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Derek Williams: I’ve sparred Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and more but only one man dropped me

Dereck Williams
Hughroy Currie has my eternal respect, writes Derek Williams

AS an ex-boxer, I know that taking an ‘L’ (a loss) is part and parcel of sports and competition. I suffered a few L’s in the ring. Each one was a heartbreaker, as I never prepared to lose. But somehow you deal with it. The sting of defeat eventually fades.

2020 was the year when ‘loss’ became the norm for almost all of us. These defeats came in the form of health, freedoms, money, independence and, most painfully, people. For me it was the passing of my beloved mother in November.

Covid-19 has taught us how to lose. Losing people close to you seems irrecoverable at times and I was shocked and saddened to learn that my old friend, rival and opponent, Trevor “Hughroy” Currie had left us.

Trevor’s death didn’t really make the news rounds but I wanted to reflect publicly on my history with him and pay tribute to an unheralded warrior who played his part in the British heavyweight story in the 1980s. Trevor and I were members of a band of heavyweights from London who shaped the division domestically during that decade. Along with Gary Mason, Horace Notice, Funso Banjo and most notably, Frank Bruno, we fought for and held all the major titles – British, Commonwealth and European – at some point.

The majority of us were orthodox boxer-punchers, but Trevor Currie was different. His talent was skilled brawling. He was the one that gained recognition for having that ‘American style’. Come forward aggression, hooking to the head and body and trying to put hurt on his opponent as long they were standing. He was very television friendly. Trevor and I must have sparred nearly 500 rounds over the years. We first locked horns at the old Mason’s Arms pub in Battersea. He had just won the British heavyweight title by beating Funso Banjo and I was armed with a few amateur fights and four professional fights. I was a mere novice, so it was an honour to be in there with a British champion and more than hold my own. No punches were ever held back in our sparring. It was always my jab and right hand against his left hook. Trevor is actually the only man to have ever dropped me in the gym. I’ve sparred Bruno, Mason, Mike Tyson, David Tua, Lennox Lewis, Andrew Golota and Shannon Briggs. All of whom had elite power and I never came close to hitting the floor. But Trevor and I were almost exclusive sparring partners after we became stablemates under Mike Barrett’s management banner, so he knew my style and in one of our heated sessions he caught me with one of his left hooks… and down I went, flat on my back. I got up immediately, but we both knew from that moment that fighting one another was almost inevitable.

By 1988/89 I had moved towards the top end of the division, becoming Commonwealth champion and I wanted to fight all the guys before me, and Trevor was still up there. Our training sessions together in Tottenham, under the tutelage of the late Bobby Neill, were just as intense, but socially we changed how we interacted. The endless banter we had enjoyed in the gym and regular drives back to South London together afterwards, all but stopped. He took to calling me ‘Williams’. We were full-on rivals now. That rivalry came to a head when we finally faced each other for the vacant European title in December 1989. It was fitting that our fight happened at the little used Crofton Park Leisure in south east London. It was a walk away from where we had both grown up: me, in Nunhead and Trevor, in Brockley.

We were both confident of victory as we knew each other’s chinks. Trevor felt he could land his left hook, while I favoured the outcome where my right hand landed and ended the fight. The latter happened in the first round. Trevor never fought again, but he had played a part in my finest night in the sport. Not just the fight, but the years of preparation – going to war in the gym, training side-by-side etc. He forced me and others to raise our game. The respect between us remained as we all slid into retirement. Now that respect will be eternal. Rest easy, Hughroy.

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