Fifteen years ago, I sat ringside in Reading, England, and watched Lolenga Mock, also known as ‘Lumumba Boy’, enter a boxing ring wearing leopard print shorts complete with what appeared to be a detachable tail. He was about to box David Haye, then unbeaten in six professional fights, on the BBC, and he was about to lose.

At least that was the set-up, the process, the gentleman’s agreement on which Mock, a Dane by way of the Congo, had shaken, and nothing about his appearance or demeanour – forget the tail, he was also many pounds lighter and many inches shorter than Haye – suggested this imported punch bag with a bobble on his behind was about to go rogue.

Rather, what Mock was supposed to do was something like this: be cagey early on, move around, buy time, feel the weight of the cruiserweight’s punches (Mock being a natural super-middleweight and all), show some bravery, show some guts, and then eventually keel over. Failing that, pull out between rounds when the going gets tough. Twist a knee. Throw a shoulder out. Complain of a sore hand. Basically, whatever the exit strategy, make sure you exit; make sure Haye remains undefeated and the fans in Reading go home having seen the fight and result they expected to see.

Mock, however, had other ideas. He moved not with fear but intelligence, his defence was tight, and the few punches he did take seemed to have no real impact. He was comfortable in the first couple of rounds, unnervingly so, and then, in round four, not content with cruising to the finish line and becoming the first opponent to extend a noted puncher, decided to go one better and fire back. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t clean, but Mock was having a go, windmilling in the most professionally violent sense, and all of a sudden Haye, a man who had not only had it all his own way as a pro but, crucially, expected to have it his own way, found himself on the back foot, scurrying away, swamped by anxiety.

Then a right hand landed somewhere around his temple and he was down. It was supposed to be Mock, of course. He was supposed to be the one caught by a right and crumpled. He was the one meant to be looking up from the floor as he was counted by the referee. But, no, this was Haye whose eyes were in disagreement, whose body folded in on itself like a deckchair, whose legs turned to jelly. This was Haye who was dropped, hurt, on the brink of defeat.

Lolenga Mock

The done thing at this point was for Mock, having taught the upstart a lesson, to remove his foot from the pedal, suffer a crippling bout of self-doubt, cover up along the ropes and either reduce his punch output, thus allowing the home fighter to pocket the remaining rounds, or simply acquiesce to the inevitable comeback. But Mock did no such thing. Instead, he looked to finish Haye, an act that caused all in the vicinity to turn to the person sat next to them and ask, “Is the guy with the tail supposed to be doing that?” He threw more and more right hands. He shoved his opponent around the ring. His tail swung left to right and right to left. He tore off his journeyman mask – surprise! – and he tried desperately to win.

Yet, in the end, this enthusiasm conspired to work against Mock, as he charged on to a nasty (and timely) Haye uppercut which sent him spiralling to the canvas. Pow! Kaboom! Crash! Splat! Relief was immediately evident, not only on the face of the Londoner, who stepped over his wounded foe and made his way to the neutral corner, but on the faces of those who had cherry-picked Mock as a cheap, undersized fall-guy. This, they told themselves, was how it was supposed to turn out. This was what we brought the Dane over to do.

Mock, meanwhile, knew that being on the canvas in England was a position he needed to avoid if wanting to retain any power or say in the contest. Find yourself there, he understood, and you’d be at the mercy of the opponent and the referee and the promoter and the process. Find yourself there and you’re halfway out the door.

So it proved. Mock, despite rising to his feet in good time, and appearing to be clear-headed and lucid, was cruelly told by referee, Mark Green, that he was far too disobedient and was in no position to continue. And that was that. Fight over. Even Haye, architect of the finishing uppercut and the most relieved man in the room, seemed embarrassed by it all.

“He had a really hard head,” the victor would say afterwards. “I hit him on the top of it and badly busted my hand. I knew after that it would be difficult getting him out of there. His defence was a lot better than I thought it would be, too.”

That was Mock’s third defeat in a row and his fifth in his last six fights. He’d go on to lose two of his next three, also. He was never stopped again, mind, nor did his ambition ever fade, despite questionable decisions, despite always boxing out of the away corner.

For ten years it went like this – winning some, losing some, always testing the favourite – before, in 2013, he lost a fight to Erik Skoglund, took a couple of years off, and then returned in late-2015 with a vengeance. There were suddenly wins, lots of them, ten in a row, and Mock seemed to master a style that relied on fitness and toughness and enabled him to outwork and outlast the opposition.

Decision win after decision win, Mock fought six times in 2016, three times last year, and then, on Friday (January 5), scored a ten-round unanimous decision over Dmitry Chudinov, a former interim WBA world middleweight champion whose only other loss came at the hands of Chris Eubank Jr. It would have been deemed a shock if Mock didn’t by now have such a knack for shocking.

‘Lumumba Boy’, by the way, turns 46 years of age in April. A boy no more, he now has 57 pro fights to his name, and since that awful Haye stoppage has never been finished. He is also, as if by some miracle, riding an 11-fight win-streak and seemingly better than ever, a testament not only to his work ethic and durability but his ambition and willingness to take risks, both in terms of his career (taking on highly-regarded prospects with no questions asked) and specific fights (trying to win when others try to survive).

Lolenga Mock, in short, is the best kind of journeyman: a journeyman so good he is now, in fact, no longer a journeyman but a legitimate contender on the hunt for a world title shot.

Here are 10 so-called journeymen, including Mock, who turned out to be a whole lot more:  

10) Zack Page (21-45-2)

Zack Page stood six-foot and weighed 200 pounds but gallantly battled some of the biggest and best cruiserweights and heavyweights in the world throughout a pro career spanning a decade. Stopped just five times in 68 fights, Page offered little in the way of offence but was a master at covering up, seeing shots, riding shots, evading shots, and invariably making his way to the finish line without a scratch on him. You were lucky to hit Page; hitting him clean was the ultimate victory. Even Tyson Fury, boasting a 56-pound weight advantage, couldn’t budge him when the pair met in 2010.

9) Marion Wilson (12-41-4)

Sometimes called ‘The Creep’, presumably a nod to his style rather than personality, Marion Wilson would attach himself to opponents and refuse to leave them alone. He’d be there at the start and he would, without fail, be there at the end, too. It was an approach that enabled him to get to 57 pro fights without ever having been stopped, a feat unmatched by any other man on this list. He was tough enough to last the course with heavyweights like Ray Mercer (a fight he drew), Andrew Golota, Shannon Briggs, Orlin Norris, Ike Ibeabuchi, Hasim Rahman, Samuel Peter and Oliver McCall, and he was also known to upset a prospect or two, as unbeaten heavyweights like Paea Wolfgramm, Thomas Williams and Derek Isaman discovered.

8) Ross Puritty (31-20-3)

The first thing to know about Ross Puritty is that Ross Puritty once stopped Wladimir Klitschko, the future heavyweight champion of the world, in eleven rounds. That, you might suggest, means he was far more than just a high-end journeymen, and you’d be right. Like most on this list, Puritty, on his day, knew enough and was good enough to defeat men who were considered superior to him. He had 13 defeats on his record at the time of the Klitschko fight, but was difficult to hurt, much less stop (stopped three times in his whole career), and ended up being the Ukrainian’s bogeyman. He soaked up what Klitschko dished out and then outlasted him in the championship rounds.

7) Sergey Khomitsky (31-14-3)

His name might not roll off the tongue, but Sergey Khomitsky is a name familiar to British boxing fans, and one numerous British boxers have been keen to forget. The 43-year-old from Belarus, still active today, has fought a handful of Brits over the years and never once been dominated, let alone disgraced. He has succumbed to the likes of Ryan Rhodes, Martin Murray and John Ryder on points, but has also shattered the dreams of Jamie Moore, Frank Buglioni and Adam Etches, all of whom struggled getting to grips with his robust style and were eventually stopped.

6) Darnell Wilson (25-21-3)

Diminutive and destructive, ‘Ding-A-Ling Man’ Wilson carried a reputation for power, with 21 of his 25 wins coming inside schedule, and was at one time good enough to challenge Firat Arslan for the WBA world cruiserweight title. Prior to that, and indeed after that, he fought many of the top light-heavyweights, cruiserweights and heavyweights in the world, winning more than he lost, and was always considered a banana skin opponent for those prone to the odd concentration lapse. Wins over cruiserweights Dale Brown and Kelvin Davis, and heavyweights Juan Carlos Gomez and David Rodriguez, are his calling cards (helping to forget the fact he won only three of his last 19 fights), while a 2007 war with Emmanuel Nwodo, concluded with a left hook from hell, encapsulates all that was so raw and thrilling about Wilson.

5) Maurice Harris (26-21-3)

Another whose nickname seemed strangely appropriate, ‘Mo Bettah’ often displayed skills, speed and movement that suggested he could have gone further in the sport than he did. Ultimately, though, he won fights he should have lost and lost fights he should have won. (Which is to say, for every defeat to Tye Fields and Henry Akinwande, and every ‘Knockout of the Year’ loss to Derrick Jefferson, you’ll find Harris stopping Sergey Liakhovich and Jimmy Thunder, and outboxing Jeremy Williams and David Izon.) Harris was talented and, on his day, a problem for most. What he certainly wasn’t, however, was consistent.

4) Darnell Boone (23-24-4)

Although Darnell Boone could be outboxed, and often was, he carried danger from first bell to last and could punch hard with either hand. He famously dropped Andre Ward in 2005 – perhaps the closest Ward ever came to losing – and also sprung upsets on the then-unbeaten Adonis Stevenson and Willie Monroe Jr. There were others, too, but it’s the damage he did to Ward and Stevenson, eventually two of the premier light-heavyweights in the world, that really shine a light on Boone’s threat level.

3) Lolenga Mock (42-14-1)

Mock’s career has been unusual to say the least. He won his first 17 fights, lost 14 of his next 29, and now, having welcomed an Indian summer, finds himself undefeated in his last 11, upsetting many who were expected to have his number. Mock, stopped only once, has always been resilient, but wins over the likes of Charles Brewer, Mouhamed Ali Ndiaye, David Zegarra, Luke Blackledge and Dmitry Chudinov also highlight his ability and ambition. The fact he’s still going strong at 45, meanwhile, says everything about his conditioning, determination and defence.

2) Saoul Mamby (45-34-6)

It could be argued a bonafide world champion has no place on a list like this, but Saoul Mamby’s career trajectory is open to interpretation and featured many peaks and troughs. He was, first and foremost, a very good boxer on his day; good enough to win the WBC world super-lightweight title in 1980 and successfully defend it five times; good enough to stop Esteban De Jesus. Yeah, that good. But Mamby also lost his fair share. The night he beat Sang Hyun Kim to win his world title, for instance, Mamby’s record was sullied by 12 defeats and five draws, and his career, in spite of the world title wins, ended with 11 defeats from his final 14 fights (yet the only man to ever stop him was Derrell Coley in 1993).

1) Emanuel Augustus (38-34-6)

Known in some quarters as ‘The Drunken Master’, on account of his herky-jerky style and off-kilter rhythm (which shares much in common with an inebriated pirate), Augustus was arguably the most naturally-gifted journeyman to ever go by that tag. He could seemingly do it all, when in the mood, and would produce moves so elaborate and so damn impressive that you often found yourself wondering what would happen, and what his record would look like, had he been dealt a different hand from the get-go and had his discipline been half as strong as he desire to have fun.

In addition to being a ring magician, Augustus was tough, stopped only five times in 78 bouts, and also, in contrast to many journeymen, regularly exciting, whether in victory or defeat. Fights with Micky Ward, Courtney Burton and Ray Oliveira, for example, are well worth a watch, as is his upset win over Jon Thaxton, in Norwich, England, from September 1998.

Augustus, in summary, wasn’t just a brilliant journeyman, he was a brilliant boxer. So brilliant, in fact, Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather once said Augustus, formerly known as Emanuel Burton, was the best opponent he had ever boxed. And praise doesn’t come much higher than that.