WAYNE ALEXANDER. Paul Samuels. Michael Brodie. Neil Swain. Now, that is a proper boxing tag team.
In June, at the Merthyr Tydfil Labour Club in boxing’s sacred Welsh Valleys, the four fighters will be on stage and there will be a giant step back in time. It will be a night a long, long way from the glitz and ignorance of the modern boxing business. In all fairness, Merthyr is a long way from anywhere.
Four men, one night and perhaps they shared as many as 30 televised main events. They were at the heart of the business in the mid-Nineties for about a decade. They might not be the four names that people remember from that time, but they had their moments. Not everybody can be a recognised King.
Swain was involved in one of the most brutal and neglected British title fights from those years. One night in 1997 at the Wythenshawe Centre on the outskirts of Manchester, he lost to Brodie for the vacant super-bantamweight title. Swain lost in the 10th and it was his last fight. Writing in the Daily Sport after the fight, Steve Lillis suggested that even Brodie needed to be kept from the ring for six months to recover. It really was that vicious.
The place was rocking, totally X-rated. That venue had some deep secrets on nights like that. Brodie went on and on. Brodie’s last fight was nearly 13 years later when he was stopped by Anthony Crolla. There are some legendary and lost nights in Manchester from that time.
It was Swain, in a 1994 fight, who forced Richie Wenton to quit in tears after a few rounds one night at the Ice Rink in Cardiff. Wenton had fought and beat Bradley Stone in his previous fight; he was fighting the demons that haunt a boxer after a death fight and in the ring that night he saw Stone and not Swain. It was horrible.
Swain is also at the heart of one of my favourite tales about Barry Jones. This is true, trust me.
At the Rhondda Leisure Centre in 1993, Swain was 4-0 and he met Jones, who was 6-0; what a fight. Valleys v City. I would add that to my list of fights I regret missing. Anyway, Jones organised a coach from Ely in Cardiff, and it was packed, lively and expectant. Jones won on points; it was a real night out. The boys and men on the coach were desperate to get back to Cardiff, to their local to start celebrating. They packed the coach and took off in style. There was one problem – they forgot Barry. Honestly, he was left alone at 11pm in the empty car park at the leisure centre. No phones. No lift. Stuck, carrying his bag.
Barry Jones hitchhiked back to Cardiff; it was the only way and when he walked into the pub, nobody mentioned it.
Brodie went on and was in some truly memorable and too often forgotten fights. He had world title scraps with Willie Jorrin, two with In Jin Chi and one with Scott Harrison. He won British and European titles and met the best at his time.
The first fight with Chi had a farcical ending but was a stunning fight. They fought to a standstill and were then let down by the officials. They waited, each bruised and exhausted, for fifteen minutes to hear the verdict go narrowly to Chi. Brodie accepted it and walked, with both eyes swollen closed, back to this dressing room. However, there was still some calculating at ringside and it emerged that it was a draw. That was hard to stomach because Brodie had been harshly deducted a point in the opener for illegal use of the head. Yes, the first round, that is tough on a boy and his dream. Brodie would have won the vacant WBC featherweight title that night if the referee had not taken the point off. That still must hurt.
Brodie and Swain reunited is a thing of oddity and beauty.
And then there is the Samuels and Alexander pairing. When they fought each other in 2000, at the Goresbrook Leisure Centre in Dagenham, for the vacant British super-middleweight title it was an event. There might have only been 1,5000 lucky souls there that night, but we knew what we were getting. Samuels was unbeaten in 15 and Alexander unbeaten in 13. Ding ding, it was hard and short. It finished at 1:09 of the third and Alexander was the winner. Just, by the way.
“I have never been so exhausted,” admitted Alexander. “It could have been me at the end.” He was right and that is how all good shoot-outs should be.
Samuels went on and met a lot of very dangerous men. He finished in 2012. In 2009 he was involved in the famous double-knockdown fight with Cello Renda. Both over, both hurt and both up. Samuels was a dangerman up until the very end.
In 2001, Alexander took a fight with the great Harry Simon at just one day’s notice and travelled to Widnes for the WBO light-middleweight chance. Jimmy Tibbs could not travel with him; Alexander tried and was beaten in five rounds. Alexander also knocked out Takaloo at York Hall in an unforgettable finish and he won the European title.
The four had fights during a very different time, a time of transition for the British sport. Alexander against Samuels or Takaloo would never be at the Goresbrook or York Hall in the modern world. We knew then that they deserved more.
So, June in Merthyr for a night that I could never conjure. It will be an old-fashioned kinda magic. I’m in.