THEY just walk away and are never seen or heard from again. They are the vanished boxers, the true lost souls from our sport.
They are the fighters with the names and fights you have forgotten, and then they are mentioned in casual conversation and you invariably utter: “What happened to him?” Some had a handful of fights; others were champions, and some were getting ready for their big night. They are united by their vanishing.
Ahmet Patterson disappeared in 2016 on the eve of a British title fight against Liam Williams at super-welter. He was getting ready for the title fight; he was running at dusk and never heard the insults that were being thrown at him and he never saw the brick that smacked his head. The fight was off, he went missing to heal and stayed missing. Gone. He was 28 and had won all 17 of his fights.
Little George Kean started his career getting rave reviews, getting great comparisons and then he started to lose his way, and after two losses in eight fights, he was gone. It looked like too much pressure, too soon. He was still a kid when he fought for the last time. Gorgeous George, as he was known, walked away from boxing when he was just 24. That was in 2015. George is out there somewhere, not too difficult to track down, but lost to the sport.
Big Tom Baker was just starting to get the same reviews, just starting to develop as a real fighter and he was unbeaten in 14 fights at light-heavyweight. And then Big Tom walked away. That was in 2016, he was only 24 at the time. Tom was gone for good.
Boxers that suddenly stop long before their careers are over do so for so many different reasons; it can be money, pressure, health issues, love or perhaps even a higher calling. Everybody in the fight game has a tale about a vanished boxer. A man, possibly even a woman, who could have been a real contender before the magic moment they disappeared.
Perhaps the patron saint of the disappeared is Peter Oboh. One night in 2007 at Wembley Arena, just an hour or so before his latest British light-heavyweight title defence, Oboh left the venue. That was it, he quit the fight game and left behind his Lonsdale Belt and his career. Oboh walked and Tony Oakey, the challenger, was left without a fight. Oakey had no idea what was going on, no idea that the champion was finished with the sport. Oakey prepared for the fight; Oboh was lost to another fight.
Sweet Peter Oboh could hear the voices in his head as he traveled to the venue: “Peter, your boxing career is over.” It was enough of a sign, and it was not the first time the voices had offered him guidance.
Oboh’s manager, Dean Powell, knew just a bit more than Oakey on the night. Powell knew the power of Oboh’s faith. Oboh was a man of God. At the same time as he was the British champion, he walked the streets of South London with a sign declaring his love for his Lord. “It just got too much for Peter – should he fight or preach? He made his decision and walked out on the night,” Powell said. Kellie Maloney, the promoter, was livid and told Oboh he would never fight again. Oboh was not bothered by the threat, he was gone.
Apostle Oboh is now a renowned preacher in Nigeria. Oakey, incidentally, won the vacant British light-heavyweight title just 22 nights later. The Board wasted no time stripping Oboh.
Perhaps my favourite vanished boxer is called Tommy Shiels. He boxed for the Stowe club as an amateur and was dangerous. He had a fearsome reputation; a real buzz was next to his name. He stopped a close friend of mine one afternoon in the old PLA championships at Walthamstow Town Hall. And then he turned professional in 1986. He was just 19, the most lethal looking choirboy in history.
He was the star, the blonde teenage kid in Frank Warren’s young stable. He seems to be in every one of the promotional pictures from that time. He fought 11 times in just over two years in undercard fights and was shown on ITV nights. He stopped or knocked out nine of his opponents. He beat some very good men in style: Del Bryan was dropped three times and stopped after 15 seconds of the second round; Johnny Nanton, Lindon Scarlett, Kid Milo and Roy Callaghan all went the same way. They were tough men; Shiels was the real deal, a fighting baby that could bang.
And then he vanished. He was spotted in Australia. He had found God, they said. There was a problem in a nightclub, and he was charged with assault in Australia, they said. He was then spotted back in Paddington and driving a bus. Then he was spotted at Leicester Square on a Sunday morning, part of a preaching pack, holding bibles likes babies and spreading the word of the gospel. Somebody claimed they had seen Tommy knock out a man one day during a Sunday sermon. All this was in the early Nineties. The stories continued and Tommy stayed gone.
I think I have found Tommy Sheils, safe and sound in Australia. His brother, Dean, by the way could certainly fight.
Ahmet, George, Tom Baker, Peter the Pastor and Tommy Shiels are just some of the men that walked away from our business and left behind a few memories and a lot of questions. Patterson, by the way, is back at the Peacock and looking to fight again. That is one mystery solved.