Club Fit For Business Ambassador, Roy Gumbs speaks to Steve Bunce at ESPN
20 May 2015
Roy Gumbs is one of the great forgotten fighters of British boxing. Gumbs won a Lonsdale belt outright at middleweight, fought all over the world and started as a professional at the very bottom in a business that was brutal.
In January 1985 he travelled to Seoul, South Korea, to fight for the IBF's super-middleweight title against the new champion, Chong-Pal Park. This Saturday, James DeGale fights for the same title when he meets Andre Dirrell in Boston. "I think I got about $25,000 [which would be worth £36,000 in today's exchange rate] for the fight, something like that," remembers Gumbs. "It was so cold that the showers would freeze at the gym. It was tough, but I had to take the chance. It was a real experience."
DeGale, by the way, is making £1 million for his fight on the road. "It's funny because for five years I was unbeaten, I was the British and Commonwealth middleweight champion and nobody would fight me, nobody would give me the chance at a title," continues Gumbs. "Then, I lost to [Mark] Kaylor and the offers started to come in."
Gumbs turned professional in 1976 after just nine amateur fights and lost three of his first four fights. He fought in Gentlemen-only sporting clubs, where noise was not allowed, and he made up the bottom of the card on shows at lost venues like Caesar's Palace in Luton or Manor Place Baths in south London. "It was not an easy business to get a living," says Gumbs. "It was difficult to get the right fights, hard to say no to offers for other fights. It could be frustrating and I would take whatever fight was offered."
In a 10-month period starting in April 1977 Gumbs fought seven times, including trips to Denmark and Belgium, won twice, drew one and was beaten four times. However, 10 fights later in February, 1981, Gumbs was the British middleweight champion. In three British title fights at middleweight in just 12 months, Gumbs stopped all of his opponents, dropping them a total of 10 times and making sure that he was on a list of fighters that nobody fancied meeting.
It never stopped Gumbs from trying and in 1983 he travelled to Rhode Island to watch from ringside as Marvin Hagler defended his world middleweight title. "Frank Warren took me to see Hagler beat [Wilford] Scypion and there was talk of a fight and we stayed on and went to watch [Joe] Bugner fight [Marvis] Frazier in Atlantic City," says Gumbs. It was as close as Gumbs would come at that time - he was too big a risk, too dangerous for a cheap defence. Hagler ignored Gumbs and in his next fight made a fortune for beating Roberto Duran over 15 rounds. Less risk, more reward and Gumbs never got his world title chance at middleweight.
"I grew up poor, I knew it would never be easy and I just had to get on with it," adds Gumbs. He did, and in September of 1983 he lost a savage shoot-out and his British and Commonwealth titles to Kaylor, who was 23 and zero going in.
Today Gumbs is based in Dubai and is an ambassador of Club Fit for Business, which works with the business community all over the world through a number of networking events. "It's been a long road and now I train people to get fit for business, using my experiences to help people in the business world," said Gumbs, who is also a qualified boxing coach, referee and judge. He has spent some time "back on the Islands", as he put it, working and running the boxing programme for St. Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies.
"You say that DeGale is getting a million pounds?" Gumbs asks me. "Whew, that is easy money and I hope he gets to enjoy all of it." I never told Gumbs that DeGale recently said £1m is NOT a lot of money. To men like Gumbs, boxers that were outsiders and had to fight for every extra penny, the mention of making a million quid for one night in the ring still makes them shake their heads in wonderment.
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