Fighting on foreign soil presents some dif culties, as I know from experience
The art of fighting on foreign soil
I IHAVE some great and not so great memories from my two trips to fight in Germany [versus Henry Maske in 1996 and Graciano “Rocky” Rocchigiani in 1997]. I remember someone telling me that Rocky’s fans in Berlin were kind of fanatical about him and that if they saw me out in the streets doing roadwork they might cause me some trouble. So I was forced to be careful wherever I went while I was there. I also remember plugging my boom box into the wall in my room to listen to music and several moments later it sounded like a bomb went off. No one had told me about the effect the power source would have on North American plugs. My radio was completely destroyed! As for when I fought Henry, I remember being awake all night before the fight. I was literally pacing my hotel room floor, trying to get myself tired. I was wide awake until well after the sun came up.
For me, the biggest difficulty of fighting abroad is that no one there truly wants you to win. In Germany, I was actually treated well, but I still knew that when it came down to it, no one there actually wanted me to win. You walk around and people talk to you, but no matter how nice they are you know that they want you to lose, and you wonder if they’re spying on you. It’s like being behind enemy lines, so your guard is always up. It’s a constant mind game being played in your head that isn’t nearly as intense when you’re fighting in your own country.
On a positive side, the media over in Germany did a great job of keeping the fight alive in the build-up. Newspaper articles and television interviews were done on a very regular basis. I was constantly reminded that I was there for something important – a fight. Also, when I fought there, it was before I’d ever even heard of the internet, so I had no connection with America other than my phone calls back home. This alleviated some of the pressure on my shoulders because I kind of thought that people back home hardly knew anything about the fight.
Despite being the away fighter, I felt that the scoring in both my fights in Germany was fair in that I did lose fair and square. But I do remember one particular round against Rocky when he didn’t catch me with any clean shots. I landed more punches and I felt I won the round, but I checked the scorecards after the fight and the judges hadn’t given me that round. There’s also a specific moment in the Maske fight that’s always stuck with me. Before the fight, we noticed while watching his tapes that Henry liked to push his shorter opponents’ heads down when they got close to him on the inside. During our fight, he did this to me numerous times, yet the referee never said a word to him about it. In the 12th round, I knew I was well behind on the scorecards, so when we got close on the inside and he pulled my head down, I intentionally stepped down hard on his toes. As soon as I did it the referee stepped in and gave me a stern warning. I literally laughed out loud and patted him on the shoulder with a smile. I could only find humour in it at that point.
Food is another thing to watch out for when you’re fighting abroad. It’s important to be careful and err on the side of caution, as you hear stories coming up in the game of boxers’ food being tampered with when they’re away from home. You always have to assume that stuff like this happening is a possibility.
For my trips overseas, Emanuel Steward advised me to go to sleep at the same hour as I would at home. You must get your body clock acclimatised as soon as you arrive in a different time zone, even if it’s a difference of only a couple of hours, like for Hughie Fury in Bulgaria [against Kubrat Pulev this weekend]. Other than this, Hughie’s just got to realise that, whether you’re in your home country or your opponent’s home country, a fight is a fight and a ring is a ring.
TEAM ON TOUR: Hughie [right] with his trainer, Peter Fury, and his promoter, Mick Hennessy, in Bulgaria