31.1.07 – By James Slater: Britain’s 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. I’m 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 wasn’t 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, it’s 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, it’s 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 didn’t 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, it’s a good record, you know?
J.S: Looking at Lewis’ record, I see he had a draw with Carlos Palomino…
J.H.S: Yeah well it’s funny, after I boxed him he told me I’d have no trouble with Palomino, but I think the problem was I boxed too quick. I’ve 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 don’t go that distance if you’re 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 it’s 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 today’s 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 that’s got something to do with it. In a way, it’s kind of sad but boxing has devalued itself. I think boxing is in good shape in this country at the moment, I mean we’ve 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, it’s not fifteen rounds anymore. Certain people you speak to, they say, “ Oh I don’t watch boxing anymore, it’s not fifteen rounds and you’ve got all these Mickey Mouse titles.” There are a lot of good fighters out there, but people aren’t 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, you’ve got to say he’s the best. Hatton’s a great little fighter but I think you’ve 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 that’s what Mayweather’s got. I mean, at the moment, he’s (Mayweather) won four world titles, so you’ve 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, you’re 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, it’s because it’s not something you’ve 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, it’s a totally different complex. You’ve just got to work at it and do your best. I really enjoy it.
J.S: You’ve 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, they’re all good occasions.
J.S: Had you met Chuvalo and Spinks before?
J.H.S: Yes, I’ve met them on a few occasions.
J.S: Are they both in good shape, because they both took punishment didn’t they?
J.H.S: George Chuvalo’s terrific, he’s not punchy in any way. He’s fantastic. It’s a shame but he’s had a lot of problems in his personal life. (George suffered the bereavement of family members some time back) and Leon’s okay, you’ve just got to keep him away from the brandy (laughs)!
J.S: Do you still act? I know you’ve appeared in T.V shows like Minder and Eastenders in the U.K.
J.H.S: Well I’ve done a bit, I worked on the movie The Krays.
J.S: Oh yeah, did you do the boxing scene’s 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 don’t (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 that’s 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 you’ve finished your career and you get out that’s it really. I suppose I do miss being around fighters before fights, when you get that buzz. But I don’t really miss it that much because you’ve done that and then you’ve 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.