Colin McMillan – How injury changes you

Colin McMillan
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Colin McMillan explains to John Dennen how he was never the same after he dislocated his shoulder

HIS future seemed clear. Colin McMillan was the rising talent at in an exciting era for British boxing. “I developed my own little style, which was quite unique at the time,” he recalled. “It was good. I got a lot of praise on the way up. At the time it was the golden age of boxing. We had people like Naseem Hamed, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Michael Watson, Lennox Lewis, Frank Bruno, Duke McKenzie, all those kind of guys. People were looking to me and saying you’re going to be the next star.”

McMillan had pursued his vision diligently. As an amateur his dream of going to an Olympic Games was thwarted. “My aim throughout the amateurs was to become an Olympic champion,” he said. “In the Olympic year, I lost to Dave Anderson on a split decision [in the ABA final at Wembley Arena in 1988]. I put him down. I thought I won. A lot of people thought I won. But it was a split decision and it went his way.

“Then we went to a tournament, the Canada Cup and he got a gold medal. So he had to be sent to the Olympics.”

But the experience stood him in good stead. “To be fair my style was always more suited to the pros than the amateurs anyway. A lot of the amateur fights which I lost deep down I felt I won. For me it was all about my apprenticeship, learning. Sometimes you lose but you learn at the same time. You might think you’ve won but as long as you learn you look at the longer term project. For me it kind of worked out that way,” McMillan said.

By 1991 he boxed Gary De Roux to win the British featherweight title. “At the time everybody said he was very, very dangerous. He was a big puncher. I’d been told to stay away from him. When we fought for the British championship,” Colin said. “In the amateurs I never won the ABAs, I was London champion four times, I got to two finals, split decision both time but I never became the national champion. So to fight for the British championship and to become a champion was special for me. Especially some like Gary De Roux who at the time was very, very dangerous and could bang a bit. We had a good fight at the London Arena.”

Colin McMillan

McMillan used his reliable to jab to break him up and halt him in seven rounds. With that victory people took notice. McMillan proved he was the real deal and he confirmed himself as a special talent when he won the WBO world title against Maurizio Stecca. “Stecca, he had gone to the Olympics, he had got a gold medal,” Colin said. “When I fought him, particularly when I beat him for me it kind of made up for not going to the Olympics. I’d beat someone who had actually gone there and done it. For me in a small kind of way it kind of made up for it.”

Most important was the style with which I won. “When I fought him it was a really good performance. I won it, not easily, I was in control. The first couple of rounds were close enough, then I edged away as the fight went on,” McMillan said. “As I came into the fight, people were split as to who would win. A lot of people fancied me, a lot of people fancied him. The manner in which I won the fight, people really took notice and said you’re going to have a blinding career.

“But, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.”

He could look ahead to major unification fights as on of the brightest talents on the British scene. That future lay ahead of him. But he lost it in his next fight, when he dislocated his shoulder and lost to Ruben Dario Palacios. “It was really weird. Your mind is telling you to jab but there was nothing happening,” McMillan recalled. “Your shoulder’s not responding, eventually I think I turned southpaw… The corner realised something was wrong with the shoulder and the towel came in and the fight was stopped.

“You’re in kind of shock. You don’t know what happened.”

Colin expected to recover. Only his body never did. “At the time I didn’t realise just how important it was going to be. When you’re quite young you think to yourself, if you’ve got an injury, you have a little break, do a bit of rehabilitation and you’re going to be fine again. At the time I didn’t realise just how serious the injury was. In retrospect I can see now that I was never the same after. After the injury,” he said. “Even when I used to hit the bag, your shoulder would start getting fatigued after a little bit. Also when you were sparring or anything else, you lose a little bit of snap because you’re aware that if you punch incorrectly you’ve got a chance of that shoulder coming out again. It’s only a split second but at that highest level that’s what makes the difference between winning and losing a fight, that little split second where you’re thinking about what you’re doing as opposed to doing it instinctively. I think even for me, I had an operation first of all, I had a pin put in and when I started training for the fight after, the first fight back when I fought Steve Robinson for the world championship the pin had moved before all that… When I was sparring, it slips in and it slips out. So I knew going into the Steve Robinson fight that the shoulder wasn’t fully healed. I made plans to go to America and have keyhole surgery regardless of what happened in that fight. It’s a physical and a mental thing with that kind of injury. Also you know your shoulder’s not 100 percent, your opponent’s knows it’s not 100 percent, you’ve got a weakness there so it becomes a double edged sword, something to worry about. Looking back at my fights afterwards you can tell. My jab was my most important weapon, breaking people down. Chipping away and taking them down, it was never as effective after that.

“I was never the same fighter after that.”

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