By Francis Quamina Farrier
THE sport of boxing has many fans, but there are also those who detest seeing two men– or women for that matter– punching away at each other in a boxing ring, sometimes even drawing blood. Guyana is one of the countries which have quite a number of boxers who have done the country proud over the decades. In a practical way, they have put Guyana on the map. One such boxing legend is Terrence Ali, who wore trunks with the Golden Arrowhead design every time he entered the ring to face an opponent. That patriotism exposed Guyana in a positive way, to millions around the world.
Guyanese boxers, such as Cliff Anderson, came on the scene long before Guyana gained its independence. Although he brought glory to colonial British Guiana, independent Guyana honoured him in a great way by giving his name to the National Sports Hall on Homestretch Avenue in Georgetown. That was one of the many aspects of Guyanese boxers and boxing which were discussed between retired boxing champions, Terrence Ali and Michael Benjamin last Sunday, in my presence.
There we were, seated on the veranda of the home of Terrence Ali, at Calcutta, Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara, on that 53rd Guyana Independence Day. Above was a sunny blue sky, embellished with patches of cotton wool -shaped clouds lazily floating across the blue skies. There was a pleasant, cooling breeze coming in from the Atlantic Ocean a short distance to the north. And it was my pleasure to relax away from the noise of the city and listen to these two veteran Guyanese boxers, reminiscing about the glory and the gall of this sport of boxing. It was from the boxer’s perspective; but more especially, the Guyanese boxer’s perspective.
A lot of what they spoke of was how unfair many boxing promoters are, especially with boxers who are on the rise and from a small country such as British Guiana/Guyana. Both Benjamin and Ali mentioned being denied payment after fights; they worked and were not paid. They also mentioned having to travel from Guyana to distant countries to “mix it up” in the ring in the presence of audiences and officials who were not always fair to them. But bringing glory to themselves and their country Guyana, was always uppermost in their minds.
Boxing fans would recall that Terrence Ali always wore trunks with the Golden Arrowhead emblazoned on it whenever he fought. There was also that famous backflip which he did at the end of his fights; very unique, and something which fans thoroughly enjoyed and always remember when discussing the great Guyanese boxing champion, Terrence Ali.
However, that 53rd Independence Day ‘gyaff’ between those two retired champions was not only about themselves. They spoke of the fore-runner of great Guyanese boxers, Cliff Anderson, and the unfair decisions he had to endure when he fought in Britain in the very early days, when white boxers were ‘protected’ from non-white opponents, and given outrageous winning decisions. They also spoke of other great Guyanese boxers such as Len Beckles and Lennox Blackmore; of the Ford clan, Patrick Ford, Reginald Ford and Darius Ford; of Robin Lall, Lalta Narine and Ramesh Bess. Mention was also made of Wayne “Big truck” Braithwaite, Wayne Harris, Kenny Bristol, Brian Muller, Walter Smith, Malcolm Parris and of course, Courtney Atherley and on the distaff side, the one and only Gwendolyn ‘Stealth Bomber’ O’Neil.
A temporary gloom seemed to envelope the two veterans as they recalled two other great boxers, both with the first name “Andrew”, who died in traffic crashes; Andrew Murray and Andrew “Six Head” Lewis. There was a pause in the “gyaff,” as though for “A Moment of Silence” to the memory of two great boxers who also brought fame to themselves and glory to Guyana, with their boxing achievements, only to be killed, not in the boxing ring, but on the dangerous roads of Guyana.
Michael Benjamin is also a traffic victim. He now walks with the aid of crutches due to injuries he received to his legs in a traffic crash. He was fortunate to have survived with his life. The former Guyana Defence Soldier is now slowly on the mend; strong enough to visit with his boxing buddy, the great Terrence Ali, on an Independence Day, which is also, like the boxing heroes, fighting for its own independence and survival.