What is it about Jamaica?
By Ted Sares
Jamaica is known for great reggae singers, wonderful and hard working people, fantastic food, beautiful beaches, and an interesting bob sledding team. While boxing is not actively participated in, the tiny island nation has 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, who was born in Jamaica, had been crowned the new International Boxing Association 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 (but just lost a closely fought battle with Clinton Woods in England). Giving the night a distinctive Jamaican flavor, Hall entered the ring to Jr. Gong Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock." Yha Mon.
There are many other fighters who can trace their origins to Jamaica one way or another. 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 who, as a fearless road warrior, fought just about anyone who was anybody from 1981 to 1997. He remains Jamaica's most popular fighter and has achieved legendary status on the island nation. But hey, Lennox Lewis, former world heavyweight champion, who was born in London but traces his connection through his mother, was pretty darn good as well. He retired with a fine record of 42-2-1 and like Hall, frequently entered the ring to reggae music. Mike Tyson, after being knocked out by Lewis, had this to say, "He [Lewis] was splendid, a masterful boxer.......he's a magnificent, prolific fighter." Mike McCallum is in the Hall of Fame; Lennox Lewis, for his great achievements, will soon be. And who could forget 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."
Other notable Jamaican fighters of the past include the heavy handed Alex Stewart, 43-10 with 40 big ko's. Stewart waged war with Evander Holyfield and almost ruined Geroge Foreman's comeback. Still others were 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' came close to 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 first round upset, Lloyd "Jabba" Bryan, 22-13, Maurice Core, 15-2-1, the popular Bunny Grant (a promising 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 but lost to Carlos Hernandez for a super-lightweight championship in 1965), leading contender Donovan "Razor" Ruddock who fought Mike Tyson twice and many other top contenders, Boston area light middleweight Marshall Simpson who retired with a fine 25-1 record, Bunny Sterling, and the immortal Cuban amateur and multiple Olmpic champion, Teofilo Stevenson.
Of particular note, 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 who became, of course, 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. He defeated heavily favored Donald Curry in 1986 and in an equally stunning upset, welterweight Kirkland Laing, 43-12-1, beat Roberto Duran in1982. Others were Journeymen Oscar Angus and George Walker (both Jamaican-born), former British and European champ Henry Rhiney, British champ Des Morrison and Commowealth champ Donovan Boucher (all Jamaican-born), former contender 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, current heavyweight contender Owen Beck, 25-3, and Otis Grant, 38-3-1, former WBC International Super Middleweight and WBO Middleweight champ. Light Heavyweight Lloyd "Jabba" Bryan, 22-13 remains active as well.
Also out there is Richard Grant, 19-13-1, who beat to tough James "The Harlem Hammer" Butler in 2001. Curiously, 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.
As an aside, Livingston Bramble, frequently taken for a Jamaican, is from the Virgin Islands as are the great Julian Jackson and Emile Griffith......and Guyana produced such notables as Reggie Ford, Terrence Ali, Wayne Braithwaite, "Six Heads" Lewis, and Vivian Harris
But despite this rich and proud heritage, it appears boxing will be limited to television viewing in Jamaica. One of the problems is that when there are prospects, they leave the Island for the U.S or the U.K. Most of the gyms are either closed or ramshackle and few youngsters really want to get involved in boxing. There are no programs nor is there any regular competition so there is little incentive for boxers to train, not to mention the absence of someone to teach them the fundamentals of competitive boxing. So for now, these Jamaican gladiators will continue to stand proud over other warriors, but likely under another flag.
"So as sure as the sun will shine I'm gonna get my share now what is mine - And then the harder they comeThe harder they fall" Lyrics from the "Harder They Come" by Jimmy Cliff