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Roy Gumbs has a unique claim to fame.
The former British and Commonwealth middleweight champion was the first British licence holder to challenge for the world Super-middleweight title when he travelled to South Korea to face the IBF Champion Chong Pal Park in 1985.
It began a long and proud tradition for British fighters in the super-middleweight division which continues this weekend with an all British world title fight.
George Groves the WBA ‘Super’ World Super-middleweight champion defends his title against the enigmatic IBO Super-Middleweight champion, Chris Eubank Jr on the 17th February in the Manchester Arena. The bout is one half of the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) tournament.
Speaking to AboutBoxing.net on the phone from his home in Dubai, Roy Gumbs seems genuinely excited about this domestic battle for world honours.
“I think the clash of styles will make it one of the most exciting fights of the year in England,” he says.
“They are both hyped, this thing has been in the making for a while. They are both confident, they are both ready and I think that’s what will make this a great fight.”
The fight seems to have all the elements of being a potential classic. George Groves is approaching the stage of his career where it seems appropriate to call him a veteran. A classic boxer-puncher with solid amateur pedigree, he announced himself on the world stage with his gallant challenges in 2013 and 2014 against Carl Froch but it took him another two attempts before he finally lifted a world title with his sixth round stoppage of Fedor Chudinov in May 2017.
The fight against Chris Eubank Jr will be Groves’ second defence of his ‘Super’ WBA title.
While Groves has a good amateur pedigree and solid professional credentials, Chris Eubank Jr has had a rather unorthodox approach to a career in professional boxing. Guided by his father, the former WBO Super-Middleweight champion Chris Eubank Sr. Junior has essentially honed his craft in professional gyms in America.
Eubank Jr’s style is flashy, relying on his athleticism, hand speed and his trademark uppercuts. Like his father he has a flair for the dramatic, albeit a much more subtle approach.
The biggest names on his resume include Billy Joe Saunders who inflicted the only professional loss on his record in November 2014, Gary ‘Spike,’ O’Sullivan who he stopped in seven rounds in December 2015 and Arthur Abraham who Eubank Jr defeated by a rather lob sided decision in July 2017.
For Roy Gumbs he believes the result will be decided by boxing fundamentals. “I think the one who will stay on the front foot for most part will win the fight. They are both gutsy fighters so it’s a matter of who wants to win the most, who has got the bigger heart and who’s not just looking for the banana skin on the canvas.”
There have been question marks over Groves stamina in the past, he was stopped in the 8th and 9th rounds of his fights with Froch and he seemed to fade in the later rounds of his fight with Badou Jack in 2015. However since then he has teamed up with current trainer Shane McGuigan, winning four of his last six by stoppage.
The fight with Groves will be Eubank Jr’s fourth fight in the Super-Middleweight division. He has fought for most of his career at middleweight and the highest profile name he has beaten at super-middleweight was a 37 year old Arthur Abraham. Eubank Jr’s record may flatter to deceive meaning the Groves fight may finally settle the argument on whether Junior is a legitimate Super-Middleweight or not.
Speaking to Roy Gumbs it becomes apparent that he sees the outcome of the fight being decided by an old boxing adage.
“Groves is accustomed to fighting bigger men,” says Gumbs, “He is used to being in there with bigger men and pushing them around. In my day we used to say, ‘a good big ‘un usually beats a good small ‘un.’”
Perhaps the most positive thing about Groves v Eubank Jr is that it has been made possible by the advent of the WBSS. Some have argued that the knockout style tournament is the future of professional boxing and this is something that is shared by the former British and Commonwealth champion.
“With so many sanctioning bodies in boxing it has taken away from the sport. You want to see the best fighters fighting for the title, but with the WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO, what you really get is the best ‘contenders,’ fighting each other and it dilutes the standard of what is meant by ‘championship.”
“At least the WBSS is a good opportunity for champions coming through and to ensure the best fighters are fighting for the title.”
It had been hoped that the eventual winner of the WBSS would fight James DeGale, but the former IBF Super-Middleweight champion was recently dethroned by American Caleb Truax in a stunning upset.
Roy Gumbs who knows a thing or two about set-backs in his career provides these comforting words to the former champ, “My advice to James, is to remember that champions were once contenders who refused to give up. I think he’s got a lot going for him and he should stay with it.”
Roy Gumbs currently resides in Dubai with his wife but there is never a dull moment for the former British and Commonwealth middleweight champion. In 2016 he featured in the Fighting Fit Dubai TV show as the resident boxing expert, helping train white collar fighters for a televised boxing tournament.
Roy is not the only member of the Gumbs household involved in the showbiz industry. Roy’s son, Dwayne Gumbs is currently crowd funding a short film that he has written. ‘Holy Beef,’ is a comedy following a day in the life of a young and up and coming group of Grime MCs. The film is part of Film London’s prestigious London Calling Scheme.
As expected Roy Gumbs is very supportive of his son’s project, “Kudos to my son, he has gone out there and rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into a field that is as brutal as boxing. He has done a great job so far and my whole heart goes out to him.”
Groves v Eubank Jr is a pay-per-view event and is available through ITV Box Office. Coverage on ITV Box Office begins at 7pm on the 17th February 2018.
To view the ‘Holy Beef,’ Crowd Funding page please follow this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/holy-beef-a-short-comedy-backed-by-film-london-music
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.
Sitting at her kitchen table Lisa McClellan studies the black and white photograph of her brother, former world middleweight champion; Gerald McClellan. It captures the fighter, accompanied by his entourage, his name emblazed across his robe, as he makes the short journey from his dressing room to the ring to challenge Nigel Benn for the WBC super-middleweight title in London on the 25th February 1995.
“This picture makes me wonder, what went through his mind,” she admits solemnly.
This was the final fight of Gerald McClellan’s boxing career.
Despite being one of the most dramatic fights ever contested in a British ring, testing both the courage and endurance of both combatants the bout was marred by tragedy, as McClellan suffered near fatal injuries which have left him permanently disabled.
McClellan lives today in the small town of Freeport, Illinois two hours west of Chicago. He is blind, requires the use of a wheelchair and suffers difficulty with comprehension. He survives with the help of his close family, particularly his sisters who provide twenty four hour care.
Gerard McClellan was not the first, or the last casualty of the ring but his bout with Nigel Benn was significant in that it managed to completely strip boxing of all its glamour and expose the raw violence and inhumanity of the sport. It underlined the vulnerability of fighters and demonstrated the ultimate price that is paid by both professionals when things go wrong in a boxing contest.
In February 1995 Gerald McClellan was the mandatory challenger for Nigel Benn’s super-middleweight world title. Already a two time middleweight champion he was once described as, “the most violent man ever to put on a pair of gloves.” McClellan was an explosive talent in the ring with one of the greatest knockout ratios in middleweight history.
He carried two losses on his record, each on points and both over eight rounds. He attributed the first loss to a lack of sparring and the second to being overworked. He had rebounded from these setbacks with twenty one straight victories with only three of his opponents having gone further than three rounds.
McClellan was no stranger to a British ring. He had won the WBO World Middleweight title vacated by Chris Eubank with a first round stoppage of the ferocious John Mugabi at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1991. In May 1993, he acquired the WBC World middleweight title with a fifth round stoppage of renowned power puncher Julian Jackson. He made three defences, knocking out each opponent in the first round before relinquishing the title to campaign as a super-middleweight.
From his training camp for the Benn fight in the Peacock Gym, Canning Town a supremely confident McClellan told The Independent’s Ken Jones, “I always go for a quick finish and I’m confident a knockout will happen. Of course it makes sense to train for twelve rounds but Benn isn’t going very far believe me.”
McClellan had an appetite for destruction. He regularly drew parallels between his mentality as a fighter and the ferocious fighting ability of a pit bull. He sported a tattoo on his bicep of his prized pit bull, ‘Deuce,’ a nod to his affinity for dog fighting. McClellan’s familiarity with violence continued throughout his pre-fight rhetoric, “Boxing is war,” he said, “and in war you have to be prepared to die.”
There was perhaps no other fighter at the time more prepared to go to war in a boxing ring than Nigel Benn. A former soldier from London’s East End, Benn had punched his way into the public consciousness combining bombastic performances with a degree of vulnerability that always left fans on the edge of their seats. Outside the ring he cultivated a hard man image which ran parallel to his hedonistic lifestyle. He was rightly regarded as the wild man of British boxing.
Benn had captured world titles in two divisions and the only blemishes on his professional record were in fights against Michael Watson and Chris Eubank but at 31 years old he was approaching the veteran stage of his career. A dangerous mandatory defence was something he could have done without but Benn’s options were limited.
The week prior to the fight, Nigel Benn was in court over a financial dispute with his former trainer Brian Lynch. He had also recently split from his last trainer Jimmy Tibbs over monetary issues and his promoter Frank Warren was threatening to sue him if he didn’t help publicise the fight with McClellan.
Benn had developed a reputation for not fulfilling his promotional duties in recent fights. He had more pressing issues on his mind. In 1993 he had split from his wife Sharron and a year later he had moved with his new partner Carolyne to Los Angeles. He was struggling to cope without his children and it was an emotional low for Benn who had gone as far as enlisting the help of celebrity hypnotist Paul McKenna to ease his suffering.
Nothing in the pre-fight build up favoured a Benn victory. The fight was billed as “Sudden Impact,” an overt reference to the anticipated fallout between two dynamic punchers on a collision course destined for the boxing ring. Nobody in the British boxing press gave Nigel Benn a chance. Added to that, McClellan’s credentials saw him installed as the heavy favourite with the bookmakers with Benn a 4-1 underdog. The more cynical observers might have suggested that the powers that be were conspiring against Nigel Benn.
McClellan’s promoter Don King was promoting the fight in the UK in association with Frank Warren. Benn had be uncooperative in the past with both King and Warren in the promotion of his contests. King saw McClellan as the natural rival to the premier super-middleweight at the time; IBF champion Roy Jones Jr. McClellan had beaten Jones in the amateurs but to make a showdown in the professional ranks as big as it could be, McClellan needed a title to make it a unification fight.
As Benn would later say, “They only brought him over here to bash me up,” confirming what the dogs on the street already knew.
Despite being the overwhelming betting favourite McClellan was not without his own pre-fight preoccupations. McClellan had turned professional under the manager and trainer Emmanuel Steward at the Kronk gym in Detroit, but a year before the fight with Benn the partnership ended when McClellan felt Steward was devoting too much of his time to other fighters in his stable. Speaking to Boxing Monthly Steward said of the split, “It wasn’t that I wouldn’t give him enough attention, but he started giving orders and that’s not the way I work.” Nevertheless, Steward was replaced with Stan Johnson who had been the G-Man’s first trainer. McClellan was eager to secure a fight with Roy Jones Jr and cement his own status as the biggest attraction outside the heavyweights. However, he would have to get past Nigel Benn first.
As the fight loomed the atmosphere surrounding it took on a life of its own. Danny Flexen the former publishing manager for Boxing News was in the crowd in the London arena, “The atmosphere was rabid and violent as if association with such a brutal fight had transcended the fight and permeated the crowd.”
The fight was a brutal almost primeval affair. “Never have I witnessed a fight of such intensity,” said the former editor of Boxing Monthly the late Glyn Leach, “The instinct that McClellan, and more particularly Benn called upon are buried deep in the mists of mankind’s long-forgotten past, centuries before such things as religion gradually brought man to his current state of sensibility. This was truly an unholy war.”
“That night Benn and McClellan brought to the ring all the ferocious intent the fight industry demands,” said The Guardian journalist and author Kevin Mitchell, whose book War Baby; The Glamour of Violence provides the definitive story on the events surrounding the Benn-McClellan fight.
The opening onslaught saw Benn punched completely out of the ring in the first round. The partisan crowd were banging on the walls of the arena to rouse Benn from his knockdown. He rallied in the second driving McClellan back with his power punching. The ferocious exchanges continued. It seemed Benn was wilting in the sixth and he dropped to the canvas in the eighth under a barrage of blows from the American. The end seemed in sight but Benn battled back once more dropping McClellan in the ninth with a powerful right hander.
In the tenth round an exhausted McClellan dropped to one knee, after an accidental head-butt. At the end of the round he would take another knee. He was blinking uncontrollably while the French referee Alfred Asaro administered the count.
Renowned boxing trainer Brendan Ingle, who during the 90s trained an impressive stable of fighters including; Herol Graham, Johnny Nelson and Naseem Hamed from his Wincobank gym in Sheffield was working as an assistant corner man for the McClellan camp.”It was the most savage fight I have ever seen from the corner,” he recalls. “To me it was obvious a few rounds earlier that something wasn’t right with McClellan. McClellan’s chief second, Stan Johnson was so wrapped up in the fight, which his fighter was still very much in, that maybe he threw caution to the wind.”
The visceral feeling for the 12,000 fans in the arena and the 17 million viewers watching from the safety of their living rooms, was that McClellan had quit at the end of the tenth round. Former world lightweight champion Jim Watt providing commentary for UK viewers on ITV exclaimed to his colleague Reg Gutteridge, “He’s quit Reg! He’s quit!” The US TV coverage provided by Showtime saw their resident ‘Fight Doctor,’ Ferdie Pacheco comment, “I never saw a guy quit in a corner like that.”
Quitting is regarded as a cardinal sin in boxing, but no one had realised that when McClellan collapsed in his corner he had a blood clot on his brain. Even as McClellan was removed from the ring on a stretcher he perpetuated his ‘quit,’ theory in his post-fight interview with Benn. Perhaps he should be forgiven, McClellan was ahead on all three Judges’ score cards when the bout was halted and Pacheco wasn’t the only person at ringside who thought McClellan quit.
It only served to prove that there is no sentimentality in boxing. The Benn-McClellan fight validated the unspoken belief that fighters are expected to lay down their lives in the name of entertainment. Nigel Benn put it in the simplest terms he could, “This is what you wanted to see. You got what you wanted to see.”
“The Benn-McClellan fight is boxing’s dirtiest secret,” said journalist and author Ben Dirs in his book The Hate Game, “It was everything most fans wanted. Except, the someone nearly dying bit. Only when fighters do get hurt do people question their own blood-lust.” Danny Flexen recalls the pandemonium in the arena following the Benn win, “Fights broke out in the crowd, and chairs were slung around but the elation quickly turned to deflation as people gradually realised how much trouble McClellan was in.”
After his collapse McClellan received immediate medical attention and was rushed to the nearby trauma unit of the Royal London Hospital where the blood clot was removed from his brain. It should be noted that the five doctors, including an anaesthetist, four paramedics and two ambulances that were on hand to provide the lifesaving treatment on McClellan were only there as a result of the reforms introduced in boxing following the inadequate first response treatment Michael Watson had received when he suffered a similar injury in the his world title fight with Chris Eubank in 1991.
Following his post-fight interviews with the media Nigel Benn returned to his dressing room and collapsed with exhaustion. He received treatment and for a brief time he was reunited with his opponent in the Royal London Hospital. He was released the next day when an x-ray indicated that his injuries did not extend to a broken jaw as previously feared. It would be twelve years before both fighters would be reunited.
While Gerald McClellan lay in a hospital bed the world of boxing was coming under fire. James Tye the director general of the British Safety Council said, “I’m a little bit horrified, because right from the beginning of the fight there wasn’t much boxing. It was just one bloke trying to injure the other bloke’s brain.” It was a harsh observation, and even harder to ignore given that one of the combatants was now fighting for his life.
Harry Mullen, the former editor of Boxing News said in the immediate aftermath of the fight, “Gerald McClellan is on a life support machine today because he boxed, and because boxing is a dangerous sport. That is the hard fact we must face.”
It was getting harder to justify the sport’s place in civilised society. British boxing had faced a quick succession of ring fatalities with the passing of Bradley Stone and James Murray and it seemed the resolve of even the most reverent supporters of boxing was being tested. Despite producing a career defining performance Nigel Benn was so affected by the tragedy that he deemed the win, ‘worthless.’
Glyn Leach writing in Boxing Monthly rallied to the defence of the noble art, “Despite what outsiders might think, boxers do not deliberately seek to do such damage to each other…incidents such as this are rare, as are fights of the intensity of Benn-McClellan…and while trying to convey my genuine feeling for those involved, I cannot term two men giving of their best as ‘worthless’. Far from it-Benn-McClellan was magnificent and deserves to be remembered as such. Anything else would be an insult.”
Boxing is one of the oldest and most resilient sports in the world. It is a testament to the sport that it didn’t fall into obscurity after the tragedy that befell McClellan. Perhaps what repelled the public from boxing continued to draw them in.
Gerald McClellan spent eleven days in a coma and was left with extensive brain damage. He returned to the United States in August 1995 with the $54,000 he was paid for the fight and an additional $100,000 from Don King as part of an insurance policy. He returned to his home in Freeport, faced with annual medical bills in the region of $70,000.
In the years that followed the McClellan family were locked in a lengthy dispute with their brothers’ former promoter Don King. This included a very public row with King over his claims that he paid for McClellan’s medical bills, which he produced receipts amounting to $226,798. There was also great animosity between the McClellan family and Nigel Benn relating to comments he made to the press in the aftermath of the fight.
Nigel Benn may have been the victor but he did not escape the fight completely unscathed. “The consequences of Benn and McClellan’s total commitment for the entertainment of others were brutal,” said Kevin Mitchell, “Gerald suffered more by some distance but Nigel suffered too, spiritually and it has taken him years to deal with it.”
Despite winning the defining fight of his career Benn was not the same after the McClellan fight. He lost his world title to Sugar Boy Malinga and retired two years later following back-to-back losses to Steve Collins. Life after boxing was difficult and at one point Benn attempted to take his life through suicide. He overcame his demons outside the ring to be ordained as a born again preacher and he now lives in Australia. Speaking to The Ring magazine in 2015 Benn said, “I rarely think about it to be honest and it’s only discussed when someone bring it up. It’s part of my life that’s behind me and I don’t really dwell on it.”
In 2007, the fighters were reunited as part of a fundraiser in London for McClellan. Reports indicate it was an emotional night and Benn confirmed that he spoke with McClellan who acknowledged that it was an accident and that he didn’t blame Benn for what has happened. The reconciliation between the fighters has not stopped others from trying to determine what led to McClellan’s life altering injuries.
The 2011 ITV documentary The Fight of their Lives, explored the factors that contributed to the tragedy. The French referee who couldn’t speak English, the long count that allowed Benn back into the fight in the opening round, McClellan coming in underweight; an indicator of poor preparations, McClellan’s inexperienced corner led by the Sailor capped trainer Stan Johnson, McClellan’s constant blinking not being checked by the referee; all these issues were explored but all it does is remind us of the inherent risks in boxing.
It is over twenty years since the tragedy and Gerald McClellan remains the man most damaged by tragedy in a British ring. Unfortunately he must live with the consequences of being a professional fighter every day for the rest of his life. The care that he requires is expensive and his medical bills have gobbled up his career earnings and insurance policies. His family established a trust in his name and continue to host fundraisers to assist with his ongoing care.
Much had been made about his ferocious ring persona but Martin Bowers from the Peacock Gym, in Canning town, where McClellan trained while in London remembers a distinctly different side to the man, “McClellan had got a bad press around the time of the fight but he didn’t bring any of that into the gym. He never said anything untoward about anyone. He wasn’t aloof, he just did his training, had his coffee, checked his weight and talked about his dogs. He was just a genuine guy interested in his dogs and his boxing.”
Despite everything that has been written about Gerald McClellan over the years he is not the bogeyman, he is just a man. A brother, a father and someone’s son. As is Nigel Benn who continues to bear the unspeakable grief that men who have maimed or killed another in the ring must bear. As Kevin Mitchell puts it, “They suffered enormously for our pleasure,” which remains a hard pill for fans to swallow.
For the arm chair critics, keyboard warriors and internet trolls who criticise, laugh and sneer at fighters when they fall from grace or slump to defeat, they would do well to respect the fact that fighters put everything on the line when they step into the ring. Anything less would be an insult.
If you would like to donate to the Gerald McClellan Trust then you can send a cheque or money order to:
Gerald McClellan Trust
C/o Fifth Third Bank
899 E. Wyandotte
Freeport, IL 61032
Or make an online donation via his website: http://www.geraldmcclellan.com
If you would like to support Ring 10 Veteran Boxing Foundation of New York, who help disadvantaged ex boxers, then visit : http://www.ring10.org
If you would like to help raise funds in the UK for the Ringside Rest and Care Home, a thirty-six bed residential care facility for ex boxers then visit: https://www.gofundme.com/the-rinsgide-rest-amp-care-home-for-exboxers
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.
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.
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.
Boxing promoter Don King once said that you won’t find a reality TV show better than boxing because of the ups and downs fighters face and how the sport represents a metaphor for life.
With that in mind, it seems TV producers in Dubai have taken King’s advice literally.
Fighting Fit Dubai is a reality television series, with the idea of turning “ordinary people,” into the best versions of themselves by taking them on a life-changing journey to become champions of the boxing ring.
The series which was formerly known as White Collar DXB, is currently filming its second season and producers have adopted a new look and format for the show.
Contestants are split into two teams of eight, they take part in eight weeks of training before being pitted against one another in a boxing ring on the final week with the chance to be crowned Fighting Fit Dubai 2016 champions.
The only prerequisite is that contestants must not have had any previous boxing experience.
Despite the competitive nature of the show there is significant emphasis on strength, conditioning, nutrition, lifestyle and psychology.
Speaking to website Arabian Business producer Phil Griffiths from Nomad Productions explains, “The show is all about contestants of all shapes and sizes professions and nationalities, male and female, using the experience as a catalyst to change their lives.”
The first season of the series helped a make-up artist overcome her crippling anxiety and an ex-rugby player lose weight and regain his form. The second season will be aiming to build on this success and the producers have enlisted the help of a team of health and fitness experts to support contestants along the way.
Chris Miller owner of the Strength Gym in Dubai will be the strength and conditioning expert. He is joined by seven time Guinness world record holder and HUA fitness founder; Eva Clarke as the mental strength expert and health and nutrition expert; Vicki Tipper.
They are also joined by former British and Commonwealth middleweight boxing champion; Roy Gumbs who will assume the mantle of the show’s head boxing expert.
Speaking about the new head boxing expert producer Phil Griffiths said, “We can’t argue with Roy’s pedigree or character. We knew he’d be a massive asset to the show.”
“Roy’s main interest is to look after the contestants and help them improve their boxing techniques as they approach the final fight night.”
“There’s a blue team, a red team and a reserve team and he works across them all. He will provide the audience with a qualified view of how the contestants are progressing. Come fight night, we’ll see if he’s right.”
The former British and Commonwealth champion is delighted to be helping others in this new endeavour, “Working with these people gives me great satisfaction. I want to help them set personal goals and encourage them to be positive, passionate and persistent about achieving those goals.”
Gumbs added, “It’ll be a pleasure to pass on my knowledge and skills and to give these people the experience of what it’s like to be a boxer…but I also want them to enjoy themselves and have fun.”
Fighting Fit Dubai is currently filming and will be screened on Dubai Television channel OSN later in the year. To find out more about Fighting Fit Dubai follow the show on Facebook and Twitter; @FIGHTINGFITDXB.
Pictures courtesy of Facebook.
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.
Follow Gary “Spike,” O’Sullivan on twitter; @spike_osullivan
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 http://www.ring10ny.com and donate on the website. You can also follow Ring 10 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; @ring10ny
Liverpool’s Tony Bellew finally got the fairy tale ending he dreamed of when he knocked out Ilunga Makabu in the third round to claim the WBC cruiserweight world title.
The opening round was a cagey affair, Bellew dominated but towards the end of the round Makabu sent Bellew to the canvas with a left hook.
Unhurt Bellew took the next round and in the third he backed his opponent up on to the ropes where he unleashed a barrage of punches which knocked his opponent out cold.
It was a spectacular finish to Bellew’s third world title challenger in front of a home crowd at Goodison park.
On the undercard Super-Middleweight Callum Smith extended his unbeaten run with a sixth round stoppage of Cesar Hernan Reynoso. It was a dominate performance by Smith who dropped his opponent three times, but the determined Reynoso made Smith work for the win and this will be invaluable experience for the young fighter from Liverpool.
On the previous evening, Scotland’s Ricky Burns became a three weight world champion with a eighth round stoppage of the thoroughly outclassed Michele Di Rocco for the vacant WBA Super- Lightweight Title at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.
David Price TKO 2 Vaclav Pejsar; Heavyweight
Stephen Smith TKO 7 Daniel Brizuela; Super-Featherweight
Connor Benn W4 Luke Keleher; Super-Lightweight