What Is It About Jamaica?
By Ted Sares
Jamaica is known for great reggae singers, hard working people, beautiful beaches, and an interesting bob sledding team. Though boxing is not be actively participated in Jamaica, the tiny island nation has produced or had a hand in producing (either by birth or by parentage) a disproportionate number of very tough boxers. But you'd never know it because many fight under the flags of the countries to which they immigrated. As Jamaican boxing expert and essayist Scott Neufville puts it, "The world has seen many great Jamaican fighters. The world has watched as they have pummeled champions, broken gladiators and stood proud above fallen warriors. But the world has not known they were Jamaican."
Two such fighters went to war recently at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL and when the dust settled, road warrior Glen Johnson had been crowned the new International Boxing Association (IBA) champion, but his opponent, Richard "The Destroyer" Hall had earned considerable respect for a competitive and gutty showing. Johnson, 44-10-2, 29 KOs, Ring Magazine's Fighter of the Year two years ago and IBF IBA Light Heavyweight champion and now poised to do battle with Clinton Woods. Giving the night a distinctive Jamaican flavor, Hall entered the ring to Jr. Gong Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock."
There are many other fighters who can trace their origins to Jamaica. One of my favorites and one of best ever is the "Body Snatcher," Mike McCallum, 49-5-1, 36 KO's and World Champion at 154, 160, 175 lbs. But hey, Lennox Lewis, World heavyweight champion who retired with a fine record of 42-2-1, was pretty darn good as well. One is in the Hall of Fame; the other will soon be in as well.
Other solid Jamaican fighters of the past include Simon Brown, heavy handed Alex Stewart who waged war with Evander Holyfield and almost ruined Geroge Foreman's comeback, the troubled Trevor Berbick who came onto the scene with a stunning ko of Big John Tate and who beat an aging Ali in his (Ali's) last fight, Richard "Shrimpy" Clarke ( the much-loved 'Shrimpy' went within shades of winning the world flyweight title against Thailand's great Sot Chitalada), Michael Bentt, former WBO heavyweight champ who knocked out heavily favored Tommy Morrison in a monster upset, and the great Simon "Mantequilla" Brown, WBC and IBF Welterweight title holder who ko'd Terry Norris in1993 for the WBC Light Middleweight Title in Ring Magazine's "Upset of the Year," Lloyd "Jabba" Bryan, 22-13, Maurice Core, 15-2-1, the popular Bunny Grant (a promising young fighter who lost a decision to Eddie Perkins, welterweight boxing champion in 1964), Uriah Grant who beat an aging Tommy Hearns for something called the IBO Cruiserweight Title in 2000, Anthony Logan, 18-4-1, who fought both Benn and Eubanks and won the WBC Continental Americas Middleweight Title in 19990, Percy Hayles (who fought Carlos Hernandez for a championship in 1965 but Carlos prevailed in three rounds to retains the world super-lightweight title), leading contender Donovan "Razor" Ruddock who fought Mike Tyson twice and just about everyone else, Boston area light middleweight Marshall Simpson, who retired with a 25-1 record, Bunny Sterling, and the immortal Cuban amateur and multiple Olmpic champion, Teofilo Stevenson.
In particular, British and Canadian boxers of Caribbean descent have dominated the national boxing scene since the early 1980s. In 1995 Frank Bruno, whose mother was a lay preacher from Jamaica, became Britain's first heavyweight boxing champion in the century. His reign was shortly followed by Lennox Lewis to become the world's premier heavyweight during the late 1990s. Middleweights Chris Eubanks, 45-5-2, (who spent his early years in Jamaica) and fierce warrior Nigel Benn, 42-5-1, (of Barbadian descent) both claimed world titles and fought a series of brutal battles in the early 1990s. In the 2000 Olympics Audley Harrison (who has Jamaican heritage) became Britain's first heavyweight gold medalist. Other fighters from the British African-Caribbean community include the Welterweight champion Lloyd Honeyghan nicknamed "Ragamuffin" due to his Jamaican roots, defeated heavily favored Donald Curry in 1986, Kirkland Laing, 43-12-1, welterweight who upset Roberto Duran in1982, tough Adrian "The Predator" Stone, 35-5-2, and heavyweight Rupert Thomas, 10-1-1.
On the current boxing landscape, O'Neil Bell, 26-1-1, who recently iced Jean Marc Mormeck to become WBC, WBA and IBF Cruiserweight Champion comes to mind as does current cruiserweight Chris Johnson, 26-3-1, hard punching middleweight Teddy Reid, 23-8-2, Owen Beck, 25-3, current heavyweight contender, and Otis Grant, 38-3-1, former WBC International Super Middleweight and WBO Middleweight champ. Also out there is Richard Grant, 19-13-1, who beat to tough James "The Harlem Hammer" Butler in 2001. After the fight, Grant approached Butler to hug him but was instead sucker-punched in the jaw by Butler, who was then arrested, convicted, and sent to jail for his trouble. Grant suffered a broken jaw. Also, Light Heavyweight Lloyd "Jabba" Bryan, 22-13 remains active.
Despite this rich and proud heritage, boxing likely will be limited to television viewing in Jamaica. One of the problems is that when there are prospects they leave the Island. Most of the gyms are closed and few kids really want to get involved in boxing. There are no programs nor is there any regular competition so there is really no motivation for boxers to train, not to mention the absence of someone to teach them the rudiments of competitive boxing.
"So as sure as the sun will shine I'm gonna get my share now what is mine - And then the harder they come The harder they fall." Lyrics from the "Harder They Come" by Jimmy Cliff