OBITUARIES: Fighter behind the face of a boy - by Ron Jackson

Terry Spinks was nearly omitted from a British boxing team because he still looked twelve years old when he was already 18.

Not long after that he won an Olympic Games title and set off on an outstanding career that ended as tragically as many others in the sport.

The former Olympic Games gold medallist and British professional featherweight champion was 74 years old when he died in Essex, England, recently.

Spinks is still remembered as the teenager – he was 18 at the time – who won the flyweight gold medal in Melbourne in 1956, becoming the youngest British fighter to win an Olympic title. He beat a Romanian, Mircea Dobrescu, in the final. In one of the reports it was said he looked like a 12-year-old.

It was revealed later that the British selectors had reversed an initial decision to omit him from the British squad “because he looked like a child”.

Spinks was the only Briton who won a national schoolboys championship (1953), an Amateur Boxing Association title (1956), an Olympic gold medal (1956) and a British professional title (1960). He won 22 out of his 26 bouts a senior amateur.

Even though he won many boxing medals as a schoolboy, his dream was to be a jockey. He spent two years at the Newmarket racing stables before he had to quit because of weight problems.

Terry George Spinks was born on February 28, 1938 in London’s East End. He began boxing when he was ten years old. He turned professional at the age of 19 and in his first fight – on April 9, 1957 – he stopped Jim Loughrey in the fourth round at Harringay. He remained unbeaten in his next 18 fights.

By then a real crowd pleaser, he suffered his first defeat against a Scot, Billy Rafferty. Their bout at the Paisley Ice Rink was stopped in the fifth round because of a cut above Spinks’s right eye. He won his next nine fights before he was knocked out in the ninth round by another Scotsman, Bobby Neill.

‘THE MIRACLE MAN’

The fight, presented by Jack Solomons at Wembley, drew a sell-out crowd. Neill was known as “The Miracle Man” because he had twice broken a leg in motorcar accidents and his movement around the ring was restricted.

Spinks then lost on points to Derry Treanor and John O’Brien before beating George Dormer, Junior Cassidy and Johnny Kidd, drawing with Roy Jacobs and beating Dave Croll.

On September 27, 1960 he met Neill in return match for the British featherweight title. They fought at the Royal Albert Hall in London and Spinks was ahead when Neill was cut above the left eye in the seventh round; the result of a clash of heads.

Referee Ike Powell immediately stopped the fight and Spinks became the new champion. Reporters noted that Powell had not asked for the blood to be wiped away to inspect the cut. He also did not give Neill’s corner an opportunity to work on the cut. When the bout was stopped the bell had already sounded to end the round.

The British Boxing Board ruled that Neill should be given an opportunity to regain the title. The third fight between the two was held at the Empire Pool, Wembley, on November 22 the same year. Spinks won by knockout in the 14th round of another gruelling battle.

In his next fight, Spinks won by disqualification against a Canadian, Dave Hilton. But he lost the title to Howard Winstone, a Welshman, when he retired at the end of the tenth round on May 2, 1961. Winstone became one of the best boxers Britain ever produced.

DRINKING AND GAMBLING

Many years later, when Spinks was asked about the fight against Winstone, he said: “When I fought Howard, I fought years of drinking, gambling and refusing to go to bed. And then there was the constant weakening as I sweated off the weight. Suddenly it all caught up with me. I don’t make excuses for my performance against Winstone. I got what I deserved.”

Spinks won seven of his next nine fights and finished when he beat Johnny Mantle on December 11, 1962. He retired six days later at the age of 24, with a record of 41 wins and a draw in 49 fights.

His love of horse racing led to him opening a betting shop. It failed and he was declared bankrupt in 1964. He then took up a job with John Branch’s company, Antique Bronze Limited, which had contracts to preserve and maintain statues in and around London. He also helped with the coaching of boxers.

From 1981 he managed The Crown pub at Upchurch, a village near Rainham in Kent. In 1987 he took over The Coach and Horses in Worthing.

After being divorced from his second wife, he drank heavily and his health deteriorated. He also suffered from depression and the brewery decided not to renew his pub licence. By 1993 Spinks was in such poor health that he could not even wash or dress himself. His cousin Rosemary Elmore then took care of him.

He was always overlooked when sports stars received OBE and MBE awards but after representations to members of parliament he was made an MBE in 2002.

In 2002 Bob Lonkhurst’s book East End Idol – The amazing story of Terry Spinks MBE was published. I am privileged to have a copy of the book, signed by Spinks.

While living in London in 1961, I recognised the boyish face of Terry Spinks from my seat in a double-decker bus as he drove past in an open car.

Malinga’s former foe dies

Former WBA and WBC junior welterweight champion Eddie Perkins, who fought five South Africans, has died.

Perkins, visited South Africa four times in the 1960s, beating Joe Ngidi, Mackeed Mofokeng, Richard Kid Borias and Joseph Sishi on points.

In October 1974, near the end of his career, he lost on points to Maxwell Malinga.

Perkins was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on March 3, 1937. He had 36 amateur fights before turning professional in December 1956. He lost his first two fights, to Norman Johnson and Jerry Jordan, and eight of his first 36 bouts.

He also drew with Duilio Loi, an outstanding Italian fighter.

But when he got a second crack at the WBA junior welterweight title in September 1962, he beat Loi on points over 15 rounds after being knocked down in the first and 14th rounds. Loi’s record at the time was 114 wins, two losses and eight draws.

In a return match three months later, Loi regained the title in what was to be his last fight.

In January 1963 Perkins won the WBC and WBA junior welterweight titles when he beat Roberto Cruz on points over 15 rounds. He made successful defences against Yoshinori Takahashi and Bunny Grant before losing both titles to Carlos Hernandez in January 1965.

Even though he continued boxing until May 31, 1975 when he was outpointed by Franz Csandl, Perkins never fought for a world title again.

Trained by Johnny Coulan, the crafty Perkins compiled a record of 74-20-2, with 21 knockouts and was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.

Johnny Tapia found dead

Five-time world champion Johnny Tapia was found dead inside his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico recently. He was 45.

Tapia who was born John Lee Tapia on February 13, 1967 in Albuquerque, made his pro debut on March 25, 1988.

He went on to win the WBO super fly and bantam, WBA bantam and IBF super fly and featherweight belts in career that saw him win 56 fights, lose 5 and draw 2.

Amongst the top fighters he faced were Paulie Ayala, Marco Antonio Barrera, Danny Romero, Henry Martinez, Rolando Bohol, Manuel Medina and Ricardo Vargas.

He had an outstanding amateur career and won the 1983 National Golden Gloves light flyweight title and in 1985 he was flyweight champion.

Life was not easy for Tapia right from the beginning as it has been reported that his father was murdered when his mother was pregnant with him and when he was eight years old his mother was kidnapped, raped, hanged, repeatedly stabbed and left for dead by her attacker.

Tapia was awakened by her screams and he saw her chained to the back of a pickup truck. His mother was later found by the police and taken to hospital, but she died four days later.

In 1990 his boxing career came to a halt when he was tested positive for cocaine and banned for three and a half years.

He returned to the ring in March 1994 but he still had a life-long battle with drugs, depression and even attempted suicide.

In 2006 he wrote a book Mi Vida Loca - The Crazy Life of Johnny Tapia together with Bettina Gilois from Germany who studied Art History and English at Barnard College in New York City.