Q and A With Former Welterweight World Champion, John H. Stracey

31.1.07 - By James Slater: Britainís John H. Stracey is a boxing legend. From his pro debut in 1969, John went on to win both the British and European titles at welterweight, before reaching his crowning achievement in Mexico City in 1975, by capturing the WBC world title by stopping the great Jose Napoles in six rounds. Although knocked down in the very first round, Stracey showed determination and heart by coming back to win the championship five rounds later. Napoles never fought again. John, on the other hand, went on to successfully defend his belt the following year, with a stoppage victory over the accomplished Hedgemon Lewis. Before losing his title in defence number two, to the world renowned Carlos Palomino..

With both his popularity and reputation very much intact today, John is much in demand as an after dinner speaker. With his quick wit and sense of humour, combined with his vast knowledge of the fight game - both past and current, he has become a natural at public speaking. Iím very pleased that John very graciously took time out to grant me the following interview.

James Slater: Can I start with your great days? What are your memories of the Napoles fight, when you won the world title in 1975?

John H. Stracey: Oh, still very vivid. Great days, obviously. Yeah, I still remember it well.

J.S: You were down in the first round, how badly were you hurt?

J.H.S: I would say I was quite hurt, but you make sure that you muster up and you get back in it again. I felt he hit me with a really good punch but I just felt it wasnít going to happen again. I felt really confident.

J.S: Was that the first knockdown you ever suffered as a pro?

J.H.S: No, I had one or two in the early days, but this one was in the title fight, which, itís not very nice, getting knocked down in a world title fight. The point is I got back up to win it so that was the great thing.

J.S: Was it Terry Lawless who was in your corner then?

J.H.S: Yeah, he was trainer and manager.

J.S: Is he retired now?

J.H.S: Yeah, I think he lives in Spain now.

J.S: So then you were the welterweight champion of the world, in a day when there were far less titles about. What about your first title defence?

J.H.S: First title defence was against a guy called Hedgemon Lewis. It was quite quick afterwards, I should have had a longer rest.

J.S: Was he a tough guy? A harder fight than Napoles?

J.H.S: Well he took me quite a distance, ten rounds, but you train accordingly. Whether they go six, eight, ten, twelve or fifteen, itís all the same, because you prepare for it. But if you can get the job done quicker, all well and good.

J.S: Did you knock him out?

J.H.S: The referee stopped the fight, I didnít knock him out but he was going on the floor and the fight was stopped.

J.S: Would you consider yourself more of a banger or were you a stylist?

J.H.S: Well I think I was a puncher in a way, because in all I had fifty-one fights, forty-five wins, five losses and one draw, and I stopped thirty-seven. So, itís a good record, you know?

J.S: Looking at Lewisí record, I see he had a draw with Carlos PalominoÖ

J.H.S: Yeah well itís funny, after I boxed him he told me Iíd have no trouble with Palomino, but I think the problem was I boxed too quick. Iíve always said that, I never gave myself a rest, I should have had a good six months off after winning the title and then started again. No disrespect to Palomino, who went on to become a good champion, but I think I was over

J.S: Was he the toughest guy you ever fought?

J.H.S: No, he was no tougher than some, I mean, Earnie Lopez who I boxed twice, he was a very, very tough man. I would say along with Palomino, Lewis and Napoles even, he was one of the best. I mean he went fifteen rounds with Napoles and you donít go that distance if youíre not tough.

J.S: Are you still a fan now, do you follow boxing?

J.H.S: Oh yeah, course I do. But the popularity is not what it once was because itís not on terrestrial TV as often. When we used to box you could get fifteen to twenty million viewers, now you only get about three or four, even on Sky ( a satellite channel in the U.K). I mean, even now, thirty-one years later, I still get recognised. Whereas with todayís fighters, people might recognise a Ricky Hatton but not lots of other champions.

J.S: Why do you think the popularity has diminished, is it the multiple titles?

J.H.S: Yeah, I think thatís got something to do with it. In a way, itís kind of sad but boxing has devalued itself. I think boxing is in good shape in this country at the moment, I mean weíve got Hatton, Joe Calzaghe, Clinton Woods and Amir Khan, of course. But I just think boxing really should be on terrestrial TV all the time. At one time it was a very, very
big sport in our country but now it seems to have died off just slightly. Plus, itís not fifteen rounds anymore. Certain people you speak to, they say, ď Oh I donít watch boxing anymore, itís not fifteen rounds and youíve got all these Mickey Mouse titles.Ē There are a lot of good fighters out there, but people arenít prepared to see them.

J.S: What do you think of the current welterweights today? Your old division.

J.H.S: Well, I think Mayweather, youíve got to say heís the best. Hattonís a great little fighter but I think youíve got to say Mayweather is the best pound-for-pound in the world. Ricky is a fantastic battler who will never give up but I think his test will come if he does fight Mayweather. I think Mayweather is very similar to Sugar Ray Leonard. He was a superb stylist
with a good chin and I think thatís what Mayweatherís got. I mean, at the moment, heís (Mayweather) won four world titles, so youíve got to put him on par with Leonard. And I think if Ricky could take him, then Ricky would become an absolute great. But, at this moment in time, there are not those fights out there for Ricky, unfortunately.

J.S: Can I just talk about your after dinner speaking, youíre doing quite a lot of those?

J.H.S: Yeah I do quite a lot, I do cabaret as well.

J.S: Before you go on, do you get nervous?

J.H.S: Just slightly, itís because itís not something youíve been used to doing all your life. I mean, as boxers whenever had to open our mouths, we just got in the ring and did what we had to do. With speaking, itís a totally different complex. Youíve just got to work at it and do your best. I really enjoy it.

J.S: Youíve done shows with George Chuvalo, Leon Spinks, Henry Cooper, etc., are they great nights?

J.H.S: Yeah, me and Charlie Magri put them one on, theyíre all good occasions.

J.S: Had you met Chuvalo and Spinks before?

J.H.S: Yes, Iíve met them on a few occasions.

J.S: Are they both in good shape, because they both took punishment didnít they?

J.H.S: George Chuvaloís terrific, heís not punchy in any way. Heís fantastic. Itís a shame but heís had a lot of problems in his personal life. (George suffered the bereavement of family members some time back) and Leonís okay, youíve just got to keep him away from the brandy (laughs)!

J.S: Do you still act? I know youíve appeared in T.V shows like Minder and Eastenders in the U.K.

J.H.S: Well Iíve done a bit, I worked on the movie The Krays.

J.S: Oh yeah, did you do the boxing sceneís choreography?

J.H.S: I did do, yeah. It was time consuming. I was actually the only guy to have been beaten up by the pop band Spandau Ballet (laughs)! It was alright, the film went well.

J.S: How did it feel to have a pub named after you?

J.H.S: Oh donít (laughs)! Funnily enough, I was actually the first person in the world to have a boxing club named after them. The John H. Stracey Boxing Club, in Belgium. And after that, a guy I became friendly with named a pub after me in Norfolk.

J.S: Well thatís certainly a nice tribute. I appreciate speaking to you, for my last question, what do you miss, if anything, about being a fighter?

J.H.S: No nothing much really, once youíve finished your career and you get out thatís it really. I suppose I do miss being around fighters before fights, when you get that buzz. But I donít really miss it that much because youíve done that and then youíve got to get on with the rest of your life after boxing.

J.S: Well I want to thank you very much for your time and good luck with your after dinner engagements.

J.H.S: Cheers, thanks a lot, bye bye.

Article posted on 31.01.2007

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