For­mer WBO light-heavy­weight boss Leeonzer Bar­ber talks to James Slater about his ca­reer and those fa­mous Kronk Gym wars

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For­mer WBO champ Leeonzer Bar­ber opens up about the fa­mous gym

LEEONZER BAR­BER all but van­ished af­ter his loss to Dar­iusz Michal­czewski, which oc­curred 24 years ago last month. His three-year reign as WBO light-heavy­weight cham­pion was over and, four low-key come­back bouts aside, so was his ca­reer. To­day when look­ing back the 52-year-old is happy he got out “with all of my fac­ul­ties,” but there is ob­vi­ous re­morse about the heights he never quite scaled. Bar­ber, who fin­ished with a 21-4 (13) record, talks about those tough spar­ring ses­sions inside the Kronk Gym and also re­calls his key fights.

Why did you not fight for four years af­ter the loss to Michal­czewski?

I have quite a lot to say about what hap­pened, but at the time I never did say any­thing, I never did pub­li­cise things. But I had reti­nal trou­ble in both eyes, and I never said any­thing be­cause my plan was to come back. But I had se­ri­ous in­jury and the doc­tor said to me that, ba­si­cally, I had to call it a day or else I’d be blind in my thir­ties. The doc­tor told me that in his en­tire ca­reer he had never seen an eye in­jury quite so bad as mine. Thank­fully my eyes did heal, but it took a good three years. Also, I must say I never did think my man­age­ment team and my­self saw eye to eye. I could have had things done bet­ter for me. I’m not go­ing to come across too neg­a­tive about [trainer] Emanuel [Stew­ard] as he moved things for me and my ca­reer, but he had so many fight­ers all want­ing the spot­light at that time. I was a world cham­pion who won the belt when fight­ing in an­other guy’s coun­try, I de­fended it on the road, and even­tu­ally I lost it on the road.

When did the eye in­jury oc­cur?

It was in the Michal­czewski fight when I lost the sight in my right eye, I guess for the last four rounds of the fight. That was when I knew I had to go to see a real eye doc­tor; not just the op­ti­cian. But the lights went out in that fight in Ger­many – for real! In the late rounds, when Michal­czewski was fad­ing, the lights went out, it was to­tal dark­ness. Noth­ing was said af­ter­wards, no­body appealed or any­thing. Emanuel wasn’t with me for that fight, nei­ther were my peo­ple, and I kind of felt naked. I’m not say­ing Michal­czewski wouldn’t have won any­way – he is one of the best lightheavy­weight cham­pi­ons ever - but I cer­tainly don’t think I lost that fight by the big mar­gins the judges had it [119-107, 116-111 twice].


Tells us about the leg­endary Kronk Gym spar­ring wars

I sparred so many tough fight­ers, great fight­ers – and not all of them made it big, name-wise: Leon Spinks, Tommy Hearns, Ger­ald Mcclellan, Den­nis An­dries, Duane Thomas, and so many oth­ers. Every Mon­day, I knew I had to go in there and not slip one bit, not at all. Over the week­end, know­ing I would have to spar on the Mon­day, I couldn’t have any pizza, I couldn’t eat and drink what I wanted and let my­self go. No way would I risk get­ting em­bar­rassed, not in front of Emanuel. And it was the same for the other fight­ers too. We all made each other suf­fer! Den­nis, he was a real tough guy, as was Ger­ald. Den­nis is one of the most ac­com­plished fight­ers ever to have come out of the UK.

What do you re­mem­ber about winning the WBO ti­tle against Tom Collins in Leeds?

The first round I came out to get him. I had strug­gled to make the weight and I put it on him early, to let him know I was the boss. Then, all of a sud­den, it all went black for a se­cond! I ran into a right hand. But I was in great shape and I re­cov­ered. I think he was the bet­ting favourite to win that fight, as he had had way more fights than I had had. Back then, my goal was to unify the belts.

What stopped you from uni­fy­ing the belts in your opin­ion?

There were too many of us [cham­pi­ons]! There was Den­nis, there was Prince Charles Wil­liams, there was Vir­gil Hill. I wanted all the belts. Look­ing back, as champ for over three years, my ac­tiv­ity level wasn’t great. Again, I think my peo­ple could have moved me bet­ter, kept me more ac­tive. That’s what I wanted, to be an ac­tive word cham­pion. But things turned out the way they turned out. I know Emanuel did a lot for me but my feel­ing then was, I’m as good as the other guys you have in your corner, who you are work­ing with - I’m wear­ing those gold shorts too. I wanted the chance to prove I was supreme.

Emanuel, he wasn’t with me for my two tough­est fights: the one against Nicky Piper and the loss to Michal­czewski. The Piper fight, in Wales, that looked like the tough­est fight of my ca­reer, but Michal­czewski re­ally was the best I fought. Piper, I was badly swollen around the eye and they were close to stop­ping the fight. They could have stopped that fight quite eas­ily, but I think Frank War­ren and ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing Piper and his team, felt they were just sec­onds away from get­ting a clean knock­out win. But then I put Piper’s lights out.

RE­FLEC­TIVE: Bar­ber is pleased to have his sight and a clear mind 14 years af­ter his last bout

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