“I was pumped! He’s not going to beat me today. Get in there and get the job done.”
Powerful words which helped inspire former World Boxing Association (WBA) light heavyweight champion, Leslie “Tiger” Stewart, to one of the biggest wins in his boxing career.
He gave the low-down on this historic victory to host Andre Errol Baptiste on Isports on I95.5fm on Tuesday, which he hopes will be a motivating factor in his drive to help develop T&T boxers excel on the world stage.
“One day, we will produce another World champion, hopefully in my lifetime,” said Stewart, who in May 1987 at the National Stadium, renamed the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, dethroned WBA champion Marvin Johnson to win by TKO (technical knockout). Then, Johnson and his team decided enough was enough, and Johnson did not come out for the ninth round.
“We were confident, having the people (of T&T) behind me, felt good. I felt confident and a lot of pride. I was on the mountain top and nobody could take me off, not even Marvin.
“When I walked into the ring and I saw the crowd, the banners, it was like I had a third glove and so I had not only my pair of fists. He was getting punched from three fists, including the one from the crowd. Even though it was not an easy fight because he was older than me and very experienced and kept coming,” said Stewart who after the eighth round was over, told his trainer, “I am feeling tired but he said ‘this is a World Championship fight.’ I took a rest and took a deep breath and was ready to go again as I got a second wind but they did not come out.”
A piece of history that has certainly inspired his charges as Stewart, who is back home, was working with some young amateur fighters before halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am at a gym called City and training some youngsters but with COVID-19, all of that has stopped. Boxing is not dead but slow, it is not happening. What is going on is that after these youngsters have done all the training, there are no fights so they train and cannot fight, which is not good,” said Stewart, who left T&T when he was nine years old.
He was born in East Dry River, Laventille but left with his 11-year-old brother to live in England with their parents.
“My first love was music and football. I had a guitar and thought I would be a musician. I love to listen to Sparrow and thought I would have been a singer as well but then once I started to box as an amateur, it became addictive and I was unbeaten for a while as an amateur and I enjoyed having my hands raised in victory.
“Boxing is a beautiful sport and when I was 16 and going to the gym and working out and getting fitter, I was selected and travelled to Germany, Denmark, Sweden and that was it, boxing was my life! I turned professional in 1982 and gave myself 10 years to be a champion and got it done by 1987,” said Stewart.
He has one regret though, and it is accepting the fight against Virgil Hill five months later which he lost.
“I had a manager who was more hungry than me. He told me in a couple of months, I would be defending my title but I was not ready. My body was not ready, it affected me. This fight came too soon, it was nothing about over-confidence, it is just that I needed more time to get ready.
“Management is key in any sport. Who you have as your manager and the advice you get from them but in the end, I made a bad decision. The bottom line is that I accepted, I should have refused, took more time.
“After that, it was a letdown, sad moments in my career. I tried to get back but never got it, I fought for world titles but fell short. Sports can be unpredictable,” said the 59-year-old, who is calling for much-needed support to propel local boxers.
“Any assistance that can be given to boxing and the amateur boxing association and president will be welcomed. We have a lot of youngsters who want to fight but if they are not getting fights, how can you encourage them?
“We need to get them into the ring because, after all the preparation, no fights are available,” said Stewart, who is willing to work with any ministry to help T&T youngsters in boxing because he believes in the youth of this country.