By Mike Dolan
It is the one question that makes every professional sportsman shudder to their core. What do I do with myself when this all finishes?
Boxers, perhaps more than any other sportsman cavil over this question, often without an answer—other than the obligatory failed return to the ring with a left jab well passed its sell by date! But for former world light heavyweight champion John Conteh, who has seen both the wrong path and the right, a simple answer can be found in ancient greek philosophy.
Reflecting on his own toil with life away from the canvas, Conteh said: “There was a Greek philosopher called Heraclitus and he said something that made perfect sense. He said that no man steps into the same river twice for he is not the same man.
“You’ve got a machine there that works and when it goes, you can’t cope. Whenever I hear of this happening today i always think, welcome to the club!
“But you have to ask what your expectations are when you get on the machine. Have I gone over the top with them?”
Aphorisms aside, a simpler hurdle prevents successful comebacks for Conteh.
He added: “Age has a lot to do with it; you have to realize that you can’t do what you did as a young lad. Your mind says you can, but you’ve got someone in front of you that’s you, only a lot younger.
“This whole older fighter means wiser fighter thing is true to the extent that when you’re older you know how to stay on the canvas longer!”
Speaking in support of Ricky Hatton who failed with his latest comeback against Ukranian Vyacheslav Senchenko after he was knocked out with a vicious body shot, Conteh said: “Ricky did well coming back, he got it out of his system and now realizes that it was the wrong thing to continue to do.
“He used to work hard to come down, and then he would blow up again in between fights.
“For most fighters that wouldn’t work, but for him it did. But you can only do that when you’re younger, it doesn’t work when you get older!”
In terms of physical training, boxing can rightfully claim to be one of the most disciplined of sports. Yet, this discipline is often lost in transition, maybe even translation to the public eye when Boxers hang up their boots.
“You see a similar pattern with people that serve in the army. Everything they do they are told how they should do it and to be disciplined when they do it. Take them out of this disciplined routine and all of a sudden they don’t know what to do.”
Conteh knows all too well the battle some sportsmen face upon retiring. Whilst epic battles in the ring with Jorge Ahumada and Matthew Saad Muhammed will live long in the memory of the British Boxing public, it is his successful battle with alcoholism that will stick with him for the rest of his life.
“You can go the right way, you can go the wrong way, I went the wrong way and got myself back on track.
“After that, you stick to your beliefs and leave the rest to God. The problem is whenever I do that, he or she asks for patience normally in the form of a traffic jam!”
22 years tee-total, a successful career as an after dinner speaker and briefs stints in television . You would say Conteh is winning this fight!