Don King, on Mike Tyson

"Why would anyone expect him to come out smarter?
He went to prison, not to Princeton."

"To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music
and the dancers hit each other."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Boxing journeymen

Boxing journeymen: sport's biggest
losers or unappreciated artists?

"Turn up, fight, lose, get
paid, happy days."
Johnny Greaves

Meet the men who fight when nobody is watching; men who
fight in nightclubs, social centres and town halls; men who fight when the
headline acts are still asleep in their hotel rooms; men who teach the kids the
ropes, make boxing work and losing look like an art form.

On Saturday at the Chase Leisure Centre in Cannock, Kristian Laight fought
his 200th professional contest. Having lost on points to debutant Kieran
McLaren, Laight's record now reads: nine wins, seven draws and 184 defeats.
Laight's manager, Jon Pegg, calls him a "defensive master". He is not being

"People who know the game understand," says the 34-year-old Nuneaton boxer,
who made his pro debut in 2003, losing on points. "People who don't know the
game see all these losses on my record and think I'm rubbish. It does annoy me."

Peter Buckley retired in 2008,
having lost 256 of his 300 pro fights.
Buckley's record says he won 32 but he believes he won many more than that. But
this isn't a fantasy world of cigar-smoking managers in trilby hats and trench
coats making threats in dimly lit dressing rooms. This is a world of mysterious
and brutal pragmatism.

Tom Stalker and Kristian Laight

Former GB Olympian Tom Stalker outpointed
Kristian Laight on his pro debut last February

"Nobody ever came to me and told me to take a dive," says Buckley, who fought
world champions Naseem
and Duke McKenzie twice
each. "But I did have trainers say to me: 'Just have a move-about tonight, the
kid's sold a lot of tickets.' I was a professional loser, that's what I got paid
to do."

Most of the kids who sell a lot of tickets are the 'prospects' - amateur
champions recently turned over, boxers who competed at Commonwealth Games and
Olympics. Other ticket-sellers might not be as talented but are promoters'
friends because they have a shtick or a lot of friends to sell tickets to. The
only friend a journeyman boxer has is himself.

"If I fought a kid who was unbeaten in 10 fights and he had a bad night the
referee sometimes thought, 'the kid's a bit off tonight', and gave him the
decision," says Buckley. "People used to say to me: 'Why did you let them get
away with that?' But I had a lot of respect for referees, they were just doing
their job."

Johnny Greaves hung up his gloves last September after winning his 100th fight. He lost 96
of the previous 99. But for Greaves, boxing was only ever a business.

Robert Smith
You name me a boxer who's lost on points and
doesn't think they've been robbed. British referees and judges are some of the
best in the world.
Robert Smith British
Boxing Board of Control general secretary

"Promoters need ticket-sellers to survive," says
Londoner Greaves. "The referees know this, the judges know this, the trainers,
managers and boxers know this. So if it's anywhere near close against a
ticket-seller, it's not going to go your way.

"Have a real go against some of these up and coming boys, don't play to the
script, and the phone isn't going to go the following week. Upset people's plans
and stop them making money and you're not going to get any work.

"My record says I won four fights but it was more like 34. But I didn't turn
pro to get pats on the back, I only ever turned pro to put food down my family's
necks. I lost and I lost well and that's the way boxing works."

Losing well means knowing every trick in the book. So while ignorant
onlookers might see a bum labouring to yet another defeat, those in the know
will see a craftsman at work, passing on his skills to an apprentice.

"The lads starting out, they all learnt something from me," says Greaves.
"They needed rounds so you couldn't just go in there and get bashed up. I was
capable of taking their best and giving them the rounds they needed to get

"I'd teach them movement and how to survive. But I'd also get hired by
promoters because I'd talk to their fighters, rough them up with my shoulder,
punch them in the spuds. A young fighter needs to taste every aspect of the game
and promoters knew I wasn't going to give their boys an easy night."

Greaves admits he dreamt of winning titles as a kid but only ever considered
losing as a pro. "I'm a realist and it's always been about a pound note for me,"
says Greaves. "I could have got a few wins under my belt and started looking
towards titles, but that doesn't pan out for 99.9% of boxers that turn pro."

Buckley was actually a decent amateur, losing only four of 54 fights. In his
early days as a pro he won Midlands Area titles at two different weights and
fought for a fringe world title. But after his 17th paid fight, when he was
stopped by McKenzie in 1991, Buckley knew that it was a journeyman's life for

Journeymen records

Peter Buckley Kristian Laight Johnny Greaves Robin Deakin Combined
Fights: 300 Fights: 200 Fights: 100 Fights: 52 Fights: 652
Lost: 256 Lost: 184 Lost: 96 Lost: 51 Lost: 587
Drew: 12 Drew: 7 Drew: 0 Drew: 0 Drew: 19
Won: 32 Won: 9 Won: 4 Won: 1 Won: 46

"After the first McKenzie fight, which I seriously thought I was going to
win, I realised I wasn't at that level," says Buckley. "I also injured my
shoulder early in my career but instead of taking six months off I carried on

"I soon found out that when you're fighting away from home, the odds are
stacked against you. So instead of fighting for three minutes of every round, I
learnt to fight for a minute and a half and tie my opponent up.

"I was getting the same money whether I won, lost or drew, so why would I
have a hard fight for eight rounds when I can walk around for three rounds,
fight for two, and then walk around for another three rounds?"

It is not unusual for a journeyman (or 'opponent', as they are often called)
to fight three times in a month, but if they get stopped they receive an
automatic 28-day suspension. Get stopped too often and a journeyman will find
himself hauled in front of the suits from the British Boxing Board of Control.
Journeymen who don't lose well don't last too long.

Peter Buckley (left)

Peter Buckley (left) won his 300th and
final fight with a points defeat of Matin Mohammed in 2008

Robin Deakin won his first fight as a pro before losing 49 in a row and
having his licence revoked in 2012. Deakin, who was born with a club foot and spent much of the first six years of
his life in a wheelchair, came to fight but took too many punches and got
knocked over far too often.

"I was fighting the best with one or two days' notice and I had a go," says
the Crawley boxer, who has fought twice on a German permit but hopes the British
Board will give his licence back.

"But I've had what I loved taken away from me and I won't give up. With the
right management, the right training, I can bring Rocky
story to life."

The Board's general secretary Robert Smith has other ideas. "It's a very
difficult decision to take away a man's livelihood," says Smith. "But Robin
shouldn't be boxing. He had a go and took too much punishment."

Suggest that boxing is in any way bent and Smith becomes indignant. "You name
me a boxer who's lost on points and doesn't think they've been robbed," he says.
"British referees and judges are some of the best in the world."

Robin Deakin (right)

Robin Deakin (right) won his pro debut in
2006 but has not won a fight in 51 attempts since

But Neil Bowers, a matchmaker for Eddie Hearn's Matchroom promotional outfit,
says journeymen often get rough decisions, albeit for sincere reasons.

"Johnny Greaves is a very honest man," says Bowers. "I always made a point of
phoning him after he'd boxed to ask him how he got on. Sometimes he'd say:
'Neil, I got beat fair and square, the other kid was too good for me.' But other
times he'd say: 'I lost but I got robbed.'

"But boxing's not bent. When you're in the away corner, you've got to win
convincingly. Referees and judges are human and are influenced by the noise of
the crowd, which is why the home fighter will almost always get the decision."

Bowers is intimate with the workings of journeymen fighters and knows that
men such as the gung-ho and idealistic Deakin are mercifully rare.

"They like seeing how well they can do against prospects," says Bowers.
"That's where they get their job satisfaction from. And they do everything they
can to get through a fight, regardless of how dangerous the man in front of him
is. Because it's all about the money and they want to be fighting again next

Johnny Greaves
Winning? I can take it or leave it. Winning
wouldn't have paid my bills for long and it's better to lose and go home to your
house knowing your gas and electric bills have been paid.

"Boxing is an art form and journeymen have got it off to
a tee. They know how not to get stopped or knocked out. And the best journeymen
stay close, so they don't get cut or bruised. If Peter Buckley took a shot on
the chin early in a fight, he'd go into survival mode. That's not bent, that's
just clever."

The life of a journeyman might sound like a melancholy existence - all that
losing must cast shadows on the soul. But able to pull in £1000 for a fight -
maybe more if the opponent is a top-notch prospect - they can earn a decent
living, especially if they combine boxing with a day job. And without these
tough men who have gloves, will travel, there would be no boxing.

"I've been sitting in the house and had promoters phone me up from Ireland,"
says Buckley, nicknamed 'The Professor'. "I've driven straight to the airport,
booked up a flight, flown over, fought and come back the next morning. There
were plenty of times I'd been out partying the night before but my fitness got
me through it.

"Whereas prospects might box six times a year and the top guys two or three,
with two-month training camps, I'd always have to be ready to box. Every morning
I'd get up and my tracksuit would be at the end of my bed and I'd have my kit
bag packed, just in case. That was my routine for 18 years."

The shortest notice Greaves took a fight was 50 minutes. "I was meant to be
working someone's corner at the York Hall [in East London]," says Greaves. "A
promoter came running up to me and said: 'What are you weighing?' I said: 'About
10st 3lb.' And he said: 'Someone's dropped out, do you want to fight?'

"I jumped straight on the train, my missus met me at the station with my
shorts and boots, I got back to the York Hall and was on about 10 minutes after
that. I lost on points, easy night's work. Other times I sparred in the morning,
got home, cracked open a tin of lager, got the call at 3pm and was in the ring
at 6."

After Greaves's final fight, he cried his eyes out. Partly because he'd won,
but mainly because there was no more losing to be done. "Winning? I can take it
or leave it," says Greaves, who juggled boxing with painting and decorating,
training fighters with his brother and being a dad.

"Winning wouldn't have paid my bills for long and it's better to lose and go
home to your house knowing your gas and electric bills have been paid."

As for Laight, known as 'Mr Reliable', he's booked to fight again on
Saturday, again on 7 November and might fight in between. He just doesn't know

"As long as I keep passing my brain scans, I'll keep cracking on and doing
the business," says Laight. "I still love being in that ring, I just feel better
in there. But it's also about using the game as the game uses you."


BBC Sport - Boxing journeymen: sport's biggest losers or unappreciated artists?

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