Not every fighter can be a world champion, but Chicago’s Vinson Durham sure knows all about stepping into the ring with world champions. And of testing them hard. Durham, who campaigned at light heavyweight and cruiserweight and who fought from 1989 to 2006 in compiling a 21-37-3(4) record, fought numerous champions.
Often taking fights on short notice and for little money, Durham proved to be a fine defensive boxer who always let the other guy know he’d been danced with (Durham having faced, among others, Gilbert Baptist, James Toney, Frank Minton, Ole Klemetson, Booker T Word, Montell Griffin, David Telesco, Julian Letterlough, Byron Mitchell, Jean Marc Mormeck and Michael Nunn)
Today, speaking clearly, this proof of his ability to slip and slide punches that were thrown by the best, Vinson kindly takes the time to speak with ESB.
Q: It’s great to be able to speak with you. Looking at your record, you fought an absolute bunch of big names. Who was THE best you fought?
Vinson Durham: “I’d have to go with James Toney. He was probably the most known, the most accomplished. Then I’d say Michael Nunn. And also Montell Griffin. Those were the top-three.”
Q: You lost a decision to Toney, and to Nunn and Griffin. Did you become Toney’s main sparring partner after that fight with him, in May of 1994?
V.D: “Oh yeah. But for you, putting this on paper, I believe I outpointed him. But he was who he is and sometimes there are higher powers who are leaning towards the favourite. And I think that’s pretty much what happened. If I don’t knock him out I don’t get that win (laughs).”
Q: You feel you might have edged him?
V.D: “I believe I did.”
Q: What was your best weight, light heavyweight or cruiserweight?
V.D: “Light heavyweight.”
Q: And did you have an extensive amateur career?
V.D: “No. I actually had about six amateur fights. I went to the Golden Gloves as a novice, and that was probably my most accomplished amateur fight. I started at a late age and that had a lot to do with it. I was 27 when I went pro.”
Q: I guess you, such an experienced fighter as you became, sparred lots of great fighters as well as fighting them in bouts?
V.D: “Right. That’s the thing, too. I was in the gym all the time. I just went to stay fit [at first] and people started whispering, ‘hey, you should start fighting pro, you’re pretty good.’ I was young at the time, working two jobs, and I said I couldn’t fit it into my schedule. Then all of a sudden I decided to give it a shot. It was hard, not always having adequate training camps and things of that nature; often taking fights on short-notice. They pretty much make you into a journeyman, an opponent. But I just loved to fight, to be in there. And it was extra money for me.”
Q: Guys like yourself are the backbone of the sport. Willing to fight anyone, anywhere. How much notice did you get for your big fights?
V.D: “Toney, I had about three to four weeks, which is no time for somebody like him. Nunn, probably shorter than that, that was like a last-minute deal. I think I had more time for Montell than anybody, and that was a very competitive fight. That was a fight that could have gone either way.”
Q: I wish there was more footage of your fights out there. The Toney fight’s out there, but nothing much else.
V.D: “Yeah, well, a lot of times what happens with those fighters is, they don’t want those tapes out there anyway. If you’re a journeyman fighter, in good shape and a lot of the fights are in question [regarding the decision], they don’t want the footage to get out too much.”
Q: Interesting. Who was your main trainer during your career?
V.D: “Earlier in my career, I had a guy from Los Angeles – he wasn’t a big name or anything like that. He taught me from the ground up, the basic things, like not to tense up. He told me I had to be versatile, that anything that came my way, I had to deal with it. Because he told me, no two fighters are gonna fight the same. He said to me, “you can’t do the same thing you did yesterday today.” That’s what makes a great fighter, being able to make adjustments. You know, your Alis, your Ray Robinsons – all these guys made adjustments. Whatever case it may be in a fight, they adapted to it. That’s pretty much how I fought my career and how I lasted as long as I did. I was 44 when I had my last fight. I fought a total of 61 fights, and I’m still articulate. If I told anyone I was a boxer, they wouldn’t know it.”
Q: You do speak very well. You were a defensive fighter who didn’t take punishment?
V.D: “Right. I refused to take punishment. The guy I was telling you about, my trainer, he told me the first thing he wanted me to learn was not to get hit. He said, ‘I don’t care if you lose, don’t get beat up.’ He told me he wanted me to walk out of the gym the same way I walked in to it. He cared about his fighters. And you don’t get trainers like that who care anymore.”
Q: You are a student of the sport?
V.D: “Oh yeah. Pretty much.”
Q: And if a fan hasn’t seen you fight, any of your fights, how would you describe your overall style?
V.D: “I’m a defensive genius and a great counter-puncher. You come out to get me [in a fight] and I’ll give it to you. I’ll see what you’ve got. When I find out what your strengths are, when you’re fired your best shots, then I’ll go about countering you and from which direction. But one of the biggest beliefs in the game that isn’t necessarily true, is that a counter-puncher can never be a true counter-puncher. You have to attack sooner or later, at some point in time. But that’s all for the set-up.
“And that’s one of the things my trainer told me. He told me that at some point in time [in a fight] you have to take advantage of your counter-punching ability and step in, or else you’re gonna lose. He told me how a lot of guys can get too confident, and just stick around they’d just touch you and tap you. You have to be able to turn that button, he told me. You have to hurt a guy, hit him with something. I learned about hitting a guy’s pressure points. Make him use his weight against himself. I wasn’t a big puncher but I had my sparring partners telling me that I hit hard. Sometimes I didn’t knock guys out, but I beat ’em up. My jab was my best weapon. I’m a southpaw but I fought orthodox. Look at the Toney fight – I countered his counters.”
Q: Of your losses, how may do you feel were fair and how many times were you robbed?
V.D: “I was robbed almost 100 percent of the time. Of the 61 fights I had, I maybe lost ten [fairly]. The biggest puncher I fought was maybe Booker T. Word. I took that on short-notice and I was outweighed, but he caught me. Julian Letterlough might also have been the hardest puncher I fought. Yeah, now that I think about it, he was the hardest power puncher I fought. I was ahead of him actually, and he caught me. That was another one where me, I had a good chin and I could’ve gotten up, but at that point, I said [to myself] ‘Why!’ I think that’s what preserved me, too. I didn’t take any beatings. Why hang around and let someone beat on you? And today, I’m 60 and I’m still pretty!”