Do not feel bad if you have not heard of Arv Mittoo, many people haven’t. Mittoo was an opponent, brought in to give a prospect rounds or shore up a gap in a bill. He retired from boxing in 2005 to join the ‘One hundred club’, the so-called journeymen who had hit over 100 or more fights. One of seven children, Mitto had exactly one hundred professional contests: 10 wins (four by stoppage), 85 defeats and five draws. If ticket sellers are the lifeblood of boxing, then journeymen are the veins and capillaries who facilitate the flow towards contention.
Mittoo sounds more content than most former fighters, he ends most of his sentences with a hearty laugh. The 49-year-old walked away from boxing with his facilities, life and finances intact. He was trained and managed by Nobby Nobbs, who once had a stable of journeymen that was led by Peter Buckley and they were always in demand.
Some fighters struggle with the idea of operating solely as an opponent. Mittoo, though, accepted his role within the business early on in his career after losing his first five fights. It stung, it felt like taking a punch, but when you consider what his formative years were like you begin to understand why he is the man he is today.
Mittoo’s parents had moved from Jamaica to the UK to earn money, as many people from the Caribbean, Ireland and parts of the Commonwealth did, and then decided to head back home. By the time they made their decision to return in 1987, Mittoo was only 16-years-old and had known no other home. He later ended up homeless and desperate.
Times were different then. They were hard times and hard people. As hard as it might be for the modern reader to envisage, his strict, religious parents let him stay in the place where he was born and raised, and then they went their separate ways. It would have been so easy for him to go off the rails yet Mittoo faced and overcame the hardships that were to come. It is a minor miracle that he became the happy, contented and proud father of two that he is today.
“Would I be who I am today if they hadn’t gone back home?” he said when asked about his past. “I’ve got my own house, I’m married with two kids and I don’t have any problems. I struggled when they went back to Jamaica. I struggled for food at times. I now respect everyone and everything. I became a different person to the one I was back then.
“If my parents had been there would I have got into trouble knowing they were there for me? I started to live a totally different way. It was a bad thing to do to me, in my opinion, but I am sat here at home today knowing that my children have got everything they need. I thought: ‘I was born here, so why go over to Jamaica?’ I was left here with only the clothes I had on my back.
“I struggled with it for years. Any human being would. My brother told me I had it easier than him when he went over there so I asked him how he worked that one out! With age, you become humbler and wiser. It did affect me for a years, mind you, but now I don’t let it bother me.”
Although the years have softened the pain, the distance remained and despite meeting up again down the line the passage of time meant that lives had moved on. Mittoo had built a life for himself and he told me that sometimes life gets in the way of family, especially if there are thousands of miles between you in the pre-internet and mobile phone age.
“I did stay in touch then things get harder with work and stuff — you get tired,” he said. “My mum passed away a year ago, but I didn’t go over for the funeral despite a few of the other kids going over. I’ve got my own kids. I have a job working nights for Network Rail so that I can take them to school and be with them. All I want to do is be with my kids and wife.
“I saw my mum once when she was over here for a month. I had my life, my job and family so I just got to see her the once and travelled to where she was staying for a few hours. I didn’t see her again after that. It wasn’t a case that I didn’t want to, you have a job and have to continue living. People reading this might not understand that. I wanted to explain to you and them to make you understand it. It was so hard. I’m the one who had to deal with it. Some understand and some don’t.”
The fact that he was thrown into the role of being his own bread winner early might go a long way to explaining his outlook on his boxing career. Initially, though, he had to do a lot of growing up in a short space of time. There were hungry, angry days for the youngster to endure before he became the man he is now.
“A loaf of bread and some cheese was enough for me — I could do toast,” he recalled. “Some people might have turned to drugs. I was alone for all that time and could have got into trouble. At times, when I was starving for some food, I just had to put up with it. I had a friend who I used to visit, and I’d get a meal there.
“The funny thing is that years later I said to him: ‘Do you know that when I saw you and your mum would have a meal for me that might have been the first time I’d eaten properly for ages.’ You know what he said to me? He said: ‘Arv, if I’d have known that I’d have always said ‘Yes’ when you asked to come round.’ He said he never really knew my situation and it still bothers him to this day. He said he finds it upsetting when he thinks about it. I just tell him not to worry about it.
“I’d go there and get an old-fashioned Jamaican meal, some curried goat, rice and peas. Little things like that aged 16 seemed small to him, but it was big for me. There were hard times with no money and food. It makes you the person you are. Now I do everything I can for my family. It is nice to know that my kids ain’t got any worries like that. I was angry. You had your mum and dad around you to do stuff then you don’t, so I make sure my kids know how to do things. It was a different time and generation. I’m alright now. Life is fantastic.”
Back then, people did not really view events in terms of the mental trauma they can cause, you just got on with living your life, yet those years must have been incredibly tough on Mittoo and the fact he is the man he is today shows how much mental resilience he must have had and still have. His wife also helped him maintain an even-keel. As for boxing, he had showed promise as an amateur. In fact, his career may have been different if he had stayed in the unpaid ranks for longer as he was good enough to win a Novice ABA title.
However, as you can probably gather, he did not have the luxury of either money and time so turned over in his early-20s. The young fighter realised that he was always going to the opponent, the name on the right-hand side of the poster, if he even made it on to the poster, and he is content with his boxing career.
“I never had to worry about selling enough tickets to cover my opponent’s purse because I was a journeyman,” he recalled. “You’d worry about getting robbed in a fight you’d won, but you would always get paid and didn’t have to sell tickets for the promoter. Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, you’d know you are not going to win so go in and faff around. I had the ability to win fights, but you’d know you wouldn’t get the decision so you’d wonder why you keep trying to win knowing you wouldn’t get it anyway, which is a shame because I know I had better ability than it looks when you look at my record. I’d fight once a week for months while also working in my job. I didn’t have any problems with money like other people had after boxing.”
A run of two wins and a draw against Gavin McGill, Marc Smith and Danny Lutaaya respectively in 1998 was a purple patch for Mittoo. The problem with that, though, is that as heart-warming as it is to see a journeyman spring the odd upset if they start doing it on a regular basis promoters might think twice about putting a ticket seller or prospect in against them. The odd win is fine, just do not have too many of them or you could end up becoming the odd one out.
“When you win two in a row it becomes hard as the phone stops ringing if you start beating people,” said Mittoo with a laugh. “You get paid one week. Then you get paid the next week. It gets to a mode of thinking. I remember fighting a guy called Jessie James [Daniels] from Sheffield who came out with two guns and a cowboy hat. I put him down and felt I could have sparked him out. Instead, I just moved him around. That was a hard one as I knew I could have knocked him out instead of just doing that. You’ve also got someone like Peter Buckley who could have won more fights than he did. Peter handled it all fantastically.
“It becomes a job. At first, it wasn’t very nice. Then Peter and others explained to me that I could fight every week rather than burning myself out by getting drawn into fights. Forget about the records, people like Peter and Jason Nesbitt and the rest could fight — they were all tough fighters. Tony Randall was another one who was tough and could fight. Nobby always taught you how to not get hit. He’d say: ‘Make sure you can walk to the ring and then walk back out.’ That’s all I wanted to do.”
“To be honest, who knows how it would have gone if I’d have stayed amateur,” he added. “You can be a superstar amateur then not win titles as professionals and make enough money to live on and retire. Who knows how it can go? I think back now and am happy to have the money than the belts, a few fighters have said that to me as well.
“As a professional fighter you have to ask how long you can go on fighting as you are potentially getting your head punched in or getting hurt. I was losing fights, but I wasn’t getting hurt and I always knew that boxing would come to an end, it does for everyone, so my attitude was not to get hit. From the start, I knew that I had to set a goal of when to stop.
“I’ve a friend, Howard Clarke, who asked me if I missed it. Howard fought for a world title and was very talented [Writer’s note: Clarke upset Jason Papillion in 1998 and got to fight Fernando Vargas for the IBF light-middleweight title in Madison Square Garden in his next fight. It ended in a fourth-round stoppage defeat]. He was good enough to win more fights and a title. Howard fought everyone and fought well at times. We were at a show and he’d told me, if he could, he’d get back in there again. It would have been nice to win a Midland Area title or something, but I didn’t. I started when I was meant to and finished when I was meant to.”
Mittoo keeps his eye in by contributing to the Sportanarium radio show, which goes out live as well as on YouTube. He clearly enjoys it and also enjoys the fact that he is still remembered. “I’ve got a friend, Trevor Lake, and a guy called Richie, and we interview people interview fighters and talk about boxing,” he said.
“Why Trevor asked me I don’t know, but it was very nice of him. Then we go on Twitter and talk to people. It is really nice. I quite enjoy doing it. It felt nice to be asked to do this interview and get told that people might be interested in hearing about me. It perks me up knowing stuff like that.”
Main image: Paul Childs/Alamy/Reuters/Action Images.