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One last chance

Tyrone Booze made a rash decision at 3 a.m. to box after a one-year hiatus.

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published July 25, 2007


CLEARWATER

The fight game had chewed up Tyrone Booze, and what was left was fast asleep that summer night in 1992 when his phone rang at 3 a.m.

He hadn't fought in over a year.

Ring ring.

Hadn't heard from his promoter, Johnny Bos, in over a year.

Ring ring.

Hadn't found a steady job in over a year.

Ring ring.

"Hello?" Booze said, wondering who had the nerve at that hour ...

"You want to fight for the championship?" the caller asked.

It was Bos. He supplied Booze the details.

In six weeks, you get on a plane, you fly to Manchester, England, you take on the young, unbeaten British Commonwealth champion Derek Angol in his own back yard for the 190-pound world title.

The 225-pound Booze didn't need much time to think, to bother reflecting on taking a fight on such short notice, the weight he had to lose, to consider for a moment he had become exactly what he had once feared: an opponent for a younger shark to sharpen his teeth on.

"Yeah," he said, then he told his wife, Tina, and went back to sleep.

- - -

On July 25, 1992 - 15 years ago today - Tyrone Booze became Tampa Bay's first world champion. He was 33 at the time, went to England as a 33-to-1 underdog and knocked Angol out for the World Boxing Organization's cruiserweight title.

It was the greatest moment of his life.

In boxing today, fighters throw away their championship belts. Give them away for a more profitable fight. Say over and over that they don't need them.

But for Booze, the belt, and what it signified, was all he ever wanted.

"I didn't even care what I was being paid for that fight," said Booze, who made $25,000. "All I know is I wanted that title. I wanted the belt. When you have that, you are the champ. You are always the champ."

Night after night he would wake up and put it on. Look at himself in the mirror. Walk around his apartment. Smile.

"That's all he wanted to be, was the world champ," said trainer Jim McLoughlin. "He wanted to accomplish something that no one else believed he could."

Booze used his winnings on a down payment for his first house. In it, he displayed his belt in a glass case.

- - -

Booze was born in Hartford, Conn., where he was a successful amateur, and moved to Clearwater in 1991. By then, his career - which had included going the distance with Evander Holyfield, Dwight Braxton and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad - had fizzled.

His last fight was over a year earlier against Magne Havnaa in Denmark for the title, but he lost a razor-thin decision. "He was robbed," Tina says.

His phone had gone cold.

His record was 15-10-2.

He had won only five of his past 15 fights and was now working solely as a sparring partner.

"He was strictly being sent over to Manchester to be a punching bag," McLoughlin said. "But we knew different."

The morning after Bos called, Booze had egg whites and fruit for breakfast and went into training, splitting his time between the beach and workouts with longtime area coach Charlie Harris, and at McLoughlin's Fourth Street Boxing Club in St. Petersburg.

Booze was possessed in training. He was convinced he was going to win. He had to win.

"I knew it was my last chance," he said.

- - -

As the fight dragged on, with Booze and Angol raining hard blow after hard blow down on each other, McLoughlin worried his fighter might be tiring. He pulled a picture of Sharee, Booze's newly born daughter, from his back pocket and stuck it in the fighter's face.

"Tyrone!" McLoughlin shouted, smacking him so hard in the face Booze wanted to smack him back.

"Do it for her. This is for her!"

Booze continued to assail Angol. In the seventh round, "I jumped all over him."

Right hand, boom! Left hook, smack!

Another left to the body, Wham!

"Then I came up with this crazy right hand," Booze said, lifting his right arm and swinging down.

Angol was finished.

As Booze celebrated in the ring, one of the English trainers that had been helping him get ready admitted to McLoughlin he had just lost $25,000 by betting on the wrong guy.

"I didn't get a key to the city or anything when I got back," Booze said, "but I was the champ."

- - -

Booze was champ for 202 days. He defended his title once, then lost it to Markus Bott in February 1993 in Germany.

When a champion loses his belt, it is handed over to the victor for show. It is his to be loved, hugged and kissed for all the cameras. And then, in a back room, it is given back to the former champion, a brand new one later given to the champ.

"I came home with a busted eardrum," he said.

"It was lonely on that plane, because I lost my belt. Loneliest ride I've ever been on."

Booze fought six more times the next six years, winning five, but his phone stopped ringing in 1998. This time, for good.

Booze worked in sanitation for the city of Clearwater, and admitted to himself an ugly truth: he had trouble reading. He took classes to learn.

He opened a gym and started the Smart Fighter program, training kids in the art of boxing, with stacks of books nearby for one-hour lessons.

He no longer works, the result of an accident at work when a truck backed over him and put him in the hospital for two months.

Youth soccer is his passion now, although he still misses boxing. Especially when July 25 rolls around. It's hard to forget that night in Manchester, that big right hand, that belt around his waist.

Those who haven't forgotten still call Tyrone Booze champ.

John C. Cotey can be reached at 813 909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com.