THE men in black had shared over 30 world title fights and they stood in silence and reverence as the coffin came down the aisle between them.
They were not all champions, not all veterans of pay-per-view payouts in major arenas; the Southern Area warriors, the ex-fighters, the coaches, and the fallen, the man who never had to stand, filled the church.
They had travelled to South London for Daphne Sylvena Fearon’s service. She was the beloved mother of Spencer Fearon and he was, by his own admission, a mummy’s boy. Most fighters are.
Boxers are good at funerals, good at getting to know each other again. They have often shared so much and can continue ancient conversations.
“It’s been an overwhelming turnout,” Fearon told me. He was clearly moved by the men that came out to offer their support.
Don Charles was in a row with Tunde Ajayi, Dereck Chisora and Ashley Theophane. That’s a lot of history and stories in those four seats. Opposite Del Boy, on the other side of the aisle, Harry Senior was sitting with David Walker at his side. They are a double act; old friends, great friends. Hard life. Harry seated at all times, his cane in his hand and his story too often forgotten.
Behind Walker, Johnny Nelson, Duke McKenzie, Colin McMillan and Spencer Oliver huddled. That is a quality pack of boxing men; world champions, heroes. Men touched by greatness and tragedy in the ring and joined in a pew for Spencer’s mum. Or, Mummy, as he called her.
Fearon and Walker shared a ring one night and it was one of those lost British classics. It was unforgettable and I still use it when people ask me for my list of great British fights – fights I watched from ringside. I think it’s a cheat to tell people the Fight of the Century when asked about memorable fights. And, it’s lazy to just rattle off Hagler v Hearns. Walker against Fearon had the local rivalry and pride that so many other quality fights lack. It had real history attached.
Walker had called Fearon the day before the funeral to apologise for missing the funeral. Spencer then gave him the details; Walker prepared Senior and they were early arrivals at noon. “I know how much his mum meant to him,” said Walker and, before I could ask, he added: “Yeah, Harry’s doing well. He looks good.” He did, by the way.
Senior boxed at the Lynn, just like Fearon; Walker was from the Fisher. Two South London clubs separated by just a few streets and a short walk. Walker and Fearon met in Norwich in the summer of 2003 for the Southern Area light-middleweight title. It was live on BBC television. Walker was over in the first and again in the second and Fearon was dropped in the third; it finished in the fourth and that’s when the friendship started. You can imagine what type of fight it was.
Senior’s big fight started in the Peacock gym and a long way from the television lights. He was trying to get back in shape and get back in the picture and make some cash. In 1999 he had lost on points to Danny Williams for the Commonwealth heavyweight title. In November and December of 2009, he was sparring with Albert Sosnowski. He collapsed after the last spar and had emergency surgery to remove a clot from the surface of his brain. Harry was trying to generate a few quid. Sosnowski won the European heavyweight title when Harry was in hospital; in his next fight, he lost to Vitali Klitschko for the world title. That happened in late 2009; it has been a gruelling journey to get Harry Senior to here. As I said, Harry is one of boxing’s great forgotten tales. And, that is why he could remain seated when everybody had to stand during the tributes, the prayers and the songs. I believe Spencer’s mother would have given him her blessing.
Walker spends a lot time with Harry. The love and care are obvious and very moving.
Walker has also had to overcome a few nasty battles away from the ring. He is also doing well. I spoke to Fearon the following day and he told me that when he got to the reception, which was held in Brixton, he found Walker in an apron and serving food. What a business.
Danny Williams, incidentally, is a friend in exile. His continued fighting career is causing a lot of his old friends to fear for him. Fearon and Williams were close. It was Fearon who found me at ringside an hour before Williams met Mike Tyson. He was urgent, excited: “Buncey, Danny will win, I’m telling you, Danny will win.” I had known Fearon for a long time and I could sense his belief. I told the story on Five Live before the first bell; he had me convinced the shock was on. I never saw Williams at the funeral service.
Scott Murray was there, fresh from a night with the world’s number one Elvis impersonator at his club, Bar Sport in Cannock. He has known Fearon and Williams for decades. “I remember going to a small gym in Brixton with Spencer to spar with Danny – I think it was in a squash court,” he told me.
Closer to the front and closer to the family, James Cook was in a row. Cook is royalty in our boxing business; in and outside the ropes.
The fighters gathered in small groups on the steps of the church at the end and then filed away, no fanfare. It was a lovely service for Spencer’s mum.