By Michael Benjamin
In 2001, there were 3 world welterweight boxing champions; ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley
(WBA), Vernon Forrest (IBF) and James Page (WBA). Then there was a mean Guyanese southpaw pugilist named Andrew ‘Six Head’ Lewis, merely a top contender and a threat to their ‘invincibility’. Immense sacrifices, shrewd manipulations and the right contacts eventually paid dividends and the memories of ‘Six head’ punching his way to stardom on February 17, 2001, still remains etched in the minds of Guyanese of all walks of life.
‘Six head’ took the plaudits but it was Terrence Ali, who had sustained the struggle to break the world title jinx for Guyana; many will remember the famous back flip followed by his patriotic ranting after each victory.
Alli was creating waves on the international scene while dominating the ESPN Networks causing the pundits to tab him as the man to break the world title jinx. This was never to be as Terrence had near misses with Harry Arroyo in January 1985, when he became complacent as the fight wound down, got tagged, and the rest is history. He also fought Jose Luis Ramirez for the WBC World lightweight title in July 1987 and lost unanimously.
Alli was a warrior and after the Ramirez loss, repaired his career with wins over several top contenders the likes of Joey Olivera, Miguel Santana, Darryl Tyson and Jerry Page; he defeated them all and set the stage for another attempt at the world title. On May 2, 1993 he faced off with Julio Caesar Chavez for the WBC World Super/lightweight title and was woefully outclassed. Nevertheless, he exited the ring the same way he had entered, as a true patriot with the Golden Arrowhead draped around his shoulders.
Indeed, after the Chavez encounter, the writing was on the wall for Alli who lost 7 successive fights, one of them, a TKO loss to Andrew ‘Six head’ Lewis in September 1996, a fight the experts opined was the catalyst to Lewis’ eventual lucrative world ranking and subsequent world title win.
Terrence closed off his career in October 1997 on a sad note, surrendering a lopsided verdict to Danish fighter, Frank Olsen, in Copenhagen, Denmark. It marked the end of an illustrious career but the beginning of prolonged suffer(ring) in a fight for survival outside the (boxing) ring.’
History is replete with great fighters that have earned millions of dollars but failed miserably in the shrewd management of their funds; those that have lifted themselves from rags to riches before slumping to their original status. Terrence Alli is thought to be a boxer of such ilk. Unsubstantiated rumors also labeled Alli as a rabid marijuana smoker which contributed in large part to his economic demise. “That is far from the truth!” Alli emphatically stated when Kaieteur Sport engaged him at his residence in Catherine, Mahaicony, recently.
“In the very early stages of my life I have dabbled in the Rastafarian culture, sported dreadlocks and (culturally) engaged in marijuana binges,” he admitted. However, Alli stated that all this occurred during his infancy days in the sport when he resided in Linden. “I relinquished the (Rastafarian) faith long before I left Guyana (for Trinidad) and stopped smoking marijuana,” he declared.
But what has happened to the millions that he has earned during his heydays? “I hardly fought for the big bucks; during my sojourn on the ESPN Network my purse never surpassed US$7,500,” he stated. Fans will recollect that Alli dominated this network between 1982 through the early 90s.
He then made a damning revelation, “I received paltry purses of US$45,000 and US$60,000 for those world title bouts against Jose Luis Ramirez and Harry Arroyo, respectively and those sums were before other prefight expenses were discounted.” The former world contender further disclosed that he had to resort to the legal proceeding to accrue a decent purse for the Chavez fight. I was initially offered just $100,000 but was not prepared to continue selling myself for such pittance so I sought the services of a lawyer and after a short legal battle, managed to clinch an improved purse of US$300,000. I honestly felt that I was worth around US$3M at that time but in those days fighters, especially from foreign countries, had to haggle furiously to clinch decent purses,” said Alli.
The uninitiated may measure ‘greatness’ by the number of fights won by a boxer but the true boxing pundit will weigh the issue using such yardstick as the era, quality of the opposition and the availability of opportunities within the sector. Alli might not have won a world title but no one could deny the fact that his tenure was fraught with challenges and difficulties that hindered the upward mobility of stalwarts, especially those emanating from poor third world countries.
It was amidst such ‘turbulence’ that Alli distinguished himself among his peers and cemented his position as a top contender when he invaded the scene in the United States of America and dominated the ESPN networks with top class performances.
Born Terrence Haley, Terrence experienced a name change after one of his trainers inadvertently erred in the pronunciation. Somehow, Terrence adored the new tab and it was not long before he adhered to the prerequisites that authenticated it.
Alli’s career began in Linden, December 1979, with a points victory over Winston Goodridge. He then lost his next bout to fellow Lindener, Walter Smith, in March 1980. In those days (local) boxing cards were infrequent forcing a resilient Terrence to pack his suitcase and journey to Trinidad and Tobago where he resumed his career with 8 straight wins before suffering another loss to American, Ishmael Santana in November 1981.
Despite increased activity in Trinidad and Tobago, Terrence still felt that his potential was being stifled so he set his sights on North America. At that time there were no visa restrictions to Canada but the authorities insisted that a legal resident meet the visitor at the port of entry. One of his aunts had promised to meet him but she did not show up. “I had a lucky break after the immigration officer allowed me through,” explained Alli.
In January 1982, Terrence resumed his career against Nedrick Simmonds, a Guyanese who had earlier migrated to Canada and forced Simmonds to retire midway of the 10 rounds contest. He then defeated Canadian, Rick Papa, on points but surrendered a points decision to Papa’s countryman, Johnny Sumerhayes, in a ten rounds scrap 3 months later.
Despite such a successful sojourn in Canada, Alli knew that if he wanted to realize his goal as a world champion he had to cross over to the USA. Only this time he needed a visa. “I was prepared to do whatever it took to get into the USA; I had heard of so many success stories of boxers living there that I knew that I just had to get in,” he reminisces.
He was able to make some contacts and eventually paid for fake documents that enabled him to pass through the checkpoint that bordered the Niagara/Buffalo crossing into the USA. Terrence was more of a classy boxer and not a knockout artiste, and at that time, his record of 14 wins, 3 losses and 2 knockouts was endorsement.
Five months later, on October 11, 1982, Alli stepped into the ring at the Sands Casino Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, for a super/lightweight bout against American, Norberto Velez and prevailed unanimously.
“I spent a few months in Gleason’s Gym, Front Street Brooklyn, before moving over to Times Square Gym in 42nd Street,” Alli recounted. The opportunities were numerous; there were the Friday Night Fights and frequent bouts on the ESPN Network. Alli gravitated to the latter option and pretty soon he became a household product on that network. He squared off with Edwin Luis Rivera, Jerome Artis and Ezzard Charles Adams among other big guns and knocked out every one excepting Rivera, improving his ratings in the ESPN Networks.
Earlier, Alli had met legendary trainer, Jimmy Glen, the owner of the Times Square Gym, and his (Alli) success story continued. Between September 1982 and October 1984 Alli chalked up 13 wins from14 fights with one against an American, Thomas Baker ending in a stalemate.
Terrence got his big break in November 1983 when he fought Puerto Rican, Ivan Montalvo in a fight driven by fate (and as he jocularly pronounced, “also driven by faith”). He was the main sparring partner for 1976 Olympic gold medalist, Howard Davis Jr. and Davis sustained an injury during sparring sessions two days prior to the fight. The promoters drafted Alli in as a substitute and he endorsed their confidence with a knockout victory that catapulted him into the world rankings.
By now, Alli had earned quite a name for himself. He remained patriotic and entered the ring draped with the Golden Arrowhead over his shoulder. Fans will also remember his trademark back flip after every victory. Alli battled against the odds but at 27 years old, failed in his second attempt at winning a world title, against Jose Ramirez in July 1987. “My fans were shouting out to me to hit Ramirez hard but they were not telling him not to hit me hard,” Alli joked when asked about the toughness of the fight. Nevertheless, Ali still felt that he was robbed.
It took him 21 fights over a period of 6 years after that loss before he received another shot at the title, against Julio Caesar Chavez for the WBC World super/lightweight title. The Mexican methodically cut his man down extinguishing Alli’s hopes of winning the coveted accolade. Alli fought seven other fights afterwards but failed to register a victory, losing on points in his final attempt to Danish fighter, Frank Olsen in October 1997, marking the end of a prolific career and little finance to show after years of toil in the ring.
Also an American citizen, Terrence spends most of his time in Mahaicony, ECD, engaged in small scale farming. He has retained his generosity and offered this writer fruits and vegetables from his farm which currently provides a small income. He said that he has bequeathed his property in Miramar, Miami to his reputed wife and 4 children. Asked of the chances of reuniting with her he jocularly countered, “At the moment another man is wearing my pajamas!” He also debunks the theory that he is crazy and mentally out of sorts.
Fans that once tripped over each other to be in his company are now gone leaving the former champ with bittersweet memories of his heydays. “People avoid me now because they think I will beg for my survival but I have too much pride and refuse to stoop that low,” he sadly muttered. Quizzed on the possibility of contributing to the lives of contemporary boxers he ruefully pronounced, “These youngsters are not learning the fundamentals of the sport and are not willing to listen to advice.”
It has been a long arduous journey that commenced in the boxing (ring) and culminated in deep suffer(ring) but the champ has not lost his self-esteem nor uncanny humor. “I still look in the mirror and wonder; who is that awesome and handsome guy staring at me?” he chuckled. “And then I realize it is Terrence Alli, former world rater and Guyanese to the bone.”
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