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‘Can you imagine a one-armed man with a broken foot fighting Mike Tyson?’

Mike Tyson
MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images
'I had one arm my whole career!' Alfonzo Ratliff told James Slater how a stabbing hampered him throughout his time in boxing

IF you need any more evidence that the boxing bug never leaves, former WBC cruiserweight champion Alfonzo Ratliff, who retired in 1988, is your latest exhibit. At 62 he was back in the gym and feeling, like so many retired fighters claim to feel, better than ever. It’s doubtful there’s a commission in the world that would sanction his plans of fighting again. His age is one factor, and his fading memory, which he admits “maybe down to the punches, just a little bit,” is another.

But whatever the future holds for Ratliff, who was blown away by Mike Tyson in 1986, there’s a few things about his 25-9 (18) career that he’d like to set to straight. Of course, some of the following stories are told through rose-tinted specs, but in the boxing afterlife, it’s often the only way to tell ‘em.

You fought several world class fighters throughout your career, at both cruiserweight and heavyweight…

[Interrupting] Let me tell you something first of all: I was a handicapped fighter. I had one arm my whole career. I was stabbed in my right arm at the age of 18. I was never 100 per cent as a fighter. But nobody writes about that. Nobody even spells my name right! They say it’s spelled with an ‘s,’ I say it’s spelled with a ‘z,’ Alfonzo. But it don’t matter.

You gave away weight and natural size when you fought heavyweights.

Yeah, I was never a heavyweight. In the Tyson fight, they say I was 195lbs, but I was only 190 [Ratliff’s official weight was 201lbs to Tyson’s 221 1/2lbs]. But weight didn’t matter to me, it didn’t make no difference. It wouldn’t have mattered if my opponent was 300 pounds. I fought whoever I signed to fight; whether I was sick, cut, whatever. I never feared any man I ever faced. But the toughest man I ever met, that was Craig Bodzianowski. He was handicapped like me [he had a prosthetic leg]. I met him in the same gym and I could see he was worthy so I agreed to fight him. I wasn’t expected to win but I beat him. I beat him twice [on points over 10 rounds in 1987 and 88]. The second fight was the toughest fight of my life. I wasn’t prepared, I couldn’t box – I had to just ‘fight’ him. The ring was so small, a ring light burned my back. I had blisters all over my back from the hot light touching me. They were building him up to be a star, with a movie [in the works] and everything, and I was the old man, expected to lose.

It must have been a great moment when you beat Carlos De Leon to become WBC cruiserweight champion in 1985?

Let me tell you, De Leon was the best fighter in the world at the time, pound for pound; he and [Evander] Holyfield and Azumah Nelson. I was in the gym with him [Nelson] a whole lot. I learned so much from watching those guys. Back then you saw more action in the gym than in the fights. But I wasn’t supposed to win that fight, De Leon was a helluva fighter. But I knew that there was no way he was walking out of that ring with his belt.

How’s life for you today?

I want to fight again. I’m serious about it. I’m back running. I’m a solid 253 now and I feel better than I did at age 23. The sun is out and I get my energy from the sun. I’m busting heavy bags right now, let me tell you. I’m not putting the guys down, but I don’t see any special talent out there to stop me today. Don’t let people say what I can and can’t do. Don’t let people try and put me in a cage and say I can’t do it [fight again]. Deontay Wilder, jeeze, he punches like he’s chopping down trees. He pulls back [with his punches] all the way back to the forest before he lets them go. I’ve never see anything like it in my life!

And Anthony Joshua?

He’s a good fighter, he has good technique. But he needs to learn more, he’s at that stage of his development where he needs to keep learning. Any fighter, they can always get better.

You fought Mike Tyson just before he became world champion in 1986.

I just wish I’d had two arms as a fighter. If I’d had both hands, I’d have beaten him. I’d have caught his right with my right and spun him and got him with my left hand. I’d have kicked his ass. But I broke my foot in that fight, in the first round. You won’t ever read about that. I twisted my left ankle and broke my foot. Can you imagine, a one-armed man with a broken foot fighting Tyson! I knew after he beat me he would go on to win the word title.

Who was the best heavyweight you fought?

Tim Witherspoon. He caught me good [stopping Ratliff in round seven in 1981]. I can’t take nothing away from Tyson, he got me as well. All my fights were as big as each other to me. I never looked at names or reputations, I just waited until the bell rang and then I performed as best as I could. Today, I look as young as I did in my 20s, apart from my white goatee, which goes down to my chest. My hair is still black and I don’t dye it. I’ve been blessed and I am grateful. I want to get together with a writer and put my story out, my testimonial. We’ll both make a million dollars.

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