Let’s give my old friend the send-off he de­serves

Boxing News - - Contents - Win­ston Mcken­zie For­mer pro fighter

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.just­giv­­fund­ing/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

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