From the archives
ABA (Amateur Boxing Association of England) – National Championship 1987 – Rod Douglas v John Carr
Just the other day I was sent a link to the video above, and it brought back some great memories of my amateur days. I was then officially known as John Carr, but later took on my late dad’s name “Cornelius”, as a mark of respect (and because old friends and family members liked calling me by my dads name!)
I really enjoyed my amateur career, travelling the length and breadth of the UK to fight different opponents. No videos or prior information on the fighters was available (YouTube didn’t exist), just occasionally hearing of a fighter’s reputation. It then came down to what happened in the ring. And I thrived on it.
I had my sights set on 1987. This would be the year I was eligible to fight in the ABA National Championships (I was 17). This was a huge step for me, especially because at that time there were no age categories, it was just 17+, and the rounds changed from the 3 x 2 minute rounds I was used to, up to the 3 x 3 minute ABA rounds. To my surprise the longer 3 minute rounds actually suited me better – as an amateur I had sometimes felt I hadn’t warmed up properly until the 2nd round.
So, it was 1987 and the championships had started – I was in my element. I realised I had found something I wanted to do for the rest of my life (and here I am 27 years later, still doing it, albeit ringside supporting my boxers rather than being inside the ring). The ABA fights were spaced out every couple of weeks, and I won all 7 in a row to gain a place in the final, beating the excellent Henry Wharton along the way.
It was an exciting time for me, I had just turned 18 before the final. Here I was in a televised ABA Championship Final, ready to fight a 3 time ABA champion! Not only that, but the commentator would be the legendary Harry Carpenter! It was a great fight (unfortunately the clip seems to have missed out my best round – the 2nd round!). On the day the judges went for Rod Douglas as the winner, which was disappointing for me, but Rod was an excellent boxer. Rod had previously won 3 ABA’s (1983, 1984, 1985) in light-middleweight division. He attended the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and won gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. He is also the only boxer ever to have beaten Nigel Benn at amateur level.
I relish the fact, that during that time, middleweight was by far the most competitively fought title due to the amount of great boxers in that weight division. I was so proud to get to the final at such a young age and to have come so close to beating Rod Douglas on the day. Now I was truly ready for my boxing career to begin.
The following year, in 1988, I was chosen to box for the England Junior squad (under 19’s), which was a great honour. This competition took place in Sardinia and I was even more happy to win a gold medal for my country, by knocking out my Bulgarian opponent in the first round. Before this trip I had received the disappointing news that I hadn’t been chosen for the 1988 Olympics, I now realise that in those days it was more about who you know, rather than what you know unfortunately.
At the time I was finding it hard to hold down a physically demanding job in scaffolding whilst keeping up my boxing training. After the ABAs and my win in Sardinia all I knew was I wanted to box full time. However in the 80’s there just wasn’t any lottery funding available and sponsorships were virtually unheard of, so as soon as I returned from Sardinia I met up with Frank Warren and turned professional. This was the only way I could continue boxing full time and was primarily was a financial decision.
Looking back, one piece of advice I would offer to younger boxers at this vital stage in their careers, would be “don’t turn professional too young” . I wish I had been financially able to remaining boxing as an amateur for a couple more years, as I feel it would of been an invaluable learning experience. In retrospect, at 18 I had a man’s body but still a teenagers outlook, so I was physically ready to fight but not necessary experienced enough mentally. Nowadays, there is a good financial backing for talented boxers, top class training, so it makes sense to stay in the amateur ranks, just a little longer. What you learn will be priceless.