Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Boxer

Yesterday I heard the sad news of the tragic passing of ex-British heavyweight boxing champion Gary Mason. He was only 48 years old.

His was a story of a man with so much unfulfilled potential who didn't quite get the luck he deserved. As British champion he fought in a unification bout with the then European champion, Lennox Lewis. At the time Gary had an unblemished fighting record and was favourite to win against the relative upstart. It was winner takes all - and little did we know how this was to play out. Lennox won the fight by technical knockout and never looked back. Because of eye injury Gary's career started to wind down, despite him never losing again. 37 victories, 34 of which were by knockout, and that one solitary defeat. Quite a boxing career.

Why do I have such an interest in him? He was my next-door neighbour in South London for a number of years when I was growing up. That, and the fact he was genuinely a very generous, humble, articulate and decent guy. And with a smile on his face. I still remember setting off early every morning to do my paper round only to see him already putting the hard graft into his training. He was committed. He tried.

After his career ended he tried his hand at a number of ventures - I still remember his "Punch and Jewellery" shop. If the initiative didn't work out, and more often than not it didn't, he'd try something else. And so he continued. But still with a smile on his face and with a positive expectation out of life. I've flicked through quite a few tributes over the internet - some knew him, some had just been inspired by him. He wasn't part of the badaaass, gangsta heavyweight merry-go-round that served some boxers; nor did he play pantomine dame for public adulation. He was just good at what he did and let that do the talking.

He could have been more than a contender (and had he being plying his trade today there would be no doubt. But he was sandwiched between the Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis eras. It just wasn't to be.

So farewell, big man. Keep that laughing large and loud wherever you are.

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