Pocket Rocket and a barrel of carpet fluff

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The Independent Online
A DOCUMENTARY entitled Down the Street of Dreams (BBC2) could be about any number of things: the fantasy world of a night bus driver, for example, the geography of the bed-retailing district of a major conurbation, or the imaginative leap that led to the invention of Tarmac. But in fact it was about boxing, and jolly good it was too.

The boxer concerned was the Belfast-born bantamweight Wayne McCullough, the street was the Strip in Las Vegas, and the dream was a world title.

Our first sight of McCullough came as he exercised in the Nevada desert, plugging on through a heat haze so liquid and so blue that he seemed to be running on water. But no miracles were required of the boxer in the pursuit of his title: that kind of thing was taken care of by his manager, an American television entrepreneur called Matt Tinley, who was a dead ringer in both appearance and shrewdness for Frank Maloney - no disrespect intended to either estimable gentleman.

The way Tinley put it, his purpose was purely philanthropic. "I don't think of myself as a boxing manager," he explained. "I'm in this to help Wayne hit his goals and to help him with his life." Any benefits that accrued to Tinley's Prime television channel were purely coincidental.

McCullough certainly had no complaints. He acquired a nickname, "The Pocket Rocket", a smart house to share with his wife, Cheryl, and a Mercedes with a personalised number plate that read "PKT RKT". The Rocket was lining his pockets.

Tinley made sure that his man was provided with the best advice, recruiting the legendary cornerman Eddie Futch to train his charge. "I thought he looked a fine prospect," Futch said. "And if he hadn't been, I wouldn't have been associated with him, because I'm 82 years old, and I'm not taking on a lot of boxers."

McCullough justified the faith of Tinley and Futch, knocking over a string of carefully selected opponents while his manager plotted him a course toward the world title. But it was not all easy. McCullough and his wife were often homesick, and images of the boxer cruising through the neon- lit anonymous streets of Vegas were contrasted with street scenes from Belfast, where the only splashes of colour are sectarian wall paintings but at least the people look real.

Eventually Tinley was able to arrange an eliminator contest for the WBC title, against Victor Rabranales in the bizarre surroundings of the Trump Taj Mahal. The Pocket Rocket came through, but not without taking some damage on re-entry. His manager naturally empathised. "Proud as I was that he won that fight," Tinley said earnestly, "it hurt me." McCullough was the one with the bruises.

But the world title was in sight, and in July 1995 McCullough fought Yasuei Yakushiji in Nagoya for the WBC belt. Because of the fight's location, the Belfast boy was inevitably introduced to the crowd as the "Pocket Locket, Rayne McCurroo", but if his name was scrambled his skills were not. The dream had come true, on a split decision.

Futch grinned fit to bust, Cheryl planted a smacker on an undamaged portion of her hubby's face, and Tinley, the stone-faced deal-maker, was in floods of tears. He rapidly composed himself, though, and when the group photograph of the McCullough camp was taken in the ring he, not the boxer, was wearing the title belt.

Tinley insisted that he would tell his man when to quit the ring. "But before that point," he explained, "I hope he'll make a lot of money so that he can live his life without having to scrap for a living." This is what happens when boxing managers see themselves as lifestyle managers: they forget all about the fight part of the fight game.

Sportsnight (BBC1) included a preview package about the Atlanta Olympics, in which Ray Stubbs topped up his sun-tan and parroted a lot of facts about what a lot of people were going to be there, sundry Atlantans told us what a damn fine city they lived in, and we saw a lot of sunsets reflected in skyscrapers. The last sequence looked uncannily like the opening titles of Dallas, though it is not a comparison that should be made in the company of a Georgian.

Sportsnight also featured an update on Ian Woosnam's back injury, which he has apparently improved by doing a lot of stretching with his shirt off, in which state he resembles a beer barrel that has rolled first in treacle and then in carpet fluff.

Mindful of the delicate feelings of the members at Augusta, Woosie had covered up by the time the BBC commenced coverage of the Masters. So had Greg Norman, who sported a lattice-woven black stetson which seemed designed to provide him with a kind of tweed-effect sun-tan. But the leader in the sartorial stakes, as ever, was Payne Stewart, immaculate in plus-fours. Dave Marr, accompanying the suave Peter Allis in the commentary box, informed us that Stewart is "a man who plays a lot of golf shots". Thank you for that, Dave.

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