Rastafarian rebel and ex-boxing champion Gary Crawford on politics, boxing and veganism
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Ex-British, Commonwealth and European light-heavyweight boxing champion Gary Crawford (also known as Crawford Ashley) has always been something of an anti-establishment figure.
He's currently in the process of writing a short story named ‘The Question’, in which, after a nuclear apocalypse created by US president Donald Trump, society is divided in two. A ruling class of politicians are separated from a large group of people living together and rebuilding their lives in a communal society with no input from any governments.
Although not explicitly set in the UK, it is a reflection of Crawford’s dissatisfaction towards the government in this country too...
"We don’t have enough money to pay for nurses, but we have enough to pay for foreign wars and MPs’ pay rises? Shut the fuck up man! How many other jobs can you get a breakfast on expenses? If you’re an MP you can, why? And you and your taxes are paying for it! The system is crooked!"
He holds a similar scorn towards establishment figures in the world of boxing of today:
"I can’t even go into the gym and train people how to box because I’m not ‘qualified’. Excuse me? I’d been fighting since I was seven, been a schoolboy champion, British, Commonwealth, European champion, how many people have been where I’ve been?"
"Who’s going to qualify me? I’d have to get a qualification from somebody telling me something that they don’t know. I went on an amateur training course, and the man’s teaching rubbish. I have to listen to this man, and I have to bow down to him so I can get a certificate so I can teach kids how to box? The man’s never boxed in his life!"
"I don’t really follow the sport anymore. For me, boxing is about not getting hit, if you’re getting hit, you’re doing something wrong. It’s all about fighting nowadays, people don’t defend like they used to and it’s because of the trainers."
Indeed, Crawford’s career differed greatly from many boxing prospects in this day and age, whose careers are often carefully managed, avoiding risky fights until they get to the point where they reach world championship level. Crawford would take on all comers, often fighting on short notice.
Before fighting for his first major belt, the European title, he had already lost three times, and had faced future cruiserweight world champions in Carl Thompson and Johnny Nelson.
Despite losing a close fight on a split decision on away in Germany to Graciano Rocchigiani, Crawford is not bitter about the experience:
"He was unbeaten, a former super-middleweight world champion, he was in his own backyard, and a voice in my head was saying how good are you? I broke my hand in the 3rd round. I went 12 rounds with him. As soon as the bell rang I said I wanted a rematch, before even knowing the result. I lost on a split decision. The referee put in a complaint to the European Boxing Union saying it was the worst decision he’d ever seen. But what that whole experience showed me was that I belonged in that class, where I wanted to be..."
Crawford didn't sound like a man recounting a defeat. 'So you believe you won the fight?' I asked-
"When I was little, I was brought up to believe this: When you get in the ring, no matter who says you win or lose, it’s down to the three men at ringside. You have twelve three minute rounds to get the win, if you don’t take the decision out of the judges’ hands, you can’t complain."
Probably Crawford’s most famous fight was against pound for pound superstar Michael Nunn in 1993 for the WBA super-middleweight title. True to form, he took the fight at short notice, at a lower weight than he normally campaigned at. Crawford put in a brave performance, but ultimately ended up losing via a 6th round stoppage. Even though he went in as a big underdog, there was still a tinge of regret about how the fight panned out:
"Right after I lost that fight, I thought I’ve blown it. I’m not being big-headed, I could see it in his eyes, he couldn’t believe I was still getting up, he hit me with his best shots, stuff he’d be putting people to sleep with, and I was still there. All the pain of the fight had gone away, and there was just the disappointment.'
'If I’d have survived that 6th round, I would have gone on and won that fight."
He would get one more shot at a world title two years later against WBA light-heavyweight championg Virgil Hill, losing on points in the boxing capital of the world, Las Vegas. Despite this setback, he would pick up the European title at the third time of asking in 1997.
On paper at least, this was the most prestigious title he would pick up in his career, but was it his proudest achievement in the ring?
"No, that would be winning the British title, the Lonsdale Belt, outright (against Glazz Campbell). Mainly because Lord Lonsdale himself said that no black man would ever win it. It was that rebel in me, it’s always that bit sweeter, winning something when people say you can’t have it. It still makes me smile, even now."
He would have two spells as European champion, but by now, his career was slowing down. He lost his European (as well as his British and Commonwealth titles) for the second time to Clinton Woods in 1999, and in 2001, after a defeat to South African Sebastiaan Rothmann, he knew the writing was on the wall, and the time had come to retire.
"I don’t really remember much of the (Rothmann) fight, but what I do remember is that it was hard. I was seeing openings, but I wasn’t catching him, and punches I should have been seeing, I was getting hit by, and my head was getting a bit screwed up, and in the changing room, there was a voice saying that’s it. My body had had enough, I’d just slowed down a little bit, and the level I wanted to compete at, I just wasn’t there, I just didn’t think at the time that I could get back into position where I would be."
As happens all too often in the world of boxing, Crawford found it difficult at first to adjust to life away from the sport:
"Hardest decision I’ve ever made. It was the worst and best decision I ever made. I tried to kill myself soon after."
"I couldn’t even write a letter to my children, because I didn’t know how to get my feelings down on paper. But one day, I met Charles Bronson in jail, and he thanked me, saying that I had kept him informed."
"He told me to start writing, just write my thoughts, and I started to realise, I was always me, I just loved to box. But, the only time I was a boxer, was when the bell rang and I was in the ring. As soon as the last bell rang, I wasn’t a boxer anymore, yet it was defining me as a person. Post-boxing, it was just a matter of finding something I loved to do."
So, what does the future hold for Crawford?
"Apart from writing, I’m trying to set up a vegan burger company, for people interested in dabbling in a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. A vegan diet is very good for you, despite the lies the meat industry keep telling you."
"Another thing I’m looking at is tailoring, using clothes made from all-natural fibres. At the moment, we go to poor countries and get all of our stuff made by children in sweatshops, I don’t want that. I want it to be made over here by people who have a skill, they might be single parents for example."
The sport of boxing brings together all kinds of people from all over the globe. Yet even so, amongst the many kinds of characters involved in the sport, Gary Crawford truly is one of a kind.