Bruno never pulled a punch

The
familiar chant goes up from the boxing crowd: “Bruuunnno! Bruuunnno!”

Frank
Bruno blinks nervously mentally and physically preparing himself for his next
performance. Only this isn’t going to be his third clash with ‘Iron’ Mike
Tyson, just a question and answer session at Fidel Murphy’s on the West Bay
Road.

The
most threatening thing for Bruno are the camera flashes blinding his vision as
he speaks. But he needn’t worry, nobody’s going to give him a sneaky left hook
– unless they’re on a suicide bid.

It’s
14 years since Bruno bowed out of the ring; a second losing contest to Tyson in
Las Vegas, but the British fighter’s global popularity endures. He’s off to
Australia in a couple of weeks for more guest appearances.

He’s
been brought over by Sunset Football Club in their usual move to hire a British
sports star to help club funds. At $75 a pop, after expenses, a reasonable sum
is raised because Sunset have always had solid sponsorship and massive
community support. Main organisers are Neil ‘Mr Sunset’ Purton and Alex Bodden.

With
a big plate of chicken curry, roast pork and all the trimmings and an ample
flow of beer to wash it down, the 200-plus crowd is ready for an evening’s
entertainment but not sure what to expect from the giant bruiser.

It’s
mostly a football crowd. Bruno poses with two West Ham shirt wearers. Boxing coach
Donie Anglin arrives and poses with white collar coach James Burch who had
brought his white collar crew with him.

He’s
come through mental illness, a bitter divorce and other personal problems in
recent years but looks in fine shape now. In fact at 234 pounds, Bruno is
lighter than some of his fights 20 years ago. At 48 there’s not an ounce of
middle-age spread.

Emcee
Alex Bodden kicks the even off with a celebration of Bruno’s ring achievements
before Robert ‘Woody’ Woods takes over with the Q&A. Bruno gives credit to
the many people in his formative years who steered him on the right path,
including late trainer Terry Lawless, his big brother Michael and Al Hamilton,
the Commonwealth Sports Award organiser who is also the founder of the annual
Caribbean Awards Sports Icons.

A
gigantic, unruly child in Wandsworth, south London, despite coming from a
loving, church-going family, Bruno was sent to approved school where boxing was
an outlet he excelled in. The youngest ever British amateur heavyweight champion
at 18, his pro career was destined for the top despite the setback of being
busted up by James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith in 1984.

World
title attempts against Tim Witherspoon, Tyson and Lennox Lewis were all loses
but it was a testament to his steely resolve that Bruno plugged on and finally
won the WBC heavyweight belt by outpointing Oliver ‘Atomic Bull’ McCall in 1995
in a heart-stopping war at Wembley Stadium.

“I
miss being super-fit and the cheques but not the punches,” Bruno says. He
recalls his first big test, against the muscled former ex-inmate Floyd ‘Jumbo’
Cummings who smashed a big right to his chin at the end of the first round at
the Royal Albert Hall in London. Out on his feet, Bruno was seconds away from
disaster. 

“Cummings
was huge. His muscles looked like silicon chips and his chest was like boobs.
That punch had me body popping and break dancing all at once. I don’t know how
I survived. Instinct kicked in, I suppose and I fought back the best I could,
cleared my head and eventually stopped him in the seventh round. That fight
showed I had the balls to succeed.

“Harry
Carpenter (celebrated TV commentator who died recently aged 84) asked me about
the punch but I said: ‘What punch was that?’ I just couldn’t remember it. I had
a special relationship with Harry. He was a very special human being.”

They
created an unlikely double act and even appeared in an HP Sauce advert
together. At one point Bruno’s catchphrase “Know what I mean, Harry?” was
widespread in popular English culture.

Bruno’s
relationship with Tyson goes back 30 years when he went to train in the
Catskills mountains near New York and the Brooklyn menace was already making a
name for himself at 15. They first fought in 1989 and then seven years later.
Tyson won by stoppage both times.

“Tyson
was small, fast and vicious. I can’t describe how difficult it was fighting him
but I did my best.” Applause.

The
triumphant night against McCall was his pinnacle. “I always told my kids what I
wanted to do and I’m glad I achieved it. It was a lot of stress for my family
seeing me not win it before. It’s not as if you can go in Tesco’s and ask for a
free pint of milk and a world title.”

He
still enjoys watching boxing and would love to see the highly anticipated Floyd
‘Money’ Mayweather fight with Manny Pacquiao come off. Neither of those two can
claim to compare in greatness to “Ali the Godfather” he says. “I go to shows
still. Just went to the Kevin Mitchell fight at West Ham Football Club. The
Aussie he lost to was a miniature Tyson.”

The
conversation with Woody moves on to his personal life. Divorce to Laura, mother
of his three kids, was acrimonious. “I didn’t handle it too well. I ended up
doing odd things because I was in this big house by myself and got sectioned
for 28 days. In a way, it was a good thing.

“I
have bi-polar but don’t need to take medication now. I go to the gym to control
it. I thank God that I’ve reached this stage and take each day as it comes. I
spend a lot of time at a health farm, Springs, run by my good friend Stephen
Purdew and met other professional sportsmen there. We’ve all got problems, our
own demons and have to duck and dive. The press made a big thing about me
counselling Paul Gascoigne, but we only met a couple of times at Springs and I
tried to give him a little advice, that’s all.

“You’ve
got to have the common sense to look after yourself.”

Woody,
having recently lost 60 pounds, says: “Frank, everyone can see we’re both in
fantastic physical shape. How do you do it?”

“When
you’re a bachelor you have to look after yourself. I love it here. I love being
in the sun.”

Woody:
“What was your worse beating Frank?”

“Financially!
The tax man and my ex-wife Laura gave me bad beatings. Having said that,
money’s nice but that’s not everything.”

Lennox
Lewis was the most technical fighter Bruno met and Tyson the hardest. South
African brawler Pierre Coetzer the dirtiest. He preferred sluggers to
technicians because they tired after five rounds.

He
doesn’t like to compare himself to today’s best heavies, namely David Haye and
the Klitschko brothers. “I had my day and just thank God I’m alright. I just
let them get on with it.”

In
a quiet moment he says he’s pleased to be in Cayman and would love to spend
longer than a few days but has to get back to London to be with his son. The
condo the Ritz-Carlton put him in impresses the seasoned traveller who has
stayed in some of the world’s top hotels. “My condo looks like it’s worth at
least $3 million. It’s fantastic.”

During
the auction, thousands of dollars are raised through raffles and auctions.
Bruno signs everything put in front of him patiently and graciously, ensuring
he gets all spellings right.

Although
Lewis battered a washed up Tyson in 2002, if they fought at their peaks, Bruno
has no doubts Iron Mike would have smashed Lennox to pieces. “Lewis couldn’t
have laced Tyson’s boots when he was at his best,” Bruno says to a chorus of
approval. “Tyson at his peak was vicious, dangerous, horrible…”

Bruno’s
most satisfying punch was the left hook at the end of a combination against
Mike Jameson in Chicago on his American debut in 1983. He passed to name who
was the best British heavyweight besides himself, mentioning a raft of them
going back to Bob Fitzsimmons at the end of the nineteenth century. “Henry
Cooper, Lennox, me.. we were all good on our day.”

He
has an old fashioned attitude to women boxing. “I love women. They have better
things to do with their bodies than box. They’re not for hitting, more for
sucking. But with women, if you say they can’t fight they’re going to rail up.”

The
curry dinner from earlier is not enough to sustain the champ and a box of KFC
arrives. It’s late. A couple of drinks, the food and jet lag is taking its
toll. Bruno is fighting off exhaustion as if in the twelfth round of a
championship fight yet he still digs deep and signs photos and takes pics like
the champ that he is.

Finally,
he’s whisked away by Purton and the next day at Sunset’s golf fundraiser, he’s
pressing flesh and working the crowd with the gentle grace that’s made him a
British institution.

Sunset
usually bring over ex-footballers. This was a departure and overall a knockout
success.

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