Cook on Cook: 'I was always a hard man'

Luke G. Williams
14/05/2019 8:27pm

Former British and European super middleweight champion James Cook is widely regarded as one of the best British boxers to never be granted a world title shot. Awarded an MBE in 2007 for his youth and outreach work in Hackney, much of it based in and around the Pedro Youth Club, the Jamaican-born pugilist remains one of the most inspiring figures in boxing.

guardianofthestreetsWith his autobiography – Guardian of the Streets – currently winning acclaim, Cook – who turns 60 later this week - kindly took the time to talk to Boxing Monthly about seven of the key fights from his eventful 25-10 (14 KOs) career, as well as revealing why he never landed a showdown with either Chris Eubank or Nigel Benn.

Here then, is 'Cook on Cook'...

20 May 1986 vs Michael Watson, Wembley Arena – won on points
“Before I fought Watson I had lost three fights in a row – [against Tony Burke, Graciano Rocchigiani and Jan Lefeber]. Those fights made me tough though so when a fight came up against Michael Watson, I was tough enough to out-do him. He was a great fighter, a real champion, a tough, tough guy. That win, to be honest, made me. Everyone was afraid of Michael Watson at the time, he was an undefeated fighter. One of my best wins.”

8 June 1988 vs Herol Graham, City Hall, Sheffield, British middleweight championship – lost by TKO 5
“I was living in Hackney by then and my auntie was living in Peckham. The 'Bomber' Graham fight was the first time I went away to train for a fight. I stayed with my auntie to train and every morning I would get up for my roadwork. There used to be an escalator at the Elephant and Castle shopping centre – it’s probably still there – and every morning I would run up it at 5 o’clock in the morning. In my head I was looking to win at the end of 12 rounds. Herol Graham was a nice cool guy, and making the sort of moves he did, I thought there was no way he was going to catch me, but he did. I got caught and I went down, I still think I was alright to continue but the referee called an end to the fight. I’d always said that if any British fighter beat me I’d retire but he was such a high standard boxer I carried on!”

31 January 1989 vs Errol Christie, York Hall, won by TKO 5
“Errol Christie was such a talent, such a good fighter. I didn’t really want to fight him to be honest because that boy had so much talent. He was like Sugar Ray Leonard or someone. He was from Lewisham and I was from Peckham so he was from just up the road. We had a sparring session once and my trainer said to me: ‘James don’t show too much!’ but with Errol Christie you had to be at your best anyway, even for a sparring session! The next week I got a call to say I was top of the bill against Christie at the York hall. The fight happened and I stopped him in five rounds, but it was a hard fight, particularly for four rounds. Lewisham vs Peckham!”

30 October 1990, vs Sam Storey, Maysfield Leisure Centre, Belfast, British super-middleweight championship, won by TKO 10
“Sam Storey was a good fighter. I travelled to Belfast to fight him for the British title. I stayed at the Europa Hotel which I later found out was the most bombed hotel in Belfast! From the moment I landed there were guns pointed everywhere! I’d been knocked out by Tony Burke who had then lost to Sammy Storey. In round ten I knocked Storey out but up until then it was a tough fight. He was a good fighter. I told myself that day I had to get that win. I told myself to be patient.”

10 March 1991, vs Pierre-Frank Winterstein, Palais des Congres Porte Maillot, Paris, European super-middleweight championship, won by KO 12
“Let me tell you something. I’d been keeping an eye on Winterstein in Boxing News. He was knocking out a lot of people [Winterstein was 50-1-1 going into the fight]. I was sat on the plane and there was only one person sent out from the press to France and I thought: ‘damn, I’m gonna get killed!’ No one gave me a chance. The European title was such a big thing back then. I worked very hard for that fight and I knew he if was going to beat me he would have to stop me. He put me down in the ninth – and it was such a blessing that the referee wasn’t biased and gave me a chance to get up an carry on. The last few rounds I got to work and I got him in the 12th. After the fight they had a huge party set up for him. I went to it, I remember walking in and they had these funny little eggs. I said to a bloke there: ‘what are these?’ He said: ‘caviar, fish eggs.’ I said: ‘nah, mate give me a burger!’ Then I said, ‘are you waiting for Winterstein? Well, he’s not coming!’ That was an amazing win, probably the best win of my career.

1 June 1991, vs Mark Kaylor, York Hall, European super-middleweight championship, won by TKO 6
“Before Christie vs Kaylor [in 1985] I said to Errol Christie: 'I’m not sure if you’re going to beat Mark Kaylor', because I’d sparred a couple of sessions with Kaylor and he was non-stop in sparring, non-stop! If you didn’t have an engine you wouldn’t be able to cope with him. So I knew the kind of guy he was and made sure I had the engine to cope with him. I was well on top and [his trainer] Jimmy Tibbs chucked in the towel in round 6.”

11 March 1994, vs Cornelius Carr, York Hall, British super-middleweight championship, lost on points
“Before that fight I said to [promoter] Mickey Duff: ‘who can I fight?’ He said, ‘there’s nobody out there.’ I said: ‘what about this fellow, Cornelius Carr?’ Mickey looked at me and said: ‘James, he’s white, he’s 21 and he sells tickets.’ I said: ‘don’t worry Mickey, I’ll stop him.’ We got to round seven I looked at him and thought: ‘damn a couple of years ago I would have stopped you!’ Time had caught up with me, I lost on points and called it a day.

On the fights that got away – vs Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn…
“Benn and Eubank didn’t want to fight me. After the Christie fight, Eubank said to me: ‘Jimmy?’ And I said: ‘you’re not ready for me yet!’ Later when he became world champion I challenged him to a fight and he said: ‘Jimmy, you’re not ready yet!’ I thought: ‘damn, I should never have said that to him!’ I also tried to fight Nigel Benn. I even went to a press conference calling Nigel Benn a chicken. His manager Ambrose Mendy said to me: ‘James you beat Michael Watson and Michael beat Nigel. I have to look after my fighter so you’re not going to fight him.' I understood that, but yes, it was frustrating. I had four managers, you know, and looking back I call them the good, the bad, the ugly and the terrible! Certain managers have certain power to do certain things. I was number one in the WBA rankings and still couldn’t get a world title fight. Maybe my manager at the time wasn’t big enough or wasn’t doing the right things. But you know what, there’s so many more world titles today, so looking back my European title is my world title!”

Guardian of the Streets: James Cook MBE, My Story, by James Cook and Melanie Lloyd is available now from Pitch Publishing