“[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.”
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 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 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.”
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 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 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.”