Journeymen: The Backbone Of The Sport

03/04/2019 - By James Slater - Comments

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Where would the sport of boxing be without the journeyman, those brave, tough souls who are always ready to fight, anywhere, any time, any day. Take this past Saturday night, and Polish heavyweight journeyman Kalim Sokolowski. In battling the far bigger – bigger in terms of size and name – Lucas Browne, Sokolowski showed just how hard, how gutsy a typical journeyman can be; has to be.

Over the years, there have been hundreds like Sokolowski, thousands even, at all weight classes. Guys who turn up in shape and go to war with the established fighter, the man who is fully expected to win and almost always does. But even the true greats of the sport have to fight a journeyman, or trial-horse if you prefer, every now and then; be it when they need a tune-up fight or a workout of a fight in a non-title bout.

Sometimes the journeyman scores the upset but mostly he does what he’s supposed to do: give the champ, or ex-champ, or future champ a testing night and go home with another loss on his record, his money well earned. Sometimes a journeyman achieves something approaching celebrity status, amongst hard-core boxing fans at least, and the back stories some of these warriors have can prove fascinating.

Here are some notable journeyman boxers, heavyweights mostly, who helped the sport so much over the last 30 years or so. How many of these guys are amongst your favourite fighters:

Everett “Bigfoot” Martin.

A real legend of the circuit. Martin battled numerous world champions, including George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Michael Moorer, Riddick Bowe and Tim Witherspoon. And during his long career, the man with the curious nickname was rarely stopped. Martin managed his career biggest win at the expense of Witherspoon, who he decisioned in 1992.

James “Quick” Tillis.

Another heavyweight who fought ’em all. Tillis didn’t start out as a journeyman (seldom does any fighter do so), “Quick” instead being a genuine contender, a world title challenger even, before he settled into his place as a gatekeeper type. Hard hitters like Mike Weaver, Mike Tyson and Earnie Shavers were unable to halt Tillis, but as he aged and fought more and more for a pay cheque only, Tillis was taken out – by big names such as Evander Holyfield, Tommy Morrison, and British pair Frank Bruno and Gary Mason.

Dave Jaco.

A heavyweight trier with a backstory good enough to be written up in an autobiography (which is the same as Tillis, who also put pen to paper in telling his life story). Jaco was beaten up by huge stars Foreman and Tyson yet the self-titled Palooka did manage an upset win over one Donovan “Razor Ruddock in 1985. When asked if he bought Razor’s asthma excuse for losing, Jaco replied bull shit! Jaco never backed down from anyone.

Peter Buckley.

No list of great journeymen would be complete without the amazing British competitor’s name. Buckley, who famously boxed a staggering 300 pro fights, took super-bantam and featherweight stars like Naseem Hamed, Barry Jones, Michael Brodie,Paul Ingle, Sott Harrison and Michael Gomez the distance. In his 300 fights, Buckley, who also has some story to tell and is in good health and able to tell it, was stopped just ten times.

Leroy Caldwell.

This seriously tough heavyweight of the 1970s and ’80s should be far more recognised and applauded than he is. The man from New Orleans faced too many big names to keep track of (thank the graces for Box Rec!) – amongst them, George Foreman, Gerrie Coetzee, Joe Bugner, Trevor Berbick (who Caldwell got a draw with), John Tate and Pinklon Thomas. Today, Caldwell passes on all he learned as he teaches young fighters in his gym.