NICKY BOOTH once told me that he had always wanted to swim the British Channel and asked if I fancied going with him to Kent to launch his bid. He meant that day, that moment.
Booth was not in a great way at the time, but he was determined to swim to France; men and women train for years for what Booth, in a pair of leisure shorts, 99p goggles and with a few cans of lager, was planning to do on a spare afternoon.
During lockdown, Michael Mooney decided one day to run a marathon. He was about 35 at the time and a veteran of perhaps 85 fights. Still, the marathon distance was there, and the roads were there, and off he went. I keep seeing Forrest Gump and can easily imagine Mooney going for a run and coming back 26 miles, and about six hours, later.
“I have been around the block so many times, the lamp posts know my name,” he said. He did run his marathon and has completed five since; his best time is three hours 29 minutes, and he wants to get down to 3-20 for his next one. There is no stopping him. He joked that he has been running off a hangover in most of the full marathons he has run – well, I think it was a joke.
“I might be considered a journeyman,” Mooney added. “But I really like to compete and when I enter a marathon with about 1,000 others, I know I’m not going to win. I just want to beat myself. That is how I win.” And he wins each time.
In the ring, his record sits right now at 106 fights: two draws, nine wins and 95 defeats. It’s been 10, long years of fights. Some hard, some harder; he has never been in a hand-picked easy fight. He fights again on September 9 at Planet Ice in Solihull in the latest version of Jon Pegg’s TopBoxer – it’s Prizefighter by another name. Eight boxers; four quarters, two semis and one final. Three fights to win, all over 3×3 minute rounds. Pegg’s twist is the line-up – he’s a creative man and that is why Marathon Mooney is involved.
“I think this format will suit me,” Mooney said. “I really do – I have time to prepare, I have experience, I run marathons. I have a chance.” Mooney insists he once fought less than an hour after getting the call to fight. It could be true; it was 2014, he was in a pub in Gloucester having a soft drink when he got the call. He was needed in Dudley to fight Paul Holt over four rounds. “I put the drink down, got in the car and drove over; I got cleared to fight and was in the ring, 50 minutes after taking the call.” It can be done in that time, and Pegg remembers that Mooney was a late-late replacement on the night. I believe him, Mooney is honest.
On the night, Mooney will have to beat a fun list of winners and losers and dreamers. It should be boxing law that somebody like Mooney is included in every tournament of this type.
There will be Manchester’s Harley Marginson with his record of seven defeats and no wins, Tamworth’s Louis Fielding, who has won ten of his 18 fights, and Bournemouth’s Stefan Vincent who has lost two of his three fights. They are still, in many ways, better qualified for the format than the four unbeaten boxers.
Dylan Norman 4-0, Ryan Griffiths 2-0, DJ Tollerton, and Daniel Williams both 3-0. That is a quality line-up; the prize, obviously, will be the highest purse any of them have ever made. And, by some distance. The money was, all those years ago, a great motivation in the early Prizefighters. Big Marty Rogan probably cleared ten times above his previous highest pay for a night’s work when he won in 2008 – it would explain why he fought like a man possessed at York Hall on the night that Prizefighter was launched by Barry Hearn. It was unforgettable, by the way.
The eight boxers that night had a little something special, a mixed gang of hopefuls, no-hopers, and wild, wild dreamers. The old venue was sold-out, steaming to be honest. The show ran long, the Board and the Sky Sports people were in a panic. From the ringside pit, it was mayhem – I loved every second of it. By the time Rogan got in for the final, York Hall was packed with the walking, talking, and bleeding wounded from the earlier six fights. And a general night of mayhem.
Darren Morgan had lost three of his eight before the first bell, and he was hard; Paul Butlin had lost five of his 16 and he was notorious for being tough. David Dolan was a former Commonwealth Games champion and unbeaten in seven. The rest were a real mix and then there was Big Rogie – he was seven and zero, the Taxi King of Belfast. In the final, Rogie and Dolan fought a small-hall classic for the ages. Nobody was sitting. Quality launch. Pegg’s tournament has a bit of that glory night about it.
Like Rogie, the winner will have to fight his heart out: Mooney fancies all of them and at the same time, he knows that they could all beat him.
“Look at the men I have been in with,” he said. He has shared the ring with dozens of prospects and champions, including Maxi Hughes, Jason Cunningham, Josh Leather, Scott Cardle, Leon Woodstock, and Thomas Stalker. He once shared the bill with Gervonta Davis, Anthony Yarde, Daniel Dubois, and Sunny Edwards. Men like Mooney are the real keepers of boxing’s secrets – they hear so much, and they are invisible in the corridors at big and small fights.
It’s a grand platform, a special night. Mooney the marathon man going for the title in his 107th fight. What a business.