Crawford Ashley, who won the British, European, and Commonwealth light heavyweight titles during his hard, up-and-down career, also had two cracks at winning a world title. Ashley of Leeds, fought Michael Nunn (who stopped him down at 168 pounds) and Virgil Hill (who decisioned him in a 175-pound title fight), and he went across to the US to try and conquer the world.
Indeed, Ashley was often the away fighter, with him also boxing in Germany, Italy, and France. Ashley, who retired with a hard-earned 33-10-1(28) record in December of 2001, was very much an old-school fighter, one who never even thought about ducking and dodging the toughest fights.
Now aged 59 and having a fine career to look back on, Crawford very kindly took the time to speak with ESB earlier this month:
Q: It’s great to be able to speak with you! Just looking on BoxRec, I see you fought in York, which is my hometown. You had a European title fight here, I didn’t know! Was Henry Wharton on the card?
Crawford Ashley: “Yeah, I fought Mohamed Siluvangi (W12 in September of 1998). He was on that card, yeah. Me and him were supposed to fight after that.”
Q: That would have been a good one, you Vs. Wharton. What happened?
C.A: “He retired. He was a super-middleweight. It’s difficult when you’re trying to keep and maintain the weight, trying to stay at super-middleweight, it’s hard, and then it takes time to adjust at the higher weight.”
Q: Did you and Henry ever spar, two tough guys!
C.A: “No. But I’m not tough. People get it wrong. Boxing’s not about getting hit, it’s about not getting hit. That’s what I was taught, that if you’re taking too many, you’re doing something wrong. You watch any of my fights, I’m always moving (laughs).”
Q: It’s fair to say you never had anything given to you throughout your career, with tough fights at the start and tough fights at the end. Johnny Nelson in your seventh pro fight, Carl Thompson in your 14th fight!
C.A: “You know something, I wouldn’t have it any other way. With me, I wanted to test myself against the best. I was like, ‘where do I fit in in this game?’ When I went pro, I said to myself I was gonna give myself three years to learn the trade. I took fights at very short notice. I didn’t know I was fighting Johnny Nelson until the weigh-in. I weighed-in fully clothed, and he was stripped off. I can’t remember exactly what I weighed (Nelson won an eight round decision in May of 1988). But that fight taught me a valuable lesson. And I do think that him getting that decision over me, it gave him a little more confidence.
“I actually looked back at my career and at my 10 losses a while back, assessing the ten losses: one of them I avenged, three were world champions, two went on to become world champions, and the others were bangers, and I made a mistake and got caught. So I don’t think it [my record] is that bad actually (laughs).”
Q: Not bad at all. Your resume is full of big names. And of your defeats, some of them were robberies, yes? How many times do you feel you were robbed?
C.A: “All I’m gonna say, and I think this covers it. Everybody I’ve ever boxed, if everything was right [with me], I’d have stopped them all except one. The one I’d never beat, was Michael Nunn. I really wanted to have another go with him though, man. He was good. I mean really good!”
Q: Just getting off subject for a little bit, were you shocked when Nunn was sent to jail for as long as he did, for something like 20 years!
C.A: “This is what they do. It’s all part of our lives, this is what they do to us. That fight, though, I took it on three weeks’ notice. They pulled strokes [ahead of the fight]. We didn’t even have a gym to train in [in America], and there were no scales in the gym that we did finally get. But I wasn’t bothered, I was going in there with the best fighter in the world at the time, pound-for-pound.”
Q: Nunn certainly gave you lots of praise after the fight.
C.A: “This is what really annoys me about boxing today. To get respect, it has to be earned. Nobody wants to win a fight with a walkover, just go lie down. Why? I’ve trained this hard and you’re not gonna beat me in there, and if you do beat me, you’re gonna have to give your best. And as fighters, we respect that; ‘the man’s come to give me a fight.’ Look at that win for him, it’s better than if I’d just laid down.”
Q: Is it true you went into that fight with a cracked rib?
C.A: (laughing) I got reminded of that the other day. I’ve got a very short memory, I forget things.”
Q: Because Nunn went to the body later in the fight and he got the stoppage win. Do you think he knew about your rib?
C.A: “I don’t know. I don’t know. But I say this, Angelo Dundee is not a good trainer. I listened to some of the stuff he was saying when he came back to the corner, and he said to Nunn,’ why don’t you get rid of this bum!’ And I’m thinking, ‘yeah, well why don’t you give him some tips on how to do that!’ But they thought I was a bum. Not after, but before the fight.
“Nunn was playing all them mind games and I was like, ‘we’re fighting on Friday night, who gives a shit!’ When we get in there in a fight, there’s only one person who is gonna stop it, nobody else is gonna jump in. Angelo Dundee said, ‘I want his hair cutting!’ I just stood up and I said, ‘the only thing dangerous about me is me fists, not me haircut.’ The mind games never got to me, and I think that freaked them out a bit. After the fight, after I’d boxed him, he [Nunn] was a completely different character. A proper, proper gentleman. He was the best I fought, no doubt about it.”
Q: You were on a real roll at that time in your career – with fights against Nunn, then Dennis Andries, then Nicky Piper, then Virgil Hill….
C.A: “The Virgil Hill fight, basically I’d have battered him and stopped him. The thing is, I was in the dressing room waiting to come out, and the guy says I’m out in five minutes. He then came back through the door and said they were putting a fight on, and he told me to stay there, with the gloves on, ‘won’t be long.’ The frigging fight went 12 rounds! I just thought, is this guy supposed to be good when he’s doing this to me? And the only people who suffer [when fighters pull tricks like that] are the public, because they could have had some great fights. The public don’t like it. I went to sleep; I just wasn’t interested.”
Q: Who could blame you, getting all pumped up and ready to fight and then having to wait another hour or so!
C.A: “Yeah, I just couldn’t be bothered. I really think that fight should’ve been a draw. I didn’t deserve to take his title, but I didn’t deserve the loss.”
Q: I’m bringing up your bad nights here, but the Graciano Rocchigiani fight, from February of 1991, you got robbed?
C.A: “That was a great fight. I was always told by my trainers that it’s all down to opinion, that you’ve got three people at ringside, and you’ve got 12 rounds to get rid of him [your opponent] and take it out of their hands, because no matter what people think, if them three [judges] think you’ve lost, you’ve got to accept it. And I accepted it. Actually though, the referee, Franz Marti, he put a complaint in to the EBU, saying it was the worst decision he’d seen. I met him later and he told me the same. I took that fight at six days’ notice, it was my first 12 rounder, and I broke my hand in the third round. It taught me a lot about me.”
Q: When you get a split decision loss against you in Germany, plenty of people instantly think you were hard done by….
C.A: “I don’t complain, because I know in that fight, he didn’t beat me. He got the decision, but he didn’t beat me. It’s like Joe Calzaghe’s record, he didn’t beat some fighters he fought but he got the decision over them – Robin Reid, for example. He didn’t beat him; he got the decision. That’s how you have to basically put it. Too much is made of unbeaten records. They pick and choose who they’re gonna fight, and then they wonder why people don’t respect them.”
Q: I’ve got to ask you about the Dennis Andries fight. How tough was he? You knocked him down early before he stopped you…
C.A: “I tell you; I had a migraine attack in the dressing room. I had blind spots; it was like a big hole. But I don’t do things like pull out. I’m a fighter. Someone asked me after the Nunn fight why I didn’t stay down? I said, ‘because if I had done, you wouldn’t be speaking to me now.’”
Q: Was there talk of you fighting Thomas Hearns during your career?
C.A: “Three times, and three times he pulled out. I went over to Detroit to do a press conference, but it was just b*****s. But when I looked in his eyes, he was dead. He was a shell of a man. And he was smaller than me. I’d have beaten him, no doubt. He was a legend and it would have been nice to share a ring with him, to end his career for him, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take any credit for it.”
Q: When you look back, do you have any regrets about your career?
C.A: “No. I was thinking about this earlier. All the people I fought; it was because I wanted to fight them. Nobody wanted to fight me. And I can’t make people fight me if they don’t wanna fight me. So I fought the best in my era. I’m glad I knew where I stood. After the Nunn fight, at the press conference, there were a few world champions sat there, Terry Norris, Orlin Norris as well, and a couple of others, and they gave me a standing ovation. [I’m thinking] Now I know I’m a boxer that’s allowed to stand with the elite. The manner of love that was shown to me after the fight, I couldn’t believe it. And I lost the fight (laughs).
“That’s what I tell boxers today – if you fight hard, they’ll like you, you’ll win them over. The Rocchigiani fight, I walked in there to an environment that was very, very hostile. Somebody actually said it was the worst atmosphere he’d ever walked into. But coming out, it was completely different, the atmosphere had really changed. From hate to love.”