Jamaican memories

frank bruno(Frank Bruno, former WBC heavyweight champion, in photo) 25.05.07 - By Ted Sares: Jamaica is known for great reggae singers, wonderful and hard working people, fantastic food, beautiful beaches, and an interesting bob sledding team. While boxing is not an active sport, the tiny island nation has had a hand in producing (either by birth or by parentage) a disproportionate number of very notable boxers. But you'd never know it because many fight under the flags of the countries to which they immigrated. As Jamaican boxing expert and essayist, Scott Neufville, puts it, "The world has seen many great Jamaican fighters. The world has watched as they have pummeled champions, broken gladiators and stood proud above fallen warriors. But the world has not known they were Jamaican."

Two such fighters went to war last year in Hollywood, FL and when the dust settled, road warrior Glen Johnson, who was born in Jamaica, had been crowned the new International Boxing Association champion, but his opponent, Richard "The Destroyer" Hall had earned considerable respect for a competitive and gusty showing.

Johnson, 44-10-2, 29 KOs, was Ring Magazine's Fighter of the Year two years ago (he just stopped Montell Griffith in a cross roads fight). Giving the night a distinctive Jamaican flavor, Hall entered the ring to Jr. Gong Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock." Yha Mon.

There are many other fighters who can trace their origins to Jamaica one way or another. One of my favorites and one of best ever is the "Body Snatcher," Mike McCallum, 49-5-1, 36 KO's and World Champion at 154, 160, 175 lbs who, as a fearless road warrior, fought just about anyone who was anybody from 1981 to 1997. He remains Jamaica's most popular fighter and has achieved legendary status on the island nation.

Even Lennox Lewis, who was born in London, can trace his connection through his mother. He retired with a fine record of 42-2-1 and like Hall, frequently entered the ring to reggae music. Mike McCallum is already in the Hall of Fame; Lennox Lewis, for his great achievements, will soon be. And who could forget the great Simon “Mantequilla" Brown.

Other notable Jamaican fighters of the past include the heavy-handed Alex Stewart, 43-10 with 40 big ko's. Stewart waged war with Evander Holyfield and almost ruined George Foreman's comeback. Still others were troubled Trevor Berbick who came onto the scene with a stunning KO of Big John Tate and who beat an aging Ali in his (Ali's) last fight. Trevor, sadly, was recently murdered on the Island., Richard "Shrimpy" Clarke ( the much-loved 'Shrimpy,' second only to McCallum in popularity, came close to winning the world flyweight title against Thailand's great Sot Chitalada), Michael Bentt, former WBO heavyweight champ who knocked out heavily favored Tommy Morrison and Lloyd "Jabba" Bryan, 22-13.

mike mccallum(Mike McCallum, former WBA light middleweight/middleweight and WBC light heavyweight champion, pictured here in 1996) The very popular Bunny Grant was a promising fighter who lost a decision to Eddie Perkins, welterweight boxing champion in 1964. Uriah Grant beat an aging Tommy Hearns for something called the IBO Cruiserweight Title in 2000, and Anthony Logan, 18-4-1, fought both Benn and Eubanks and won the WBC Continental Americas Middleweight Title in 1990. Percy Hayles fought but lost to Carlos Hernandez for a super-lightweight championship in 1965, and leading contender Donovan "Razor" Ruddock did battle with Mike Tyson twice as well as with many other top contenders. Still others were Maurice Core, 15-2-1, Boston area light middleweight Marshall Simpson, who retired with a fine 25-1 record, Bunny Sterling, and the immortal Cuban amateur and multiple Olympic champion, Teofilo Stevenson.

Of particular note, British and Canadian boxers of Caribbean descent have dominated the national boxing scene since the early 1980s. In 1995, Frank Bruno, whose mother was a lay preacher from Jamaica, became Britain's first heavyweight boxing champion in the century. His reign was shortly followed by the aforementioned Lennox Lewis who became, of course, the world's premier heavyweight during the late 1990s. Middleweights Chris Eubanks, 45-5-2, (who spent his early years in Jamaica) and fierce warrior Nigel Benn, 42-5-1, and of Barbadian descent, both claimed world titles and fought a series of brutal battles in the early 1990s. In the 2000 Olympics, Audley Harrison, another who has Jamaican heritage, became Britain's first heavyweight gold medalist.

Other fighters from the British African-Caribbean community include the Welterweight champion Lloyd Honeyghan nicknamed "Ragamuffin" due to his Jamaican roots. Still others were Journeymen Oscar Angus and George Walker (both Jamaican-born), former British and European champ Henry Rhiney, British champ Des Morrison and Commonwealth champ Donovan Boucher (all Jamaican-born), former contender Adrian "The Predator" Stone, 35-5-2, and heavyweight Rupert Thomas, 10-1-1.

On the current boxing landscape, O'Neil Bell, 26-1-1, who recently battled Jean Marc Mormeck twice comes to mind as does current cruiserweight Chris Johnson, 26-3-1, hard punching but fading Teddy Reid, 23-8-2, current heavyweight Owen Beck, 25-3, and Otis Grant, 38-3-1, former WBC International Super Middleweight and WBO Middleweight champ. Light Heavyweight Lloyd "Jabba" Bryan, 22-13 remains active as well.

Also out there is Richard Grant, 19-13-1, who beat tough James "The Harlem Hammer" Butler in 2001. Curiously, after the fight, Grant approached Butler to hug him but was instead sucker-punched in the jaw by Butler, who was then arrested, convicted, and sent to jail for his trouble. Grant suffered a broken jaw. Butler is currently doing 29 years for a much more horrific crime.

As an aside, Livingston Bramble, frequently taken for a Jamaican because of his dreadlocks is from the Virgin Islands as are the great Julian Jackson and Emile Griffith.

chris eubank(Chris Eubank, former WBO middleweight and Super middleweight champion, pictured here) In retrospect, a series of five monster upsets all by tough Jamaican fighters astounded me. Trevor Berbick’s 1980 ambush KO of Big John Tate in Montreal set the stage for four more shockers. The Welterweight champion Lloyd Honeyghan nicknamed "Ragamuffin" due to his Jamaican roots defeated heavily favored Donald Curry in 1986. In an equally stunning upset, welterweight Kirkland Laing, 43-12-1, beat Roberto Duran in 1982. Then Michael Bentt knocked out heavily favored Tommy Morrison in 1993 in an incredible first round upset. Morrison’s camp had done a terrible job of researching Bentt’s amateur record. Finally, who could forget the great Simon "Mantequilla" Brown, WBC and IBF Welterweight title holder, who KO’d Terry Norris in 1993 for the WBC Light Middleweight Title in Ring Magazine's "Upset of the Year?"

What made these fights memorable? They were all major upsets and they were all pulled off by Jamaican fighters.

Despite this rich and proud heritage, it appears boxing will be limited to television viewing in Jamaica. One of the problems is that when there are prospects, they leave the Island for the U.S or the U.K. Most of the gyms are either closed or ramshackle and few youngsters really want to get involved in boxing. There are no programs nor is there any regular competition so there is little incentive for boxers to train, not to mention the absence of someone to teach them the fundamentals of competitive boxing. So for now, these Jamaican gladiators will continue to stand proud over other warriors, but likely under another flag

"So as sure as the sun will shine I'm gonna get my share now what is mine - And then the harder they come The harder they fall" Lyrics from the "Harder They Come" by Jimmy Cliff

Watch for Ted Sares‘s new book, “Boxing is my Sanctuary,” due out in the fall 2007

Article posted on 26.05.2007

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