BIG Guy Williamson sat in one of the few remaining seats and watched the Wembley ring vanish in front of his eyes.
He was in no rush to leave; in 1985 he won his ABA title in the same ring. On Saturday night he was back in the ring as the British Boxing Board of Control’s inspector for the Katie Taylor fight. It might have been the first time he had been in that Wembley ring since that night so long ago.
The ring dismantlers – Mike Goodhall and his men – had reduced the ring to an echo in front of his eyes. Goodhall’s team make it look like one of those nature films where a pack of lions leave just the raw bones of a beast after a kill in the wild.
It was that type of night inside the old hall. The type of night where few scraps of meat are left behind on the bones.
There were tears and a lot of joy and that is just how a big night of boxing should be. Backstage, by one of the exits from the long row of dressing rooms, there was a perfect corner to catch all the drama as it unfolded.
It was where Jordan Gill walked, his broken nose covered with a plaster and his broken heart clear for everybody to see. He was off for a routine check after his loss to Kiko Martinez. Dave Coldwell followed him out, part of a silent entourage. Coldwell was badly shaken; he was in tears when he walked back 10 minutes later, trying to pull up his shirt to wipe away the night. Gill is fine, his title gone, and his pride hurt.
Jimmy Tibbs was with me, a veteran of so many highs and lows in the old game. “We’ve all had nights like that,” he said. Just an hour earlier, Johnny Fisher had led his 2,000 flock of devoted fans through an endless version of Country Roads. It is a relief after overdosing on Neil Diamond, that is for sure. Tibbs had been in the corner for Fisher’s latest win. Jimmy and his son, Mark, had a good night.
“I thought, if I hurt him, I will go for it,” Fisher said as he walked through my corner. “I hurt him, and I went for it.”
Both Mark and Jimmy are happy with the progress of the Romford Bull and so they should be. He is a smarter fighter than most heavyweights and a baby in boxing terms. Smart is always overlooked when judging a heavyweight.
And Kiko Martinez walked through with his big grin. He is a truly remarkable little fighter. His win over Bernard Dunne to stun the Dublin crowd was in 2007. I was ringside at the Point that night and it was frightening to witness. Martinez has a career record like an unfancied but brilliant boxer from the Seventies or Eighties. I hope he is celebrated in Spain.
“I thought the scores were a bit tight,” Ellie Scotney said after winning the European bantamweight title. They were, by the way. Scotney never really gets the credit she is due or the exposure she deserves. She is like a boxing sponge, taking it all in and trying it all out. She never sleeps after fights, and I know she is shadow boxing as dawn rises over Catford.
At some point before Scotney walked, Taylor arrived with that serious face she has on fight day. She walked in and looked at the ring, walked back, head bowed and like magic she went down the corridor of dressing rooms on one side of the grand, old hall. She blends in like a shadow. There is so much that is private about Taylor’s life and rituals and that adds to the mystery. She just fights and we know she owns a dog. And that her mother, Bridget, delivers wonderful post-fight interviews. We also know that nobody is sure when she last fought in Ireland. It might have been against Queenie Underwood at a health spa in Tralee in early 2016. She doesn’t know for sure. Brian Peters, her manager, thinks it was at a small club show.
It was down that very same corridor that one of the greatest Wembley pantomimes took place back in 2001. It’s a story told and enhanced with time, but it is mostly true. On that night, Big Audley Harrison was making his professional debut; the venue was packed to the ancient rafters and over six million would watch live on the BBC. But, with just minutes to go, the fight was in jeopardy. There was a contractual error with the opponent, Mike Middleton, who was an undercover cop at Disney World. He was due to get 5,000 dollars but it increased to 45,000 dollars because of the error. There was a nasty standoff, Audley’s lawyers were fuming. It was a bad comedy of errors. In an adjacent dressing room, another two fighters – Paul Fiske and Gary Williams – warmed up; some claim they had gloves on. I saw them, they never did. Middleton certainly had his gloves on. The seconds ticked; it was frantic. Would it be Fiske, Williams, or Middleton? A legend in the game called Johnny Bos found Middleton. He is the man who supplied most of Frank Bruno’s early opponents. In the end, it was the nice guy, Mike, and he was done in 2-45 of the first. What a night. I think of that every time I walk those corridors.
The John Denver classic, Country Roads, starts with the words: ‘Almost heaven.’ That is, in my opinion, the state of mind half the boxers experience on fight night. The other half are left with almost hell. On Saturday night, I had glimpses from the shadows of both.