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Best I Faced: Uriah Grant

09
Apr

Former cruiserweight champion Uriah Grant is enjoying his well-earned retirement, 17 years after the end of his 51-fight career.

“I’m just taking care of the family,” said the 60-year-old from his home in South Florida, as he smiled. “I’ve got a wife, three children and two grandchildren and I’m just taking in life as it goes by.”

But over the next half an hour or more, Grant went through a range of emotions. There’s laughter, there’s anger and there’s resentment as he looks back over his career. And while Grant may sound bitter, there’s a level of acceptance that his career was what it was, and that he still did pretty damn well, despite being written off, overlooked, underpaid and underappreciated. 

Uriah Grant, circa 2018, or so. He told Tris he still wears the same clothes size he did in high school.

He laughs before going into his stories, rather than fuming.

His Jamaican lilt is still prominent and he’s always engaging. 

“I missed boxing so much I was suicidal,” he said of retiring back in 2004 on the back of six losses in the ‘away’ corner. “I missed boxing so much. Once I got out of boxing I pretty much hated it. I cannot lie. I will not hold back. I’ll tell you the truth. The reason why I hated it was because the promoters and the managers… They do us, the fighters, so badly… Yes, I missed the game. It was my income. But once I hated the sport, I became bitter, I hated all those in it who wanted to hurt the fighters. To be frank, the only innocent people who are involved in the sport of boxing is the fighters. We are the ones who are treated like animals. Most of us end up with nothing. We fight our ass off from sun up to sun down and we get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and do the roadwork, then you’ve got to go to work, then you go home and go to the gym and then you can see your family and at the end of your career, at the end of the journey, most fighters are left brain dead, broke with nothing, while the managers and promoters are a bunch of damn stinking criminals who do us so bad. I tell you the truth.”

Grant doesn’t hold back but at the same time there’s satisfaction, that he could fight, that he did become a champion and that he did make it. He was on the big bills in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. He had four world title attempts, winning at the third time of asking. 

Sure, he got the short end a few times but he’d never expected anything different, even though he didn’t know what was in store when he started out. There was certainly no anticipation of championship gold.

“Most fighters have no knowledge of what it’s going to be like,” Grant added. “I only started it [boxing] to stay out of trouble, to stay on the right path. It was good but I said to myself, ‘Am I that dumb and stupid that I’m going to do a sport that busts up my face?’ Yes, I did take it up, but it kept me on the right path. Did I know I was going to be the champion? No. I had no knowledge that I would. Once I entered the sport, I decided I would give it my best, whatever I do I give my best, and I achieved what I achieved. Luckily, I fought for a world title four times, most guys don’t get the chance to do it one time. I can’t complain. It could have been better. When I fought for the world title the first time, I thought I won it but again, I can’t do nothing about that. It was promoters and managers and all the waste people who are in control…”

Grant doesn’t loiter on those memories but he does recall his second pro fight.

He was 1-0 but his opponent, Henry Tillman was an Olympic star making his debut.

Grant, a raw novice, was stopped in the second round. Welcome to the pros, Uriah.

“It is a hard match, it was a hard fight,” he explained. “I’d had 14 amateur fights, I won 12 and lost two and it was my second pro fight. Promoters and managers lied to me from the beginning, saying he was one win and one loss when he wasn’t, so from the beginning my career has been lies… lies… lies. I’ve been deceived by these managers and promoters. They are jerks.”

Things didn’t get an easier when, in his fifth fight, he took on Detroit starlet Ricky Womack, a former outstanding amateur who’d defeated a young Evander Holyfield only to lose to the future heavyweight king twice in the Olympic box-offs.

“Ricky was a pretty good fighter but again, look at me, I had no experience, and it seemed impossible to beat these guys with all this knowledge and experience of the game,” Grant said of Womack, who outscored him over six rounds. “I was a new kid on the block.”

Four fights later Grant beat faded Hall of Fame light heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad and said he’d never heard of Matthew and didn’t know about his illustrious career until after the contest.

He outscored Saad in a 10-rounder and then fought Leslie Stewart, who had lost a shot at the vacant WBA light-heavyweight title against former Saad Muhammad rival Marvin Johnson in his previous outing.

Grant was familiar with Florida-based Stewart from the gyms.

“I knew Leslie pretty well at the time,” Uriah went on. “That was another fight I should never have been involved in that early. It was right at the start of my career, hardly had any amateur fights and the promoters and the managers just didn’t give a damn about you, all they wanted was for the card or the show to be impressive. Take nothing from Leslie, he’s a good brother, I know him pretty good, but I should never have been in the ring with him so early. Nevertheless, Leslie won the fight but it wasn’t what he expected it to be because it wasn’t quick, we went the distance, but I respect him.”

They did eight rounds on a Doug DeWitt card in Atlantic City and a couple of bouts later Uriah defeated Arthel Lawhorne. There were more wins than losses as he went 9-4 in his next 13, at a decent level. See Grant against Mike Sedillo, in 1989, below:

Then came controversy, however, against Bobby Czyz, back in Atlantic City.

Grant lost a 10-rounder by the narrowest of margins but there’s more to the story than that. 

“He was a really good fighter, again,” said Grant. “If you look back at the fight on tape you realise in the last round Bobby Czyz was in trouble, big trouble, he was pretty much out. What they did to save him was, they rung the bell a minute and some seconds too early. It was way too early but all they could do was ring the bell too early and say it was accidental, which was amazing. I asked for the rematch and they never gave it to me.”

Records indicate that last round was just two minutes long.

Uriah can laugh about it now, and he does.

He was too often in the blue corner, the away fighter, the opponent, even though back at the start promoter and manager Chris Dundee had said about him: “The kid has all the tools to be a world champion. He hits hard and also takes a good punch.” 

Yet still he found himself often on enemy territory.

“I was a lamb to the slaughter,” Grant contended. “The promoters and managers thought I was a guy that the crowd would be satisfied with, but they were mostly trying to build their fighters up and use me as a stepping stone – but some of them were successful and some of them were not.”

Before long, he boxed Al Cole, an Atlantic City native, in Atlantic City, in his first title attempt for Cole’s IBF cruiserweight belt.

Uriah lost narrowly on points and then found himself in a wilderness until the call came to fight Cole again, much, much later. There’s no animosity between the fighters, though.

“He’s a wonderful brother,” said Grant fondly. “I think I beat him the first time. He knows it. Promoters know it. Managers know it. They know I won the fight. So, I came home very angry and went on the construction site to work to provide for my family and I had no fight and wasn’t training and then [out of nowhere – he hadn’t fought in almost two years] they called me for the rematch. I wasn’t prepared. But with my determination I took the fight and that second fight I lost. I wasn’t in shape. The world knows that in that first fight I won, but it was taken and given to him. But the champion will always win a close fight by decision. I would have had to knock his ass out and then they can’t take it from me. Don’t expect to win a decision when you’re in someone’s bedroom fighting them. It doesn’t work like that.”

A couple of fights later, Uriah fought another former Olympian, in 17-0 future heavyweight champion Chris Byrd, losing over 10 rounds but he defeated Saul Montana in an eliminator for the IBF title now held by Adolpho Washington. (See Best I Faced: Chris Byrd here.) It was then, 13 years after turning pro, that Grant’s career hit the heights.

“I had a little preparation for that fight,” Grant admitted. “I had some time to get ready. I can take nothing from Adolpho Washington. He’s fast. He’s a good, class fighter, but I think with my heart and determination it didn’t matter what he did that night, I would not leave the ring as a loser. I would do everything I could that night, from when the bell rang until the end of the fight. It was one of my best fights and I never quit a second so I became champion for the first time in my third world title shot and I was amazed. At the end of the fight, when they raised my hand as the winner, I couldn’t believe it had happened and they said I was the champ. It was only a couple of weeks after when I said to myself, ‘You know, it’s true, I am the champ. You will never be Uriah Grant anymore, you are The Champ.’’’

So he was a made man?

“No sir, no sir, no sir, all I made was peanuts,” he sighed. “I didn’t even take home $25,000 for that fight. It was a disgrace but I never got paid even close to what I deserved.”

And in his first defence five months later it was gone when he was dropped on his way to losing a decision to Imamu Mayfield. 

“Mayfield is another guy who would not fight,” Grant lamented. “He would hit and run and hit and run and he won the fight but at the end of the show he was a champion and I had to start all over again.”

A couple of fights later, Uriah was fighting a Detroit legend in Detroit when he met the cruiserweight version of Tommy Hearns in 2000. He handed ‘The Hitman’ the final loss of his glorious but extended career.

“He was one of the best, one of the greatest, I can’t deny it,” explained Grant. “He was a wonderful fighter, but the night of the fight and leading up to the fight I knew that Tommy had a lot of experience and that I was coming to the fight a hundred plus percent in shape, and I did. I remember at the fight I had four or five supporters, including my wife and my trainer, and he had thousands cheering him but I remember before I had this fear come up on me and I went to the bathroom, I hit the floor and I said a quick prayer for my energy and mindset and I walked out the toilet and into the dressing room and I was ready to go. So when I walked into the ring with Mr Hearns, it was almost impossible for him to beat me that night. In the fight, you will see in the second round I hit him with a one-two and his legs wobbled, he knew he was going to get knocked out so the only thing for Mr Hearns to do was to say his leg was hurt. Mr Hearns, I love him and respect him, take nothing from, he’s one of the best, but that night was not for him.”

Hearns limped out of the ring that night, citing a twisted ankle.    

Grant’s next fight was a thriller in England against the violent veteran, WBO champion Carl Thompson, a cruiserweight legend in the UK where he was known for his thrilling wars.   

“Can I discredit the brother? No I can’t,” said Grant of the man who stopped him in round five of an epic battle. “He’s a good champion. When I arrived in the UK, I must tell you the facts, you guys did me bad over there. No.1 they put me in a hotel and there was nothing to eat. The location was in no-man’s-land. We couldn’t find a restaurant or anything. I had nothing to eat so for two-three days before the fight I just ate what I could, I lost a lot of weight and I lost a lot of energy. To be frank, before the fight I even got diarreah, I’m sorry to say that… It was so bad. I had no energy so when he hit me that night, an empty bag can never stand up. That was me. But I take my hat off to him. Respect. You can call it a great fight, I can’t. It was one of my worst nights. I was not into the fight.”

There were a couple more wins but then, in 2002, came the descent. Firmly in the ‘away’ corner Grant lost on the road and often to fully-fledged heavyweights. There are no fond memories of those final six fights between 2002 and 2004.

“They were big fighters,” he recalled. “Remember, Brian Nielsen was about 50lbs heavier. I weighed 205lbs in my clothes, how can a light-heavyweight or cruiserweight weigh 205lbs in his clothes and Brian Nielsen weigh [around] 265lbs in his hometown [in Denmark]? It was impossible. It was very unfortunate. At my weight, at my size… It was not possible for me. 

There were losses to Rydell Booker and Elieser Castillo and then Grant walked and never looked back.

He left any bad memories and grudges behind him, too.

“I had a great career,” he said. “I had a wonderful career. I don’t have anything negative to say about the game, just about management. All my career I was a gatekeeper. Every fight I had there’s been lying and deceiving. I had no name but regardless I was a lamb to the slaughter to all these fighters. Managers and promoters use us as dogs, and there are hundreds of fighters like myself but I achieved what I did because of my determination and my desire not to be a punching bag for anyone. I’m satisfied, very much. I’m pretty surprised by my achievements even though most of the time achievement meant nothing to me because of the way I am [referring to being humble]. But the truth is the reality, I am very surprised and pretty proud of myself and happy with my achievements, even though the end of my career was a little bitter and went wrong.”

More than that, he appears to be not only content but in good shape, too, 17 years on from his last fight.   

“My health is super,” he said. “I am wonderful, I’m at the top of my game. I feel like if I could, I would make a comeback, but at my age? Hell no. Otherwise, I’m in super good shape. I wear the same clothes that I wore in high school. I don’t gain no weight, my metabolism keeps me on top of the game plus I do not eat junk and I do not drink junk. I ate healthily at the start of the game and I maintained that today.”

BEST JAB 

Adolpho Washington. His jab was fast, crisp and it was constant.

BEST DEFENSE

I don’t know because I always tried to make my way through their guard but I’d say Adolpho. He had a really good defense and a really good offense constantly. Chris Byrd was a slick fighter but he was hit and run and didn’t want to fight. 

BEST CHIN 

Washington was a good fighter, he ate a lot of shots, he wobbled a couple of times and never went down. He was the hardest fight I had so I’d give him the credit.

FASTEST HANDS

Chris Byrd had some fast hands and so did Adolpho, and Frank Tate had good handspeed. Most of them were a lot faster than I was. I was never fast, I was a puncher. 

SMARTEST 

Again, Adolpho Washington. He was my hardest fight.

STRONGEST

I fought a lot of heavyweights, even though I was a light-heavyweight, and at some points in my career I was fighting guys who were 240-250 and I was 175. 

HARDEST PUNCHER

I’d probably say [Carl] Thompson. He was a good puncher. Give him credit. Was he the best puncher I fought? Maybe not.

BEST OVERALL 

Adolpho Washington, classy guy. He had everything that belongs to a champion. That’s why, when I beat him, nothing was handed down to me. I beat him and overall he was the best I fought, not the greatest but he had skills, good handspeed and he could take a good punch.