Now That's How to Make an Entrance!

Chris Williamson
10/11/2016 9:00am

From Vic Herman to Muhammad Ali, and Lennox Lewis to Dave Allen, Chris Williamson examines the colourful and oft-overlooked history of ringwalk music and also speaks to the mastermind behind a new compilation CD of famous ringwalk tunes ...

Hey! Gotta gotta pay back! (The big payback)
Revenge! I'm mad (the big payback)
Got to get back! Need some get back! Pay Back! (the big payback)
That's it! Payback! Revenge!
I'm mad!
- James Brown 'The Payback' - Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, November 17, 2001 (Lennox Lewis ring walk, before Lewis vs Rahman 2)

The colourful Scottish flyweight Vic Herman would walk to the ring in the 1940s and 50s wearing a kilt while playing the bagpipes. Herman was an artist in retirement and awarded a gold disc for his contribution to a Slade album.

Another fistic innovator, Muhammad Ali, was the first well known boxer to include music as part of a theatrical entrance. Following the release of 'Star Wars: A New Hope' in 1977, Ali - defending world heavyweight champion - played the 'Meco' disco version of John Williams' famous theme as he entered the ring to face huge-punching Earnie Shavers. Seventy million US viewers watched on NBC television. Click here to watch Ali's entrance

Ali's old friend, sparring partner and direct successor as World Heavyweight Champion, Larry Holmes was first to adopt one particular song as his regular entrance tune, with the 'Easton Assassin' choosing McFadden & Whitehead's upbeat classic 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now'.

David Haye's biographer Elliot Worsell wrote that watching Holmes vs Cooney prior to the cruiserweight unification against Enzo Maccarinelli prompted Haye to embrace the same song, describing how an entrance for Haye means celebration, a chance to feed off crowd energy in a final moment of relaxation before impending battle.

As sport becomes increasingly standardised with carbon copy uniforms and sponsors, the look and feel of boxing - still the 'wild west of sports' - remains refreshingly varied. Boxers look different; dress different. Their ring walks are often unique and can provide a metaphor for their personalities, as with Lennox Lewis's choice of music for his second fight against Hasim Rahman; 'The Payback' by James Brown - a statement of intent that Lewis more than lived up to.

The ultimate intimidator of the 1980s, Mike Tyson, prowled towards his superfight with Michael Spinks to what broadcaster Bob Sheridan memorably described as "just noise".

Later, a post-prison Tyson had befriended Tupac Shakur and would use the rapper's music, as he did the night Shakur was fatally shot following the 1996 Bruce Seldon event. Las Vegas, never knowingly accused of good taste, today openly displays the bloodstained clothes Shakur wore that night in between slot machines at a glitzy casino.

Almost 40 years after Ali's famous ringwalk, Boxing Monthly spoke to the makers of a new CD aiming to bring together the best ring walk music.

Max Odell is a hardcore boxing fan who also works for indie music label 'Split Records'. He described how the project started as part of his own exercise routine.

"I'd been downloading tracks on iTunes to workout to," Max told Boxing Monthly over the phone. "It was getting expensive [to download each song] so I looked for a [ring walk music] catalogue on Spotify as I knew there's a darts playlist and assumed someone would have done one. It was all for myself initially."

So how does one go from making a personal playlist to releasing a major CD 'The Greatest Boxing Ringwalk Songs', which is to be distributed by Universal Records?

"I kicked the process off at the start of last year and it's been a long road to get to this point," Max said. "Basically all popular music is owned by one of the big three companies: Universal, Warner and Sony, so you have to go through a clearance program [to produce a compilation]."

One British boxer who embraced the blending of music and theatre to create a memorable arrival was Chris Eubank Sr who would strut and sneer to Tina Turner's iconic 'The Best'. Max tells BM that dealing with Turner's record company was not without complication.

"The original title was 'Simply the Best Boxing Songs' and Tina Turner's label had initially cleared the use of the song and the title," Max explained. "[But] when they saw the artwork, they accused us of trading off the name."

Not only that, but the original title was causing problems elsewhere, too.

"Queen agreed that we could use 'We Will Rock You' as long as it was placed on CD1 as track one. But when they saw it was named 'Simply the Best...' they pulled out. I sent a grovelling e-mail telling [Turner's company] we hadn't wanted to trade off the name and changed it and all the artwork. It was a shame because we had all the artwork done and [promotional] T-shirts printed."

One of the most iconic ring walk songs in recent years, used by the stone-faced former WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, is AC/DC's 'Back in Black', which was also played by Dillian Whyte ahead of his bad-tempered clash with Anthony Joshua.

"AC/DC refused point blank," Max admitted, before explaining that the rock band are notoriously tough negotiators who were among the last to agree terms with Apple for use on iTunes.

There are some pleasingly 'hardcore' choices among the final playlist (Mikkel Kessler's 'Warriors Call' by Volbeat, for example), as well as a couple of songs from Max's own label, one of which has now been endorsed by Yorkshire heavyweight Dave Allen.

"Each track on there is authentic along with a couple of our own records, which the White Rhino [Dave Allen] - who has been really accommodating - is sponsoring," said Odell. "It's a punk song ['Riot in the City' by White Light Parade] and he came out to it against Dillian Whyte, but because the card overran, when I watched back on TV they had cut to the adverts as Allen entered to our song!"

Allen has told Odell he expects to appear on the 10 December Joshua vs Molina bill, with more exposure for the song and a big promotional push ahead of Christmas planned.

As a further part of the promotional material, the team have produced a set of incredible 'Top Trumps' style cards listing various categories including wins, defeats, KO%, height, weight division and (of course!) ringwalk song.

"My business partner knows '32 Red' who sponsor some of the Matchroom shows. We intended to showcase the CDs and cards in the VIP section [at Bellew v Flores] but the Echo arena security told us they could be used as missiles," Max laughed.

Ricky Hatton's 'Blue Moon' track has never before been released commercially, but Max secured the song's place on the CD via a somewhat quirky route: "I contacted Ricky Hatton's management, who gave me the number of the mum of one of the band members. It was recorded for Man City in the early 90s and hadn't ever seen the light of day. Then I was put in contact with Mark from the band and went from there."

Initially, Hatton's fellow Mancunians Oasis refused to appear on the compilation, until Max persuaded the band by reminding them of the time they'd held Ricky's title belts aloft during ring-walks. Eventually the band relented and agreed to provide two songs.

Of course, no collection of this nature would be complete without a nod to 'Rocky'.
"We contacted Bill Conti [composer of 'Theme from Rocky', also known as 'Gonna Fly Now'] and it turns out he doesn't hold the rights to it," stated Max. As a result the CD contains a version performed by the London Screen Orchestra.

The boxing fan in Max has taken full advantage of the quirky experiences the project led to. Through an unrelated event, trainer Don Charles' wife Jackie noticed him reading a boxing magazine, which led to an invite to the gym.

As well as being reunited with Dereck Chisora (whose Hans Zimmer track 'The Wheat' features, along with LL Cool J's 'Mama Said Knock You Out'), Charles trains the band Coldplay. Max spent a couple of hours watching Dereck - who he describes as a nice guy away from the cameras - train and spar ahead of his British title clash with Dillian Whyte.

BM was provided with a preview copy of the CD which will be released in time for Christmas. Although Max says "for every one track on the album there are three we couldn't get," the final playlist works well, including a superb interlude featuring Muhammad Ali.

Clearly a labour of love, the only minor issue BM found with the collection is the absence of Larry Holmes' name next to 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now'.

Regardless of this minor niggle, we wouldn't bet against this collection proving the opening round of a successful series.

For full track listing and more info visit:
http://www.greatestboxingringwalksongs.com/#tracks