Barry Boy Michael Interview

15.07.07 - By Tony Pritchard – Nobbs: Barry Michael Sweetenham was born in Watford, England on June 2, 1955. He migrated with his family to Melbourne as a toddler and from humble beginnings, growing up in Commission housing in Williamstown, a suburb of Melbourne, developing a true grit and hunger that saw him become one of Australian boxing's great fighters of the 70's and 80's. Winning the IBF junior lightweight world championship in 1985 he embodied Australian pride in rings around the world for over a decade.

Turning professional on June 18 1973, dropping his surname, winning seven three round bouts to be voted “Best First Year Fighter” on TV Ringside, Barry Boy's final record read 48 wins – 9 defeats and 3 draws. He scored only 15 wins inside the distance but the low KO number is due more to the quality of opposition than a lack of power – especially to the bread basket! As well as world glory he was a Victorian, Australian and Commonwealth champion. He retired after losing his IBF crown in 1987. Today, Barry is a promoter in Victoria and a commentator for Foxsport and major fights on Main Event. He is an articulate speaker and is often asked to talk at functions.

Please Note: This interview was done several weeks ago and appeared in the July issue of leading Australian publication “The Fist” Magazine.

Tony Pritchard - Nobbs: Barry, how old were you when you started boxing?

Barry Boy Michael: I was fifteen years old.

TN: Who were your early trainers?

BBM: David Elliott was my first amateur trainer. I was with him for ten fights, I then went to Allan Meaker. I was with Allan for my last seven amateur fights and until I fought Billy Moeller (L 15, C/Wealth & Aussie 9 st 4 belts,1976). Then my dad Len took over until I joined Ray Styles (Kid Lewis) around 1980. I give David the credit for getting me started and showing me the basics, Allan was a great teacher, put the base to my style, he showed me that being short armed I was suited to being an inside fighter. Dad was the Rock of Gibraltar. Dad had twenty fights in the UK in the air force. When he started training me he wasn't like most fathers, he let other people show me things, he never got jealous. He was always there to condition me, work the corner, he was a good cut man. Ray Styles brought the best out in me. He got in there and worked me, took me through punches, sparred with me. I worked over the years with Max Pescud, we shared a lot of ideas. Another guy I learned a lot from was Juan Jose Giminez, I lost to him in Indonesia in 1977 when he was number five in the world, he went to number one shortly after. He told me after the fight that I would be world champion one day. I stayed with him and he showed me a lot. He was a professor of boxing. (Argentina's Giminez lost on points to Leroy Haley for the WBC 10 stone title in 1982).

TN: Who were your favorite fighters as a youngster?

BBM: Lionel Rose and Johnny Famechon, more so Lionel, because I sparred him and I watched him come from Jacksons Track and go to Japan and beat Fighting Harada to become world champion at 19.I was in a Commission house at the time. Lionel was my inspiration! Later on, Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard.

TN: Who were the better Aussie fighters you sparred coming up through the ranks?

BBM: Lionel, Bobby Dunne, Darryl Carrick, Leo Young, Paul Ferrari, Henry Nissen, Delson Stokes, Blakeney Matthews, Jeff Malcolm, Rocky Mattiolli.

TN: Who were the best world wide sparring you had?

BM: Fred Pendleton, Mario Cussan, Sylvester Mittee, Terry Marsh, Errol Christie, a lot of guys when I was based in Italy I can't think of their names.

TN: Who was the best Australian fighter you fought?

BBM: I'd have to say Jeff Malcolm. I was only beaten by three Australian's, Malcolm, Jimmy Brown and Billy Moeller. They were all southpaws.

TN: You did it the traditional way. You won 2 State titles, then the Australian lightweight title from Billy Mullholland (W15) in 1978. Then you took the Commonwealth 9 st 9 crown against Zimbabwe's Langton Tinago on May 6, 1981 (W 15). Tell us about that fight

BBM: His style suited to me. It was an easy fight but I remember being a big underdog. (Tinago defeated the shell of former lightweight champion of the world Ken Buchanan in his previous fight and had a win over Harold Volbretch who went on to challenge for WBA welterweight titles against Pipino Cuevas and Mark Breland).

TN: Tell us about your epic with Al “Earthquake” Carter on September 14, 1981 (W 10).

BBM: It was the most exciting fight of my career. They still show it on Fox. He hurt me more than anyone in my career. He was an explosive puncher, a very rough fighter, fast, slick. Don Elbaum came out with him. He was a feared guy in the division, 22-1, 22 KO's! Dave Wolfe, Ray Mancini's manager told me years later that I was on the short list of contenders to fight Ray for the WBA world lightweight title. Ray was a superstar in the US, a network favorite. But after they saw the tape of me beating Carter I was never going to get a shot. Carter was the Ohio lightweight champ and Mancini was from Ohio and Dave hadn't like Ray's chances against Carter. He was a good guy, I spoke to him after the fight, I spent time with him in the States. His life went into a downward spiral after our fight and it's tragic how his life ended.

TN: You lost the C/Wealth title to Trinidad's Claude Noel after two Defenses (Dave McCabe & Willie Tarika) in 1982. What are your memories of that night?

BBM: I promoted the fight myself. I was close to a title shot, a win over Noel would have sealed it. I put my whole life savings into the promotion. I did everything for Claude before the fight. He'd been WBA champion seven months prior, I brought him over a month before our fight to help generate interest. I got him the best sparring, got him the right meals. I finished all over him, lost a split decision. But I have to say it was a bad blue promoting the fight. By the time I got into the ring all I was thinking about was my life savings. The day of the fight I was still in the red. Then when Claude took his robe off in the ring he was ripped! He never hurt me in the fight, although he did hit me clean. I take nothing away from Claude, still I did myself no favors.

TN: Tell us about another classic fight of yours. Frank “The Tank” Ropis, on the devastating Ash Wednesday, 1983 (TKO10)

BBM: It was physically the most demanding and exhausting fight of my career! He was the most determined and strongest, opponent I fought. The humidity in the ring under the lights, the packed house, the fires raging around the state, the intensity of the night, it was a bit like the “Thrilla In Manila”. It was one that I had to drag it out of my ass. I was lucky that I had two fights in Hawaii in the lead up and they both went ten rounds. Those fights got me used to fighting in the heat and held me in good stead in the fight with Frank. The body shots I hit him with would have dropped heavyweights. They took their toll and if you look at the tape he was hurt with the left hook throughout the fight. Then at the end I hit him with it and he just dropped his hands. There has been a lot of talk that Frank was weakened making light welterweight. But me and Frank are good mates now and he has never made it an excuse. If you look at his record, he was fighting at 10 st 2 ,10 st 1, he always maintained he was a light welterweight, that he only fought at welter because no one would fight him at 10 stone. He was world rated at 10 stone. With the heat that day, two pounds is nothing. I want you to also add that history says that I won the welterweight championship of Australia that night. The international rules state that if a champion comes in under the weight, and gets stopped, he loses his title. I still want recognition of that.

TN: You regained the C/W title by beating Graeme “Porky” Brooke on February 2, 1985. Tell us about that fight (W12).

BBM: Graeme Brooke was and is a great guy. I tipped him to make it from the first time I saw him. I sparred him when he was a kid, we were very close and are still good friends. He spared both myself and Noel before our fight and he then beat Claude for the title. To tell you the truth, I didn't want to fight Graeme and take the title from him. I knew from sparring how to beat him. I always knew I'd be too strong for him. He out boxed me for a few rounds before my constant pressure slowed him. He couldn't handle my strength inside.

TN: Your next fight was Lester Ellis for the the IBF 9 stone 4 world title at Melbourne Festival Hall on July 12, '85.

BM: At that time I knew I was not going to get a shot at any of the lightweight champions so I thought about it and decided to move down to junior lightweight. It was five pounds and for some fights I'd struggled to make 9 stone 9.When I told my dad he told me to give it away, I'm not going to make the weight. I went and got my body tested,went to a health farm,lost the weight professionally and the rest is history. I'd sparred Lester since he was twelve and tipped him to be world champion from the beginning. We did a thousand rounds. Like with Graeme, I knew how to beat him.

TN: Tell us about the fight (W15).

BBM: At the time,there was a lot of talk. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes. I was made out to be the old fossil, the bad guy. I was 30, he was 20. Dana Goodsen, who I brought to Australia left me after I pulled out of a fight with Juan Arroyo in Miami on a Bob Arum card. If I'd won that fight I was going to fight Harry Arroyo for the IBF lightweight title. I suffered a foot injury and couldn't walk. Dad, Dana and myself broke down crying in the hotel room. We came back to Melbourne and he switched to the Ellis camp. I ended up stopping Juan in Melbourne in 1984. I was dirty on Dana, dirty on Lester,by the time the fight happened there was genuine bad blood. The fight itself was great. He stunned me with a right hand in round three. I don't know if he realized how bad he'd hurt me. I said to him “if that's the best you got you might as well give it up now”. There was a lot of talk through the whole fight, very colorful stuff (laughs). I wore him down over fifteen rounds. Today, me and Lester are good mates, I love the guy.

TN: In one word, describe your feeling when the decision was announced.

>BBM: Euphoric! I'd waited my entire career for this moment and finally it had come. Doing it in Melbourne was enormous.

TN: Tell us about the three successful defenses of your world title.

BBM: Jin Shik Choi in Darwin. He was ranked number four. He could punch. It was a war for four rounds. He hurt me with a left hook. He was very tough, I remember I was hitting him so hard with the jab my hand was hurting. I chopped him down in the fourth. The worse thing is I never got paid for that fight! I then fought Mark Fernandez from Denver in Melbourne. I promoted that with a team I was associated with at the time. After the fight was arranged we realized he was a southpaw so thought it might be an idea to change the training around a bit. He'd just beaten Rod Sequenan who'd almost knocked Lester out. Going in I thought it was going to be a very hard, twelve round fight but it ended up my easiest defense. I hurt him in the second round to the body and knew that it was only a matter of time before I got him out of there. In round four I hit him to the body and then with a right hand and he just went down and took the ten count. He had some good fights after that. I then went to Europe and fought Najib Daho in Manchester. I thought it was great. I lost to him in 1979 in Wales. A close eight round decision. I finished strong in that fight and wasn't at my best going into it. I was getting $US 100,000 for the rematch and a chance to revenge an early loss. I won it clearly. I really made a mess of him. He was a good fighter, the British champion.

TN: You lost the title to Rocky Lockridge in Windsor, England on August 9, 1987. Tell us about that fight

BBM: It was twelve months since my previous fight. I had problems, I had an operation on my nose, my weight got up, fights fell through. I signed with Frank Warren and was supposed to fight Barry Mc Giugan. It was on the front page of Boxing Weekly in the UK for three weeks. But after a while I knew it wasn't going to happen. So then they came up with Rocky Lockridge. He'd been WBA champion. He knocked out Roger Mayweather in one round (1984) to take the title. A year before, he'd lost a majority points decision to Julio Cesar Chavez (53-0 at the time) for the WBC title. I seen the tape and thought Chavez won but one fight Rocky was robbed in was Wilfredo Gomez (losing WBA belt in '85). He beat Gomez from here to Darwin. It was in Puerto Rico and was Highway Robbery! It gave Gomez his third world title. He was a great fighter...Everything was wrong for me at the time of the fight. There was a bomb scare just before our fight and they had to clear the venue and there was a delay. He was a great fighter. He stopped me in eight rounds, busted my eardrum,I had no balance,I was a mess. But by that time I'd had enough of the broken promises and the BS. I'd had a long career, I just thought, make as much money I could and get out.

TN: Would you say he was your toughest opponent?

BM: I couldn't really say that for certain, there were others. That wasn't me that night.

TN: You traveled the world. What experience(s) stand out?

BBM: Like I've said before I fought in places you wouldn't tie a dog. There's a million stories.

TN: What about the Lennox Blackmoore fight in Georgetown, Guyana on December 26, 1978?

BBM: It was just after the Jonestown Massacre. It was very daunting. Looking back it was crazy to take the fight. He was a junior welterweight and I was 9 stone 7. I'd just beaten Billy Vivian in Wales and torn the ligaments in my right hand. My manager at the time, Eddie Thomas, didn't want the fight but they offered me $3,000 and a trip back to Australia. He was giving it to me, Eddie stopped it in the seventh round. I was filthy but Eddie's words were “You're a brave fool and you'll live to fight another day”. He (Blackmoore) was just too good, all class, a heckuva fighter! He'd stopped Claude Noel twice and later challenged the great Aaron Pryor (WBA title). He's now based in New York and is a top trainer.

TN: Since you retired, you've become a trainer, a promoter and a commentator. Tell us about those experiences.

BBM: As a trainer, I think of myself more as a specialist. I'm not a guy that can spend six days a week with a fighter and be a full time trainer. I just want to be a guy they bring in to give advice. I've trained with the best trainers in the world and in the best gyms. I trained with Angelo Dundee in Miami, Bill Slayton - Ken Norton's trainer - and Jimmy Montoya in LA, also the Italian guys that had Mattiolli over there. I trained at the Fifth St Gym, the Olympic Auditoruim... Being a promoter has been rewarding, but also frustrating. It's very stressful at times. If anyone thinks promoting is easy they are welcome to give it a try. I pay the fighters good money, I find it hard to take money of a fighter. As you know, boxing is about moving a fighter through the rankings to a title shot. At the moment we have some good fights lined up. We look like doing the Nader Hamden – Porky Lovett rematch. We are close to bringing Evander Holyfield out to fight Shane Cameron. I am in strong negotiations with Kathy Duva. It's funny, I spoke to Kathy the other day and she said “Is this THE Barry Michael?” I was shocked but flattered. Then she said that she'd only been talking to Evander about my fight with Lockridge and the bomb scare before the fight and how scared they were, getting everyone out of the building. Kathy has not yet conformed because it depends on the Savarese fight. I tend to think Evander might get a fight with one of the champions if he is impressive (Holyfield won a ten round decision). If it's not Evander it will be another big name...I wish I could commentate every day. I love it so much. I'd love to be Bob Sheridan, I've had the pleasure of working with him. I try to be impartial when I commentate and give the viewers an insight to tactics what the fighters are using, help them read the fight but some people have told me I'm biased towards Anthony Mundine but I picked him to be a world champion from the beginning and it's came to fruition. He is a special fighter. Just the same I picked Lester, I picked Michael Katsidis from his second professional fight, Paul Briggs the night he beat Adrian Bellin in 2000. Paul's had two shots, gone close and is chasing another one.

TN: What was the best fight you have ever seen live?

BBM: Aaron Pryor v Alexis Arguello 1 at the Orange Bowl in Miami!

TF: Who do you think won the recent Mayweather-De La Hoya fight? I thought Mayweather.

BBM: De La Hoya. He at least deserved a draw.

TN: Compubox stats show that Floyd clearly out landed Oscar

BBM: Well I don't know what he was hitting him with. Judging by Oscar's face after the fight they must have been feather dusters.

TN: You had a great career mate and you are a credit to the game. What “dream fight” never happened?

BBM: Jeff Fenech. I challenged him several times even after I had long retired. Jeff was a great, great champion, a legend. It would have been a war of attrition but he was open to a body shot and I don't think he had the power to keep me off for twelve rounds. It would have gone down as one of the greatest Australian fights in history.

TN: Finally, how would you rate Australian boxing to the time you were fighting?

BBM: I think it is very healthy. It might not be like it was in the 70's and 80's, when we had more fighters but our fighters are getting a lot more opportunities world wide. We have world champions like Darchynian, Ndou (both since defeated) Mundine, Katsidis, Anyos. I think Anthony Mundine has been instrumental in this. Love him or hate him, he is a personality that brings people to the fights or the TV. He is a shining light of Australian boxing. If two guys (Mundine & Green) can generate more money on a single night for any sporting event in Australia by fighting each other, you can't tell me people don't want to watch boxing! We have taken a belting from the medial profession and the do-gooders but boxing will never die.

Article posted on 16.07.2007

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