Clinton Woods: The Greatest Hits
When Clinton Woods turned professional very little was expected of him, but he persevered, mixed with the best, and became a light heavyweight titleholder.
Woods was born and brought up in Sheffield, England, and is one of seven children. His introduction to boxing was a curious one.
“One Christmas morning my parents were giving presents out, and my brothers were getting football kits, boots, and for some reason I got a boxing bag and a pair of boxing gloves,” Woods told The Ring. “My dad said it was ‘cause I was shit at football [laughs], but I was seven years old.”
Sure enough, his father took him to the local boxing gym and from the age of 11 to 15, he had somewhere in the region of 70 amateur fights. However, his life then took a different path.
“I was a bit of a lad at school,” Woods admitted. “I got a girl pregnant at school when I was fifteen. I went down a bad road from 15 to 21. I was in and out of community services, attendance centers.
“I was a bit of a bad boy, but I always worked. I was cleaning the walls for aertexers, then went to cleaning for plasterers, mixing for plasterers, and then plastering. I’ve always been a grafter, but I liked to have a drink and a scrap.”
One day, the young hellraiser received a message from his mother that helped steer him toward a better life.
“I was in my flat and my mum put a letter under my door,” recalled Woods, who was 22 at the time. “The letter said, ‘You break my heart every time I see you. You’ve got black eyes, you’ve been locked up, you don’t know what you’re doing to me son.’
“I thought I must start training again and went to the pub for a drink. I got talking to a bloke and he said, ‘Why don’t you start boxing again?’ So that’s when I walked into the gym and met a guy called Neil Port, who was my main trainer.”
After turning professional in November 1994, Woods fought regularly in small hall shows. In his first meaningful fight, he was a decided underdog against Commonwealth super middleweight champion Mark Baker but shocked his once-beaten opponent on points.
After losing for the first time, to David Starie, Woods moved up to light heavyweight, and it was at 175 pounds where he would excel.
The proud Yorkshireman cleaned up domestically and in Europe to earn a shot at a prime Roy Jones Jr. for the undisputed championship.
“Everybody says to me, ‘I can’t believe you took that fight.’ Why wouldn’t I take the fight?’ I went into boxing to stay fit and they offered me a million dollars to fight Roy Jones. How could I not fight him?”
Although it wasn’t to be, Woods put up a gallant effort against Jones. Learning from the experience, he upped his game and eventually captured the vacant IBF title by stopping American Rico Hoye in March 2005. The Sheffield man made four defenses over the next three years before losing to Antonio Tarver in April 2008.
Woods had one more run but lost to the much younger Tavoris Cloud in August 2009. He retired shortly thereafter with a record of 42-5-1 (25 knockouts).
The former titleholder wasn’t sure what to do in retirement and tried various endeavours until he opened up Clinton Woods: Boxing Fitness Gym in Sheffield. The gym and family life keep him busy.
“We have a good life; we go away quite a lot,” said the 48-year-old father of three. “My wife works hard but she enjoys her job. My kids are quite active.
“On an average day I’ll be at the gym at 7:30 in the morning, doing one-to-ones. People want to do pads with me. It’s boxing fitness, it’s how I trained without the contact. It’s packed, I really do well from it, and [people from] all walks of life [come to the gym]. People come in ’cause they’ve had a bad day, take some stress out on the bags. This lockdown, people need to be back because it’s driving them crackers. Some of them live for those training sessions.”
Here’s what the former titleholder had to say about six of his most memorable nights in the ring:
Date/ Venue: March 28, 1998/ Ice Arena, Hull, England
Titles: Commonwealth super middleweight
“David Starie was a big name and I was a relative unknown. It was a big fight, I trained as normal, but I did struggle at the weight a little bit. After the weigh-in, I was stuffing myself with chocolate and crisps and whatever I could, I was that hungry. I can remember David Starie walked downstairs and saw me getting all this chocolate from one of these vending machines and must have thought, ‘He’s not a professional.’ At the time I wasn’t, I was still playing at boxing. The fight happened. It was close-ish, nothing much in the fight, I lost on points. I wasn’t that bothered about boxing again. I thought it was the end of the road. There was no pressure on me, I was always waiting to lose anyway. It was just a good night out for my mates. I can remember on the drive home, thinking that was it, we’d had a few years of boxing, having a laugh, having a drink. I thought, I’ll keep myself fit; I’ll stay in the gym, but I carried on and moved up to light heavyweight.”
Result: Starie PTS 12
Date/ Venue: March 13, 1999/ Bowlers Exhibition Centre, Manchester, England
Titles: British, Commonwealth and European light heavyweight
“It was a massive fight for me. Crawford was a big name, I’d seen him knocking guys out. I just thought, I’m going to get in there and have a good go at him. Nobody gave me a chance; the TV pundits more or less wrote me off before the first bell. But if you watch the fight, they all changed their minds halfway through it. One of them, I think it was Jim Watt, says, ‘I saw Clinton in his last fight and he wasn’t very good.’ That was the Starie fight and I wasn’t good to be honest, but I was a totally different boxer then. I knew how I had to beat Ashley, I kept on top of him because I knew I wasn’t as good a boxer. I knew I’d tire him out and my fitness beat him. I think Ashley took the fight because it was going to be an easy win. I’d seen him box for world titles and he was a fantastic fighter. I do think I got him at the right time, but I wasn’t at my best either. I wasn’t having world-class sparring, I was just going to the gym and training hard. I got on the bus with all my mates [after the fight] and we went to a local pub called the Golden Keys, that’s where I was from, and we got rat-arsed (drunk) – good nights.”
Result: Woods TKO 8
Date/ Venue: April 29, 2000/ Wembley Arena, London, England
Titles: European light heavyweight
“I sparred with him in Denmark. The first day of sparring he’s in with this Russian guy and knocks him out clean in the first round. He never even acknowledged him, he just shouts, ‘Next, Woods! Next, Woods!’ So I got in the ring thinking, ‘Oh my God.’ I just moved around and boxed his head off to tell the truth. After the rounds he says to me, ‘Tomorrow, we’re downstairs.’ I didn’t know what that meant, but the next day we went down these stairs into a little room and the ring was tiny. He didn’t beat me up, but it was a proper hard sparring session. I had two weeks of that. He had me sparring again in Grand Canaria when he was fighting [Reggie Johnson] for the [IBF] world title. He was a pretty boy but a proper tough kid. He went from Norway to America to train in the Kronk. When I sparred him he used to have 10 or 12 ladies watching him. It was a beautiful place, on the beach, but I was getting the best of it at the time and Dennis Hobson Sr. came up to me and said, ‘Lad, I need you to take your time with him because they’re going to be sending us home after a couple of days.’ We were having a good time, having a drink, I was going out at night and coming home bladdered sometimes, then the next morning I was on the beach sparring – good times. Obviously, I ended up fighting him. He was always a confident guy. I’ll always remember the press conference. He turned up and said, ‘There’s no way I lose to this skinny boy from Sheffield.’ That’s always stuck, that’s what they call me. It was a good fight to watch, the first time I’d ever been down, he put me down with a left hook. I caught him at the same time, he was a bigger puncher, maybe the biggest puncher I ever fought. I got up, came back and actually nearly stop him at the end of that round. The commentator says, ‘The fighter who comes out the strongest will win the fight.’ I come out and hit him with a big uppercut and left hook and knocked him out. That was a big fight.”
Result: Woods TKO 9
Roy Jones Jr.
Date/ Venue: September 7, 2002/ Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon
Titles: Undisputed light heavyweight
“At the time when I fought Roy Jones, I was his No. 1 challenger and they asked me if I wanted to fight him. I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to’ but I knew in my head that I wasn’t in his league. I trained hard, got into the ring and I was buzzing. Everybody expected me to get hammered. In the first round I was meeting him with shots because my speed wasn’t bad for a light heavyweight and I think he was a little bit shocked. For the first two rounds I was alright but [laughs] I do believe, watching it over and over again, Roy Jones was just having a look at me. He turned it on in the third round, was switching from one side to the next, throwing right hands and by the time you’ve realized, he’s gone. It was the speed and little feints. I’d never come up against a fighter like Roy Jones. I’d never even sparred anyone like him. His feinting was unbelievable and sometimes a feint is as good as a shot. He’d make me put my hands down to my body and bang to the head. He was a very clever fighter. I do believe if the fight had gone on, he would have cut me to ribbons. The fight was getting away from me, and he was catching me with a lot of big shots and people were saying, ‘Stop the fight.’ I didn’t want them to stop the fight, I wanted to go as far as I could. I’m a proud guy and it’s the first time in my career I was stopped.”
Result: Jones Jr. TKO 6
Date/ Venue: March 4, 2005, Magna Center, Rotherham, England
Titles: Vacant IBF light heavyweight
“One day Dennis [Hobson] phoned me up and said, ‘I’ve got a chance for a world title fight.’ I said, ‘Who with?’ He said, ‘Rico Hoye.’ I didn’t really know about Rico Hoye, I never really followed boxing that much. I think [Glen] Johnson was champion and I don’t think he wanted to defend against him. I think Johnson fought [Antonio] Tarver instead, so he gave his belt up and fought Tarver. Not many people wanted to fight Rico Hoye. I Googled him, started watching some of his fights, and he was knocking out a lot of good fighters. But in training everything had gone right, the sparring partners were the best I’d had, everything went perfect. On the night I’m in the changing room and I’m hitting the pads – boom, boom, boom. I just knew there was no way I was going to lose. Nobody would have beat me that night, I’ve always said that. I don’t care who would have been in the ring that night ’cause everything went right. The fight was easier than expected. He caught me with a few big shots, but I dismantled him pretty easy to tell the truth and stopped him in five rounds. We went to the Hilton Hotel, had a big party, all my mates, we had a big drink there. I was out with my mates the next three weekends.”
Result: Woods TKO 5
Glen Johnson 3
Date/ Venue: September 2, 2006, Bolton Arena, Bolton, England
Titles: IBF light heavyweight
“He’d changed (since the first two fights). He was very humble the first time; sat down, said a few words, but this time when I was talking, they were talking, and it was like money had gone to them a little bit. He had this beautiful suit on, whereas before he came wearing a baseball cap and tracksuit. Frank Warren put the show on and had no interest in me, no interest in Glen Johnson, but he had [Joe] Calzaghe. He wanted Calzaghe to fight Johnson, so Frank Warren won the purse bid. That’s why the fight was called ‘For a Few Dollars More’; he was having a go at Dennis Hobson because for a few dollars more he got the show. We boxed, it was a good fight, I did think I’d won, but it was very close. I just thought my shots were cleaner. It was a tough fight and is shown more or less every month on one of the sports channels. That fight took a lot out of him and a lot out of me. He was never the same after the fight, I don’t think I was the same.”
Result: Woods SD 12
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright
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