A visibly excited Danny Williams sits between two, far smaller men in the Sky Sports studio in September 2004, wearing his light-grey suit and holding the microphone like a child’s ice cream. He talks with giddy enthusiasm about his upcoming heavyweight world title challenge with fearsome reigning champion, Vitali Klitschko. The bout was formally announced earlier in the day and, until the evening’s explosive main event between Wayne Alexander and Mehrdud ‘Takaloo’ Takalobighashi, it was the talk of the town.
Williams worryingly fought last in September 2020 to provide for his family; a dangerous reminder for those lost fighters, still skipping rope and chasing faded dreams with slower, unsteady feet. Friend Wayne Alexander, however, took another route. When reliving that British boxing classic with his domestic rival and former stablemate, Takaloo, Alexander (24-3, 18 KOs) told Boxing Social that his own next steps weren’t immediately clear after boxing – but that he’d never shied away from uncertainty.
“I was a little bit in limbo land, yeah. I wasn’t doing much for a couple of years. I spent more time with my daughter, who was six at the time. So, I spent a bit more time with her. I was just doing bits and pieces, but I wasn’t really focused on one particular thing,” said Alexander. “I did a bit of work here and there, like labouring, and working on stuff like that. Like I said, some fighters get depressed and get really, really down. I never got like that when I retired. Of course, I missed it, but I never got to a stage where I was depressed or didn’t want to get up in the morning. Because I knew it was over. At the end of the day, once it’s over, it’s over. Everyone’s career comes to an end.
“I think that’s the word, yeah, peace. I was settled; I accepted it; I have regrets. A lot of fighters have regrets. I think even some of the greats have a little regret. But I never got to the stage where I started getting deluded or where I thought I still had it, which is a good thing. And now, I’m 12, 13 years older, and I’m still in a good place now. I didn’t want to be a win-some, lose-some fighter. Those sorts of fighters that carry on three, four, five years after their career, I didn’t want that. So, I said, ‘Wayne, pack it in’. And I never thought about coming back.”
Never? “Well, I did have a slight thought about it a year later,” the 48-year-old laughs, “About 18 months afterwards, sorry. But it wasn’t for long!”
Life after boxing has been good to the Tooting-native, now residing in West London. He has remained close to the sport that afforded him the chance to follow his dreams, but Alexander has taken a more unique path – seen assuming centre-ring, sporting a dickie bow and an often-bloodstained white shirt. He isn’t a British Boxing Board of Control referee (yet), but the former world title challenger now has plenty of officiating experience.
“I was at a show about 10 years ago, the annual show at the police versus the firemen. You know the Clapham Grand? So, they have this annual show there every year and I was there attending. Basically, they needed a referee and one of the referees pulled out. They needed a ref, so they asked me,” he recalled.
‘Well, it’s only a couple of fights, Wayne,’ they told me. ‘It’s just two fights.’ Long story short, I done it. I was absolutely crapping myself. Everyone’s watching the fight, but in your head, because you’re just starting out, you’re thinking everyone’s watching you, so I was panicking. I felt I liked it; it was like a buzz.”
The former British and European 154lbs champion explained: “A good referee is the one that you don’t see. You get some referees that want to be busy, want to be involved, and breaking up fights. They want to be heard, and they’re always getting involved. The best referees are the ones that stand back. They are always respected. What they say goes, but they’re standing back and watching. It is a hard sport because you judge a fight as you see it.
“I judge a fight as I see it; I might judge a fight three rounds to zero to the blue corner, and somebody else might give it three rounds to zero to the red corner. And at the end of the day, I always say, a 10-9 round, which is a normal round, is still a close round. Sometimes, yeah, the referee can’t win. Especially if you’ve got a crowd that are cheering their fighter, and they’re half tanked up as well.
“The referee can’t really win, but as long as you score the fight as you see it, as you genuinely see it, I can’t really argue. That’s why, when the board pull up the referee for a debatable, controversial decision, and the referee explains to them why they thought that person won, what can you really say? Boxing is a subjective sport, and you’re always going to get controversial scores. If you get a certain judge that nine out of 10 times is giving it the other way, then he has to be pulled. You can’t have that.”
Alexander’s wonderfully concise, descriptive explanation of the role of a boxing referee lends itself to the “if you haven’t boxed, don’t comment” brigade. We are left to ponder why fellow ex-professionals, steeped in the sport’s teachings from their hardened knuckles up, aren’t seen issuing instructions to those attempting to follow the same professional path. Maybe one day, if the salary or schedule suits them.
When reviewing his own introduction to the sport of boxing as a youngster in South London, Alexander recalled Croydon ABC’s former home in the Prince of Wales pub. Within just 10 minutes of his first visit, he’d found something he was “truly good at”. Within three weeks of turning up at the gym, he was touted as a future ABA champion – which he still describes as his greatest achievement, amateur or professional.
“The ABAs is over 100-years old. So, most of the former world champions at the time, like Alan Minter, [Frank] Bruno, most of the world champions in the UK who I looked up to were ABA champions. It was a great honour and a dream come true. I used to watch it in the early ’80s, with the likes of Nigel Benn and even Michael Watson. I’d be watching it on BBC One with Harry Carpenter commentating on Grandstand for the final. That’s the dream, and I got there in 1994. I got to the ABA finals; I beat two ABA champions on the way to winning it. That was a great, great feeling. I’ll remember that day forever.”
If it wasn’t boxing for the young, teenage Wayne Alexander though, what would it have been? “That’s a good question. I don’t want to use the old cliché… I’d be in trouble with the law. But I can honestly tell you, I don’t really know. That’s a scary thought. Because I wasn’t good at anything else. And even going through school, I wasn’t academic. I wanted to do building – then I remember doing work experience in the freezing cold. That put me right off it. I haven’t got a trade; I haven’t got a skill. So, I would say just a normal nine-to-five. I would say I’d probably be drifting from job-to-job.”
Thankfully, boxing extended his apprenticeship. And throughout a professional career that spanned 11 years, you’d be inclined to agree that his achievements remain overlooked. Alexander is often remembered as a heavy-handed slugger, but the truth is that while his punishing knockout power handed him most of his famous victories, his technical ability was always underrated.
On his toughest night, he squared off against troubled, former world champion, Harry Simon (LTKO5). Tasting defeat for the first time, the Londoner eventually regrouped, but took his time when doing so.
“Well, I don’t know if you know the story. It was 24 hours’ notice,” said Alexander. “I was training for a British title defence, and that was going to be in about five or six-weeks’ time. So, I was half fit, really. I was taking a stroll down the road, and I’m walking to my mate’s house. I got a phone call from the late Ernie Fossey. He said, ‘Wayne, do you want to fight Harry Simon?’ I said, ‘Well, how much am I going to get?’ It’s a world title fight with Harry Simon, yeah, but you still want to get paid well. I phoned Jimmy Tibbs, and Jimmy just said, ‘Try and get some more’.”
The Namibian champion’s life eventually spiralled out of control and resulted in two prison stints, while Alexander seems comfortable and steadfast – another example of boxing’s opposing fortunes outside of the ring.
Weirdly, their bout took place in Widnes, Cheshire, and backed by just a handful of his mates, Alexander stepped up to the plate – battling one of boxing’s only undefeated, retired world champions. Simon would describe his challenger in the Kingsway Leisure Centre that evening as one of the best he faced, but while respectful, it didn’t help the British light-middleweight lick his wounds on his return to London.
“I was sad; I was genuinely sad,” he told Boxing Social. “I mean, I went in there to win. I also broke both hands. Yeah, I broke both of my hands hitting him on his on the elbows, so I was injured. But I was consoled by my friends and family, and Jimmy. One thing about me: losing was like death to me. That’s how much boxing meant to me, from a little boy. I said to someone the other day that when I was 11, 12, losing a fight was like dying. And they were like, ‘Really, Wayne?’ Losing, to me, meant more than any money. Some fighters would lose for the money, for the payday, but I wouldn’t do that.”
Despite suffering that ‘death’ when leaving the ring after his fateful fifth round with Harry Simon, Alexander was born again shortly after, winning both the British and EBU European titles within 12 months of that defeat. Cleansed in the eyes of British boxing fans, he’d suffer loss again, but when explaining just who Wayne Alexander is to younger fans of the sport, there’s only one fight that jolts their memory.
“I know that Takaloo fight is what everyone remembers me for. One day [before we were scheduled to fight], we sparred. He put me down. He knocked me down within the first 10 seconds. He’s jumped on me, but whenever we sparred it was like a world title fight for him. I got up, carried on sparring, and one thing I can remember is that the following week or so, I gave him a hiding and Jimmy stopped the sparring.
“Takaloo lost his next fight against somebody and, after that defeat, he started saying, ‘Jimmy Tibbs is not training me like he should do. He’s spending more time on Wayne, and I knocked out Wayne in the gym. He was carried out on a stretcher’. That’s what he said to people, that he knocked me out cold and he’d do it again, and he wanted to fight me,” Alexander giggled, still with menace in his voice over 16 years later.
“Whenever he fought, he mentioned my name. Whenever I fought, he’d be there. This was for about five years! It got a bit serious and, in that fight, I just couldn’t lose. I said it before, I’ll say it again: I’d rather have died than lost to Takaloo. There was a stage where I was not training properly, not living the life. And then I went to Ireland. I went to Belfast with John Breen. And I was training with Jim Rock, Eamonn Magee, Neil Sinclair and Paul McCloskey, running the mountains of County Armagh. They call it bandit country. I was running 20-odd miles a week and sparring. I’ll always remember, I think it was the day of the weigh-in, the day before the fight, I felt like I could fly. Nobody in the world was going to beat me that day.”
And he was flying. Then aged 31 and less than a year removed his second stoppage defeat, the grudge match that would become an eternal highlight was ‘on’. Takaloo, painted as a confident, jealous prospect with pots of potential, was facing the man who’d been there and done it, ‘Alexander the Great’. Some fights become classics without any weight of expectation, and this one – despite being billed as competitive and extremely fiery – certainly overdelivered.
Alexander came to the ring wearing a simple black vest, ready for business. Commentator Jim Watt spoke of the Londoner’s need for “a big fight” and his renewed “motivation” at the prospect of battling Takaloo, while Adam Smith pondered whether he was already a “spent force”. Takaloo bobbed up and down, walking to the ring like a topless jack-in-the-box, with Jim McDonnell uncomfortably draped in zebra-skin attire behind him.
“In the second round, he threw a body shot which hurt me badly. I’m not going to lie, it doubled me up,” remembered Alexander. “A left hook to the liver there. And I backed off, but I see him coming in to finish me off. And there’s a shot of ours that we practice with Jimmy Tibbs and John Breen. It was our roll left hook. I practiced that shot for years – I’m on about eight, nine years. And on that night, I needed it. It happened. I rolled a shot, I threw a left hook, and landed it straight on the bottom of his jaw. And as they say, the rest is history.”
The head-spinning ending to their rivalry made for excellent Friday night entertainment, but even after that signature win, Alexander struggled for motivation: “Look, I’ll admit it, when I was a youngster, when I was in my teens, I was so dedicated and so committed to the sport. Towards the middle part, when I got towards my prime, I started enjoying life a bit too much,” he admitted. “Started enjoying the finer things. Maybe I got a little bit above myself. Not training right, not living the life, putting on too much weight. I started putting on two stone.
“At the end of the day, I know in my heart that I should have done better as a fighter. But I still lived my dream, you know,” states the security worker, white collar referee and fun, Guinness-loving family man. He wants to be remembered in the same vein as Larry Paul, a fellow Croydon resident in his later years who was crowned Britain’s first light-middleweight champion in 1973. Alexander explained that’s what’s important to him; he wants to stand the test of time.
As Sky Sports cut back to the studio in 2004, they ask Danny Williams for his opinion on the fight involving his close friend, Alexander, which he analyses with clarity and wisdom. It seems poignant that the reason Alexander left the sport of boxing was the same reason that Williams, a fellow South London talent of the early millennium, continued accruing damage. It was for their families in different ways. And with that, Alexander heads out to spend time with his youngest daughter, sharing wholesome pictures of the pair on his social media, making new memories.
Main image: Alamy/Reuters/Paul Childs,Action Images.