Exclusive Interview With "Terrible" Tim Witherspoon, Two-Time Heavyweight Champion

tim witherspoonby James Slater - Late last week, I had the pleasure of speaking over the phone with former two-time heavyweight ruler, "Terrible" Tim Witherspoon. A great guy who was fun to talk with, the Philly fighter sounds in greats shape today, with his quick wit and clear voice showing no signs at all of fading.

Tim, now in his early fifties, is also a busy man these days. Currently training his son, lightweight prospect Tim Witherspoon Junior, amongst a few other fighters, 'Spoon is also out and about a lot (he was at an Eddie Chambers press conference when I called, and he told me to get back to him later).

Happy to talk, the former champ gave the following answers to the twelve questions I asked him..

Here then, are 12-rounds with "Terrible" Tim:

On working with the great Muhammad Ali as an up-and-comer:

"I learnt so much about how to fight at that level. It was an exciting time for me, as well as being a real privilege. Just to be around a guy like that so early in my career. I'd say I sparred around 50 to 100 rounds with Ali. He was on the downside of his career then, but it was great experience for me."

On his pro debut in October of 1979:

"I remember it real well. I was nervous. We fought just outside of Philly, at the 69th street Arena. He was a much heavier guy than me. I was around 200-pounds and he was around 265. I was the walkout bout. I remember Tyrell Biggs - who was a top amateur at the time - came in to see me and he shook my hand. Then, in the 1st-round of the fight I just went out and, Bam! I knocked him out."

On his first world title fight against the great Larry Holmes in just his 16th pro fight:

"I had a great trainer in Slim Jim Robinson. He was a real good trainer, he'd worked with guys like Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. He was an expert at taking a guy to the next level and having him fight for the world title. In hindsight, maybe we should have taken the Holmes fight a little later, and maybe if we had it would have been a different story. But I was ready, and I knew that if we waited I might not get the opportunity again, because he [Holmes] was really starting to pick his fights back then.

"I definitely think I won that fight, yeah. I wanted a rematch but I knew it'd never happen. It should have happened, it would've been a great fight - but he knew better! I was one of the best technical guys he ever fought. It was a clever fight, on both sides."

On beating Greg Page to win the WBC heavyweight crown:

"It was a great moment but there's more to it than that. It was political at the time and I had to fight a lot of promoters. I knew Greg was unhappy with Don King, just like I was. I'd stopped fighting with the promoters at the time, though, and I didn't say too much [about the deal I was given for the fight] - I just laid back and fought hard to win the fight.

"I'd say it was a fight that had a lot of mental confusion to it, for both of us. I'm not allowed to talk about the specifics with my lawsuit against Don King. I can't without writing a book on my life story, anyway. I'm looking into writing my autobiography with a writer. A lot of guys are interested in that, I will do it when I get properly motivated. I'll go into much more deep detail about everything then! Also, there has been talk about a movie of my life being made. I think that should happen, too."

On promoters in general:

"I think everyone should get a piece, we should all get a fair deal; the fighters, the promoters, everybody. So I'm not against promoters, I just think we (guys like himself, Page, Tony Tubbs, etc) opened it up for those guys [promoters]. We allowed them to make the money they made, that's all I'm saying, you know?"

On his win over Tony Tubbs to become a WBA heavyweight champion:

"I still wasn't as focused as I should have been - as much as you need to be to be the heavyweight champion. I didn't feel I was the full champion then. I wasn't getting paid right, either. I think I got around $8,000 for the Tubbs fight, that's what I think I went home with."

On his defence against Frank Bruno, in London, July, 1986:

"I was overwhelmed in a way, that was the fight of my life. The setting, I was in his backyard, and the odds, were against me. But that gave me energy. I was ready to go, not scared at all. I really was happy to be a part of that fight. The British fans, everything.

"I was real aggressive in that fight. Lots of people thought it was a hard fight for me, and it may have looked that way, but I was having fun in there. I knew as soon as I hit him with a hard shot on the chin, the fight would be as good as over with. I knew people were behind Frank - he had more people in his gang than I had in mine, put it that way. But I knew his trainers were not as good, not as knowledgeable, as mine. Not taking anything away from Frank's trainers, but if he had had my trainers, then I'd have been in trouble!"

On his shocking 1st-round loss to James "Bonecrusher" Smith: (I asked whether or not it was true that he lost the fight on purpose, having beaten Smith so comprehensively on points in an earlier meeting.)

"Who told you that!? Oh, the first fight was a totally different fight. I beat him every round. Three times I almost had him knocked out. But the second fight, I didn't want it. It made no sense. I was training for a rematch with Tony Tubbs. But I was told by certain people, that if I didn't take the fight, my career was over! So I thought, to lose is a way to get out and start again with another promoter.

"I didn't put up a fight. I felt I'd let my fans down afterwards, but I just gave it to him [Smith]. Smith thinks he was a legitimate world champion, but was he? That's up to the fans to make up their own minds."

On Don King:

"Don wasn't the only promoter to make money off us guys; guys like myself, Greg Page, David Bey, Tony Tucker, Mitch Green, but he was the most visible. Don was the most flamboyant. He could make up a new word in five seconds (laughs). Don was and still is a great promoter, so I'm not really going into that [side of my career]. All I'll say is there were other promoters who were just the same as him."

On being avoided after the Smith loss, and the sought after Mike Tyson fight that never came off:

"To be honest, I was occupied so much with the business side of boxing - the money side, taking care of my family - that I didn't care too much about who I fought then. I never really thought about a Tyson fight. My mind was gone! No-one was really helping us (Tim and his new team) back then. To be honest, if me and Tyson had fought at that time, he would have won. Although, then again, I KO'd [James] Quick Tillis in one-round, and Quick gave Tyson a tough fight; took him the full ten rounds.

"But as time went on in that period, I knew I just couldn't get respect. I couldn't get fights. I was supposed to fight Evander Holyfield around that time, but HBO said he was sick and that I wouldn't be getting the fight with him."

On what was his best career performance:

"I'd say the Bruno fight. I went over to England, the odds were against me, but I overcame. I love Britain. Yeah, I became a member of the British community with the Frank Bruno fight. I'm over there at least three times a year. I worked with Clinton Woods, and I still would if I could because I knew the right things to tell him. I know all the guys over there - Chunky (James Degale), Matt Macklin, Price the heavyweight; all those guys."

On Steve Bunce:

"We need Steve Bunce back! He's probably the most knowledgeable boxing guy in Britain. We're all pulling for him to get his TV show back. Steve's a great guy."

Article posted on 15.07.2009

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