Late, Late Shows: How does it feel taking an opportunity of a lifetime at short notice?

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Sportem
13 Min Read

By Matt Bozeat


“I WAS finishing off pie and chips and was feeling bloated when the ‘phone went,” remembered Steve Robinson.

“(Coach) Ronnie (Rush) said: ‘You’ve got a big fight in two days’ and I told him I wouldn’t be ready. I didn’t think I would have enough time. But Ronnie talked me into it. He knew I was naturally fit and said: ‘You can outbox this guy. You can beat him.’”

The guy Robinson would fight was John Davison and at stake was the vacant WBO featherweight title. The belt had been stripped from Ruben Palacios after the Colombian failed an HIV test, leaving promoters Matchroom with only 48 hours to find a replacement.

Robinson, a 24-year-old southpaw from Cardiff, was coming off a points loss in Paris, leaving his record 13-9-1, but he fought to win.

John Ingle remembered being in Europe with a group of British fighters, including Robinson. “The others were there for the cash,” said Ingle. “They were staying in the bar until the early hours and getting up late, while Steve was up early, every day, going for runs and watching his weight.

“He was never a journeyman.”

Robinson gave up his £52 a week job as a storeman at Debenham’s to focus fully on boxing, a bold move for a young father. The gamble paid off.

“I had seen John before and had another look at the tapes,” he said. “After that, I was confident I could beat him. He was a come-forward fighter and knew that would suit me down to the ground. We worked him out.

“I knew I had the skills to beat him. I didn’t have too much time to think about it and maybe that helped.”

Robinson shed six pounds to make 126lbs – “I had a couple of runs and it came off easily enough” – and then set about silencing a hostile crowd at the Northumbria Centre in Washington.

North East fans had roared Davison on to win minor belts, but they didn’t rattle Robinson. “I was very composed,” said Robinson. “I didn’t let the crowd get to me. I was nervous inside, but boxed the right fight. I had to keep moving. He kept trying to get me to the body. I won the early rounds. I was picking him off.”

By the halfway point, Robinson had surely boxed his way into a points lead before Davison found an extra gear.

“He started getting to me,” remembered the Welshman, who lost six of his first 11 pro fights. “He rattled me with body shots, and I got cramps in my calves. Ronnie was stepping on my toes in between rounds.

“I couldn’t move that well, but I told myself: ‘I have to keep going.’ I had a young family – Luke was two years-old – and I was so determined to win it.”

After the 10th, Robinson’s corner screamed at him: “Do you want to be champion of the world?” and he responded.

He had Davison under fire in the closing moments of the 11th and produced a grandstand finish to the fight, slamming several clean shots off the Geordie hero’s jaw in the final minute to leave him groggy and send his gum shield spinning to the canvas.

Robinson had pulled it off, winning a split points decision. “It all happened so quickly,” he said. “I had to pinch myself.”

***

A FUNNY thing happened to Tim Tomashek when he went to watch Tommy Morrison defend his WBO heavyweight championship. He ended up fighting Tommy Morrison for his WBO heavyweight championship.

“I was done with work and I got a call,” said Tomashek, casting his mind back to August, 1993. They said: ‘This guy (Morrison’s scheduled opponent Mike Williams) isn’t making the press conferences.’ They were getting a bit nervous and they wanted a replacement in case this guy took off. My manager, Pete Susens, told me: ‘You will get £2,500 just to turn up.’ I went straight to the airport!

“Mike Williams was in the arena, and I thought: ‘Nobody pulls out of a world-title fight.’ He pulled out an hour before!

“I was sitting in the crowd, drinking a beer. It was my birthday! (Tomashek had turned 28 just eight days before).

“All of a sudden, I see Pete running towards me. He said: ‘Get back to the hotel, you’re fighting Tommy Morrison for the heavyweight championship of the world in an hour!’

“I said: ‘Let me finish my beer first.’

“I went back to the hotel and got the trunks I wore from the fight before. They still had blood on them and didn’t smell too good! That’s why Tommy kept away from me for a couple of rounds! It was something else.

“I wasn’t the biggest puncher, but I knew I could hang with people. I was a defensive master, pretty stylish. Don’t laugh!”

For all his self-deprecation, Tomashek was only stopped four times in a colourful 65-fight career.

“I was only a cruiserweight,” he said. “I would come in at 202 or 203lbs, but to make the money I would fight anybody. I fought some big dudes. I had to hit them in the privates. I got told: ‘If you keep hitting them in the privates we will take money off you.’”

Losses to Johnny Du Plooy, Anaclet Wamba, Jerry Halstead and Francois Botha proved Tomashek’s level and he ended up compiling a 35-10 record in “every small state in America!” before he got the call to fight Morrison in Kansas City.

The fan-friendly Morrison was making the first defence of the WBO title he had won by outpointing George Foreman 12 weeks earlier and was being steered towards Lennox Lewis, the WBC belt-holder.

Morrison tipped the scales at a solid 226lbs, while Tomashek was a blubbery 205lbs and, after the bell went, he gave a disjointed and eccentric performance, moving this way and that and darting in with a flurry of left hands.

“I had to try to outwork him,” said Tomashek, “because I was never going to knock these big bastards out.

“Tommy was surprised. He was used to knocking people out in one or two rounds, but that night, he was up against a different cat – me. Tommy knew he couldn’t go into my web because if he did, there was no way out. I’m joking! He was too big.

“If he had hit me in the body, I would have puked. I had a couple of beers in me.”

Given the circumstances and the gulf in size and class, Tomashek did much better than could have been expected of him.

“I had no game plan,” he said, “there wasn’t time to think of one. I just did the best I could.”

Late in the second, heads cracked together. Morrison was to blame, but when Tomashek raised his glove in a ‘no-hard-feelings’ gesture, he took a solid whack on the chin. Morrison was irritated. Not only had Tomashek refused to fold or be intimidated, now he wanted to be friends.

There were some boos from the crowd during the third round, but watching the fight back on You Tube, it’s hard to understand why.

Though obviously outgunned, Tomashek spent most of the round standing in front of Morrison throwing punches. The shots bounced off the champion and when Morrison blasted Tomashek to the body, he clearly felt it.

The fourth was a hard round for Tomashek. Morrison started to get through with clean punches to his chin, sending shivers down his legs.

Sensing he had made his breakthrough, Tommy opened up. Three, four, five punches slammed onto Tomashek’s chin and sent him to his knees. Up quickly, the bell came to his rescue and as he had done at the end of the previous three rounds, Tomashek went back to his stool with his chest puffed out, shaking his right glove in triumph.

Seconds later, the fight was over.

His corner decided Tomashek should take no more and he protested – with his tongue in his cheek.

“I got $40,000 for that,” he said, “but after taxes and deductions I came out with about $15,000.

“It’s a hard game. Still, it was better than fighting for a six pack.”

***

ISIDRO GARCIA went to the fights a week before Christmas in 1999 – and went home a world champion.

Top of the bill at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California, was a clash between Jose Lopez and Alejandro Montiel for the vacant WBO flyweight championship. The fight was of interest to the 19-1-1 Garcia, but it didn’t happen.

Montiel pulled out hours before the show and just when it seemed there would be no ‘world’ title fight, Garcia was spotted at the back of the hall by the matchmaker, reportedly eating a doughnut.

The Mexican was offered the fight, took it and after scaling 112lbs, he borrowed a gum shield, shorts and the rest of the required kit and went on to unanimously outpoint the Puerto Rican.

***

CHARLIE ‘THE DEVIL’ GREEN was another who went along as a fan and ended up topping the bill.

The New Yorker was reportedly queuing for a hotdog at Maidson Square Garden in July 1969, when he was approached by the matchmaker, Teddy Brenner.

“Hey, Charlie, (Jimmy) Ralston pulled out of the main,” he was told. “You wanna fight (former world light-heavyweight champion Jose) Torres?”

Fighter and matchmaker agreed a fee – and then Green added: “And you’ll pay for the hot dog?”

Beaten on his pro debut, Green, a former Marine, had six wins inside two rounds on his 10-5 record and was on the brink of a sensational upset after dropping 33-year-old Torres in the first.

In the dying moments of the round, Green, who later claimed he “smoked a reefer” before entering the venue, smashed a right off Torres’s temple, putting him down.

The bell rang and in the noisy confusion of the next few seconds, the referee lost control and allowed Torres to be dragged back to his stool by his corner.

Torres regained his senses to score a second-round KO, but never fought again, while Green ended up in prison after being convicted of a triple murder.

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