Forgotten TV stars of British boxing

John Evans
07/11/2015 11:25am

Despite the best efforts of the Millennium bug and television producers who decided to inflict Big Brother upon us, the world continued to turn as we entered a new century.

Over the next few years, Lennox Lewis and Naseem Hamed wrote the final chapters of their storied careers and Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe and Amir Khan exploded into national icons. The quintet loomed large over British boxing, creating a shadowy hinterland for other talented but less well-known fighters to ply their trade. Dual site Pay-Per-View shows contributed regular feasts of top class boxing but man, however, shall not live by bread alone. With the BBC assembling a strong but ultimately short-lived portfolio of fighters headed by Audley Harrison, Sky Sports viewers were provided with a staple diet of underrated fighters competing for unheralded titles.

Maybe the low esteem in which the WBF, IBO and WBU belts which permeated the era were held has clouded judgement, but history has not been kind to talented but overlooked fighters like James Hare, Jawaid Khaliq, Tony Oakey and Adrian Stone.

Boxing Monthly invites you to cast your mind back to a time when Sports Network held sway and the likes of Matchroom and Ringside shared any remaining dates; where Saturday night shows were broadcast live from leisure centres in modern boxing backwaters like Huddersfield and Portsmouth and weigh-ins were discreet events held in hotel conference rooms. Sound familiar?

James Hare (33-3-1, 19 KOs)

Clever, quick and deceptively hard-hitting, the busy Yorkshireman enjoyed an exceptional run of form after outclassing decent Australian Julian Holland for the Commonwealth welterweight title in April 2002. Hare claimed the scalps of fighters like Jan Bergman and Roman Dzhuman before coming unstuck against Cosme Rivera in December 2003.

“You’ll have heard this a hundred times from other boxers but when you’re actually doing it and you’re fit and things are going well, in the back of your mind you know it’s got to end but you don’t think it ever will. It’s hard to accept but - once you switch gears in your head - you realise that it’s over. It’s just common sense. I think everybody will have a similar tale to tell. 

“I sat on the Area council for a while and that was a connection to boxing but I haven’t got the time or dedication to get involved with a club or professional fighters. I’ve lived on the other side of it and it takes over your life. I’ve got a young kid now and I’m married to Amanda. We’ve been together the best part of 20 years and she put up with boxing for years and years. Every now and then I speak to Ed Robinson. A lot of my fights were on other people’s undercards on Sky and I never got a lot of footage. It were all VHS when I was boxing! Amanda got in touch with Ed and, through his time and patience, I’ve actually got quite a good collection now. It was a lovely wedding present.

“Ricky Hatton achieved so much. He was exciting to watch and sold loads of tickets which was a big help to us all but we were with Matchroom and - particularly when I had my bit of limelight - the Sports Network fighters had a lot more dates and were quite high profile people. That might have added an element to it. Matchroom are also involved in lots of other sports. I only had 13 fights in four years as a pro and I knew I couldn’t carry on like that. I then got with Matchroom and Tommy Gilmour and things started to happen. They were good times. I never had a problem boxing for the WBF title and at one point I was ranked at number five by the IBF. Being on the periphery of the top ten was alright for me. Whether I could have broken into that remains to be seen. 

“People that know me will tell you that I had the wrong sentiments to be a professional boxer. I wasn’t really confident enough. Looking back, when I was relaxed and thought I had nothing to lose then I performed better. Boxing is psychological as much as anything. You can get yourself in tip top shape but you’ve got to have the mind to suit it. As much as I hate to say it, maybe I didn’t have that. But you know what? I did beat some good kids. I boxed in the world junior championships in Istanbul. Roman Dzhuman got the silver medal and I got beaten by a Romanian kid. I ended up beating him as a professional. The big one for me was winning the Commonwealth title. It hadn’t been done for years in Huddersfield and it were a special thing. I’ll never forget it. 

“Sky would come up and spend a day filming with you. I were 25 year old and I think I’d had about half a dozen fights since starting boxing again. Sky thought I were showing a bit of promise too so Adam Smith came up to have a look around where I lived and I just went with the flow. On the day of the boxing, John McDonald announced me as ‘The Lord Of The Manor’ [due to Hare’s parents’ very agreeable pile of bricks]. I just went with it. I wasn’t gonna start kicking up a fuss because I’d just started making friends with it all. I don’t even know where the other ‘Robertstown Rocket’ nickname came from. I was hardly rocket launched was I?!”

Jawaid Khaliq MBE (23-1-1, 13 KOs)

‘Too Sleek’ picked up Central Area and Commonwealth titles at welterweight before being steered down the IBO title route. The part-time taxi driver collected notable victories over fighters like Willie Wise, Dzhuman, and Ener Julio but is probably most fondly remembered for winning a thrilling five knockdown war with Jan Bergman in South Africa. Khaliq now runs a successful gym in Nottingham. 

“It just seems like people have forgotten about all of the lads from that era. Things just went quiet for a lot of them. At the time, people were saying that boxing was on a low and that Sky would be pulling away [from the sport].  All of a sudden Amir Khan came on the scene and the next couple of Olympic Games went well. A lot of funding got involved and things really changed a lot over a few years. A lot of people sort of forget fighters who aren’t as well promoted. They look at the top guys and forget that people like us were keeping things going. We were there regularly most weekends and all of us were doing well.

“They seem to be putting a lot more effort in to it nowadays. There are guys who don’t seem to be doing that well and then win a Prizefighter or get a bit of support behind them and they end up putting them onto big shows. Sometimes you get a bit jealous and think ‘Yeah, we should have been there. We did a lot more than them and we fought at a higher level and beat better guys.’ I’d love to have been there but I had my good times, too. I just missed out on the big, big fights. That’ll always bug me but I’m happy and content with what I did.

“I had some brilliant nights that I’ll always remember. Willy Wise was on a good run. He’d beaten Julio Cesar Chavez and lost to Shane Mosley and had a few other good names behind him. Ener Julio was another former world champion. After that there was talk of getting Vernon Forrest and a few other names were mentioned but unfortunately he lost his title [to Ricardo Mayorga] and lost again in a rematch so that went out of the window. Other names sort of disappeared and as Sky were pulling away - the money wasn’t there. I wasn’t able to get to get the big names over here in order to get the big fights abroad. It was a waiting game and I was getting older. I had family and other things to think about and I kind of lost heart a bit and got fed up with everything so I decided to retire as champion.

“I’m surprised [his promoters, Matchroom] never bothered with the British title. Harry Dhami was the champion at the time and it would have been a massive fight with him being Indian and me being Pakistani. He lost the title to Neil Sinclair and Sky once got James Hare, myself and Sinclair together after a fight. There was talk that it might have happened but with me being offered the Wise fight, it would have been a backward step in a sense.

“Winning the IBO title against Willy Wise was an amazing night. Everything worked to perfection. Everything I worked on training came off and the combinations worked. I made him look like an older, finished fighter but it was just that I was so sharp on the night. It was a big relief. All of those years of hard work and I’d finally done it. You start dreaming about the future and fights that could and should happen. It went well for a few years but went quiet right at the end when I should have got the big one.”

Adrian Stone, (33-5-2, 26 KOs)

Bristol-born but Paterson, New Jersey bred, Stone climbed the rankings in America before a vacant IBO title opportunity drew him back to his homeland where he laid waste to a series of light-middleweight rivals including Michael Carruth, Geoff McCreesh and Derek Roche. ‘The Predator’ took on Vernon Forrest, a peak Shane Mosley and Sergio Martinez during an exciting career. 

“My plan was to be out here in America for six months when I first came out. I always did want to go back to England but I guess life just worked out better for me over here even though I still complain a lot and want to come back every now and then!

“I think people looked at me as something of an outsider even though I fought in the ABA finals a couple of times. That never really bothered me though. Sometimes, I think I should have stayed over there in the UK and done something where I would go backwards and forwards to the states but be based in England. I think I would probably have been better off, but one thing led to another and I ended up fighting a four-time Golden Glove champion [Sean Daughtry] in my first professional fight at Madison Square Garden. After I beat him, things started moving and I had no real reason to come back at that time.

“I said to myself that I always wanted to fight in England and, after I won the IBO title, they decided to give me a couple of fights there. I actually fought in England throughout my career. The first time I came back I fought an American guy [Darryl Lattimore] in Liverpool. Even though it may have looked simple, they weren’t easy fights. It wasn’t as though I could just lay back. I beat them because I worked hard for all those fights. There was no real chance that they were ever going to beat me but a couple of them were very, very confident that they would. The Scottish guy [Joe Townsley] was very confident because he was a weight above me. I could see it in him at the weigh-in but I trained hard for every single fight.

“I’m not saying I would have beaten Shane Mosley - and I don’t really like to say anything about it - but there was so much going on behind the scenes with my management company. I can’t even explain it. I actually flew over to England and wasn’t going to take the fight. I did what I did and the best thing happened, I got stopped in the third round because to take a fight like that you have to have tunnel vision and nothing on your mind but the fight. I can say that I came to America as a nobody and got opportunities that U.S. fighters don’t even get. I got to fight for three world titles. I don’t know how because I got to three ABA finals and lost!

“After the Sergio Martinez fight, my sister said that I had to give up and right away I knew it was time for me. I could have come back to England and fought for the British and European titles but I said no. I think the reason for that was that I fought as much as I could and, even when I’d fought and trained hard, I was back in the gym a couple of days later. I burnt myself out. I treated it like a job.

“To be honest, even though I fought in Caesars Palace and Madison Square Garden three or four times, England was always the best for me. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and people can drink and have fun. In America, everything is a little more restricted. People nowadays ask me why the hell I’m doing what I’m doing but as a kid I always loved huge trucks and heavy equipment. I work with tractor trailers and dump trucks. As a kid, I wanted to fight for world titles and operate over-sized equipment. Every week I get offers to train MMA guys or boxers. I’m just not interested, I don’t know why. People ask why I’m doing this but I’m happy. This is what I wanted to do as a kid and when you live your dream there are no problems.” 

Tony Oakey (29-6-1, 8 KOs)

Roared on by an adoring home support, the squat Oakey worked his way to Southern Area, Commonwealth and WBU light-heavyweight titles. The atmosphere generated inside Portsmouth’s Mountbatten Centre carried Oakey through some tough battles and he became one of the most television friendly fighters of the 2000s. Oakey eventually won a British title in 2007.

“The problem we had was that we had the best fighters that had come out of Britain for years around us. Even though we achieved things, they were outshining us. People don’t realise that I was ranked in the top ten of all the governing bodies at one stage in my career. 

“There was a time when I was genuinely going to fight Jeff Lacy. I was getting touted to fight Joe Calzaghe because I was going to move down in weight when I was with Frank Warren. Lacy came over and supported Calzaghe at Cardiff Castle [back in 2002]. After that they asked me about fighting him. When you think about things like that you do wonder a little bit but I am more than happy with what I achieved and the accolades I got. 

“Portsmouth has always had great fans. They obviously love their football and they loved boxing because they hadn’t had anybody like me before. I’m hoping it won’t be too long until they get somebody to replace me. The atmosphere in the Mountbatten Centre was lovely. It was like boxing in the York Hall. We all come around at different times in life, though. We’ve all got different levels of abilities and different fan bases. I don’t think Howard Eastman ever had one fan but he’s the hardest man I’ve ever sparred with. The wars I had with him and the hidings I took from him!

“One of my favourite moments came when I was out in Portugal training for the Neil Linford fight [a WBU title defence in 2003]. Ed Robinson came out for Sky and he was telling me how well Neil Linford skipped. I looked at him and thought, ‘Here I am in Portugal. The sun’s beaming. I’m in training camp in a villa with Frank Maloney and Wayne Elcock. I’m running in the morning, training in the afternoon and sparring at night and I’ve got Ed telling me that Neil Linford is gonna be a hard fight for me because he can skip good.’ I laughed at him then we still laugh now. That was a moment when I thought I’d achieved something. I’d done something that I was going to be proud about for the rest of my life.

“We had some great laughs and I’ve got some great stories to tell. When I boxed with Ricky Hatton against Scotland as amateurs we both won and were in the hotel bar afterwards. Me and him were the only ones left standing and I ended up wetting the bed. Ricky saw my uncle when I won the WBU title and got my address and sent me a box of pampers. I still keep in contact with Ricky every now and then. Life’s changed so much for both of us/ I managed to replace things with my kids though luckily.

“It made sense to go the WBU route. We all love boxing and we’d all love to go the route of Area, Commonwealth, British but we are doing it to get paid. I did end up winning the British title and, while I was the WBU champion, I did beat the British champion because Neil Simpson relinquished the belt to fight me. I bought myself a replica belt because I honestly felt I deserved one.

“The hardest fight I ever had was with Chris Davies for the Commonwealth title. A lot of people used to say it was Andrej Karsten because he put me on the deck and I put him over. Then I touched down and got up to put him over again. My best boxing performance was when I won the WBU title against that knockout artist, Kostyantyn Shvets. They didn’t mind putting me in with punchers! I just completely boxed his head off.”