Very much a part of the very special era that was the 1980s welterweight division, Marlon Starling – call him “Moochie,” call him “Magic Man” – was, like the rest of us, saddened to hear of the passing of Johnny “Bump City” Bumphus, a man Starling fought, just once, during that ultra-competitive time for the 147 operators. Bumphus, in an upset, defeated Starling, via TD, after the two men clashed heads. This was in May of 1986, yet Starling has many great fights to look back on.
As the former champ, now aged 60 and having exited with a fine 45-6-1(27) record, kindly did today for this writer.
Here is what the great Marlon Starling had to say (and, in all honestly, never has there been a more accommodating all-time great anyone would be blessed with speaking with).
Q: Firstly, champ, how do you remember Johnny Bumphus, who as you know passed away this week?
Marlon Starling: “Yes, I heard the sad news. He was a good fighter, of course, but he did fight me when I was not in any way at my best. Matter of fact, I think they wanted Bumphus to fight Lloyd Honeyghan, not me. And he did, in, what, 1987? Yeah, that was the last time I was in London, because I was at that fight (Honeyghan knocking out Bumphus in the 2nd round). It was a totally different story when I fought Honeyghan!”
Q: Bumphus beat you via a technical decision of course, after you two clashed heads? Was he one of the best you fought?
M.S: “Truthfully, no. He wasn’t Had he met a fully ready, at his best Marlon Starling, I don’t think he’s have lasted much more than three or four rounds. No disrespect, this is just what I think. Honeyghan beat him up, and I beat up Honeyghan, in Atlantic City (in 1989). He [Honeyghan] had beaten Don Curry, who I fought twice (losing two decisions, one extremely close). You know, talking about respect, he [Honeyghan] is the only fighter who ever disrespected me. He even spat at me at the weigh-in. I said to him, ‘you will want so bad to be my friend during this fight!’ And that’s how it was, he was trying to talk to me, smile at me, as I gave him his systematic beating. I always tried my best to be respectful to the sport and I had to punish him for being so disrespectful. I had to teach him a lesson.”
Q: You were a great bunch of welterweights back in the 1980s. You could have been the best of them.
M.S: “I look at myself as having been a technician. When I was sharp, putting punches together, at my best, I think I was the best. Honeyghan, I played with him. I could have taken him out quicker than I did (the 9th) but I so much needed to teach him a lesson. But I would love to come to the UK again, to speak with the fans, to see my old fans. But in terms of the best welterweights back then, Sugar Ray Leonard had just retired, and we guys wanted to take over. I so badly wanted to fight Leonard, and Thomas Hearns. I sparred them both. I hurt Hearns, with heard-gear and bigger gloves. Both were greats but I think at my best I could have beaten them.”
Q: Going back to the start, you had your pro debut back in the summer of 1979, when you stopped a guy named Tim LaValley in the third-round. Do you still remember that well?
M.S: “I can pretty much remember it. I had always wanted to go pro. When you go pro, you are always wondering how many rounds you can go. As a kid, an amateur, you go just three rounds. But I was an amateur who had a lot of mouth, and I backed it up. I was boxing professionals at the age of 15 and 16. After I won the Golden Gloves, I was almost tired of people asking me, ‘When are you going pro? When are you going pro?’ I said I was the best ever. Everyone says that, but you have to back it up.”
Q: One unexpected and tragic obstacle you encountered on your way to the top was the sad death of your sixth opponent, Charles Newell, who passed away after you defeated him. How did that affect you?
M.S: “Well, before that fight, two years before that fight, we had fought as amateurs. He was in jail and I guess he joined the boxing team in jail. But he was from my neighbourhood and it [the amateur fight] was a close fight. When I went pro and I knew I was going to fight him again, I knew I’d be sharper this time. And he was talking and that made me talk! I just wanted to fight him and I was telling people the fight would not go the distance. The things is, he was a bully outside of the ring. Still, he always had my respect; I was a few years younger than him. But when the bell rang, I was a different person. I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna get him!’ I stopped him in the seventh-round, but people didn’t tell me at the time, that he had a metal plate in his head. He’d been in a bad car accident three or four months before our fight, so he shouldn’t have been fighting at all.”
Q: Did that sad event change your fighting approach at all?
M.S: “I went away for around three weeks and then I came back for the funeral. His mother told me not to give up on my quest to become world champion, and she told me how her son had died doing something he loved to do. She told me not to stop. But I never cared so much about getting a KO [after the tragedy]. I just wanted to win every round, and win the fight; to make sure I hit you more than you hit me. And people said, ‘I ain’t going to a Marlon Starling fight. He never knocks anybody out!’ Then, when I started getting knockouts again, people complained how my fights didn’t last long enough for them to pay to see me. Oh, man, what could I do? But it was at this time that I wanted to fight Leonard and Hearns. For the Leonard-[Roberto] Duran fight, I flew to Montreal to spar with Leoanard. That was such a big fight, nobody cared about the young, unbeaten Marlon Starling. But back in the amateurs, I had broken Roger Leonard’s nose, and Ray remembered. He said to me the day before we were to spar, ‘We’re gonna see tomorrow!’ That shook me up. Anyway, we got into some bad talk and they would not let us spar. They wouldn’t allow it The following year, I went to Vegas to spar with Tommy, as he got ready for the fight with Leonard. Really, I got the better of it.”
Q: As you said, you fought Don Curry twice. How good was Curry?
M.S: “Curry was one of the best I ever fought. He reminded me of myself. Really, he was the best I fought – the best, the most-skilled and the toughest.
Q: The Lloyd Honeyghan fight is probably the best fight you are remembered for though, certainly in this country…...
M.S: “You know what, I had fun in that fight! I didn’t want to knock him out [quick] – he talked so much! I tell you though, he had some balls to take an ass whupping like that. I’d rather be knocked out early than take a beating like that. I looked over at him during the fight, and I couldn’t even recognise him – he had blood coming from his nose, his mouth, his jaw and he was all swollen up. I really did beat him up bad.”
Q: Talk about your two fights with Mark Breland.
M.S: “Breland was good, the first fight he hit me pretty good with some shots. But the second fight, I beat him worse than I did the first time. Of course I know I won that [second] fight At times, it’s just tough to get your just due, you know? And this may surprise you, but the two fights I like to watch and say that was me at my best, are the Honeyghan fight and the Thomas Molinares fight.”
Q: Wow, the Molinares fight, where he hit you after the bell?
M.S: ” Yeah, I enjoy watching that fight to this day. The reason I pick that fight is because I was so sharp that night. When I tell people I look at that fight as the best of Marlon Starling, they say how can I say that when I got knocked out. But I wasn’t, I was fouled. I had his own corner ready to stop the fight I was beating him so bad. But then he hit me with that big over-hand right, when he fouled me. You know, I love boxing. I’d have fought my opponent for no money, as long as he was getting no money. Just to see who was the better man. I love it to this day, but let me tell you, there are no welterweights who could have lived with us back in the day. No way. Hello to all my fans and I really do aim to get over to the U.K soon.”