Interview: Roman Greenberg

17.11.03 - By Elliott Worsell: When Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee utters the words ‘this kid is the fastest heavyweight I’ve seen since Muhammad Ali’ you’d naturally expect big time American TV bosses to be tripping over each other in the race to find this potential US sport saving goldmine. But then, when you find out this ‘kid’ Dundee speaks of, is of Israeli descent and based in the humble surroundings of Maidenhead, England you somewhat have to double cross and pinch yourself upon hearing the comment, Dundee of course, was talking about a certain Roman Greenberg.

13-0 (10 KO’s) as a pro, based in England, born in Russia, and raised in Tel-Aviv, Israel from the age of six, the air miles young Roman has accumulated are only matched by the number of interested parties he has salivating over his exciting career. London promoter Robert Waterman, and Jim Evans, look after Greenberg’s interests, and enjoy a close knit bond with their heavyweight hope, who patriotically carries the Star of David on his trademark long black shorts each time he steps through the ropes.

Greenberg, who brings a fascinating story with him, is a much-needed shot in the arm for British boxing. Just like Dmitriy Salita is doing over in the states, Greenberg is flying the flag for Jews and those of the Israeli community by going against the grain, and showing that nice boys can fight. I had the chance to meet the likeable Greenberg last week, and a more suitable venue could not have been pinpointed. The York Hall, Bethnal Green - British boxing’s Mecca, or … Jerusalem?

Sporting a long, black, Neo-like leather jacket and enough ‘Brylcreem’ on his bonnet to put poster boy David Beckham to shame, Roman Greenberg is out sampling British fight life ahead of his proposed top of the bill night at the Hilton Hotel, London on November 26. The scene is a sweltering, humid night at the York Hall as Bermondsey cruiserweight prospect David Haye tops the bill, gunning for his first title against Lincoln’s Tony Dowling.

Greenberg is merely a spectator tonight, supporting a friend whom he has sparred with in preparation for both fighters’ next bouts. ‘David is a very good fighter. A very technical fighter, who thinks a lot when he’s in the ring. You can see the concentration on his face when he’s fighting, thinking through every move’.

The 21-year-old Greenberg, fluent in English, Russian German and Hebrew gets in complimentary mood when it comes to discussing fighters close to him. He and Haye, just as likely to spar each other in front of the mirror as in the ring, have both helped each other in recent weeks. ‘I’ve been sparring David Haye, and we’ve had some good sessions. He’s very focussed, and not bothered by what happened in his last fight.’

Haye of course, was led through his impressive array of ‘breakdance’ routines by wild African Lolengo Mock, after a shot to the temple in the 2nd round. But what kind of effect will a minor blip like that have on a confident young man like Haye? ‘It’s part of boxing. These things happen. Better it happens now, than a long time down the line. Haye will just learn from that, and become a better fighter’. Roman explained.

Greenberg, thus far has yet to face the kind of predicament Haye encountered against the capable Mock, but nevertheless the young Jew has been given as good as he gets in sparring with the likes of Audley Harrison and good friend Michael Sprott. ‘I don’t think you will ever see that fight happening (Michael Sprott). Mike is a good friend of mine, and we have sparred a lot with each other. I don’t think either of us would really want to see that fight happening. He’s been a great help to me, and I’ve been getting some good rounds with him in the gym’.

Either way, for a young pup barely out of diapers in boxing terms, the likes of seasoned pro’s Mike Sprott, Herbie Hide and Danny Williams are a long way off. Roman’s first assignment comes at the Hilton Hotel (November 26), in which he tops the bill for the first time in his flourishing career. ‘It doesn’t worry me. Obviously I’m excited about it, but I don’t really feel any different than I have done in all my other fights. Top of the bill or not, I just prepare the same. It’s going to be a special night, and it gives me the chance to show what I can do.’

But what sort of opponent would be beneficial for young Roman at this stage of his career? A battle hardened journeyman with no attack but a chin and will cast out of iron? Or a slick, small guy, with neat skills and cagey ring smarts? A tall, durable guy with the skills of an intoxicated kangaroo? Or a titanic sized mammal with a concussive punch but a chin purchased from a pottery barn? ‘I need all different types of styles. That is very important to me. If you don’t experience the many different styles you can face early on in your career, you will get found out. At the moment I just need lots of different styles, to see how I deal with them.’

Wise words indeed. Greenberg’s standout performance thus far is a 4th round stoppage win against gutsy ‘trier’ Luke Simpkin who was used as a punch bag all night by the razor sharp skills and lightning fast hand speed of Greenberg. In between Roman’s dazzling combinations, you’d need to forcedly hold open your eyelids to count the number of shots he throws. The guy is fast, very fast, ‘Compubox’s worst nightmare.

Roman has already ventured 4 times out to the USA to show off his rounded ring skills and witty persona, and big fights in America on cable giants ‘HBO’ and ‘Showtime’ must be the destination Greenberg hopes to land in on as his mileage clocks up. ‘I don’t actually live in England. I still live in Israel with my family. I just make sure that I am over here for three or four weeks before each of my fights so I have time to prepare for the fight. I would love to live here permanently in Maidenhead, but because my family all live back in Israel it would be hard.’

Dedication personified from the young man who appears to be on the verge of fleeing his nest and taking on the big bad world through one of the most dangerous field’s society has to offer – the boxing ring. Roman is a big boxing fan, and can be spotted towering above mere mortals at numerous shows across the country. He wastes no time in mentioning his favourite fighter to me, but then stutters hesitantly as I mention that certain fighter’s last performance.

‘Roy Jones. No doubt, he’s my favourite fighter, my idol.’

‘And his last performance against Antonio Tarver?’ I ask, offering the bait.

‘I saw it.’

‘And?’ I press.

‘No comment.’ Roman replies, followed by a bout of laughter.

Roman, whose style owes a lot to that of the WBC Light Heavyweight champion, finally budges his huge 16 stone plus frame and gives his thoughts on his idols controversial fight. ‘Well it was very close. I think a lot of the cleaner and harder punches were from Jones, but it could have gone either way in the end.’ Very diplomatic Mr Greenberg. His views on the simmering feud between British heavyweight antagonists Danny Williams and Herbie Hide were a lot more conclusive however.

‘I would like Williams to beat Hide. I just prefer his style of boxing more, he’s much more of a practical boxer. It would be a brilliant fight though, very exciting. I’d love to see it.’ And of course the size differential may play a part, I asked Greenberg. ‘Size isn’t everything’ he says with a sly smile on his face. Well that reply was expected, he’s Jewish. But when pressed about his own relatively ‘smallish’ heavyweight build, 6’2 Roman remained deadpan. ‘I’m bigger than you’ he stated with a smirk etched across his face. ‘Size isn’t too important; it’s what you do with your ability that matters. At Heavyweight, you fight all types of sizes, all types of guys with different abilities and styles. It is how you deal with them that matters.’

Greenberg seems like a young man extremely confident in his own, eye-catching ability. In an era of big, ‘Goliath’ like super heavyweights, the comparatively ‘small’ Greenberg knows he will be up against it in every sense of the word, but has enough belief in his own talent and skills to be self-assured. ‘I had roughly over 50, 55 amateur fights. I lost only 5 I think, and I won a world silver medal at the world championships in Budapest. I boxed a lot as an amateur, and it was very important to my learning,’ And now, effectively, Greenberg must start again. An accomplished amateur career only counts for so much in the pro ranks, and sacrificing the vests and head guards of the unpaid ranks means a young fighter must go through the development stage again on the professional stage. ‘My career has gone brilliantly so far, I couldn’t be happier. I have a brilliant team, Robert Waterman, David Porat, Jim Evans, Steve Bernath, those guys are all doing their job, and I just have to do mine in the ring.’

Greenberg intently makes sure I note each member of his ‘team’ down correctly on my pad, the level of respect and gratitude he has for each man explicitly evident. What is the plan then for Roman? What have his ‘brilliant’ team got cooking for Passover? Roman seemed certain on what his own personal plan was. ‘European title by the end of next year. I want to be the European Heavyweight champion next year, and then go onto the world titles. I think there is a good possibility that will happen, and that is what we are all working towards.’

European champion at 22, 23 years of age. How’s that for ambition? A Jewish world heavyweight champion has never been crowned in the history of the noble art; Greenberg, with his unquenchable confidence and natural talent would love to put an end to that unflattering fact, and is going the right way about it.

So far in his short career, Roman Greenberg has done everything ‘kosher’.

Article posted on 17.11.2003

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