UPSTAIRS, a woman driving a McClaren was talking to the gym’s boss and downstairs David Adeleye was shadow boxing in some considerable style. Earlier that day, Ron Lewis had died.
The previous day, Anthony Joshua had opened his soul at a conference and Ron Lewis was there. The following night at Wembley, Adam Azim went 10 for the first time and there was a QPR shirt marking the spot where Ron Lewis would have sat. By the way, Ron loved the old Empire Hall. Loved it.
It was, by any standards, an extreme three days, and the days covered just about every part of our business; global stars and their big nights, a kid being pushed fast in a Saturday night special and another heavyweight, working in isolation late at night, daring to have that golden dream. They were all honest last week: Joshua, Azim, Adeleye and sweet Ron.
Somewhere on the big night at Wembley, Zak Chelli turned over a decent American and it is possible that Vidal Riley finally showed a few people that he is not (just) a YouTuber. Honestly, he was a real boxer with Micky May at West Ham once upon a time in Plaistow. Now, that is the Wild West, son.
On Thursday, Joshua was saying all the right things and seems to have been a bit too honest for some people when he admitted he fought for money. Why else would he be fighting? Winning a third world title is all about the money. You can still fight for pride, still be hungry for success, but cash is the base; any other claims are delusional. Joshua said exactly that, and he was smeared as a cash mercenary. In modern boxing, that should be a compliment! “This is a business,” said Eddie Hearn. “It’s a business that has to make money.” Hearn was talking about the ongoing Croke Park saga, but it applies to the whole sport.
Joshua’s new trainer was there. Derrick James fought on the undercard, at the MGM in Las Vegas, the night that Big George Foreman, another Texas boy, turned back time and knocked out Michael Moorer. That was the night Moorer went down like thick syrup dropping from a giant spoon. Big George poured poor Michael that night. James lost to Joe Lipsey – Lipsey seems like a name from antiquity. I had to look at and check his record. Lipsey left the sport after losing to Bernard Hopkins in 1996; it was his only loss in 26 fights. James fought on.
I do remember James on a winter’s night in Puebla, in Mexico, at a bullring. It was December and in the stands the fans huddled close to fiery barrels of oil and wood. It was a very odd night, a classic night of Don King fighters. It was stacked and James against Irish Danny Morgan was about tenth on the bill. Both could fight by the way, but this bill was heavy.
That was the night that Robbie Davies Snr squeezed back into his 1974 Commonwealth Games blazer, and he was everywhere at ringside. Andy Holligan was stopped by Julio Cesar Chavez in one of the three world title fights. Michael Nunn beat Merqui Sosa, but Nunn’s greatest battle all week was with the scales. Terry Norris lost his light-middleweight belt when he was stopped by Simon Brown. It was a good bill of title fights. Oliver McCall was there, and Tony Tucker also had a win. The “Macho Man”, Hector Camacho and Frank and Thomas Tate were also on the bill. It was an odd week at altitude. James beat Morgan on points.
Derrick James has form. Well, that was Thursday.
Meanwhile, in the shadow of Harrod’s in the basement gym called Boxcentric, where there is the greatest picture of John Conteh laughing with Muhammad Ali on the wall, Adeleye was sharpening his tools. He was also saying all the right things and in the heavyweight business, that is hard currency.
It was the Friday night; Adeleye was honest in his assessment of his career and the expectations of modern heavyweights. “We have to fight each other,” he insisted. “I’m ready – I’m not calling out fighters, but I will fight anybody.” He is moving, talking and looking like a different boxer; the tight fight with Kamil Sokolowski might just have made him realise that not all the men you are meant to beat understand the game. Other unbeaten fighters need to take in that little nugget. Adeleye is a better boxer now, after that hard scrap, than he would have been if Sokolowski had been bowled over in two rounds. And he knows it and that takes a degree of honesty. Adeleye does well to keep his thoughts private because whenever I hear boxers being critical of other boxers, I’m reminded of that line, the one about how your critics are always people doing worse than you. And never people doing better.
On Saturday night, Azim had a few critics for going 10 rounds. I was in the dressing room with him after, his damaged right hand just starting to swell, and the kid was trying to get an understanding of what had happened. He is another brutally honest fighter. “It was good, I did 10 rounds against an unbeaten fighter,” he said, and it sounded like a question and not a statement. No excuse for the hand. He is right about the rounds.
Three days of boxers looking me in the eye and telling their truth. It’s what I call taking testimony. The lesson is simple: in boxing the truth is often inconvenient. Ron Lewis certainly knew about that.