conlon is going to America, there is no better professional set-up than what you will find in America. I know Michael reacted harshly to his quarter final loss, but he was completely hijacked in Rio. When you put your whole life into trying to win a medal it’s hard when it’s taken away from you. Who knows maybe the Russian [Vladimir] Nikitin will turn pro and Michael will have his revenge.”

“I think Jason Quigley will also do well being based in California. I was surprised given his relationship with Carl Frampton that Paddy Barnes didn’t ask Shane McGuigan to be his trainer but I wish him well with MGM.”

“It’s unfortunate we have lost some of our finest amateur lads but we wish them every luck.”

With the mass exodus of talent from the Irish amateur scene after the Olympics many pundits believed that the future of the sport was in pieces. In contrast Carruth remains positive about the future.

“They were saying it was the worst Irish boxing team ever. What a load of nonsense, look at our track record. It had been twelve years since there was an Irish boxing medallist before Barcelona in 1992. Then it was another sixteen before we won anymore. I don’t think there is a problem, I think the problem is the world judges.”

Carruth is also quick to point to emerging talent in Ireland, “I think Joe Ward is going to get better, he’s only 23 but I think he’ll be a strong contender for the next Olympics. There is also the young Belfast boxer Brendan Irvine and Lisburn’s Kurt Walker who will be two to watch for in the future.”

Another Northern Irish boxer that Carruth has a lot of time for is WBA Featherweight champion; Carl Frampton. “Carl could be the biggest thing Ireland has ever seen. He is on the verge of legendary status. It would have been great if he could have brought the rematch with Santa Cruz to Belfast and sold out Windsor Park but money dictates all these decisions. If he can beat him once he can beat him twice. It’s great for him and his family, it ensures security for the rest of his life. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

Life seemas to have come full circle for Michael Carruth. He currently works with the IABA facilitating the Start Box programme which teaches school children about the fundamentals of boxing. He is also the Head Coach of Drimnagh ABC. “I can’t complain,” he says, “it was done for me so it’s my job now to pass it on.”

Carruth is filling the void left by his father who sadly passed away in 2011 followed by his mother Joan in 2013. These days he is reflective about his career and life in general.

“I had a great career, I had a great upbringing and a great mum and dad who were my role models. They are gone from me now, but I wonder are they gone? My Da’ used to have a great saying, “I show you today, you teach me tomorrow. It just meant whatever he would show me I would put into practice in future and teach someone else.”

On a more subtle note one  Michael Carruth can admit that he has become more like his father. “I’m more like him now in his calmness and ability to forgive people. I’ve become much more tolerant.”

It seems the spirit of Austin Carruth is strong in his son as Michael Carruth outlines his own ambitions as an amateur coach, “My next aim is to produce an Olympic champion. I’m going to do it. The love of boxing will never die in this country.”

Let’s hope that Ireland’s love affair with boxing can be everlasting.

Forever and ever. Amen.

“Ogogo needs to put up or shut up!” – Q&A with “Spike,” O’Sullivan

The funny thing about Gary “Spike,” O’Sullivan is that you never know when he is going to strike next. He is a one-man flying column. A guerrilla fighter schooled in the dark art of verbal beat downs. He leaves no stone unturned and no opportunity missed to ridicule his rivals to an army of adoring fans on social media. Opponents should be warned that when you throw the gauntlet down to “Spike,” O’Sullivan you better be prepared for war.

The most recent incident involving the exciting Irish middleweight occurred a few weeks ago just off a quiet street in his native Mahon, Co. Cork in a Subway restaurant.

That morning the impressively framed O’Sullivan entered the Subway restaurant completely naked save for a florescent green Borat style mankini to spare his modesty. With his handlebar moustache curled within an inch of perfection he resembled what you might imagine a pirate would look like whilst on holiday in Ibiza.

O’Sullivan locked eyes with the proprietor and in his broad Cork accent he greeted the man, “How you getting’ on today?” before the proud Rebel begun his interrogation of the restaurant manager.

“Have you seen the dancing queen?” inquired O’Sullivan.

“The dancing queen?” the perplexed Subway employee replied.

“Yeah the Dancing Queen,” affirmed the boxer. O’Sullivan was referring to Anthony Ogogo the former British Olympic Bronze medallist and current middleweight prospect who fronted an advertising campaign for the sandwich chain during the 2012 Olympics and who also participated in the BBC reality dance competition, Strictly Come Dancing in 2015.

“Anthony Ogogo, have you seen him anywhere?” queried O’Sullivan

“Oh the ‘Sauerland brothers,’ rang him” [Ogogo’s promoters] the bemused manager answered, playing along with the farce. “I think he ran that way,” he said as he pointed down the street.

”The Sauerland brothers called him?” O’Sullivan mused.

“Yeah,” the vendor replied.

“He ran really quick?” asked the boxer. The restaurant manager nodded in agreement.

Satisfied with his cross-examination O’Sullivan relinquished his pursuit of Ogogo, “I’ll catch him the next day,” he said and then added with menace “Tell him I was here looking for him,” before turning on his heel in his colour co-ordinated florescent yellow trainers and exited the restaurant. It was just another comedic episode in the life of the Irish middleweight, captured on video and relayed to his fans with huge applause.

If O’Sullivan seems like a bit of a joker then think again. He has a sense of humour but he is nobody’s fool. A short conversation with the man reveals depth and character. He might like to play the clown outside the ring but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Every joke has a jab with Spike. Ultimately he is a proud Cork man, passionate about where he has come from and where he is going.

In the following interview fans will get an insight into the life of O’Sullivan which should lift the veil on one of the most passionate and interesting fighters to emerge from the island of Ireland in the last twenty years.

Hi Spike, let’s start by asking what are you up to at the moment?

I’m just tipping away in the gym getting ready for my next fight. I’m fighting in New Hampshire on the 17th September. My opponent is Marquis Davis (8-1-2, 5 KOS) from Florida. He’s a tough fighter so it should be a good fight.

Your pursuit of Anthony Ogogo on social media has been a joy to behold but what prompted you to pursue him in such fashion?

I think Ogogo is a bit of a plonker. I read an interview with him in February where he said he’d like to fight either Billy Joe Saunders, Eubank Jr. or me. He said if he knocked a couple of guys out he would be ready for any of us. Since that interview he’s knocked out three guys so he’s got to man up now or shut up. When a guy calls me out it gets my attention.

The clip you posted searching for Ogogo in the Subway in Cork was very funny do you enjoy making those videos for your fans?

I had a great laugh making that Subway video. When I left the restaurant there was a guy driving past and he crashed up on the kerb when he saw me in the mankini. It was hilarious. If I had got that on camera it would have been the best thing ever. It’s a good laugh doing things like that. It passes the time and it’s nice to interact with the fans.

Where did the idea for the video in which you publicly challenged Gennady Golovkin to a world title fight, whilst wearing a ‘mankini,’ come from?

It all originated from when Saul ‘Canelo,’ Alvarez avoided fighting Golovkin after the Cotto victory. I’m a top fifteen ranked contender so I’m eligible to challenge Golovkin for his world titles. It was just a case of Saunders didn’t want to fight him; Eubank Jr didn’t want to fight him either; so if nobody wants to fight him, I thought I’ll fight Golovkin. Considering Golovkin is from Kazakhstan it was only appropriate that I call him out Borat style in the mankini. That’s where I got the idea. It was just for a laugh.

Did you receive any backlash from Golovkin’s fans?

There were a few messages that I received on social media that I had to get translated. I think they were people from Kazakhstan basically giving me grief for what I had done but it was grand. They just want to see him knock me out.

You are very active on social media especially with fans but have you ever been the victim of abuse either on-line or on the street?

I get the odd person trolling me on-line but I don’t think they’d be brave enough to challenge me on the street. I get fewer than most. I think a lot of people like me on-line.

It must be noted that your trademark in the ring is your impeccably groomed facial hair. What style of moustache are you currently sporting?

(Laughs) I have a bit of a handle bar moustache at the minute.

Do you enjoy having a flamboyant image in boxing?

Yeah, I do enjoy it. I like being different and not the same as everyone else. Although I don’t want it to go to my head either (laughs).

Let’s get down to business. How did you become interested in boxing?

My father Denis trained me from the age of five. I went to my local boxing club [Loughmahon ABC] at seven and I began my amateur career. I won national titles and boxed for Ireland. When I was eighteen, I stopped taking it seriously and I got an apprenticeship as a sheet metal worker. There was a good five years where I was away from boxing but I was actually in the gym training other people. I trained a lot of amateurs. I trained nine national champions out of my home town of Mahon. Eventually I got back into it and had a few amateur fights. Then I met Paschal [Collins] who signed me up and I made my professional debut in Cork which was a great day for me.

Training nine national champions is a great achievement; would you have ever considered becoming a boxing trainer?

I really did enjoy it. It was great to see lads from my home town become national champions. I got a real buzz from that. Yeah, maybe it’s a possibility in the future. I like the idea of training amateurs, there’s no money involved. I like the idea of giving young guys good habits, so it would be good to one day get back into training amateur fighters.

Early in your professional career you followed in the footsteps of Steve Collins by spending some time in the world renowned Petronelli’s gym in Boston. How was that as an experience?

I did some training in Petronilli’s gym and it was a great experience. There was so much history associated with the Petronilli’s. My father would have always talked about Rocky Marciano who grew up with the Petronilli brothers and my mother’s favourite fighter was Marvin Hagler who they managed for his entire career. My favourite fighter of all time is Steve Collins, so to think of all the gyms in America where I could have ended up to have ended up there felt like destiny.

You mentioned Steve Collins as being your favourite fighter so it comes as no surprise then that you linked up with his brother Paschal Collins as your trainer. Can you describe your relationship with Paschal?

I was Paschal’s first fighter in Ireland and next year will be our tenth year together. He’s the godfather to my youngest daughter Aisling. He’s a great man and we have a great relationship. He’s pretty strict, he’s tough in training but he makes you do it right and gives you grief if you’re not doing it right.

After you turned professional in 2008 you went on a fourteen fight winning streak, but your fight Matthew Hall for the vacant WBO International middleweight title, really made people sit up and notice you.

I took that fight on short notice. I hadn’t fought in four months and I only had two weeks to train for what would be my first twelve round fight. It was crazy really but I told Paschal if I lost I would pack it in, so I just adopted the attitude that I would go out and enjoy it.

You earned a unanimous points decision over Hall and claimed the vacant title. What did it mean to you to win the title that night?

I really enjoyed that fight, it was on the day of my birthday and it was being held in Upton Park. There were lots of celebrities in attendance like Ronnie O’Sullivan, Andy Murray and Dynamo the magician so that added to the atmosphere. Previously, I had been boxing in smaller halls with about twenty people in attendance so to box in front of a stadium filled with thousands of people felt great. Where I come from in Cork is a working class area, people like me aren’t expected to achieve at that level.

After winning the WBO international middleweight title you were invited to a reception with the President of Ireland; Michael D. Higgins, at his residence in the Aras An Uachtarain. How was that as an experience? Did you find out if the president a boxing fan?

When I think of where I grew up, to becoming the first man Cork man to win a WBO title and then being invited to the President’s house it’s the stuff of dreams. It was an amazing experience; I got to bring my parents and my missus. They were all very happy for me that day. I don’t know if Michael D. Higgins is a boxing fan but he’s a lovely guy, very welcoming and down to earth so it was a great experience.

After beating Hall you endured a lengthy lay-off and in 2013 you lost your undefeated record to current world middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. Can you explain the situation at the time?

I was out of the ring for eleven months and I was forced to vacate my WBO international middleweight title. I had one tune up fight that Paschal had arranged for me two months before I fought Saunders. It was a third round stoppage of Tadas Jonkus in Dublin. When I eventually did fight Billy Joe it was for the WBO international title I had vacated. Saunders burst my ear drum early in the fight and I had to deal with that for the rest of the night. I suffered from ring rust but I still believe I could beat him.

You were initially promoted by Frank Warren and then you switched to Murphy Boxing, the brainchild of Ken Casey from the band Drop Kick Murphy’s. Can you explain how that happened?

I knocked out Anthony Fitzgerald in Dublin in November 2014 and someone in the crowd threw a stool at me and it went viral on the internet. Murphy Boxing picked up on it and they offered me a fight in the US in conjunction with Golden Boy Promotions. After the first fight they brought me back for a second one and that’s when I signed a contract with them. They are good people it’s nice working with them.

So with that in mind what’s your favourite music?

Rod Stewart. I’ll probably get into trouble for not saying the Drop Kick Murphy’s but I have to be honest (Laughs).

In 2015 you knocked out Milton Nunez in three rounds in Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day. Mickey Ward was in your corner that night. How was that experience for you?

It’s one thing to be lucky enough to fight in Madison Square Garden, but to have Mickey Ward in my corner was the stuff of dreams. Paschal couldn’t make my fight because he had to be with another of his fighters so when I heard Mickey Ward was going to be in my corner I was super excited. Nunez was a tough guy, I had seen him warm up on the pads backstage and I thought, ‘holy shit, this guy can punch,’ but after a few rounds he got tired and I got him out of there. It was just an amazing night Mickey Ward is an unbelievably down to earth guy and we went out for a few pints afterwards.

So how did the celebrations go that night?

There is a bit of a story to that night. There had been an after party organised by the promotional team but a couple of days earlier I had been in a bar/restaurant in New York called Jack Doyle’s, I got chatting to the bar man who was from Cork and he invited me to an after party in the bar. After the fight Mickey Ward asked me what I was doing and I said I couldn’t go to the promoters after party because I had promised this other guy I would go to Jack Doyle’s. Mickey said he would go with me, and that was it. It finished up it was a late night but it was a great experience. I’ve met Mickey Ward a few times since and we’ve become friends

You have only lost twice in your professional career. Once to current WBO World middleweight champion; Billy Joe Saunders; who you have an amicable relationship with. The other loss was to Chris Eubank Jr. What’s your opinion of Junior?

I think he’s an arrogant guy. He is a good fighter, he’s very fit, he hits very hard but I still believe I could beat him. I’d like to fight him again down the road if I get the opportunity.

What would you do if you were Chris Eubank Jr. for a day?

I’d probably work on my attitude.

Do you think he believes his own hype?

He does believe his own hype but he’s justified because he is a good fighter. I think he is one of the biggest attractions in boxing. The bottom line is he puts bums on seats. I’d like to see him fight Golovkin. I think there is a real possibility that Eubank Jr. could beat him

While we’re on the topic of fantasy fights, what would be your dream fight right now?

I’d like to fight Golovkin or Eubank Jr. again. I’d like to fight them for a world title.

The last twelve months have seen the retirement of Irish middleweights Eamonn O’Kane and Matthew Macklin, were either of these fighters ever on your radar?

There was a time when Eamonn O’Kane was being touted as an opponent for me, it nearly happened. I had actually sparred with him and I was confident I could have beaten him, but it wasn’t meant to be. There were numerous times when I was offered as an opponent for Matthew Macklin but he didn’t want to fight me. It’s one I also thought I could have won. They are actually both very nice guys but neither of those fights happened and that’s it.

One of the interesting sides to your character is that you seem game for anything, but giving your chosen career would you describe yourself as even tempered?

Yeah I am very mellow but I am also very competitive when I play sport.

Are you a sports fanatic?

I’ve always been sports mad. I love soccer, my favourite team is Manchester United; I’m pretty good at snooker. I love Hurling. I played [GAA] football as recently as two weeks ago. I play junior league football for my local GAA club, Ballinure at the minute.

So how do you manage to fit GAA training around your boxing?

I don’t really train with the lads in the team; I think I only managed one training session with them this year. I just turn up for the matches. I’ll usually play a match on Monday then go to Dublin from Tuesday to Thursday for sparring then back to Cork on Friday to Saturday for my strength and conditioning.

How do you like the dynamic of switching between a team sport and boxing where it’s all about you as an individual?

It’s great being in a team all the camaraderie is good craic. I grew up with all the lads, in fact that’s how I got pulled back into the football when I met some of the lads in a shopping centre at home. They needed players and they asked if I would play, so two hours later I was out on the pitch.

Does being from Mahon in Co. Cork mean a lot to you?

I love where I come from and I’m very proud of that. I like other people from Mahon to do well. I like to encourage people to think, if I can do well at my sport then it’s possible for them to achieve at that level as well. I want to be a good role-model to others. It means an awful lot to me.

You have a young family consisting of your partner and three daughters, how do they manage their feelings about you when it comes to fight night?

I have a young family, three daughters and we’re expecting another child on the 26th September which is just nine days after my next fight. I’ll be getting on a plane straight after the fight and coming back to Ireland. It’s different for them all when it comes to my fights. My missus gets very nervous; she gets a sick feeling in her stomach. My mother [Jacinta] on the other hand is very brave, she knows I am strong and can handle myself. My daughters aren’t at the stage yet where they are aware that I could get badly hurt so it’s not the same for them.

Would you ever encourage any of your daughters into boxing?

Definitely not, maybe I’d show them what to do just for protection, but I would like them to do something else.


This year is my 27th year in boxing. My dad got me into it and I don’t know much else. It takes its toll on your body. I’ve had three broken ribs, burst eardrums and two broken hands. So I wouldn’t like to see my children go through that. Add to that the emotional ups and downs fighters experience outside the ring with promoters and managers. It’s a very tough sport all round and I wouldn’t like my children to go through it.

Outside of the ring you have some acting credits to your name is that something you would like to do after boxing?

Definitely I’d like to be an actor. I’ve done a few shorts, In 2007 I did a film; Strength and Honour with Vinnie Jones and Michael Madsen. I enjoy acting, it’s easier than boxing.

What about Borat 2?

(Laughs) Yeah, sign me up.

What would be your ideal movie role?

I would love to have a role in a boxing movie. I know the sport inside out. I enjoy a lot of boxing movies and I would love to be in one. If I’m being honest I would be interested in doing something in the media if I could get a break.

On the topic of ideal things, what is your ultimate dream day?

Ultimately I would love to win a world title, but any day with my three daughters is a great day. When they are happy I’m happy.

Finally, which would you rather fight a Tyson Fury sized duck, or twenty duck sized Tyson Fury’s?

(Long pause) I think it would have to be twenty duck sized Tyson Fury’s. I think a Tyson Fury sized duck would just puck the head of me and eat me (Laughs).

Thanks for the Interview Spike.

No problem.

Follow Gary “Spike,” O’Sullivan on twitter; @spike_osullivan

“There is no luck in Boxing,” – Iran Barkley; The only man to beat Tommy “The Hitman,” Hearns twice.


On the anniversary of his historic upset victory over Tommy Hearns, former triple weight world champion Iran Barkley discusses life, his helter skelter professional career and the night, ‘The Hitman’s,’ gun jammed.

Boxing in the 1980s was dominated by four names; Roberto Duran, ‘Sugar,’ Ray Leonard, ‘Marvelous,’ Marvin Hagler and Tommy ‘The Hitman,’ Hearns. These four fighters were regarded as ‘The Four Kings,’ world champions who earned their legendary status as a result of their epic encounters with each other.

There have also been other fighters whose paths have been intertwined with the aforementioned, ‘Four Kings.’ Puerto Rico’s three-weight world champion Wilfred Benítez fought everyone with the exception of Marvin Hagler, and is increasingly considered a fifth king.

However there is a sixth name that often gets overlooked when it comes to the discussion about this great pantheon of fighters.

Iran “The Blade,” Barkley is a multi-weight world champion most famous for upsetting the odds when he challenged Tommy “The Hitman,” Hearns for the WBC middleweight title on the 6th June 1988.

Born in 1960 Iran Barkley was raised in the Patterson Projects, in the South Bronx district of New York City. The area was notorious for drugs, gangs and violence. To say he had a tough upbringing was an understatement. As child he ran the streets as a member of a local street gang and the young Barkley had to regularly fight his way in and out of his own apartment building, usually against older youths seeking to relieve him of his money and shoes.

The youngest of eight children, Barkley was often aided by his older sister Yvonne who would track down her brother’s muggers and beat them up. Yvonne later became a professional boxer herself and a pioneer of women’s boxing in the 70s, she was also extremely influential on her younger brother’s boxing career.

“My sister was a natural born fighter,” Barkley insists, “She came to me and said, ‘I’m tired of fighting your battles; you’re going to fight for yourself.’ So she took me to a gym where my cousin also boxed and that’s how it started.”

Barkley enjoyed a successful amateur career, winning a silver medal in the 1981 Golden Gloves and a Bronze medal in the 1982 World Amateur Championships both in the Middleweight division. However he decided to turn professional following the birth of his daughter in 1982.

“I went to the Golden Gloves four times, the fourth time I went to the finals and then I turned professional in 1982. I was on the Olympic team and I had the option to either go to the Olympics or turn pro. After my daughter was born in 1982 I decided to turn pro because I needed the money. I had a harder road than the guys that won the medals. I linked up with a good friend of mine; Davey Moore [a future WBA junior middleweight champion] and I was his top sparring partner. I caught the eye of Bob Arum and he signed me up.”

Barkley made a solid start to his professional career but in June 1984, in his ninth fight he encountered Robbie Sims, the half-brother of middleweight world champion Marvin Hagler. This was a see-saw battle which could have been ended by either fighter at any stage, but the more experienced Sims prevailed with a sixth round stoppage.

Three fights later Barkley lost to the unbeaten Eddie Hall, in an exciting fight which saw both boxers exchange heavy blows. Barkley could have ended the fight in the seventh when he staggered his opponent, but Hall managed to survive and claim an eight round majority decision. Hall would later fight a host of future middleweight champions including Chris Pyatt, Steve Collins and Julian Jackson.

Despite the early losses in his career Barkley quickly established a reputation as a tough fighter with a good left hook. He was not afraid of going toe-to-toe with opponents, or taking their punches in an effort to land his own.

If Barkley needed inspiration to rebound from these early setbacks then he credits one individual in particular as being able to provide the necessary motivation. Teddy Brenner, was an experienced match-maker with a reputation for making exciting even fights. He had arranged fights involving Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson, George Foreman and Roberto Duran. He was closely associated with Madison Square Garden serving as the venue’s matchmaker during the sixties and seventies, before joining Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. as an advisor in 1980.

Barkley recalls, “Teddy used to always say, ‘I don’t make fights, I make wars.’ If you got past him and the fighters he put in front of you then you were a great fighter.”

“Teddy was a shrewd man, thanks to him he made me a successful man. One day he said to me, ‘hey Barkley! You think you can fight?! Nawh you can’t fight! You’re nothing but a punch drunk fighter and you’ll never make it to the title!’ That made me mad. Every time I fought I put Teddy Brenner’s face on them. I thought, I got to destroy everyone he puts in front of me and that was my mission.”

After the loss to Hall Barkley won thirteen consecutive fights, eight of them by stoppage. Along the way he stopped former world title challenger Wilford Scypion in eight rounds, won a split decision against Mike Tinley in a gruelling fight and pulled off an upset by knocking down and outpointing James ‘The Heat,’ Kinchen, who at the time was the number one contender for the WBC middleweight title.

These wins earned Barkley a shot at the vacant WBA world middleweight title against Sumbu Kalambay in Livorno, Italy in 1987. Barkley’s first world title shot ended in defeat as Kalambay boxed his way to a points victory in what was the last WBA middleweight title fight scheduled for fifteen rounds.

Barkley rebounded from his loss with a split decision over the capable Sanderline Williams, followed by a fifth round stoppage of Michael Olajide to set up a second world title shot against Tommy ‘The Hitman,’ Hearns in Las Vegas.

Already a world champion in four separate weight divisions, Hearns was a 4-1 favourite going into the Barkley fight. He had won forty-five of his then forty seven bouts and the only defeats on his record had been to ‘Sugar,’ Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler. At twenty nine years Hearns was considered to be in his prime but the Barkley camp felt otherwise.

In the build-up to the fight Barkley’s manager John Reetz described Hearns as, “a fighter in descent. His legs are gone. He’s got two or three nails in his coffin already and Iran’s got the rest of the nails.” The day before the fight Barkley addressed a media conference and with supreme confidence told the journalists that he planned to finish his man.

Reflecting back on the fight Barkley says, “I knew Tommy Hearns a long time, he was going to be hard to beat, but I had seen things that made me confident that I could beat him. I knew he wasn’t strong enough for me, I knew he couldn’t take my punches, I knew if I put my mind to it I could beat him. If I could get past his jab and get to the fourth and fifth round I knew he would get tired. I knew that if I could just put him in a fight then I would wear him out.”

Eight and a half thousand boxing fans attended the Hilton Centre, Las Vegas on the 6th June 1988 to see if Barkley would make good on his bold prediction. The fight began with Hearns on his toes and moving, obviously wary of ‘The Blades,’ lunging attacks. Hearns countered to the body and threw rights aimed at the challengers head but he remained at long range.


In the second round, he targeted Barkley’s ribcage with left hooks and was boxing well behind his jab. A right to the body made Barkley grimace in pain and he answered Hearns with a fast left hook. Hearns dug into his opponent with left hooks and uppercuts. As the round came to an end Hearns looked to be in command as Barkley’s eyes were badly cut and swelling. Barkley was also bleeding from a cut inside his mouth.

Things looked ominous for Barkley. At the end of the second round Dr Donald Romero from the Nevada State Athletic Commission had a word with both Barkley’s corner and the referee. Cut man Eddie Aliano sufficiently stemmed the bleeding and assured the doctor Barkley could continue.

Barkley recalls that pivotal moment in the fight, “My corner were saying to me you got to put pressure on him, you’re cut. I said to them, ‘don’t worry I ain’t got time to bleed.’ I knew by the second round he was gassed out, I knew if I could keep backing him up then I would have him.”

Barkley came out like a lion in the third, he caught ‘The Hitman,’ by surprise and began to force the action, backing the champion up on to the ropes with his lethal left hooks. Hearns responded with his own lefts and rights which threw Barkley off balance. Hearns landed two more rights and perhaps sensing a finish, piled on the pressure. A hurtful double left hook to the body forced Barkley to clinch.

It seemed that Hearns was on course for the victory when both men exchanged punches in the centre of the ring. Hearns pulled away and Barkley landed a looping right square on the champion’s unguarded chin. In that precise moment it was as if time had stopped. Hearns froze rigid for a second, Barkley threw another thudding right which snapped Hearns head back, before the ‘Hitman,’ fell to the canvas.

Hearns managed to haul himself up by the count of nine, but Barkley rushed in to finish him off punching Hearns through the ropes and onto the ring apron. The referee Richard Steele intervened and waved the fight over. Against the odds Barkley had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and was crowned the new WBC world middleweight champion. No one could have expected the final result, Ring magazine named Barkley’s win over Hearns Upset of the Year in 1988.

Barkley remembers clearly what it felt like to land the right hand that turned the fight around, “It felt great, I had practiced it with my sparring partners and it came at the right time, when everyone thought I was finished, some people say it was a lucky punch, but there is no luck in boxing. You train for it and you win, and you have the courage to do what you got to do.”

In the post-fight press conference Tommy admitted that he never saw the punch that knocked him down the first time, “I didn’t even see it. I thought I had slipped it. Now I know how the other guys felt when I beat them.”

For the defeated fighter Hearns looked remarkably unscathed in contrast to the new middleweight champion. Barkley had plasters over both his eyes which later required sixteen stitches. However the physical pain Barkley endured in the fight was nothing compared to the emotional turmoil he had experienced in the build up to the fight.

Just three days before the fight Barkley’s friend Davey Moore had died in a freak accident at his home in New Jersey when an unoccupied car rolled down his drive way and ran over Moore who was trying to stop it. He was 28.

The battle hardened Barkley could not contain his emotions during the post-fight press conference as he broke down while discussing the loss of his close friend. In the present day it is noticeable when questioned that the death of Moore has had a lasting impact on Barkley, “We were like brothers (Pause) he slipped and got crushed (Pause) It’s sad.”

In addition to the tragic death of Moore, both Barkley’s brother Alfred and father were in hospital both terminally ill with cancer. It seemed that Barkley’s life outside the ring has been tainted by tragedy, “After the Hearns fight, I lost my brother Alfred. After that I lost another brother, then I lost my nephew. My older brother died after that and I buried them all. In my family there were four boys and four girls, now I’m the last one left of the boys.”

It was a challenging time for Barkley both in and out of the ring following his victory over Hearns. He lost his WBC world middleweight title in his first defence to Roberto Duran in February 1989. Following that he dropped a majority decision to Michael Nunn in a challenge for the IBF World Middleweight title. He was then stopped in one round by Nigel Benn in a challenge for the WBO middleweight title in August 1990. The loss to Benn came just a few days after the passing of Barkley’s father.

Barkley managed to turn things around putting together a string of victories including a second round demolition of Darrin Van Horn for the IBF World Super-Middleweight title which set-up the rematch with Tommy Hearns for the WBA Light-Heavyweight title in March 1992.

Hearns was a 2/1 favourite going into the rematch but once again Barkley’s aggression would see him prevail, this time over twelve rounds. The fight was fought at a high tempo, with both fighters exchanging volley after volley of hard punches. Barkley left Hearns battered and bruised and scored the only knockdown in the fourth round on route to a split decision victory.


Barkley admits that he was determined to show the media that his first victory over Hearns was not a fluke. “The first time wasn’t luck, I took it personal that some reporters said that it was a lucky punch, that Tommy was finished. If he had beat my butt every one of those guys would have said he was the greatest. I took him twelve rounds and beat him up to show people it wasn’t a lucky punch. If I choose to beat somebody, I’m going to beat them.”

With victory in the rematch Barkley claimed the WBA Light-Heavyweight title and became a three weight world champion. Barkley had achieved more than anyone had ever expected, but he never scaled the same heights again. He was defeated by James Toney and Henry Maske in two further world title bids and would continue to fight into his late thirties boxing as a heavyweight before his retirement in 1999.

Despite being the only man to ever beat Tommy Hearns twice, Barkley fell on harsh times following his retirement from boxing. He ran into financial difficulties, had one of his championship belts stolen, was evicted from his home, was homeless for a period of time and battled ill-health.

With great honesty Barkley admits, “Beating Tommy Hearns did not change my life. I received $320,000 dollars for the first fight and $500,000 for the second fight. A million dollars ain’t nothing, not after you pay your bills and help your family. People said, ‘you should have saved your money,’ but everything had to go on bills. My brother got sick, my family didn’t have enough money so I took care of them. I am not a selfish person, but people say to me you probably wish you had been selfish now, but that’s the way I am, that’s the way God blessed me.”

Barkley rebuilt his life with the help of Ring 10 a charitable organisation that provides help and assistance to former fighters who have fallen on hard times. The organisation helped Barkley find new accommodation and get his life back on track.

Barkley explains the vital work being done by the organisation, “Ring 10 helps fighters who are down on their luck. They provide someone to talk to about your problems and financial help, so if a fighter has an illness Ring 10 helps pay the bill if the fighter can’t pay. When boxing is finished with you and you don’t have nobody to turn to they can help you get your life together. They can set you on track.”

Barkley has become a great advocate for Ring 10 and lends his support to the organisation.

“I support the work of Ring 10 to help other fighters when the game chews them up and spits them out. I want to make sure that they know they have a support system. I encourage all fighter’s to put a portion of their money away and come to the Ring 10 meetings because one day they might need that support system.”

Today, Barkley still lives in his native New York City, and frequents the world famous Gleason’s gym. He remains reflective about his professional career, “I got no regrets. I went from middleweight right up to heavyweight. I enjoyed fighting in all the divisions but they said I couldn’t beat anyone at heavyweight. I proved that I could be a heavyweight if I wanted to when I knocked out Gerrie Coetzee [former WBA heavyweight world champion] I did something that people said I couldn’t do.”

Despite all his triumphs inside the ring adjusting to life outside of boxing has been one of Barkley’s greatest victories, “I’m still figuring it out, but I know how to handle my money much better now and I’m writing my autobiography, I need a publisher and someone to help me, if anyone is interested they should call me. That’d be my comeback now.”

In a career spanning over twenty years Iran Barkley has encountered enough action, drama and tragedy for ten volumes of an autobiography. He remains one of the great characters in boxing, and certainly he will never be forgotten as the man who out hit, ‘The Hitman.’

If you would like to support the work of Ring 10 with former boxers then go to and donate on the website. You can also follow Ring 10 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; @ring10ny

“I’ll go to Russia to fight Mickey Rourke,” – Roy Gumbs; Former British middleweight champion.

“I’ll go to Russia to fight Mickey Rourke,” – Roy Gumbs; Former British middleweight champion.

The former champ provides a blow-by-blow account of his career and explains why at 62 he is prepared to make a comeback against actor Mickey Rourke.

Roy Gumbs always felt he had something to prove.

As a young man he was told by boxing promoter Mickey Duff, “If you don’t sign with me, you’ll be your own worst enemy.”

In the 70s and 80s Duff and his associates were known as, “The Cartel,” and they controlled every aspect of British boxing including the fight dates, venues and most importantly the television deals.

Signing with “The Cartel,” would have provided support, exposure and opened up a world of opportunities for a young fighter. Resisting them would have been considered career suicide.

Yet, Roy Gumbs did resist the advances of the wily Mickey Duff and later went on to become the British and Commonwealth middleweight champion.

Ultimately, he may have done it the hard way, but by his own admission the point Gumbs wanted to prove ran much deeper than just winning titles in boxing.

“I wanted to prove to myself, not to the promoters, not to the world, not to the public, but to prove to myself that I was good at something.”

Born in 1954 into a single parent family on the Caribbean island nation of St Kitts and Nevis, Gumbs and his mother were one of many families from the West Indies who emigrated to Britain in the 1960s encouraged by the burgeoning labour market.

It was hard enough moving half way around the world but to make the transition even more difficult was Conservative MP Enoch Powell, whose controversial, “Rivers of Blood,” speech incited racial hatred towards the myriad of immigrant families arriving on British shores. As a child Gumbs regularly faced racist remarks and taunts. From the beginning overcoming adversity was a constant battle for him.

The family settled in the industrial town of Slough, twenty miles west of London where Gumbs mother found work and he finished his primary education. By his late teens Gumbs was figuring out what he wanted from life. He aspired to something more than the steady work of a factory in his adoptive home town.

“I always wanted to be somebody, I knew I would be somebody, but I just wanted to find my niche, something I was good at.”

“I tried everything, I would try jobs and really excel in them and then I would quit. My colleagues would always say, “Why you got to quit? You’re doing so well,” but it just wasn’t my thing.”

“I was convinced that I was good at something in the world, and when I found boxing, that was it.”

Roy_Gumbs (2)
Roy Gumbs in his prime

A young Roy Gumbs in his prime.

Gumbs was introduced to boxing by a close friend, who took him to a London gym when he was aged nineteen.

“My friend took me to London to a boxing club and I liked it. I smoked cigarettes at the time. I had bought a packet and smoked two and then I gave him the rest and said I want to try this boxing thing.”

Considered a late starter, Gumbs boxed for Seven Feathers ABC in London but he quickly turned professional after just nine amateur fights. He won his professional debut by stoppage in 1976 and then lost his next three outings on points. Gumbs persisted and within two years he had amassed a professional record of 10-8-1 (6 KOs).

For a prospect it was a less than stellar record, but it highlights the brutal business of boxing. Gumbs was regularly fighting on the road, all around Britain and Europe, often with short notice.

“I was one of those guys you could call at the last minute. It was usually the day before, I was like a substitute fighter I wasn’t a mainliner. When Dave ‘Boy,’ Green fought Carlos Palomino for the world welterweight title in Wembley I had two hours’ notice before fighting Greg Evans [an 8 round points loss]. My title fights were the only fights I had top of the billing. Everything else was a substitute fight.”

Despite the difficult circumstances Gumbs had to endure these early fights were extremely important in his education as a professional. He admits, “It was a learning curve for me. I never really had an amateur career. I had nine amateur fights in a year when I was 21 and then I turned pro at 22 so my first few fights were like I was still an amateur. When you look at my career five or six years after I turned pro I was fighting for the world title.”

By late 1978, something changed for Gumbs. He began an unbeaten run that would last for the next five years and he established himself as a genuine danger man in the middleweight division. He credits this change to a new found sense of confidence that he developed while working as a sparring partner.

“It was very difficult for me as a professional because I never had any support. I never had anyone tapping me on the shoulder and telling me, “Yes son, you’re on the right road.” I trained in the same gym as Bunny Johnson, Bunny Stirling, Cornelius Boza-Edwards and John Conteh. Those guys gave me belief because I was their main sparring partner and to be in that position made me think, yeah I can do this.”

In 1979, Gumbs won the Southern Area middleweight title with a seventh round stoppage of Jan Magdziarz. Gumbs dropped his opponent eight times in that fight and announced himself as a genuine contender for a British title.

Gumbs explains the significance of the win over Magdziarz, “He had beaten [Alan] Minter twice and it was good motivation for me to have put this guy down eight times. I felt I had to beat this guy in a good way and it strengthened my belief to fight.”

Gumbs was invigorated by his new self-belief but he still found it difficult to move up the ladder and get his shot at a title. Between 1977 and 1979 he fought and beat journeyman Bonny McKenzie four times.

“Bonnie was a very durable guy. He was built like a double decker bus. I kept beating him and the final time I fought him I said, “Look Bonny, if your phone ever rings and if it’s Mickey Duff or whoever, and they want you to fight Roy Gumbs, tell them Roy Gumbs don’t want to fight you no more.” He was a tough customer.”

Roy Gumbs (1)
Roy Gumbs is crowned the British Middleweight champion.

Gumbs persisted and in 1981, he won the British middleweight title with a third round stoppage victory over Howard Mills. One would think being crowned British middleweight champion would have set Gumbs on the road to riches but it seemed harder than ever to get the fights he desired.

“When I won the British title, Bernard Hart [the owner of Lonsdale] managed me. He went over to America to set up some fights for me. When he came back he gave me my back my contract and said, “Roy, I can’t do anything with you.” I was the British champion and the number one middleweight in the Commonwealth and Europe. What does that say?”

The inability to secure meaningful fights forced him to travel to Canada and link up with George Chuvalo’s former manager; Irving Ungerman.

“Before I became British champion I had visited Ungerman and told him I’d like to fight in Canada, he told me to win a title and then come back to him, which I did. When he managed me I was living in Canada but I was coming back to Britain to defend my title. It was at that time that the British Boxing Board of Control wrote to me and said they would strip me of my title because I wasn’t domiciled in the UK. Ungerman gave me my contract back and said, “You may as well go back to England mate. I can’t do anything with you.”

Quite simply Gumbs was too dangerous an opponent for most middleweights at the time. Gumbs remained in Canada long enough to claim the Commonwealth middleweight title with a fifth round stoppage victory over Canadian Ralph Hollett.

That fight encapsulated everything that made Gumbs a livewire in the middleweight division. During the third round a sharp left hook from the champion dropped Gumbs to the canvas. Gumbs used the ropes to pull himself to his feet to face a standing eight count. Two rounds later Gumbs trapped Hollett on the ropes and unleashed a barrage of punches that battered the champion and forced the referee to call a halt to proceedings. Just to prove it was no fluke Gumbs gave Hollett a rematch, this time stopping the Canadian in four rounds.

By 1983 Gumbs was managed by Frank Warren who took him to Boston to watch undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler knock Wilfred Scypion out in four rounds. The intention had been to secure a world title fight but it never transpired.

A few months later Gumbs lost his British and Commonwealth titles as well as his unbeaten run to Mark Kaylor via a fifth round stoppage in what has become regarded as a classic shootout.

Roy Gumbs (4)
Roy Gumbs lands a heavy shot on Mark Kaylor in their epic encounter.

“The Kaylor loss was the one that broke the camel’s back.” Gumbs explains. “That was the one that told the promoters and the pundits that it was over. I gave boxing 150% and at that point I wasn’t giving it 150% anymore. I hadn’t lost a fight in over five years, but after every fight, every manager I had would say, “Win the next one and you’ll get the big money.” I kept winning and they would say, “Win the next one, big money,” it got to a point where I just had enough.”

Following the Kaylor loss Gumbs was stopped in seven rounds by future IBF super-middleweight champion Lindell Holmes. As fortune would have it the losses to Kaylor and Holmes seemingly managed to finally earn Gumbs a shot at a world title. Ironically, he was considered as a last minute choice of opponent for South Korea’s Chong-Pal Park’s in his first defence of the IBF super-middleweight title in 1985.

“I didn’t have a manager when I fought for the world title. Mickey Duff got a call to make a match for Park, I was available so Denny Mancini was sent with me, along with my friend who introduced me to boxing. I packed my bag, the three of us jumped on a plane and went over there.”

The fight ended in disappointment for Gumbs who was stopped by the hard punching South Korean in two rounds. It seemed like the end of the road for Gumbs who promptly retired in 1985. However he made a comeback six years later against the then unbeaten American Ernesto Magdaleno. Gumbs lost a ten round decision to Magdaleno, who would later unsuccessfully challenge Henry Maske for the IBF light-heavyweight world title.

This time it was the end of the line for Gumbs who retired shortly after the loss with a professional record of 26-12-3 (21 KOs).

Life after boxing has been kinder to Roy Gumbs who now lives with his wife in Dubai.

“After boxing I became a house dad and then I ran a very successful restaurant for a long time. I got married and my wife went to med school and she’s now a doctor.”

Roy Gumbs (5)
Roy Gumbs today.

Currently Gumbs uses his experience as a fighter to inspire confidence and promote healthy lifestyle choices as an ambassador for Club Fit for Business in Dubai.

“To stop me from being idle I teach personal training to business people. It is part of a sports orientated network, known as Club Fit for Business. We meet for breakfast, lunch, dinners and we have experts who speak to our members about finance, opening a business and how to keep a successful business going.”

“I have spoken a few times about how fitness is important in business and how being fit helps you make better decisions. Years ago it would have been unimaginable to think of me sitting in front of a group of high profile business people and telling them how to lead a successful and healthy life, but that’s how I support myself now.”

Despite making his living as a personal trainer and motivational speaker, it seems old habits die hard and Gumbs eagerness to prove himself in a boxing ring hasn’t eroded even in retirement.

He recently challenged actor Mickey Rourke, the star of such movies as Sin City, Iron Man 2 and The Expendables to take him on in a professional boxing contest. The 62-year-old Rourke, has dabbled in professional boxing and his last bout was a controversial second round stoppage of 29 year-old Elliot Seymour in Moscow in 2014.

Roy Gumbs (5) MR
Gumbs is eager to challenge actor Mickey Rourke in the ring.

Gumbs seems enthusiastic about the prospect of fighting the veteran actor.

“I threw out the challenge to Mickey Rourke. He’s the same age as me, we’re both 62, so I said let’s get it on Mickey. His people would like to put it on in the US, because of the pay-per-view potential but at our age there is only one State that would give us permission to fight.”

He continues, “He [Rourke] had a contract for a few fights in Russia, and I’m saying I would go to Russia to fight him. I think if I was a lesser category of opponent he would jump at the chance to fight me. I think he’s happy that the US won’t sanction us because of our age. I don’t think he fancies his chances with me.”

Even in later life it is hard to extinguish the natural competitiveness in Roy Gumbs, but for a man who always felt he had something to prove he certainly proved himself in boxing. The sport may not always have been kind or indeed fair to him but he has endured disappointment and overcome adversity to carve out a successful career in his own right.

Through it all he remains an ebullient, jovial and positive man. Far from being his own worst enemy, he is a living testament to the power of self-belief and determination.

“I’m living the dream.” -Conrad Cummings

“I’m living the dream.” -Conrad Cummings

The Irish middleweight prospect talks candidly about his career, horrific diets and explains why he describes George Groves as, ‘a big lump.’

Irish boxing has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years and one of the most promising fighters to emerge from the scene is middleweight prospect; Conrad Cummings. The fighter from Coalisland, Co. Tyrone is managed by former WBA Featherweight champion Barry McGuigan, trained by his son Shane McGuigan and promoted under the Cyclone Promotions banner.

The McGuigans believe that Cummings (8-0-1, 3KOs) has the potential to become a future world champion. However for the amiable Cummings, the road to glory began with the purchase of a certain set of weighing scales.

“I was an anxious, heavy kid when I started boxing at the age of nine, but I just fell in love with it. It allowed me to expel my aggression without getting in trouble for it. I was boxing for a year when my coach Frank Gervin told me, “You’re a great kid, talented but you’re just too heavy, but I promise, if you lose weight you’ll win an All-Ireland.”

Cummings reacted to the criticism with surprising maturity for someone so young. Inspired by the belief of his coach he purchased a set of weighing scales and watched his weight for the next twelve months. By the following year, the young boxer had lost over a stone and won his first title; an All-Ireland Medal in the boy 1 category.

“That’s the sort of person I am,” Cummings admits, “very driven.”

That determination would see the young man from Co. Tyrone become a decorated amateur with a run of schoolboy and national titles at junior level, before representing Ireland at a host of international tournaments culminating in a Gold Medal win, at the age of 18, at the Nations Cup in Vienna in 2009.

“Every time I boxed for Ireland I won Gold, the only time I didn’t was during the Olympic Test Event in 2011. I went to that tournament with a weeks’ notice. I beat the Brazilian Esquiva Florentino [the 2012 Olympic Silver medallist] in the semi-final and then lost to the European champion, Maxim Koptyakov of Russia.”

Cummings rebounded from defeat in the final of the Olympic Test Event to claim a Gold medal at the Tammer Tournament in Finland in 2012. His success in the amateurs gave way to his ambition to one day become a professional world champion. In an effort to showcase his talent on a global stage he became involved in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) in 2013 and signed for the Mexican Guerreros. The non-Spanish speaking fighter would spend over a month in Mexico training at altitude, and he describes the experience as, “life-changing.”

“It gave me invaluable experience,” Cummings admits, “I got the opportunity to box a number of European and World Champions.” The time spent sparring in Mexico earned Cummings the nickname, ‘Mr Dinamita,’ in recognition of his all-action style. The semi-pro nature of the WSB provided an ideal training ground for the young fighter, but the decision to remain as an amateur and compete in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 were dealt a blow when Cyclone Promotions offered Cummings the opportunity to turn pro.

“I was in Dublin airport with the Irish team, on my way back from Finland having just won my Gold Medal. As I was picking up my luggage I got a private twitter message from Barry McGuigan, saying here’s my number and asking me to call him. He could have been looking for anything, but I knew what he was looking for. I thought, my dreams have come true.”

The normally calm and collected Cummings struggled to maintain his composure after he had been contacted by a legend of Irish boxing. “I wanted to tell everyone, but Barry told me to play it cool. I couldn’t, two hours later I gave him a call, and I was just mumbling and not being myself. We must have talked for an hour, he told me he had been watching me since I was 17 and I thought I wasn’t even good at 17! But I knew that day Barry wanted to sign me.”

In February 2014, Cummings turned professional with Cyclone Promotions and he has no regrets about leaving the amateur game behind, “The plan was to go to the Commonwealth Games with the aim of winning the Gold medal and then turn pro. I turned pro six months before the games and my Dad said I should have waited but the deal was already there. I wanted to be a world champion and I already had a great manager and a great team. I had to make the right decision for me.”

Cummings is trained by Shane McGuigan

In Shane McGuigan, Cummings has secured himself one of the most prominent trainers in the UK and Ireland to spearhead his professional development. Before turning pro he had been invited to train with Shane in his Battersea Gym to determine if they would be compatible. It laid the foundation for a solid professional relationship and Shane McGuigan’s methods have added a new dimension to Cummings craft.

“Shane’s all about trying new things, if it’s not working he’ll try something else. The way the fight game is evolving he believes the fighter should be evolving as well. My training is very intense, it’s not really long but it’s really hard. It’s basically circuit training, weight training, sprinting and very little long distance running. It’s different to my amateur training, but I feel my body is evolving and I’m enjoying it.”

The change in training methods also brought about a change in diet for the young fighter, something that Cummings admits he found difficult to adjust to, “when I first started training with Shane, I thought I had a good diet, but then he put me on a strict diet, it was horrific! Meat, fish and vegetables for two months to get my body fat percentage down. It was a bit of a shock initially but I’m enjoying it now, and I’m very grateful.”

Cummings has also benefited from being part of a stable of high profile fighters that Shane McGuigan currently trains. Cummings regularly rubs shoulders with former WBA heavyweight champion David Haye and the former British and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion George Groves.

“Sparring with George was a wake-up call for me, because I had been thinking, maybe I could be a super-middleweight, but then I saw George and I thought, no, I’m definitely a middleweight. He’s just a big lump, a big strong man and a really good fighter.”

Cummings has a close friendship with stable mate Carl Frampton

Cummings also enjoys a close relationship with his other stablemate, IBF super-bantamweight champion Carl Frampton, “I have a good friendship with Carl, he’s at the absolute pinnacle of his career at the moment, he unified the world title, he has the best fan base in the UK and Ireland and he doesn’t believe any of his own hype. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, a gentleman.”

Frampton’s success as a world champion provides much inspiration for the young fighter from Co. Tyrone, “Carl put the work in to achieve his dreams, there’s no reason why I can’t do the same and win a world title.”

When it comes to working towards the dream of a world title, Cummings is committed to the heavy graft in the gym. Earlier in his professional career he sparred with Frank Buglioni, Andy Lee and the current WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. Cummings also sparred with the Nick Blackwell the fighter who recently recovered from injuries sustained in a British title defence against Chris Eubank Jr.

Cummings is somewhat reflective on the Blackwell incident, “Nick’s a nice guy, tough and fit as a flea. It was great to see the whole boxing world get behind him, but I learnt from his experience. I used to let people hit my gloves, but look at Blackwell, he didn’t get hurt he didn’t get knocked down but he took too many punches. Now I’ve seen the end result, and it’s a wake-up call for me. Nobody wants to see another fighter hurt in the ring so I hope he makes a full recovery.”

Despite his ring moniker, ‘Mr Dynamite,’ Cummings is keenly aware that as a professional he has a low knockout ratio but he feels that the pubic haven’t seen the best of him yet. “I don’t think the boxing world has seen my true potential. As an amateur I would get in close to opponents and hurt them, that’s how I beat two Olympic Silver Medallist’s.”

He adds, “As a professional Shane wants me to be more polished, use my jab and take a step back, we’re trying to create that distance, put them back with maximum authority and leverage and be a lot more devastating, I’m still learning and I’m still a pressure fighter, but I am more methodical.”

The dedication to his profession and the hunger for a title has seen Cummings career go from strength to strength in the last eighteen months. The sole blemish on his undefeated record was a draw with the undefeated Alfredo Meli for the Celtic middleweight title in November 2015.

The consistently positive Cummings puts the result down to experience, “I learned a lot about myself in that fight. I was top of the bill, in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast and I had jumped from fighting six rounders’ to fighting a ten rounder. I dropped Meli in the first round and I should have won, but I guess I have to learn the hard way, it’s all part of the plan.”

Cummings is also realistic about the possibility of a rematch with Meli seeming unlikely in the future, “I would like the rematch, but they don’t want it. The quote from his manager is that they have other options. So I have to move on, but I feel I would win the rematch.”

Cummings has moved on quickly from the draw with a comprehensive victory over Victor Garcia on the undercard of Frampton v Quigg in February and he has just announced that he will be fighting the former Welsh middleweight champion Frankie Borg in Cardiff in May.

The fight in May is another step up the boxing ladder with the ultimate goal of securing a world title shot. When the opportunity arises he wants to ensure that he has a certain individual in his corner.

“I’d love my Father [Patrick] to be there, even if it’s just with the water bucket. When I was 18, I was in University and there was a risk of boxing going on the back burner, so my father said to me, ‘Son, if you want to leave university, I will support you financially and every which way I can, to stay in boxing.’ My mother looked at him as if he was mad, but he had seen something in me.”

“He supported me financially, mentally and any which way you could imagine and he still does to this day. I owe everything to him.”

In a sport where so many of the young prospects are portrayed as brash upstarts it is refreshing to learn Conrad Cummings is so down-to-earth in nature. He is reflective about his life and career, serious about his ambition and grateful for the support he has received to get him where he is today.

“So many people have supported me since I began boxing a 9 years of age; my first coach Frank Gervin in Clonoe ABC taught me about discipline; then when I moved to Belfast aged 18, Harry Hawkins in Holy Trinity helped me and throughout everything my family have supported me as well. I’m very lucky to be in a good support system, I think it’s important in boxing because so many people don’t have that and they go off the radar. I’m very grateful for what I have because at twenty-four I’m living the dream.”

For the young hungry fighter, the hope is that those dreams of a world title will soon become a reality.