Let’s give my old friend the send-off he deserves
Remembering Bunny Sterling
I IFEEL great sadness following the death of my longtime friend, stablemate and business partner, Bunny Sterling, who died suddenly, lonely and bewildered earlier this month. He suffered with dementia, but his long-time girlfriend, Maxine, stood by him and endeavoured to be his full-time carer, while maintaining her own survival. I will never forget the very first time I stepped into the Highgate Gym and witnessed one of his sparring sessions. He was Britain’s answer to Muhammad Ali – a slick, fast box-fighter, with the ability to slice your eyebrow before you could blink. Before my very eyes I witnessed a potential world champion who could throw punches with lightning speed.
As I sit here reminiscing about the times in the gym, those memories I will always treasure. Bunny never failed to make us all laugh. The early morning run was complemented by throwing the last man back into the ducks’ pool, sometimes breaking the ice! And you can guess who that often was – the new boy of the stable - me. Bunny was never one to shirk training. I’ll never forget the night Bunny and his trainer, George Francis, made history. Yes, they finally broke the glass ceiling and made it possible for a black fighter to contest and win a British title. Bunny was the first Caribbean to break that mould. Bunny also won the Commonwealth title that night, and went on to successfully defend it against Kahu Mahanga. This was followed by his first great tussle with Tony Mundine, which culminated in a draw. He also went on to become champion of Europe.
Much of Bunny’s time after retirement in 1978 was spent following lucrative business contacts he’d amassed during his years as a boxer, taking him all the way to Nigeria, where he spent most of his time bartering with oil barons. He considered Nigeria to be his second home. He often spoke of Mr Marshall, the oil tycoon he was apprenticed to, and how well they got on in each other’s company, returning to England after his death. Being the gentleman he was, Bunny would often close huge oil deals for others, never one to think of himself, always ready, willing and able to bail out friends in financial distress. I often hoped, like many, that he would eventually retire from the oil business, as it remained mentally and physically demanding. That said, the Nigerians seemed to have his back – unfortunately he never seemed to make any money.
In 2006, I ran the Croydon Youth Games, a mini Olympics for the children of Greater London, with a vast education programme, supported by small businesses and Bunny. He had pride of place at the Grand Opening Ceremony and did us all proud. In 2008, when I first stood as candidate for the office of Mayor of London, Bunny was there at the ready to support me and my team.
I recall George, our trainer and manager, speaking fondly of Bunny, particularly about his insistence on beating the others on the morning run. I can still smell the aroma coming from the café in Highgate where we had that morning breakfast at 8am after the run, and then sparring at 3pm in the Highgate Gym. If only we could turn the clocks back to that memorable night when he defeated Mark Rowe and opened that gateway for so many dreams. His legacy will live on.
So long, my friend. It’s sad to think one can give so much of one’s self, yet gain so little in life. Bunny died poverty-stricken, heartbroken and lonely. I therefore sincerely ask for all his long-time friends and fellow boxers to submit a donation on my Justgiving page (https:// www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/winston-mckenzie-bunny-sterling), so that Bunny may have a decent burial, and his partner may be in a position to cover personal debts imposed on him towards the end of his life.
Bunny Sterling, I salute you. R.I.P.
REMEMBER: Sterling’s achievements and legacy should last long in the memory