By Michael Benjamin
Life is replete with ironies; how else does one explain the anomaly where the cream of Guyana’s professional boxers practiced their trade during the early and mid seventies, yet it took this nation until 2001 to break the jinx that denied us of a world championship?
Boxing buffs of that era would rattle off the names of those pugilists that punched
their way to Commonwealth, Fecarbox and other lucrative accolades yet hit a stone wall whenever they stepped in the ring to challenge for a world title. There was Brian Muller, Vernon Lewis, Kenny Bristol, Lennox Blackmore, the late Patrick Ford and Mark Harris and a plethora of other pugilists that dominated the local, and to an extent, the Caribbean boxing scene, yet failed miserably whenever they challenged for world titles.
If the truth be told, winning such lofty accolades in those days were extremely difficult since that was the era of unified titles where one top notched pugilist hung on to the three major belts (World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and the International Boxing Federation). These days world titles are a dime a dozen and boxers with just a fraction of the skills of those of yesteryear chuck their chests in the air while boasting of their world class propensities.
The debate still rages when one attempts a comparative analysis pertaining to the local boxers of the seventies and early eighties (both amateur and professional) and contemporary pugilists. There is a myriad of choices that could be used as examples but any boxing buff worth his salt would easily remember a smooth southpaw named Winfield Braithwaite whose ‘glove slinging’ activities earned him many accolades as an amateur plus the distinction of an unbeaten professional record.
Many will readily remember Braithwaite from his Commonwealth games gold medal feat in Edmonton Canada, August 1978. That event was marred by the absence of Nigeria who staged a boycott in protest of New Zealand’s sporting contacts with the then apartheid, South Africa. The Guyanese pugilist went on to win a gold medal at those games and returned home to a heroes’ welcome.
Kaieteur Sport caught up with Braithwaite in his new home, the United States of America, where he works as a Peace Officer at the City University. At 58 years old, Braithwaite’s boxing days have long expired but he still retains a sharp mind that easily regurgitates the events of the mid seventies that defined him as one of the better boxers that graced these shores.
He experiences bouts of nostalgia when he remembers the exchange programmes with Cuba; when local boxers travelled to that country to engage their counterparts from several other Latin nations at the Cardin Games. He remembers winning gold medals at those games in 1976 and then again in 1977. Winfield also remembers competing in the world Championships with moderate successes. He remembers his historic bout against Hugo Rendifo, a Venezuelan he defeated in 1975 during an exchange programme with Guyana. “Those were good days when talent abounded,” reflected Braithwaite.
Indeed good talent was aplenty and Braithwaite remembers the powerful entourage that participated in the Cuba 1974 Cardin Games. “There were Reginald Ford, Mark Harris, Ramesh Best, Michael Reid and Keith Neil,” he informed. When Braithwaite returned to Guyana with the Commonwealth Gold medal, the late founder leader and executive President, LFS Burnham had arranged a motorcade around the city where the champion had worn his newly acquired accolade for all to see. “I felt like a hero and just wanted to continue winning major medals for my country,” Braithwaite intimated when asked about his reaction to such ploys. He was to compile more than 80 fights before calling it a day in the amateur sector. Braithwaite said that during his illustrious career as an amateur he had defeated Derek ‘Teacher’ McKenzie, Michael Reid, Reginald Ford, Ramesh Best and Keith ‘Buckilo’ Bazilio among other notable pugilists. “Those days the competitive level was extremely high and each boxer had to train diligently and fight hard if he wanted to win,” said the former Commonwealth gold medalist.
Winfield migrated to the USA in 1980 and later became a professional boxer. Under the stewardship of Panama Lewis, he compiled 13 fights; his only blemish being a drawn decision to countryman, Derek ‘Teacher’ McKenzie. Despite his unbeaten record he chose to call it quits and attributed his decision to the raging underhand schemes practiced in the sport. He found it extremely difficult to trust his trainer, Lewis, and felt exonerated after he (Lewis) was dragged before the New Jersey State Athletic Commission and eventually jailed for his role in the 1983 incident when he corroborated with his fighter, Luis Resto, in the bout against Billy Collins (jr) and removed the padding from his gloves.
Collins received a terrible beating and suffered a torn iris and permanently blurred vision, ending his career. He died only months later when he drove his car into a culvert while intoxicated. Some commentators have speculated that the loss of his livelihood drove him into a downward spiral and Collins’ father had speculated that his son committed suicide.
His career now over, Winfield still finds time for his countrymen and was recently elected to the executive committee of the Guyana Boxing Association (GBA), an entity formed in Brooklyn NY among former Guyanese boxing stalwarts with an aim of supporting contemporary amateur pugilists from Guyana. The organization, headed by Seon Bristol, had other stalwarts the likes of Kenny Bristol, the late Patrick Ford and a few other past local boxers. However, over the years the entity has become defunct but Braithwaite remains optimistic that a concerted effort could see its resuscitation.
“Life is really good for me,” exclaimed Braithwaite when quizzed on his fortunes these days. He is married and lives with his beautiful wife Robin and 3 children, Winfield (jr), Melisa and Merisa. Despite the disbandment of the GBA, the former boxer is still anxious to give back to the country that has nurtured him during his early fistic years. “I would like to return home to contribute to the development of amateur boxers and would be in contact with the relevant authorities soon,” he said.
Indeed, Braithwaite remains a stalwart who feels that a punch is a punch whether delivered twenty years ago or just yesterday. He is willing and able to demonstrate the art of his techniques to local Simon Pures in the very near future.
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