NEARLY three decades later, when talking boxing with Simon Brown, the conversation always swings back to his 1991 welterweight unification bout with Maurice Blocker, an unforgettable war which turned best friends into heated rivals for nearly 30 minutes of fighting.
“Whenever anybody talks to me about boxing, they always ask me about that fight,” said Brown, 56. “They say, ‘How could you hit your best friend like that?’ I say, ‘Well, it was either him or me.’ And I wanted to be the man, so I had to do it.”
That night in Las Vegas, on the undercard of the first fight between Mike Tyson and Razor Ruddock, Brown was the man at 147 pounds, a relentless force who lifted his record from 33-1 to 34-1 with a tireless effort that saw him erase a late deficit on all three judges’ scorecards to stop Blocker in the 10th round and add the WBC title to the IBF belt he already held. And while some were shocked by the punishing nature of the contest, it was no surprise to Brown and Blocker.
“Oh man, I still think about it sometimes,” said Brown. “Even now I’ve got a picture of me and him in my house and in the gym, and we’re both throwing punches at each other like we were two enemies. But that’s what we did when we were in the gym together for years. We were going at each other like two enemies, but when we got out, we were best friends. Me and him were always like that.”
They still are, at least the best friends part. “He lives in Germantown and I’m in Hagerstown [in Maryland], so I call him up and he calls me up and we talk and now and then we get together,” said Brown. “He always says, ‘Man, I thought I had you, but you got me.”
‘They say, “How could you hit your best friend like that?” I say, “Well, it was either him or me.” And I wanted to be the man, so I had to do it’
Brown laughs, only a hint of his Jamaican accent still remaining, a testament to decades living in the United States. He’s been embraced in Maryland, not surprising given that he always represented himself with class, opting to let his hard work do the talking. He admits that’s not the way things are anymore, both in boxing and the world.
“That’s what’s missing these days,” said Brown. “These guys want to show off, act like they’re the best in the world. Carry yourself with class. But that was the way my mom and family brought me up. When family members and your mother and father just let you do anything in the world and all these things on the street, that’s why you end up that way. But my mom didn’t. I was 16, 17 fighting in the amateurs when I got my last butt whipping from my mom. (Laughs) My mom whupped me because I did something I shouldn’t have done.”
Sounds like mom was the real fighter in the family. “My mom did not play,” laughs Brown. “When she said to come in the house at seven, I better be in the house at that time. When my mom would get up to go to church every Sunday on time, I had to do that, and that’s what I think saved me. Every Sunday I had to be in church. Even when I moved out on my own and got married with my wife Lisa, she would call us every Saturday night and say, ‘I’ll see you all tomorrow.’ Yes mom, I’ll be in church.”
It was a different time; the older among us will say a better time. When Brown speaks of Lisa, it’s not of some quickie marriage that only lasted a couple years. The Browns have been married for 32 years, a feat that may be more impressive than the 47 wins and two divisional world titles he earned during his 18 years in the ring.
“She’s with me now,” said Brown, conducting this interview as his bride finished up some last-minute Christmas shopping. Lisa is a fighter, too, as she’s battling lupus, but Brown says, “She’s been doing very good and I love her the same way as I did then.”
As for the man trainer Pepe Correa dubbed “Mantequilla,” he’s never too far away from the ring, even 19 years removed from his final bout against Omar Sheika in January 2000.
“Boxing is what I did all my life,” Brown said. “And when it’s in your blood, it’s like drugs; you can’t get it out of you.”
Don’t worry, there is no comeback story to tell here. Brown is content running the Simon Brown Boxing Academy and helping the next generation of fighters learn their craft. He beams when he talks about the youngsters in the gym, from amateur Jeremiah Searcy to pro prospect Genc Pllana.
“I’m doing very well at the gym with the guys and they’re coming along pretty well,” said Brown, who does admit that he misses the old days. “Oh man, I’m telling you I wish I could go back,” he laughs. “I wish I could take at least 25, 30 years off and I’d be right back doing it. The only thing that got me was the age. But I still work out. I haven’t been sparring, but I’m still in the gym working out.”
Truth be told, Brown does look like he could get back in the ring and do a few rounds, but he knows that these days, it’s time for the new blood to flow into the sport. But that new blood needs teachers, needs role models, and few are better than Brown, who came from an era unlike any other. In fact, many still refer to the 80s and early 90s as boxing’s last Golden Age. Brown wouldn’t disagree.
‘You trained for what was in front of you and you got to rumble. Now it’s different. The fighters are much softer now’
“I watch a lot of these kids and I say back in my days these kids couldn’t do it,” he said. “It’s too much hard work, and when you go there you gotta put in a hundred per cent and when you fought, it wasn’t pick this and pick that with lesser opponents. There was none of that. You trained for what was in front of you and you got to rumble. Now, it’s different. And they’re much softer now; they’re not as tough as they were back in the day. You get knocked down, you got to get back up and go to work.”
Work never scared Brown, who competed in one of the last sanctioned 15-round fights in 1988 when he won the vacant IBF title by stopping Tyrone Trice in the 14th round. Like the Blocker bout, that was another pitched battle between equally matched foes, with Brown (whose only previous loss was a split decision defeat to Marlon Starling three years prior) rising from the canvas to put Trice down four times before the end came.
“When I fought Tyrone Trice I had to battle,” said Brown, who successfully defended his title seven times before unifying it against Blocker. Brown would vacate the IBF belt after the unification fight in order for his friend Blocker to get a shot at regaining it, but would lose his WBC title to Buddy McGirt in November 1991.
Moving up in weight, Brown got a shot at a prime Terry Norris in 1993 and pulled off a shocking fourth round knockout victory to take the WBC light-middleweight crown. To many, this was the most notable win of Brown’s career, but it’s not the one the man who won it would put in a time capsule to let people know who he was.
“Even though Norris has a great name and was a helluva fighter, and Maurice was the same way, I have to go way back to 1988 when I fought Tyrone Trice,” said Brown. “Me and this guy went to war. We battled and no one wanted to quit. I had to make him quit at that moment in the 14th round. Fighters today can’t say they did that and battled that far.”
It would be safe to say that beating Norris was Brown’s last great win, though, as he only managed to go 7-10 over the last six years of his career. Included in that stretch were losses to big names like Bernard Hopkins, Aaron Davis and David Reid, but there were also defeats to fighters who wouldn’t have lasted three rounds with a prime Brown.
“I can’t complain,” he said. “I gave it my all. But I’d like to fight all these guys when I was in my prime. All these losses I had, I wished they all fought me when I was at my prime.”
That prime was something special, so special that not getting the big fights against the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard hurt not only his wallet, but his profile among casual fans and, ultimately, voters for the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
“I think that’s probably one of the things that got me,” said Brown. “And I think probably because I didn’t make ten million dollars for a fight.”
There’s no bitterness in Brown’s voice, though. He’s satisfied with what he did in the ring, and he should be.
“I’m a fighter, and whatever’s in front of me, that’s what I take,” Brown said. “Whether it was good, bad or ugly, I gave it my all. And the most important thing is, when I was in the ring, I always made sure I was in great shape to go in there and put on a great performance and give people their money’s worth. And that’s what I did my whole life.”