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Home » Sports

Life of Brian, world champ

Submitted by on Saturday, 20 September 2008No Comment
Life of Brian, world champ

Brian Mitchell —SA’s Fighter of the Century, five times SA Boxer of the
Year and six times State President’s Sportsman of the Year —honed
his skills and his will to win at all costs on the mean streets of Malvern.

You won two world titles and countless awards; apart from the titles which awards meant the most to you?

Well besides winning the World boxing title – the actual belt of being a world champion – the State President’s award. I met President FW De Klerk so many times at those awards we became quite good friends (laughs). I also partnered him at a couple of golf days.

What are you doing now?

I commentate on Super sport and I have started a show on the Blitz channel. I have a promotions company where I do guest speaking and signing autographs at corporate Golf days – that sort of thing. I have also recently got involved in building storage units for people’s possessions, which is going well.

Which was your hardest fight?

I fought a Mexican guy called Joe Rivero from Puerto Rico – he knocked me down twice. I could take a shot because I was properly conditioned, but he hurt me.

When you were hurt in the ring what kept you going?

I always wanted to win at all costs. As a young fighter you fight for the financial rewards, I mean I come from a poor back-ground and every time I got R100 to fight in a professional ring, it was a lot of money to me. It then gets bigger and better as you win world titles, so money was one driving factor. But I wanted to win and I wanted to be successful. And in a boxing ring there can only be one winner and I didn’t want to come second (laughs).

You come from the ‘south’ which has a tough reputation; before you boxed professionally, did you get into fights out of the ring?

Yes, I had a lot of fights in the street and at school… I came from the back streets of Malvern, and grew up tough. We were always fighting. I was one of the smaller guys which made it more difficult; but I won most of them (laughs).

Now that you are Brian Mitchell the ex World champion, do you ever find people try and test you?

Not really; although about five months ago I had an incident in East London. We couldn’t get back to Johannesburg on the plane, so my mate took me to some dingy club and there was this clown who started making abusive remarks and looking for crap; but I’m not that stupid to get involved.

Your father was a South African boxing champion, what happened to him?

He was South African bantamweight champion in his third fight – which was a record; although at that stage blacks weren’t fighting whites. Anyway after he had had about five fights he had a bad car accident; he went through the windscreen and they took his license away because he stopped fighting. He went off the rails – he became an alcoholic, things didn’t go well for him. But I didn’t grow up with my dad. My mom and dad were divorced when I was five and I lived with my mother in a good home in Malvern. But I always loved my dad and in later years I took him overseas to watch some of my title fights. He enjoyed that.

There were rumours you were going off the rails after your career; how close did you come to losing the plot?

(Laughs) The joys of being a celebrity! People always seem to find bad things to say when they see you doing perfectly normal stuff. Since retiring I enjoy having a few beers with my friends, but people see you and they start saying, ‘He is going off the tracks, he is drinking a lot, he has lost it…’ (smiles). Once I bought a beautiful new house in Glen Vista and the agent suggested we sell the old property on auction. So I moved out with all my stuff. They then brought in a whole lot of furniture, Rolex watches and a BMW M3 which they auctioned at the same time as the property. So everybody thought I was selling all my stuff and that I was in trouble. But I have never come close to going bankrupt since retiring. Funny how people always want to talk about the bad things, but they never want to know what you do for charity – much rather you see your arse.

When you retired you said you weren’t going to come back; but then you had two more fights – what lured you back?

Money (laughs). What happened is Corrie Sanders was fighting in the Sates and I was on the plane with Rodney Berman and he said it was a pity I wasn’t boxing anymore, because they didn’t have anyone to top the bill for a fight at Sun City. So I jokingly said I would if he would pay me enough money. He said, ‘Are you serious?’ I said I wasn’t until we started to have this discussion (laughs). I was putting on weight and I thought it would be good to get fit again. Anyway I did a three fight deal with him. I only ended up doing two of them but it was worth my while. Not something I wanted to do – I actually did want to stay retired. But it worked out because I won both fights.

Talking about money; what was your biggest payday – money actually in your pocket?

I don’t want to put a figure on it because then I will have everyone phoning me for money (smiles). But put it this way, I earned a lot of money for a junior lightweight. I wasn’t a heavyweight. I would fight for a million rand where the heavyweights would fight for a million dollars, but I did ok.

When you fought for a million rand would you get the million rand?

No I would get about 25%. The manager, trainer and the receiver would take the rest. Also I got taxed in America and in South Africa – so I got nailed. But I invested in property; I was good with my money.

When you flew to your title defences, which because of apartheid were held out of the country, it is rumoured that you flew economy class while your trainers and managers flew business class. Is that true?

Yes, I always flew economy class and so did my sparring partners and trainers. But the promoters are the guys who make the most money; they are the business guys so they used to fly business class. But they would give me 5 air tickets because I was world champion, so I got free air tickets to fly my wife, my trainer and my sparring partner out with me; I can’t really complain. I was looked after and I was put in decent hotels and anyway, I’m small so economy class wasn’t a squash for me (laughs).

Because you always fought away from home you became known as, ‘The Road Warrior’. What was it like always fighting in the other guy’s backyard?

Very, very, very hard. I would only have a handful of my own people with me, but I would have 16,000 to 20,000 people against me; and the judges could definitely be swayed.

You never ducked any fighter in your career but Barry McGuigan ducked you. Tell me about that?

I would have fought him, any day of the week. I would have jumped on a plane and would have fought him the same day; in Ireland. It would have been a big money fight for me. However he wouldn’t fight me because he said I was a white South African and he had black friends. But I had black friends so it couldn’t have been that.

McGuigan had a fall out with his manger, what happened between you and your manager Carlos Jacomo?

Unfortunately Carlos died last year. It did turn sour. But it was the conflict of interests which arose when he became a promoter. He was my manager and trainer and then also became my promoter. Your manager is supposed to go to the promoter and try and get the best purse for you, but he couldn’t do that when he was both promoter and manager.

When your trainer gave you instructions between rounds during a fight; would you hear them and follow their advice?

Yes I did. When I sat there I would try and listen to at least one thing they were saying. A lot of fighters are getting so hammered they don’t hear a thing and then their fight goes even worse. The corner were the guys on the outside so they could see and I used to listen to Harold Volbrecht and my American trainer Murphy Griffiths, the old black guy – he trained Boom Boom Mancini. I tried to be in control by listening.

Dirty fighting – what is it?

I had a lot of dirty fights; Jackie Beard spent the whole night hitting me with his head. In fact they stopped the fight in the seventh round because both my eyes had split open – there was blood everywhere. So they went to the score cards and fortunately I was ahead on points. Also the late Jacob Morake, tall guy – good with the elbows – he used to hit me with his elbows. So dirty fighting was mainly using head and elbows.

In November 1985, Jacob Morake died after fighting you; how did that affect you the next time you went into the ring for the fight against Julio Ruiz at Sun City?

Jacob Morake and I were sparring partners and good buddies so it was devastating. When Morake died I was shattered. I was only 24 years old, but I retired and didn’t want to fight anymore. Then Russell MacMillan and Sol Kerzner sent me a really decent letter saying they thought I had lots of promise and they pointed out it wasn’t my fault, it was the nature of the sport. They told me to take three months off and then they would throw me in the deep end with a rated fighter. Then Morake’s mother phoned me and said she was praying for me, which made me feel a little better. Also, although I was prepared to go to the funeral, I was advised not to go; so I gave them a pair of my gloves which they put on the coffin. But it wasn’t nice; the whole thing was tragic.

Being a professional boxer must have been quite a Spartan existence?

You’re right. I never had a drink when I boxed professionally. Not even a sip of champagne. If you saw me with a glass it had apple juice in.  I never drank during my career. If I went to a party or a wedding I never had a single alcoholic drink.

What permanent damage do you have from boxing?

People say to me, ‘Why don’t you have a flat nose?’ and I say it’s because my opponents do! (Laughs). Mentally? I don’t know of anything that might happen, but I never took huge punishment. I broke my hands a few times, yet I think I came out quite unscathed because I looked after myself and always kept in perfect condition.

In your view, pound for pound, who was the greatest boxer?

Pound for pound? Both Sugars; Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard; my house is full of pictures of me and Sugar Ray Leonard together. He was/is one of my boxing heroes.

If boxing didn’t exist, what sport could you have excelled in?

Running. One time in Houston, I needed to do roadwork and near the park where I trained there was a 10km race starting; so I just joined in and I came second (laughs). I could do 10 km in 33 minutes.

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