Boxing Insider Interview with Luther Clay
By: Oliver McManus
Caught up in the bizarrely busy Thursday afternoon traffic, a relaxed voice emerged. Luther Clay, talking via handsfree I hasten to add, came across as a content and serene individual throughout the 40-odd minutes we spoke. He started by telling me the simple stuff, as every boxer does, of when he first laced up the gloves. The word ‘simple’ is to be used loosely in this instance, Clay doesn’t do anything by half measures.
“I was born in South Africa, a sort of farming area of the country, but I moved to England when I was six, seven years old. All my family is in Africa, in England it’s just my dad, my mum, my sister and I. You’ve probably heard it a lot but I used to get into a fights a fair bit at school but I didn’t really start boxing until I was 15. Had eleven amatuer fights in three years before I stopped and went to university. I was studying computer, web and app development, but I never really wanted to end up in that industry.
To be honest I only really went to university because of my parents. They didn’t force it on me, don’t get me wrong, but they really wanted me to go, no-one in my family had been yet, and I didn’t fancy a full time job. I’ve always loved boxing and when I got there I ended up getting roped back in.”
A key figure that “roped” Luther back in to the sport was Al Siesta who, alongside Gennadi Gordienko (a Russian trainer) were influential to Clay turning professional. A machiavellian figure, almost, Siesta always strikes me as someone with the demeanour of a Bond villain but I was reassured he’s not part-timing as a criminal mastermind,
“I get that but he’s a nice guy, really, very talkative and raw, I’d say, what he says is what you get. He’s a genuine character who’s always very hands on, I see him a couple of times a week and he’s always coming in the gym to see us training. He likes to see what’s happening but it’s not just boxing, he’s interested in you as a person.”
Since the fateful linkup with Siesta there have been a number of opportunities provided by his promotional company. The welterweight, aged 20 at the time, debuted in Latvia on a show headlined by Mairis Briedis. Subsequently he’s fought away in Lithuania, Georgia and twice more in Latvia and it’s something that Clay told me he was loving,
“I’m really laid back about it all, to be honest, a fight is a fight as far as I see and the boxing ring will be the same wherever I am. From there it’s just my job to go in and win the fight. I prefer fighting in those countries, if I’m honest, my personal goal is to fight in South Africa one day but I will fight anywhere that Al wants me to. I’ve received a lot offers, especially from Fox, to fight in South Africa so the opportunity has been there but it has to align with Al’s plan. Realistically we’re looking at next year but it will happen.”
With a fight in South Africa being the only definitive long term goal, titles aside, the Bracknell fighter is fully focussed on his next contest. On March 17th he’ll face O’Shane Clarke, a fighter he knows well.
“I know O’Shane, I know him. He’s from Reading and he was always more advanced than me – he’s a couple years older – and he was a good amatuer. I’ve seen him sparring people at my gym and over the last year and a half we’ve done a couple rounds so I think I know what to expect from him. He’ll probably use the whole of the ring, try to survive, and take me to a decision but I’m confident I’ll beat him. Apparently this fight is an eliminator for the Commonwealth title so that’s a title I’ll be eyeing up for the near future.”
Whilst speaking to Luther he seemed to be really reflective about his time in the sport, speaking with honesty even if it went against the general norm of opinion for a professional boxer. It was interesting to just sit back and listen to him discussing, with himself, what he would like to get from the sport,
“I think, and I know it’s just hypothetical, I’d be in the sport until I’m 35. It seems a long time but it’s really not, it all depends on how good I get though. If I saw, in myself, that I couldn’t achieve a certain level in the sport – let’s say British or European – then I wouldn’t continue. I’m not in this to just be here, be a gatekeeper. I love a fight but I want to be at a certain level so I can be satisfied with myself and my career. If I can’t reach that level then I’d rather just go and get a job.
“Boxing is crazy, you see people who have won world titles and aren’t in the best position in life. The ultimate dream is to win world titles but just to have a successful life, outside of boxing, would be the goal. To be able to leave the sport and be in a good position. This is out of nowhere but look at Dave Allen, he might never be a world championship boxer, but he’s got houses and he’s in a reasonable financial position. You want world titles but you want to be successful. Fuck, though, I want belts. Life has a way of giving you some stuff and taking some away – James Toney has done in a lot in his career, an all time great right, but now he’s basically bankrupt.”
The 23 year old was confident in his ability to mix at a domestic level, welcoming potential fights with fellow prospects, but was pragmatic when discussing his progression.
“I’d happily take any fight as long as the risk-reward ratio was worth it. Right now I’m still in my learning period of the sport but in the next 12 months you never know what can happen, there are fights out there that I know I could win but it’s about taking it at a time that benefits me the most. It’s all about the opportunities that are provided to me, it doesn’t matter what route I take to the titles because the end destination is the same. People ask me if I wish I had a ‘big promoter’ as in Eddie or Frank but that’s irrelevant, the doors are there but you’ve got to be ready and I’m not going to take a fight I’m not ready for. You can’t chuck yourself in a position that you’re not ready for and I’m realistic about that, this year I will be ready, trust me, I will be ready, towards the end of the year I want to be knocking on the door of that British title.”
Looking to move 11-1 on the 17th – a sole loss that came in Georgia but one, Clay confesses, has made little impact on his mentality – the truly fascinating character ended our conversation by discussing exposure and building a profile.
“When I had just started it really annoyed me that people would overrate guys like Conor Benn so much just because of the name and the platform. As I’ve been progressing through and I look at the names I’m next to in the rankings I just think “man, I shouldn’t be worried about him, let me worry about getting these guys out of the way”. I think so many boxers like to focus on what other people do so I’m just trying to concentrate on myself and seeing where that path leads. I know and my team know my ability but let’s not get hung up on fights that might never happen, let’s focus on the ones in front of us. Keep on winning and these fights will have to happen, it’s as simple as that, and then the talking can stop.”
ALI-THE STORY THEY DARE NOT TELL YOU
Ali-The Story They Dare Not Tell You
By: Ben Underwood
On March 8, 1971, as 300 million people gathered to watch Ali’s first major fight since he was convicted in 1967 for bravely refusing to fight in the unjust Vietnam war, a group of heroic antiwar activists plotted their burglary of the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania.
As the mainstream media praises Muhammad Ali for his boxing career and Parkinson’s while only glossing over his antiwar bravery, there are untold stories of how this amazing man changed the world.
One of these such contributions manifested through a terrible loss during Ali’s fight against the darling of the military industrial complex — Joe Frazier. Although Ali would take a knockdown and the first loss of his career, his fight provided cover for a heist that would expose the FBI’s secret spying, murder plots, and COINTELPRO that would change the world forever.
The noise from the fight would provide cover to the burglars as they broke into the office to expose the FBI’s heinous crimes. The group of eight activists would successfully expose the illegal spying operations of J. Edgar Hoover and how citizens across America were subject to the FBI’s black ops — including Martin Luther King, Jr.The group took every file in the office, and this cache would eventually lead to major congressional investigations and reform within the United States intelligence apparatus.
According to the Intercept:
‘The distraction of the fight helped the burglars, who called themselves the Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI, walk away with more than 1,000 documents, including one that revealed the FBI’s secret COINTELPRO operations. These operations involved a panoply of dirty tricks that ranged from planting disinformation about antiwar activists, to planning the murder of a member of the Black Panthers, and sending innocent people to prison on the basis of false testimony by agents and informers.’
Also contained within those files was the entire life history of Muhammad Ali. The FBI had data on Ali dating back to elementary school.
‘There was some poetic justice in Ali providing cover for the burglary. As more and more secret FBI files became public as a result of the break-in, it was revealed that the FBI had kept tabs on Ali, beginning with its investigation of his Selective Service case. Some of his phone conversations were tapped, and FBI informers gained access to, of all things, his elementary school records in Louisville (teachers said little Cassius Clay, his original name, loved art). Informers also had diligently monitored and typed, word for word, what Ali said on his appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.’
The eight activists who carried out the burglary of the century were never caught and they never broke their silence until over 40 years later in a book written by Betty L. Medsger, titled, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI and for a and for a documentary titled, 1971, by Johanna Hamilton.
As the world mourns the loss of this great man, it is important we don’t let the media whitewash his antiwar efforts. The fights he endured in the ring were nothing compared to the ridicule and hate he faced from the pro-war establishment class. For taking a stand against killing innocent people, Ali suffered death threats and had his business shut down by the government.
The day after the fight, Ali, being the great man that he was, made the following statement playing down the loss of fight and highlighting the importance of everything else.
“All kinds of things set us back, but life goes on. You don’t shoot yourself. Soon this will be old news. People got lives to live, bills to pay, mouths to feed. Maybe a plane will go down with ninety people on it. Or a great man will be assassinated. That will be more important than Ali losing. I never wanted to lose, never thought I would, but the thing that matters is how you lose. I’m not crying. My friends should not cry.”