[Page 35]: “When I’m boxing, normally I don’t see the cameras. If I’m in my zone, I don’t hear the crowd or the music. All I see is my opponent. With Eamonn Magee, it was a different kettle of fish. I walked out to the MEN Arena all psyched up and I looked up and saw my big face on the screen. All of a sudden, I lost concentration. I was more concerned with what I looked like rather than the fight. Then I got in the ring expecting a big punch-up and all Eamonn Magee did was counterpunch me. When the referee stopped it in the sixth round, I protested. Magee had hit me with about 20 unanswered punches, but I was fine. He was just hitting my gloves. But you can take a positive from that because you learn not to bloody do it again.”

“[Page 48]: “Now that time has passed and I’ve had time to reflect, I think Howard Foster, the referee for my last fight, maybe did me a favour when he stopped my fight against John Murray. At the time, I was angry when he stopped it because I wasn’t hurt. But, when you look back, things aren’t always so black and white. When I got in the ring that night, in my mind, I thought I could do it, but I was conning myself because physically my body wasn’t able. I haven’t seen Howard Foster for a while now, but I’d like to go over to him and shake his hand. In the end, I was fighting for all the wrong reasons and I could have got hurt because I’m one if those guys who would have fought to the end.”

[Page 59]: The all-British encounter for which Dave will forever be remembered was his epic skirmish with John H Stracey in a final eliminator for the WBC welterweight title, a belt that Stracey had held and lost in his previous match against Carlos Palomino. These two popular protagonists faced each other in March 1977 and the Empire Pool at Wembley was packed out. “Oh, yes, definitely, what with him being a former world champion, with the fight being in London, and he was a London boy, but I had some good friends there as well. It was a great night. And listen, I used to love it. If they started cheering for anybody, you know, I think it’s great.”
Despite the brave Londoner’s tenacious fighting spirit and extensive boxing knowhow, the ‘Boy’ from Chatteris eventually wore Stracey down and forced referee Harry Gibbs to stop the fight in the tenth round. “I was too rough for him really. I think that’s what it was. He was more of a boxer but I was more of a fighter. I was just very enthusiastic to get through and get on. I suppose my favourite win was against John H Stracey.”[Page 65]: “Listen, we didn’t know how good Sugar Ray Leonard was. He’d just beaten Benitez, so we knew he was a great fighter. Andy Smith said to me ‘I think, if you can stick with him for ten rounds, you’re a strong boy and you’re going to get to him’ But listen, if I’d have trained for 50 years, I’d never have beaten Sugar Ray. I mean, the man was so good, so clever and so quick. I mean, I thought I had a good jab. His jab was like a rocket. What a fighter! He’s perhaps the best fighter I’ve ever seen, perhaps one of the best ever.”
[Page 74]: “When I came to England, racism was rife. A couple of days after our arrival, we went to our local school in Calvert Avenue, called Virginia School. There were two other black kids and an Indian family called the Singhs. On our first day there, the other kids were saying ‘Listen to the wogs talk. Look at the coons.’ My brothers asked me ‘What’s a coon?’ I said ‘I don’t know, but it don’t sound nice. I think they’re insulting us.’ Then they started picking on my brothers, so now it’s personal. For two years, I’d been in looking after my brothers like a father. Then I come to England and strangers are insulting them. Where I was brought up in Saint Lucia, if you got into a fight, it was one on one. We still used to operate by those rules. When I came to England, I found out that, when I fought one kid, it wasn’t just one. Four or five used to come. So that first week, I think all I did was fight like a dog. I must admit, some of the best fights I had were when I was at school. By the time I was 11 years old, I must have had about ten fights a day in the playground. These blokes who say they were good in the booths, I was well up with them.”[Page 92]: “I had double vision for months after my fight with Kirkland Laing. When I was having a pee in the mornings, I was seeing two willies. So I went to Moorfields Eye Hospital and they gave me these different exercises to stretch the muscle in my eye. I did them for a few months and, one day, I was having a pee and, where I’d normally see two willies, that morning I only saw one willy. The same day, I had an appointment with the ophthalmologist. So I told her ‘You’re going to notice a big change in my eye today.’ She examined my eye and she said ‘Mr Mittee, if I’ve seen 100 people today, your sight must be better than 95 of them. How did you know you were going to be so much better?’ I said ‘For months after the fight, whenever I had a pee, I looked down and I saw two willies, and today was the first time I only saw one willy.’ She said ‘You must have felt happy about that.’ I said ‘Not really. The one that disappeared was a couple of inches longer and I’m dead disappointed!’”
[Page 109]: “The thing was with me, I was always the opponent rather than the prospect because I wasn’t a ticket seller. It would have been a lot easier had I been a ticket seller, but I never used to go to pubs. If you don’t go to pubs, you don’t get mates. I had friends, but they never had any money, so that was always a problem. I think the most tickets I ever sold was when I fought Sylvester Gordon at Manor Place Baths. I think I sold seven and that was it. After my last fight, I always thought I’d be back. But because of my injury, the longer it went, the less likelihood there was that I’d ever get in the ring again. I tried to make a comeback about nine years later with Harry Holland. I was ten times the fighter at 29 than I ever was at 21. I used to spar with Rocky Kelly, Trevor Smith, good fighters like that, and I did very well with them. But the board refused me a licence on the grounds that I was too good looking! No, seriously, do you know what they said? At the age of 29, they said I was too old.”[Page 114]: “I think most people who have been boxers always think they’ve got one more fight left in them after they retire. I think a lot of fighters feel the same way. When I was 45 years old, I knew I had fight left in me that I couldn’t ignore, but I didn’t know how much fight I had left in me. It was a completely different type of motivation, to be honest. When you’re a professional fighter, you live it, eat it, drink it and sleep it. You’ve got to because otherwise you can’t be successful. Not that I was, but you simply can’t because that’s the basis of being a professional fighter.”
[Page 131]: “I remember one time when me and Terry Downes sunk this bloke’s boat. It was just before training and Terry said ‘Come on, we’ll go down the Serpentine.’ So we got in this boat and we’re paddling away, and all of a sudden we start sinking. The next minute, we’ve gone down and I’ve swum over to this fella in another boat. He was a right toff, he was, and I says ‘Give us a lift.’ He says ‘I’ve only got room for one of you.’ Anyway, Terry and me both climbed into his boat and we ended up sinking his boat as well! We had to go back to Joe Bloom’s gymnasium soaking wet and everybody was hanging Terry’s gear up for him and I was bloody shivering. Terry had a Rolex and that was fine afterwards. I had a Timex and it never worked again.”[Page 148]: “On fight night, in that corner between rounds, you’ve got to tell them where they’re going wrong. You’ve got to find the words, and some fighters can comprehend quick and some can’t. Some, you’ve got to really get into them and say ‘Come on, you’ve got to do this.’ You’ve got to get into their brain. Sometimes, you’ve got to coax them and cajole them. You don’t have to shout at them or nothing, but you’ve got to encourage them. You’ve been there yourself, so you know what that kid’s going through, but you’ve got to realise that he’s not you and you’re not him. At the same time, you’ve got to try and guide him through it without doing his head in. You have to be looking at the other fighter as well and seeing what mistakes he’s making. You have to think quickly. You can’t ever let your mind drift, not for a second. You’ve only got a minute in that corner and you’ve got to do so many things.”
[Page 165]: “Generally speaking, to my mind, the managers and the promoters are all in it together. When you look at Jack Solomons, Christ almighty, he must have made a fortune, and Mickey Duff must have made a fortune. Good luck to them, but I think they should have treated the fighters better in certain situations, because you do hear some bad rumours. When I fought Harry Scott in December 1967, they wanted me to go to Wolverhampton to fight him for 200 quid. That’s the sort of conversations you’ve got to have and I ended up with £300, I think. But, in them days, I was earning £18 a week, so it was a lot of money. Having said that, when you think about it, if I earned £100, I’d only get about £54 after deductions. So, if I hadn’t been working while I was boxing, I would have had to keep a wife and two kids with that £54 until the next fight, so there’s not a lot there.”



[Page 168]: “If you want to know the truth, I’m glad that Tony Mundine was my last fight because I think, if I’d have beat Mundine, I would have gone on. It’s a very dangerous game and you never know where you’ll end up. When you beat someone like Tony Mundine, you can go up too fast and you can find out that you’re not good enough. When it came to climbing the ladder, I just didn’t have it on the nights when it could have happened because I beat people that actually fought for the British title, but I never got the chance. Whoever they put in front of me, I just accepted them. I never turned a fight down in my whole career. But it was great to go round the world and see different things and meet different people, and I loved it.”



[Page 172]: “My dad came here in 1959. My mum followed two years later and my parents decided to settle in Birmingham. Industrial cities were the places that people usually came to, looking for work. When I think of how things were back then, everywhere has changed, really. Attitudes have changed. People have changed. I look around Birmingham these days and, during all the years I’ve been here, some of the buildings have been knocked down and replaced by others, and also the composition of the people has changed so much. The British citizens didn’t ask for all these people of different ethnicity to come here. It was a decision made by the government through historical reasons and it manifests itself as being resentment. I can understand that.”



[Page 188]: “One of the things that we Jamaicans brought to England with us was our music. Before I left Jamaica, I don’t remember ever hearing the term ‘reggae’. We knew about ska music and blue beat, but I can only remember hearing it being called reggae when I arrived in England. So I grew up with the changing face of reggae in this country. In the early 60s, the skinheads always wanted to be rebellious and they viewed reggae music as such, talking about Babylon, which was a derogatory term to describe the police. So they adopted the Jamaican music as their own. I don’t know if that rigid racism thing was for real. The skinheads were anti anything that wasn’t one of them.”


[Page 203]: Every so often, life gives us a sign that we are not quite as knowledgeable as we prefer to believe. I will always remember sitting in front of the telly watching Michael Ayers defend his IBO lightweight title against Wayne Rigby at Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester back on 1st July 2000. I find the occasion unforgettable because that fight ended with one of the most extraordinary displays of mutual understanding I have ever witnessed between the ropes.
Towards the end of the tenth round of a primeval battle during which both participants had been knocked down, Rigby’s dogged resolve melted away completely. Although he was still standing, his arms dangled listlessly at his sides and his eyes were glazed. Ayers beckoned to the referee, Arthur Mercante Jr, to stop the fight and there was no protest from Rigby, but the third man stood by and declined to intervene. So Ayers simply refused to hit his defeated opponent any more, and the pair touched gloves and walked away from each other. As Rigby took his first weary steps towards his corner, the referee leapt in and put his arms around the Mancunian’s shoulders. But it was a belated intervention because the fighters had already taken matters into their own hands.
Some years later, in a chance meeting with Michael Ayers, I took the opportunity to talk with him about that flabbergasting finale. As the instigator of the conversation, I proffered the opinion that the referee’s approach had been somewhat hard-hearted. I fully expected Michael to agree with me, so his response took me by surprise.



[Page 226]: “Dennie Mancini was a fine man to have in your corner. I think about him a lot and I really miss him. The last few hours in the changing room before a fight, the way I’d describe the feeling is like waiting for the hangman. Here comes the pain. You know it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t avoid it. You can’t hide. Dennie would always bring light and laughter during those times, and we’d have a bit of fun and have a bit of a crack before it was show time. He was an expert with cuts and there were many times when he saved me.”



[Page 236]: “I was on my way to the party we’d organised in Luton and I didn’t feel right. I felt sick, I had double vision and I had a headache. So we pulled the car over, I got out of the car and I was violently sick. That was when the alarm bells started ringing and we went straight to hospital. I remember lying on the hospital trolley not knowing if any permanent damage had been done – and the jury is still out on that one! They gave me a brain scan and they said I was okay, but they kept me in hospital for two days. So everyone was at the party and they were all getting pissed. Everyone’s going ‘Where’s Billy?’ and I’m in hospital with concussion.”



[Page 254]: “I boxed on the booths for 20 years altogether. They were unforgettable times. I worked alongside some great booth fighters. There were some wonderful characters, men such as Mickey Hayes, Sid Cain and Johnny Chapman. As far as I’m concerned, they were more like brothers than friends and there was nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. Mickey Hayes came originally from Dublin and lived in Middlesex. Mickey was a boy who could, and would, fight anyone anywhere and we used to call him ‘Mad Mike Hayes.’ He used to call me the washing line. He said it was because I was always hanging over the ropes. Mickey has always been more than just a friend. I’d trust him with my life – maybe not with my wife, but definitely with my life! He’s a diamond, for sure, and I have to say that Mickey Hayes was one of the best gee fighters in the business.”



[Page 260]: One promoter from the past whose name always brings a warm glow to Joe’s complexion is Tommy Gibbons, the landlord of the famous boxing pub, the Thomas A’Becket, on the Old Kent Road. Tommy, an ex-professional boxer himself, and his radiant fiancée, Beryl, were well known and well loved by the boxing fraternity. “I got on so well with Tommy Gibbons and Beryl. Tommy used to have a mynah bird in the pub that knew more swear words than me and it was a star attraction with the punters and the boys in the gym upstairs. In the evenings, Tommy always had great singers and entertainers in the pub. The Thomas A’Becket was where I made my base for training until I retired from the fight game. That gym was always good for a laugh and a joke with the other fighters, and the atmosphere was brilliant.”