Sep 30, 2020 Sports
By Sean Devers
Fifty-four year-old Mike ‘Tyson’ Benjamin was just 12 and attending the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School, when he ventured into boxing, a vocation many regard as barbaric and bloody. Disciplined application saw him rise from a scrawny amateur pugilist to a well built, fearsome national amateur and professional champion.
Now, years later, following a productive career that saw him winning numerous amateur and professional titles including the Continental of Americas welterweight belt and staking a claim for the Commonwealth belt, Benjamin, now retired sits with Kaieteur Sport to reminisce on a career that, as he claims, was bittersweet yet satisfying.
In 33 bouts as a Pro, Benjamin won 23 times, lost eight fights and has two draws since his debut on August 31, 1986 when he knocked out Cedric Costello at the Sports Hall.
“My career was characterized by a cornucopia of unfair decisions, empty promises, unfortunate knockouts, shattered dreams and administrative ineptitude that climaxed into a raging court battle that eventually sealed my fate,” Benjamin declared when asked to sum up his tenure in the ‘square jungle.’
Born in March 1966, Benjamin is the third to last in a family of eleven; 6 boys and 5 girls. He recalls his adolescent years as ‘tough times’.
“Coming from a large family, life was not easy; my mother worked at the Public Hospital Georgetown as a cook while my father practiced his trade as a carpenter at his workshop at our home in Tucville Housing Scheme,” he elaborated.
Benjamin attended the Campbellville Primary School some three miles either way and was constrained to the daily journey. “I successfully wrote the Common Entrance (now the National Grade Six Assessment) and earned a place at the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School,” Benjamin recalled.
The former champion remembered days when he would rush home to perform household chores before dashing off to the gym.
“In retrospect I really cannot imagine how I found the time to train with so much household and other chores,” Benjamin mused. “Multi was a pilot institution that regarded sports as an integral part of the curriculum and student development so I was compelled to participate in a gamut of disciplines; cricket, volleyball, basketball, I played it all!” he exhorted.
He remembers playing football and cricket in his home town while engaging in other disciplines. These activities were fun filled and most importantly, kept us young boys, out of trouble. “Of course we had naughty ways; we would raid the neighbors’ fruit trees and pray to the almighty that we were not caught since such behaviors netted us the finest ‘cut tail,’ first from the offended neighbor and then our parents,” Benjamin reminisced.
What inspired the former champion to choose such a brutal career? “As an infant you had to learn to fight to protect your territory as well as your property. I grew up settling disputes with my fists and rather than engaging in disorganized fistfights, the older boys in the village would arrange Sunday morning showdowns at the village playfield where we would settle our differences. At the end of the fight the combatants would shake hands and resume our daily lives, devoid of acrimony. Most Sundays, I was the feature attraction,” Benjamin chuckled.
He recalled that at the weekly assembly, the headmaster, the late, Clement Sylvester, introduced the students to a cheerful dumpy fellow, Cliff Anderson, an emissary of the then, National Sports Development Council (NSDC), to tutor interested youngsters in the fistic sport. He was among the first to volunteer and one week later he gathered in the school’s auditorium for his first lesson.
“I had envisioned immediately donning gloves and pounding away on some hapless soul but Cliff had other ideas. The first month or so was spent practicing defensive and offensive drills and shadow boxing, drills I considered inconsequential until later in my career when I learned to appreciate their worth,” Benjamin recalled.
Benjamin later realized that Anderson’s methodology was effective as it enabled him (Benjamin) to hone his skills as an all-round boxer.
“I stayed with Cliff for the duration of my tenure at Multi and then became a member of his gym, the Cliff Anderson Boxing Gym (CABG) at the East Ruimveldt Government School.
My first outing in the ring was an exhibition match on the tarmac of the NRMS, I was thrilled to have been given a chance to showcase my wares,” Benjamin recalled.
He said that the fight received raucous applause from the audience which greatly buoyed his spirits. The former champion also narrated an after fight experience where upon his arrival in school the day after the bout, he received a hero’s welcome from his classmates and teachers.
He was on cloud nine and it felt great until Mr. Narine, a woodwork teacher and also a top national karateka, made light of his feat.
Benjamin recalled that instead of praising his efforts, the teacher chose to miniaturize the accomplishment. Angered by the hurtful remarks, Benjamin said that he challenged the teacher to a boxing match. The fight occurred in the metalwork department, a mere hundred yards from the headmaster’s office with a classroom of metalwork students as the spectators. Four lathes were conjoined to form a makeshift ring.
“The metalwork teacher, Maurice Gilbert, is still alive but retired from the profession. He can attest to my recitation,” said Benjamin.
He further revealed that Gilbert acted as the watchman. “The fight lasted less than two minutes after I had connected with my famed overhand right and left hook,” Benjamin revealed. To this day that fight still remains a talking point amongst my classmates whenever we gather for social activities,” Benjamin said.
On the academic front, Benjamin said that he fared well and had a special love for Spanish, English, reading, Geography and Literature. Nevertheless, his chances of acquiring academic accolades at the secondary level were shot because of a paucity of funds.
“Like I said, my parents were saddled with huge debts in a really large family and though my eldest sister, Jillion, contributed to the financial pool, excess funds were not readily available so I was unable to write the CXC or GCE Examinations,” he revealed.
Embarrassed by his financial circumstances, Benjamin walked out of the Multilateral School, one Friday afternoon in 1983, devoid of the requisite academic accomplishments.
His proficiency in the use of his fists caused Benjamin to turn to boxing as a redemptive factor. “Under Cliff, my boxing career took off. It was not easy boxing among top boxers the likes of Anthony Andrews, Ronald McBean, Darius Ford, Earl Green, Carl Tull and Ceon Bristol, all top ranked amateurs,” Benjamin recounted.
“By then, my mother had migrated to Canada and I remained under the tutelage of my father. He posted me in the Guyana National Service since I was devoid of the requisite qualifications to clinch a decent job,” Benjamin recalls. He said that by then he was an accomplished amateur boxer who had managed to rake up a few wins among strong opposition. “I even managed to win a Best Boxer’s award in the Champion of Champion Boxing Tournament,” Benjamin intimated.
He said that he envisaged a stint in the GNS Boxing Gym would fortify his position of attaining boxing excellence. “Imagine my astonishment when I enrolled for membership and Sergeant Hermana Benn posted me into the interior, the Barima/Waini region, at Base Command Papaya, to engage in orientation and military training!” Benjamin reflected. It was the first intake of the Joint Service Recruit and Orientation Course (JSROC). “Hermie, as I now address her, later became my staunch friend and firm supporter.”
Notwithstanding, Benjamin felt that there was still a vacuum to be filled: “Following six months of stiff military training I became rebellious and agitated for a chance to join the boxing team,” he revealed. Instead, he was disciplined for insubordination and shuttled to several interior bases including Tumatumari, Konawaruk in the Potaro/Siparuni region and eventually to Camp Cocos, an agricultural base on the lower East Coast. Benjamin recalled that it was while at the Tumatumari Training Base in Region Eight to learn carpentry that he decided that he had had enough.
“I simply picked up my duffel bag in the dead of the night and walked off the base,” he said. He admitted that he had no idea where he was headed as Tumatumari was hundreds of miles away from Linden, the nearest town.
Benjamin recalls that Commander of the base, Major Parris, sent out the troops for him and subsequently posted him to Georgetown for disciplinary action. Benjamin said that he was given a hearing and the officer in charge opted to assign him duties in Base Command Sophia where the boxing team resided.
“It was an unorthodox means to an end but as far as I was concerned I had accomplished my mission of being installed on the boxing team,” said Benjamin.
Benjamin said he represented the para military organization with distinction, competing in excess of 40 amateur bouts and winning titles in several tournaments including the Intermediate, Open, Champions of Champions and the Inter-Gym tournament. “I was so good that I was debarred from participating in the Novice Championships,” he recalls. Consequently, in 1984, Benjamin was selected to travel to Barbados for a Goodwill Tournament in what would have been his inaugural overseas assignment. By then, he had earned the respect of Director General, Joe Singh and the membership of the GNS and was given special privileges. That tournament fell through but Benjamin was soon compensated when he won the Senior Boxing Championships and earned the right to represent Guyana at the 1985 Carifta Games in Bridgetown Barbados.
“I regarded the Carifta Games as an opportunity to represent my country and was extremely proud,” Benjamin exhorted. He fought a Bajan and a Bahamian and won the Carifta featherweight title. Upon his return to Guyana Benjamin was hailed as a hero by the GNS administration.
“Joe Singh, singled me out, along with Bergette Williams, a distance runner of that era, and held an appreciation function for us at the GNS Sports Complex. Shortly afterwards, founder leader Forbes Burnham passed away and I was assigned military duties dubbed, ‘Operation Plexus.’ “That was in 1985; I fought a few other amateur bouts and one year later, applied and received a professional license to ply my trade.”
“At that time, former heavyweight world champion, Mike Tyson, was knocking out everyone in his path. I was told I had an uncanny resemblance, in features and style, to the American world beater and while he was racking up the knockout victories in North America I was emulating his feats here in South America thus earning the sobriquet “Tyson,” Benjamin informed.
(to be continued)
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