THE best night of my boxing career, I’d definitely have to say it was when I arrived on the big stage, when I showed the world what I can do. I fought a great former world champion in Michael Dokes and not too many people were giving me much of a chance going into the fight. I was the underdog, no question.
People thought he’d be too crafty and too knowledgeable for me, and Dokes had trained hard and was in great shape that night. At that time in my career, they all thought they’d beat me – until they actually got in the ring with me and felt my power and my speed. But that was the fight where I unleashed “The Smash” to the world for the very first time [Ruddock’s hybrid left hook/uppercut].
I had injured my right hand in training, but we kept it secret; there was too much at stake for me to risk postponing. I had broken a bone in my right hand and it was actually quite painful – so I mostly used the left hand that night against Dokes. I had actually trained on using the “Smash” in the gym anyway. I worked very hard for the Dokes fight and I wanted a special punch to get the win in a spectacular way.
That was my very first fight at Madison Square Garden, which meant a lot to me. The sheer history of the venue, with Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano and of course Muhammad Ali fighting there. That gave me a real boost. For me, a young and unknown heavyweight fighter at the time, to be fighting in such a great stadium, it was very special. I wanted to give a great performance and I did it.
I remember the commentator that night. It was the great trainer, [Gil] Clancy and he spoke about
how I wasn’t using my right hand. That was because of the injury I had picked up. But that night, he [Clancy] called me the best heavyweight contender he had seen in some years, which was a great compliment from a guy like him. He said I was a very sure future champion. I felt great after that win.
Dokes was a good fighter and he did catch me with a couple of punches. But in a fight like that, with so much on the line, you never even feel them. He went down hard, but I knew he’d be okay. All tough fighters, they bounce back and come back to fight again another day.
After that win, I knew I was ready. I wanted Mike Tyson. I wanted the title. I had shown the world I was a very venomous puncher and I was ready. And don’t forget, that fight was basically me with just one good hand. And the heavyweight division was truly exciting back then. You had all the big names and people cared about the heavyweights, not like now. Those guys, they wouldn’t have lasted in our era, not with me and Tyson and [Evander] Holyfield and Lennox [Lewis]. It was a great time for the heavyweights, when everyone knew who the champion was, and also who the top contenders were. That is what the fans want back now, where they can get super-excited about the heavyweight division.
With that win, I became the top contender. I’ve never lost that punching power, but that was me at my best, as a young and hungry fighter, who knew he had nothing to lose and everything to gain in boxing. It seems like it was just yesterday.