A FEW weeks ago, on October 14, I was invited to the annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre in London. It was hosted by Chas and Kimberly Taylor, who are well-respected in the boxing fraternity.
Going to the fayre was a new experience for me and I was glad that I was able to attend. I had been invited before but unfortunately had been unable to attend.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Like I mentioned before on these pages, I am a fan of boxing and support boxing events. While at the fayre, there was so much to see. I was looking around as if I were a child in a toy shop.
The old boxing posters on display, and some were in pristine condition, brought back so many memories. Reminiscence of past great fights came flooding back. Names on those posters took me racing back in time. I was back in the 1980s, with fighters like Rocky Kelly, an exciting welterweight who was known to entertain the crowds with his all-battling fighting style. I trained alongside Rocky, at the Mason’s Arms Pub in Battersea. A lot of boxing gyms were situated either in a room out the back or upstairs back then. Rocky once told me how he adored Roberto Duran and wanted to emulate him in the ring.
Rocky had been in some great fights, some of which had grave consequences. His fight with Scottish welterweight champion Steve Watt, himself a very entertaining fighter and champion, resulted in Watt collapsing in the ring at the end of a gruelling 10 rounds bout before he sunk into a coma and died, three days later. Two of my brothers were part of the security team the day of the fight, and they told me about the spirited exchange of hard punches from both men.
Browsing through a pile of Boxing News magazines from the 1980s, I read about Prince Rodney and Cameron Lithgow’s fight at Wembley, it seemed like an absolute war. I had heard about the intensity of the fight when it happened, but I did not see it, but here it was in print at the fayre.
The piece on Rodney and Lithgow triggered another memory. Rodney and I were gym mates, we trained in Tottenham near White Hart Lane. During the time that we trained there, we spoke often. So, when I fought John Westgarth at the York Hall, Rodney came to my corner at the end of the sixth round and in an authoritative voice, an order, he simply said ‘Sweet D, knock this guy out!’
I looked through the ropes as I sat on my stool. Our eyes locked as I nodded my head. I mouthed ‘next round’ by way of agreement. After making the first six rounds a lot harder than they should have been, I started round seven with a revived vigor and the lone intention of finishing the fight. I got the job done. As planned, and as instructed, a seventh-round knockout victory for me.
Other competitive fights where fighters battled on the small hall circuit came to life. I continued to search the piles of posters. The boxers involved entertained the crowds. As I read the names, in my head, I could visualise and hear the jubilation of the crowds.
Posters with names that have not been called for years. Keith Bristol and Dennis Andries got my attention. The light-heavyweights fought each other three times and all three fights were crowd pleasers. I was close to both men. They were two very different characters but similar in their desire to win. I knew Keith from the gym, and we remain close until this day.
As for Dennis, I shared a ring with him. I was a heavyweight but was on the lighter side at the time. He was preparing for a title fight, and I was one of the sparring partners. I sparred with anyone that I could get in the ring with; it was also part of my learning.
Not everyone had been learning about me, however. I found one poster that had my name at the bottom, spelt wrongly as ‘Derrick’. That misspelling said a lot to me. I began my professional boxing journey as an unknown fighter but ended it after becoming a Commonwealth and European champion, one that was recognised globally.
But what also got my attention, briefly snapping me out of my trip down memory lane, was the number of boxing supporters that were there. Many were able to recall some of my fights that they had attended. Others spoke of coming to the gym to watch my sparring sessions. I laughed when one former fighter Gary Hobbs recounted, ‘anytime Gary Mason and I sparred, it was a war! They near enough had to go downstairs and shut the pub.’
Someone else approached me. He remembered when I knocked out Mark ‘The Storm’ Young, he was just happy that he had seen me box live. The lasting impact that my boxing career had on these fans left me with an immense feeling of satisfaction and pride.
For me, that is the beauty of my boxing journey. To know that I was able to leave a lasting impression on boxing fans. And boxing fans do not miss a thing. As I posed for pictures, they were reminding me of a time when I fought an opponent or when I trained at a gym in their area.
The memories kept coming. I had forgotten some of the occasions, but I was happy to see the smile on the face of those recalling them. Performing at an elite level and leaving a legacy. As a professional boxer, I set out to entertain fans and become a champion.
Writing it now makes the journey seem as if it was an easy path, it was not, and I count my blessings. Boxing is a tough and challenging business and along with dedication and sacrifices, sometimes a bit of luck is both needed and welcomed.
The memories are there forever, and I salute those who come together to ensure that boxing lives on.