DeMarcus Corley, the old grifter, dances into another Diggstown

The guy got hurt. It happens. It happens to fighters. I thought you knew that.

James Woods, as Gabriel Caine, in Diggstown.

In the 1992 picture, Diggstown, or Midnight Sting for those on this side of the pond, Lou Gossett Jnr. plays ‘Honey’ Roy Palmer. A long retired prizefighter for whom fame never called. Subjected to the persuasive patter of con-man Gabriel Caine, Palmer finds himself in the titular town with 10 opponents lined up to face him in a 24 hour period. The prospects of triumph seem distant and the consequences of defeat, and the lost bet for Caine, catastrophic given the Mafia origins of the money Caine has wagered on the outcome.

‘Honey’ Roy, like DeMarcus Corley, who boxes again this weekend two years on from the last of a long sequence of defeats, had retained a fighter’s physique and the wiles of a well-schooled pug, but he was, nevertheless, 47 years old.

Continue reading “DeMarcus Corley, the old grifter, dances into another Diggstown”

Old money and the roads to Fury

A champion is someone who gets up even when he can’t.

Jack Dempsey

Rude. The only way to describe the health of the heavyweight division. It has a singular and consensus champion. Tyson Fury. One fresh from an enthralling rumble with the sport’s biggest puncher. Subsequently, his WBC mandatory challenger, and therefore his most likely next opponent, will be Dillian Whyte, a fighter in every fan’s top 6 or 7, if he beats Otto Wallin, who cut and bothered Fury when they met a year ago.

Beyond Fury’s immediate challenge, contenders Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua will reconvene in the Spring to determine the most worthy to contest all of the available belts, for whatever merit resides in the custody of all four. And alongside that quartet, exist a parade of potential challengers with varied styles, stories and skill.

Boxing has its heavyweight champion. A charismatic one. Unconventional. Gigantic. Everyone else, merely contenders. In old money at least. The hope now, in this brave new-old world, is that the Champion stays busy.

Continue reading “Old money and the roads to Fury”

Former British champion, David Price hangs them up

Imagine being the British Champion. The British Heavyweight champion at that. A Lonsdale belt draped over a shoulder, shimmering beneath the ring lights. A century of history on which to stand. David Price, the Liverpudlian giant, has stood and felt those sensations, held that famous belt as his own.

And he did so, in his hometown.

Only a few men have ever shared that feeling; Iron Hague, Tommy Farr, Woodcock, Cooper, Bugner and Lennox Lewis perhaps most famous among them. Frank Bruno never did. Price won the title, aged 29, by beating Sam Sexton in 2012. He defended the crown twice, beating Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton, before relinquishing the belt in late 2013 to pursue higher honours.

Those honours never did quite materialise for the self styled ‘big horrible heavyweight’. Momentum was lost on the alter of circumstance. Poor management, bad luck, injuries and the reality of a knockout defeat or two, which can happen when you’re boxing world level big men, or mediocre big men juiced to the brim for that matter, all contrived to deny him the breakthrough he so desperately craved.

He announced his retirement this week. Sanguine about his frustrations but characteristically honest about his reasons for choosing not to box on.

Continue reading “Former British champion, David Price hangs them up”

“I coulda had class”. Fighters, films and the fix

For cinema goers, the image of a boxer being coerced into losing a fight or consoled in the aftermath, is all too familiar. A convenient vehicle deployed by film makers since the advent of ‘talkies’ in the 1920’s. From John Wayne to Charlie Chaplin, actors have been knitting their brows as earnest pugs buckling beneath the guilt that ensues. Electing to forgo the integrity they cherished, in exchange for easy money or the promise of richer fruit down the line, is a choice much easier to reject in theory and detached from the starkness of life as a prizefighter from the 1930s to the late 1950s.

As Brando immortalised in The Godfather, fighters, like others in position of influence and value, were made offers they couldn’t refuse.

Continue reading ““I coulda had class”. Fighters, films and the fix”

And the band played on. Boxing’s voyage to the abyss

Rogers Morton, a prominent figure in American politics in the 1970s, once said, while serving as Campaign Manager for Gerald Ford’s ailing push for the White House and pressed on how he intended to salvage lost momentum; “I’m not going to re-arrange the furniture on the deck of the Titanic.” A quote that would outlive the Statesman, both in political influence and life, he would succumb to cancer in 1979, and one that became synonymous with actions deemed superficial and redundant in the face of impending disaster.

As a 58-year-old Evander Holyfield clambered back down the ring steps in Florida this weekend, a state which withdrew his license to box 17 years ago on the grounds of his diminished ability, it is easy to clamour for boxing to do something, to intervene. Thousands added their voices to the cause in the days before the ‘fight’, screened by Triller (no, me neither) and commentated on by former president and the doyenne of delusion, Donald Trump. They urged ‘boxing’ to change course, to come to its senses.

Gratefully, it took but a few seconds for Holyfield to be separated from his, if he wasn’t detached from them, or at least reality, when he arrived.

Continue reading “And the band played on. Boxing’s voyage to the abyss”

The life and times of Henry Cooper

This article first appeared on BritishVintageBoxing.com

Two minutes into the opening round of Henry Cooper’s first fight with Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, the proud Englishman snorts hard and draws deeply, he is beyond Clay’s reach and permits himself a momentary pause. He knows he has started strongly. His eyes narrow, focussed on the American quarry before him, his nostrils flaring wide as he sucks air from the cool London night. His pale chest heaves.

Thin black leather shoes mold tight to his feet, glistening like wet paint. They slide and sweep, hop and reset to the doctrine of boxing, those strangest of dance steps. Cooper’s body is taut, narrow and sinewy, his gloves small and almost cuff less. Thinning hair is cropped short, pointing skyward, exaggerating the urgency of his actions. Battleship grey eyes glare from the shadows of a chiselled brow above. A wedge of protruding bone that juts forward, straining skin and tissue. It is a genetic anomaly that has betrayed him before and would again, in countless wars as yet unfought.

Continue reading “The life and times of Henry Cooper”

Ali v Frazier, 50 years on, still casts a shadow long enough to eclipse Fury v Joshua

I don’t think Clay will want one.

Joe Frazier answers the question of a rematch following his seminal victory over Ali in 1971.

I was born in the summer of 1973. Bawling my way in as a humbled United States left Vietnam, a few weeks before Nixon’s impeachment began and Great Britain joined the EEC it left acrimoniously in January. I arrived broadly equidistant between Muhammad Ali’s back to back encounters with Kenny Norton. I like to refer to Kenny as Kenny, I don’t really know why. Perhaps I hope it implies friendship. On that basis, Mr. Norton would probably be more appropriate, but I digress.

Kenny was of course the strapping enigma the Champ could never quite resolve, in those two fights or in their trilogy bout in ’76. By the time my interest in boxing was stirred, first by the emotive sight of Barry McGuigan walking through the mist and hot breath of Loftus Road to face Pedroza in ’85, and then the amalgam of Tyson, Balboa and Herol, Muhammad Ali was no longer an active fighter.

There he remained. Still waters. Frozen in time and placed out of sight by retirement, remembered only by the words and pictures contained on my, by then, late grandfather’s book case.

Continue reading “Ali v Frazier, 50 years on, still casts a shadow long enough to eclipse Fury v Joshua”

BoxingWriter.co.uk Fighter of the Month – February 2021

As the world permits hope to smile, like the pale Spring sun of late February, boxing is emerging squinting and yawning from the hibernation of Winter and the grip of the COVID pandemic. Shows and events are beginning to populate the diary, fights are happening and momentum is being wrested from the inertia of lockdown.

There has been chaos too. Boxing isn’t boxing without its signature melodrama, the myopia of judges and the sanctioning bodies’ eternal shenanigans. Certainly, there was enough action committed to record to award another Fighter of The Month to follow in the steps of Ryan Garcia who won the equivalent January prize.

Continue reading “BoxingWriter.co.uk Fighter of the Month – February 2021”

Honeyghan destroys Bumphus. 34 years on, the memories remain

Much time has passed since last I was ringside for a boxing match. A break exacerbated by the pandemic of course. The joy of people watching, a pastime inherited sitting besides a Grandad waiting “near the Spinner” in Doncaster for a Grandma browsing in Marks’, is sweetly fed in a press seat. From those middle-age men assigned to chaperone ring card girls, to the fighter’s moll, tightly wrapped for later, the polo shirt security blinking into the darkness beyond the apron, to the men in silk pyjama jackets, bent noses all, a stray towel flung on their shoulder, boxing employs a diverse troupe of characters.

One of the most glorious attendees at any London event is the former Welterweight champion, Lloyd Honeyghan. The Ragamuffin Man is a man of sartorial individualism. From the fur coat, the spats, to the ‘Chicago’ trilby, to the cane with a leaping cat, his presence is felt the moment he enters a room. Any room. He was once afforded the front row seat directly in ahead of me at a fight card I’ve long since forgotten. Or to rephrase, I was sat behind him. That seems more respectful. Star struck, I failed to speak.

The aura to which I was prisoner that night, began 34 years ago.

Continue reading “Honeyghan destroys Bumphus. 34 years on, the memories remain”

Leon Spinks, 1953-2021 Former Heavyweight Champion of The World

“But I ask Mr. T, ‘Where’s Leon?’ And Mr. T says, ‘I don’t know.’

Butch Lewis, speaking to Thomas Hauser, ‘Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times’

Leon Spinks was The Heavyweight Champion in 1978. He was Olympic Champion in 1976.

Two facts that are indisputable. Representing two mountains tops few stand upon. It was rarified air Leon Spinks was breathing for a time. Grinning through much of it. A young man with the boxing world in the palm of his hand and the rest of it knocking at his hotel room door. He met most of both with love and that unique smile of his. Boxing taught him to trust few of them and his fame was a blessing and a burden in the days beyond 1978.

He will be remembered always, not as the greatest or for enduring greatness, but because for a night in 1978 he ‘put it on Ali’ for 15 rounds and won the title, back when it was still referred to, and was, THE title.

Continue reading “Leon Spinks, 1953-2021 Former Heavyweight Champion of The World”

Benn, Bruno and Nicky Booth, and the lost boys of 2001

Back in 2001, British boxing had meandered into a strange, uncharted hinterland. An odyssey of greed and short-termism in the preceding five years reducing it to a role in the margins, a sporting outcast. Neglected, eroded and far removed from the roaring crowds of the preceding decades. The resurgence of stadium fights had faded to black, dissolving in to the night like the thousands who shuffled, stumbled and strode from the crumbling castles of Wembley and Loftus Road.

Images still lingered in the collective memory. Plumes of warm breath and cigarette smoke drifting on the midnight breeze, the last slurred rendition of ‘Bruno, Bruno’ absorbed by the rattle of taxis and tube trains beneath. In the crowd’s wake, plastic glasses and torn betting slips, the debris of a night, were swept from the aisles. The headaches and penitence of a thousand tomorrows still to unfold for the departing revellers and the fighters they came to see.

Continue reading “Benn, Bruno and Nicky Booth, and the lost boys of 2001”

Revisited: Quirino Garcia, the elephant and the castle.

We have no time to stand and stare. And stare as long as sheep or cows. No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

W.H. Davies, poet, ‘Leisure’

Parking had been difficult, as was finding the venue itself, and as a result, I was late for the show. It was long since dark and the city still intimidated me despite my tailored attempt to project self-assurance and belonging. I broke into a jog between the pools of street light on my way to the Elephant and Castle Leisure Centre, London. It was late March, 2002. A cool night, I missed the entrance. Twice. No fluorescent signs, no limousines. Just a door, in the shadows, almost turning away from the glare of potential passers by negotiating crossings, blurting horns and the choke of car fumes.

Boxing inhabited a different world twenty years ago. One of Leisure Centres and bootlegged world titles. Smaller. Seedier. And virtually unrecognisable from the gigantic events we now enjoy.

Continue reading “Revisited: Quirino Garcia, the elephant and the castle.”

Boxing embraces the ‘two headed snake’ of nostalgia and celebrity

“‘Remember when’, is the lowest form of conversation”

Anthony Soprano (James Gandolfini), The Sopranos Season 6

The news Felix Sturm, once a credible middleweight, will fight again this month, aged 41 and a full four years after his final bout, albeit successfully for a title at the time, comes as no great surprise. Just another unnecessary swansong from a chorus line of by-gone prizefighters who can’t quite let go.

It is a timeless fable for grizzled pugs. From Jack Johnson to Sugar Ray, Tommy Farr to Smokin’ Joe, fighters have always returned, financially or emotionally motivated far beyond the reach of their prime. And for those that don’t, the comeback is never far from their mind, or the lips of an inquisitor. Whether champion or chump, intact or broken, there is always one more fight. As another old heavyweight out of Philadelphia, himself no stranger to punching for pay in his fifties, lamented to his confidant, Paulie; “There is still some stuff in the basement.”

Continue reading “Boxing embraces the ‘two headed snake’ of nostalgia and celebrity”

But it’s Mike F****** Tyson

Take it from me,

It’s hip to be square

Huey Lewis, Songwriter, 1967-

I’ll have to whisper. So come a little closer. Now, look, this thing Saturday. Yer know, the fight. No, not that one. The other one. Yeh. That one. Well, I know all the hipsters have had their say and I know it’s all a bit silly, but, well, how can I put this?

I’m a little bit excited.

I know it’s wrong. I know I’m meant to rise above it. Look down on it. Reject it. Yeh, yeh, 54, I know. I know. But it’s Tyson.

Mike ******* Tyson.

Don’t tell me you’re not watching it.

Continue reading “But it’s Mike F****** Tyson”

‘It’s not your night’. Why did Jake LaMotta have to lose to Billy Fox in ’47?

Article first appeared on Gambling.com

June 14th 1960. A warm summer’s day in Washington DC. The air is sweet with the city grind and the hustle of a country racing toward adolescence and the associated rebellion.  Chatter spills from sidewalks, shoes are shined, a soft percussion to the chaotic jazz horn of taxicabs and the clatter of the capital’s iconic street cars. Morning sunshine glints from a mile of Buick chrome. 

This commercial idyll, stretching out beneath the blue sky of the star spangled dream belies the political tension that pulses under the skin of black and white America. It is a time of ideology too, the battle for civil rights, of JFK, Cuba, missiles and crusaders for truth and equality. 

Former Middleweight champion Jake LaMotta is in the capital. A face from the smoke and shadows of the monochrome America of the 1950s. One uncomfortable with technicolour progress and the dawn of an age more recognisable to us today.

Continue reading “‘It’s not your night’. Why did Jake LaMotta have to lose to Billy Fox in ’47?”

Spoiling for a fight: The Arv Mittoo story

Article first appeared in Boxing News (£) 30th May 2019

There are no easy lives in the boxing business. Even among those changed for the better, the ones saved, the ones directed away from the darkness, from the cells, from the ground. Every professional fighter complicit to boxing’s unspoken truth; that something of themselves must be sacrificed, perhaps only temporarily, perhaps permanently, in order to access the financial and emotional benefits derived from success, however modest or fleeting they may be.

This grittier reality swiftly overwrites those cinematic show reels, composed in the imaginings of their adolescence, that novice professionals may still cling to when they enter the paid ranks. The dream is nevertheless important, prizefighters are not enticed to lace up the gloves as willowy ten-year-olds, or encouraged to punish and curate their bodies into adulthood, with the expectation of losing or moreover, choosing to, being paid to.

But losing is half of the boxing story. Continue reading “Spoiling for a fight: The Arv Mittoo story”

Boxing: Canelo seeking greatness an asterisks may deny him

I wonder whether it is harder for fighters to etch their legend into our collective psyche these days. The saturation of coverage helps build brands, invites us to know our heroes better, to co-exist beside them. An invited voyeurism that can reveal struggle and educate fans to the risk and reasons that motivate prize fighters but also homogenise those we would otherwise propose possess special powers.

The price of this exposure, if there is one, is this puncturing of a fighter’s mystique, their sense of otherworldliness. Unfettered access has removed the robe of mythology we once wrapped our kings in. I’m not sure even Marvellous Marvin Hagler’s solemnity would have outlasted the chatter of video courtiers every pug with a pair of gloves is now exposed to.

Even the words; Hagler, or Tyson or Duran, still provide a frisson of the electricity fans once felt when they caught the first glimpse of their walk to the ring. Or when their hero’s eyes locked on to his prey.

It is harder for their modern day counterparts to leverage the same awe in their less active careers and, in the case of Saul Alvarez, one of this generation’s most gifted fighters, with the burdensome asterisks of a failed drug test forever attached to his name. Continue reading “Boxing: Canelo seeking greatness an asterisks may deny him”

All that glitters is not coal; Doncaster heavyweight Dave Allen and a century of struggle

By David Payne

When popular British heavyweight Dave Allen ambles to the ring on Saturday as the unofficial headline act in a show far removed from his Doncaster home, he will, as all of us do in some shape or form, seek to step in to the spotlight and beyond the shadow cast by his forefathers and the whisper of self-doubt amplified by their deeds.

Across the ring will stand the Liverpudlian giant, David Price. A man who denies the presence of such demons, with fighting pedigree the Yorkshireman can not yet requite and tangible advantages of height, reach and experience too. The O2 Arena in London plays host to this battle of could, would and should. A venue repurposed from inauspicious and self-conscious beginnings as the Millennium Dome and therefore an apt stage for the pair to find out a little more about each other, themselves and the realism of their respective ambitions.

It is a heavyweight contest with much to endear it to the boxing fraternity, the thousands promoters Matchroom Sports will urge to make the pilgrimage to the gate and the wider public too. Fighters like Allen and Price, flawed, with the bruises of life’s slings and arrows evident but not ruinous, with opportunity or obscurity waiting for the victor and the vanquished, often provide more entertainment and are more relatable heroes than those garrulous fellows of untainted preserve. We can admire Floyd, but we love Arturo. Continue reading “All that glitters is not coal; Doncaster heavyweight Dave Allen and a century of struggle”

Moving on up. Ali, Mayfield and Joshua’s all too familiar crossroads

“We planned and worked hard, from the very start
Tried to make him better, than all the rest
But the brother proved to be so much less.”

‘Eddie Should Know Better’ by Curtis Mayfield (1972)

Curtis Mayfield would’ve been 77 today, like his friend Muhammad Ali he was born in 1942, and the “gentle genius”, as he was often referred, passed away on Boxing Day in 1999. His legend, as one of the greatest musicians, songwriters and innovators of the century, was secured long before being struck by falling rigging while performing in Brooklyn in 1990. An accident that would paralyse him from the neck down.

He and Ali were both powerful social commentators, transcending their area of excellence in lives in the public eye that ran in parallel and through some of the most turbulent episodes in modern American history. In 1958 a 15 year-old Mayfield joined The Impressions a short two years before the then Cassius Clay flew off to the Rome Olympics, the musical pioneer’s passing came just three years after Ali’s iconic opening of the 1996 Atlanta games. An event that marked the beginning of the end for the century’s most famous face, for one last time he was able to demonstrate his courage and defiance, fighting, inch by inch, the symptoms of Parkinsons to deliver the Olympic flame.

Continue reading “Moving on up. Ali, Mayfield and Joshua’s all too familiar crossroads”

Fury, Wilder and Joshua; the normality of avoiding risk

Coincidences can prove jarring, awakening us from the mundanity of our rituals, sometimes they’re not evident without the spectacles of hindsight and occasionally the happenchance of concurrent events or unexpected meetings of people, things, occurrences pass by unnoticed. Just such serendipity brought together two different eras in the heavyweight division for me today and in doing so offered a salve to my throbbing suspicion that Tyson Fury’s alignment with Top Rank and ESPN will steal away a heavyweight era barely rediscovered beneath a layer of Ukrainian dust. Continue reading “Fury, Wilder and Joshua; the normality of avoiding risk”

The night the Raging Bull fell

Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;

O Death in Life, the days that are no more

Alfred Tennyson, poet 1809-1892, The Princess (1847)

No hush fell within the domed ceiling of the Miami Coliseum, the crowd’s hub-bub continued. Neither interrupted nor escalated by the sight of one-time boxing superstar Jake LaMotta slumped to the canvas for the first time in his then 103-fight career. Referee Bill Regan, his once Welterweight frame thickened by twenty years of retirement, took up the count as LaMotta, 31 and fighting at a career high of 173 pounds, pawed for the bottom rope with his right hand.

Danny Nardico rushed to a corner, the adrenaline pumping through his body, the enormity of what he’d just done with a thunderous cross-cum-hook, the last of a flurry of clubbing shots, writ large before him. Whether he mouthed through his gum-shield; “stay-down” was never asked, all eyes were on LaMotta, the man who had once, if only once, beaten Sugar Ray Robinson, now desperately over-reaching for the second rope, his spatial awareness scrambled by fatigue and the weight of the shot that put him there.

Regan’s fingers splayed wide in front of the bruised fudge of his face, “FIVE, SIX!”. LaMotta’s right glove, short-cuffed and glistening like a ball of wet tar on a hot roof, found the rope. Regan whispered something unreported in LaMotta’s left ear between the metronome of his public voice; “SEVEN, EIGHT“. Nardico glanced to his corner for reassurance as his senses were assaulted. The laconic, darkened lids of trainer Bill Gore blinked back at him, no expression was offered.  Gore’s experience with Willie Pep and Joe Brown, and a hundred other pugs, helping him resist the contagion of excitement that coursed through those at ringside.

Continue reading “The night the Raging Bull fell”

BW Archive – Farr: “Ali wouldn’t have hit Joe Louis on the bum with a handful of rice!”

First published August 29th 2008

Tommy Farr said that and who am I to argue? Tomorrow will mark the 71st anniversary of his courageous but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to dethrone the newly crowned heavyweight champion Joe Louis. The humble ‘Tonypandy Terror’ is long remembered for giving the legendary ‘Brown Bomber’ an arduous first defence of his heavyweight title and for the unflinching resolve he demonstrated in doing so.

His effort was as herculean as it was unexpected to ringside observers. Those hunched around the family wireless back in Britain, were moved to believe he’d done enough to topple the great champion.

Continue reading “BW Archive – Farr: “Ali wouldn’t have hit Joe Louis on the bum with a handful of rice!””

Ward retires undefeated and he will beat the comeback call too

The fact Andre Ward’s retirement leaves a bittersweet taste shouldn’t surprise those of us who could appreciate his skill and yet felt infuriated by his inactivity. His scripted departure message was as deft and well crafted as some of his performances. It was a professional career that began in December 2004 and followed an unbeaten run that stretched back to his teens.

He will tease but he will stay retired.

Continue reading “Ward retires undefeated and he will beat the comeback call too”

Boxing: “Just wave Joe, you’re beautiful baby. God bless ya champ.”

Lennox Lewis simply isn’t celebrated enough. Now before you depart, mistaking this statement as a prelude to a tired hit-chasing argument about Lennox always beating Tyson – even in 1993 – or whooping Vitali in the never seen rematch, it points instead to his well timed retirement; faculties in tact, money safe and talent fulfilled.

Too few have the wisdom and foresight to resist the public or personal clamour to continue or, worst still, return. Great, good and those no more than game very rarely depart from boxing on their own terms, and if they do, they are frequently drawn back. Invited or not.

Joe Louis, for some the greatest heavyweight of all, was reduced to welcoming tourists to Caeser’s Palace before an equally humble turn as a wrestler and wrestling referee following his second retirement. For fifty years it remained the most visible and documented example of a fall from greatness. Until now.

Continue reading “Boxing: “Just wave Joe, you’re beautiful baby. God bless ya champ.””

Boxing: Lawrence Clay-Bey, the reluctant Olympian

I read with interest Ron Borges piece on the forgotten heavyweights of the 1980’s; the famously lost generation of Witherspoon, Tubbs, Tucker, Thomas, Weaver and Tate in Boxing Monthly last week. It was fascinating copy and provided an effective summary of the period as well as interesting insight into how this potentially gilded era dissolved in a sea of wine, women and song.

Only Larry Holmes emerged from the years between Ali’s loss to Spinks in ’78 and the arrival of Mike Tyson in the mid-eighties with his potential fulfilled. Whenever I read about those out of shape and misguided contenders I’m always reminded of the otherwise forgotten Lawrence Clay-Bey.

A fighter of pedigree, Clay-Bey entered the pro-ranks long after that lost band of heavyweight brothers of course and his story is one of indifference toward prizefighting rather than the destructive pursuits of those who’s footsteps he followed, but the sense of the unfulfilled is a connecting thread between the two.

Continue reading “Boxing: Lawrence Clay-Bey, the reluctant Olympian”

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