The world’s best boxers always stay close to their roots no matter how rich and successful they become.
It helps them keep it real.
Cayman’s supreme fighter is no exception.
The Cayman Boxing Club can boast Florida-based world class fighter Charles ‘Killa’ Whittaker as a former member. He still regularly visits the club when on island and loves the traditional spit and sawdust atmosphere and basic facilities endemic in the greatest gyms.
Located in George Town centre, the virtually derelict building behind the library is home to some of the island’s most devoted boxers who train there for hours most nights, led by coach Nayon ‘Donie’ Anglin.
His relationship with Whittaker goes back over 20 years and still endures to this day.
‘I refereed Charles’ last bout here in April,’ says Anglin. ‘Refereed his first three here too. But I don’t want to do any more because I get too emotionally involved. When he got hurt in the first round, I was hurting too.’
So Anglin will not be the third man in the ring when Whittaker next performs at the Lions Centre on 31 August.
A tall, angular man, Anglin was a pretty useful fighter himself in his day but lack of opportunities and the pursuit of hedonism blighted his career.
Nevertheless, he was a world class amateur, losing only twice in 24 bouts.
Anglin’s build is identical to the great Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns and as they were born virtually on the same day in August 1958, he feels an affinity with the Detroit destroyer.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t banked the millions Hearns did from a glorious career, but he’s probably equally as happy by immersing himself in boxing.
‘I did karate for a little while because of Bruce Lee and mastered the technique enough to adapt it into boxing,’ says Anglin. ‘That helped me a lot in my career.’
Certainly, the youngsters at the gym hang on to his every word and the respect is reciprocated.
Tracey Corinna’s introduction into boxing was unorthodox; impromptu fights at the Matrix nightclub on Monday nights.
Five undefeated bouts later, Corinna was ready for regulation amateur bouts. She’s had two and although lost both, that didn’t put her off continuing.
‘Boxing helps keep me fit and get out all my frustrations,’ she says. ‘In my first fight the girl was too experienced, I knew that but went through with it anyway just for the experience. In my second fight I got robbed, the referee wasn’t calling it properly.
‘I like coach Donie. Not really, just said that so he wouldn’t make me do 100 sit-ups!’
Corinna, 21, enjoyed football, softball and gridiron at high school in Miami but boxing had the biggest lure. She works for The Tour Company organising cruise tours. She hasn’t fought since last year because of a knee injury sustained in a car crash but fully intends to carry on punching.
‘I enjoy being an amateur and will take it as far as I can go to see if I’m good enough to go pro and if it suits me.’
Oshane Christian, 17, has only been training for six months yet already has the look of an accomplished exponent of the sweet science.
‘I like watching boxing on TV and heard about the club so decided to come down,’ he says. His favourite fighters are world champions Joe Calzaghe, ‘Sugar Boy’ Floyd Mayweather, Zab Judah and Vic Darchinyan, the Australian flyweight.
Darnol Kelly was involved in the club as a kid in the Eighties. Aged 10, he had the honour of moving around a ring with Muhammad Ali when The Greatest visited Cayman in 1984.
‘It was a great experience and helped boost the club, which was in West Bay Town Hall at the time,’ Kelly, an entrepreneur, says. ‘Donie has helped with the rebirth of the club and we plan to do things to raise its profile and help bring kids off the streets.’
Kelly is adamant that boxing still has a major role in mainstream sport despite losing some of its appeal to football and mixed martial arts.
‘Nothing pays like boxing. Look at Mike Tyson; he used to get $30 million for a fight. Oscar de la Hoya has amassed $150m just from promoting. And even if you’re not a top fighter there are plenty of ways of still earning a good living in boxing.
Buddy McGirt was a top fighter but he’s making more money now as a trainer. People can be sparring partners, referees, even announcers. Michael Buffer has generated a billion dollar industry.
‘I’m hearing a lot of youngsters say they’re coming out of team sports because they want to be in more control of their destiny. Boxing also teaches discipline. People look at Ali and say that it isn’t Parkinson’s syndrome that’s made him the way he is but boxing. But he seldom got hit in the head. I watch tapes of many of his fights and it was mostly body shots that he got hit with.’
Kelly wants to see more support from businesses to help the club thrive and is doing his bit with Anglin and occasional trainer Troy O’Neil, 31, who himself was a Caribbean champion at light-heavyweight in 2001.
Anglin has four sons who showed various levels of interest in boxing but only one – Perry who is 18 – has natural ability.
‘My youngest son Jason is 16. He is the only one who comes regularly, but Perry has the most talent.’
Such is the wealth of talent that the club boasts a Caribbean bronze medallist who has only had two bouts! Middleweight Eric McField’s brilliance in the gym impressed coach Donie so much that despite being a novice, he made the trip to Trinidad last year, only going out in the second round to the eventual gold medallist.
McField, a 24-year-old electrician, played top level basketball before, representing Cayman at the Island Games in Guernsey in 2003 and Gibraltar two years later.
‘I decided to switch to a one-man sport because I didn’t want to rely on team-mates anymore,’ he says. ‘Boxing gives me that. The pain? That’s nothing. If you train hard, head shots should come as nothing. I have tremendous respect for Donie; he knows how to work on a person’s weaknesses and build on his strengths.’
Pitching novices into the competitive cauldron seems to be a recurring theme in Caribbean boxing.
Anglin had the same experience nearly 30 years ago when he was sent to the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada with only one amateur contest to his name. He was stopped in the second round by a Kenyan, but it was no disgrace. He was effectively completely inexperienced, in fact, because his first fight only lasted a blink of the eye.
‘It was in Jamaica and I noticed how stiff and upright my opponent was so I just walked over and hit him with a one-two. It was over in 10 seconds. From that moment my coach, Dr Frank McField, decided I was good enough to go to the Commonwealth Games.’
Anglin’s last bout was against a seasoned Jamaican professional that wanted a quick and easy fight. That was in 1985. Anglin was supposed to be the sacrificial lamb but had other ideas.
‘I won on points and got so popular because it was totally unexpected that I started partying hard. All the girls were after me and I loved it.’
In retirement as a commercial painter the yearning to still be involved was still there and he eventually returned as a trainer, studying to get his coaching badges and reaching professional refereeing status in the process.
Appointed as the Cayman Boxing Club’s full-time coach by the Government four years ago, disaster struck not long after when Hurricane Ivan wreaked its havoc. It demolished their gym. Luckily, the Old Seafarers’ building only had its roof ripped off. They relocated elsewhere. Desperate to resurrect the club, Anglin repaired the roof himself and re-opened soon after. Appreciative of a $10,000 a year Government grant, he said he is hopeful that the new premises beside the Truman Bodden Sports Complex will be ready soon and between Anglin and Kelly and all supportive parties they will be raise funds separately to speed the process through.
At least Anglin knows he can count on The Killa to chip in, however he can.