Darren Sutherland won an Olympic bronze medal last year in Beijing, turned professional and everybody involved with his career thought that he had made the often tricky transition with ease. Inside the ropes Sutherland, who adopted the ring moniker of The Dazzler, was quite brilliant, but away from the ring, in the lonely days and nights that all fighters have to learn to control, he was starting to doubt his ability.
Last Monday, Sutherland's manager, Frank Maloney, and his nutritionist, Joe Dunbar, obtained a set of keys to the young fighter's flat in Bromley, south London, and opened the door to find Sutherland hanged. The police have ruled out the involvement of anybody else in the death.
Sutherland was born in Dublin to an Irish mother and a father from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. He spent time as a child in London and St. Vincent before returning to Ireland. His father, Tony, was a big boxing fan, but Darren tried traditional Irish sports before starting to box as a young teenager.
When he was 15 he left Dublin and spent nearly four years under the expert tutelage of boxing guru Brendan Ingle in Wincobank on the outskirts of Sheffield. At Ingle's gym Sutherland trained, ate and lived with boxers of genuine world class like Junior Witter, Johnny Nelson and Ryan Rhodes. He is best known from this time for his confidence in the ring and his cleanliness away from boxing.
In 2000 Sutherland returned to Dublin, joined the famous St. Saviour's club and immediately started to win titles. In 2002 he was the Irish under-21 champion and he started to take part in international matches.
"Darren had a great style for the pros and it was hard to fight him when he was an amateur," said James DeGale, who won a gold medal for Britain in Beijing but lost four of his six bouts against the middleweight. "I beat him in the Beijing semi-final and it was the fight of my life. He was going to be a big, big star in the pro ranks."
Last October, Sutherland shocked many in the boxing business when he agreed terms with the south London promoter Frank Maloney, at a time when it was known that several other prominent boxing people had offered the fighter a lot more money. Sutherland had a private conversation with Joe Calzaghe and carefully considered his options before signing with the man who guided Lennox Lewis from Olympic gold to heavyweight glory. "I liked Frank from the start, he felt right," Sutherland said.
Maloney decided to place Sutherland with the trainer Brian Lawrence, which was a surprise at the time, but the pair worked well and Sutherland seemed settled during the early months in the east London gym. Sutherland lived with Maloney and his family in Chislehurst in Kent from last October until February this year, when he moved into his own flat in Bromley, just a few miles away.
Sutherland's first fight was in Dublin and it made both the front pages and the back pages of the papers. Maloney claimed at the time that he had never experienced anything like it. Three more quick wins followed, but in his last fight at York Hall, Bethnal Green in June, Sutherland suffered a cut before forcing a stoppage. The cut kept Sutherland out of a proposed fight in July.
It was an unhappy dressing room after the fight, and I remember thinking that Sutherland was being far too critical of his performance. During the last two weeks of his life he had finished sessions in the gym early and missed other sessions and even talked of quitting the business. His drop in form forced Maloney to withdraw him from a show in Sunderland on 16 October, and there was a plan for Sutherland to see a sports psychologist.
On Friday 11 September Sutherland was ringside at the Brentwood Leisure Centre with Maloney for the highly entertaining and controversial heavyweight fight between John McDermott and Tyson Fury. The following night he joined Maloney and his family at a local Chinese restaurant and was laughing and joking with Maloney's daughters before driving back to his flat.
Maloney and Dunbar made the grisly discovery shortly before four on Monday afternoon. Maloney's reaction frightened Dunbar and the promoter was taken to hospital, where it was established that he had suffered a heart attack on Friday night. He was briefly transferred to King's College in south London for emergency cardiac treatment before returning to the Princess Royal University Hospital in Farnborough where he remains under observation. Sutherland is survived by his father, Tony, his mother, Linda, and his sisters Nicole and Shaneika.
Darren Sutherland, boxer: born Dublin 18 April 1982; died Bromley, Kent 14 September 2009.