Profile: Fighter against time Dennis Andries

Harry Mullan meets Britain's ageing lord of the ring who has earned res pect the hard way

NASEEM HAMED will get the TV attention and the Sunday paper headlines when he boxes in Glasgow on Saturday, but the real story is down the bill, where the indefatigable Dennis Andries attempts to become the oldest ever British champion. Andries, a three-time WBC light-heavyweight champion, faces Denzil Browne of Leeds for the vacant British cruiserweight championship, just a month short of 15 years since his first British title attempt. It would be a good story under any circumstances, but give n Andries' advanced age - whatever that might be - it is remarkable that he is still competing at this level at all.

His strikingly handsome features offer no clue either as to his profession or his age; he could pass for 25, but has mischieviously encouraged speculation that he's 20 years older. Now, he says: "There's no mystery: I'm 41. The press wanted to be funny. I said, `OK, pick a number... Well, make me 46, 48, anything you want.' And then I thought, `You know, this old man nonsense is OK. Maybe it'll bring me more fights, because people want to fight you if they think you're old - but when they get in there, they'll find this is one tough old boy.' Anyway, age don't matter. I've seen guys washed up at 24. One bad beating can make you old overnight."

Boxing's best-known antiques, George Foreman and Roberto Duran, have lasted so well because of their styles: Foreman usually gets rid of opponents early, while Duran is a clever, slippery type who takes comparatively little punishment. Yet Andries, who has had more life-and-death struggles than any British boxer of his several generations, remains unmarked, clear-eyed and precise of speech despite 17 hard years in the professional ring.

He seems genuinely astonished at the suggestion that he has had some tough battles. "Did you ever see me walk in with my face up and take punches all the time like that? No, I'm always covering, blocking. If I can't whup you, I can protect myself. You don't see me with cuts, bumps and bruises."

There is also, he suggests, a genetic explanation for his longevity; his tough childhood in Guyana. "I'm from a hard country, a hard place where you got to think like a man and do man things by the age of 12. We were working-class, country people. My daddy came to Britain first, then my mother and my sister, and when they'd saved the money, maybe eight years later, they sent for me and my brother. My parents had split by the time we got here. I ran away four times in Guyana because I didn't want to leave my cousins and my friends, so they finally caught me and said, `Away you go, 'cause you're too bad for us.' I'm a down-to-earth, quiet kind of a guy now but back then I was a wild kid."

He needed all that self- sufficiency to carry him through a career with more troughs than peaks, in which he had to carve out his own niche as an unfashionable, crude brawler without the financial, promotional or managerial connections needed to make things happen. His illusions did not survive for long.

"I had a lot of setbacks early on, but then I got the Southern Area title, so if anybody wanted the British title they had to go through me first. Trainers would say to me `Why don't you retire, or step aside and let my boy in - I'll give you a grand. You're just holding other fighters back.' I said, `I ain't holding your boy back - if he wants to fight, let him fight me. I'm here, and if I'm in his way he's got to beat me first.' They saw me as the Iron Man of the division, and I couldn't get no fights."

He solved his dilemma by creating the impression that his dedication had faded: he would train for a couple of days in a professional gym, then disappear for a week to make it seem that he's broken training. In fact, he would instead be working out at anamateur club with people whom he could trust with his secret. "I had to con opponents that I wasn't ready, otherwise I'd still be waiting," he remembers with a chuckle.

He got his first major opportunity in his ninth fight, as a short- notice substitute against the veteran British champion Bunny Johnson in January 1979, and even though he lost on points he made a strong enough impression to be granted a rematch for the title a year later. It proved a nightmare experience: in probably the worst championship fight in the division's history. Andries blundered and stumbled his way to a 15-rounds points loss. It was a humiliating experience, and the critics were merciless. He remained unperturbed.

"If you can't take criticism, you're gonna be suicidal. Fighters tell me `I can't take what they're writing about me.' I say `Well don't read it, then. Ten years after, when it's all over, read it and have a laugh.' If I read something about me that I don't like, I'll just cut it out and put it away.

"I've been around, and I've learned from all my bad experiences. I've only had one first-round knockout in nearly 60 fights. They've all been tough. I've always fought guys one level above me. If you put a bum fighter in front of me I'd probably lose, because I wouldn't know what to do with him. I'd be thinking `God, it's Christmas,' because they've given me a turkey."

Andries persisted at his trade, learning from his losses until, having won the British title at the third attempt and put together a 13-fight unbeaten run, he took the WBC championship from the American ex-Marine J B Williamson. It was a short reign: after one successful defence, he was stopped in 10 rounds by Thomas Hearns in Detroit, showing almost superhuman courage and endurance in getting off the floor time and again. A couple of days later Hearns's manager, Emanuel Steward had a call from the ex-champ, asking to join Steward's famous Kronk gym.

"I'd said to myself, `Win or lose, I'm going to Steward,' but obviously I couldn't talk to him before the fight," he recalls. Steward, impressed by his courage, agreed to take him on, but those early days in the ferocious environment of the Kronk were brutal.

"When I went there first, guys were lining up to say, `You think Tommy Hearns done you, we're going to do you worse.' They'd say `We want that British boy. We're gonna whup his ass'. I said, `Let me tell you something. I'm not born in England.' `Then yo u 're English, boy, and we're gonna kick your ass'.

"It was tough, but I had to beat respect into them. They all thought, `Give him a week or two and he'll leave. If we don't beat him out of here the heat will drive him out.' But a determined man is a dangerous man. I stayed on and I commanded respect. There were so many broken noses, ribs, jaws, eye sockets. I might've had a little cut here and there, but that's all.

"The ring in the Kronk used to be slippery with sweat, 'cause there were so many tough-ass people working out hard. People used to come down there to see fights. They'd bring their lunch and their dinners, and sit and watch them. They didn't have to pay money to go to an arena. They'd see guys carried out of there, guys been broken in the ring. That's how tough it was."

Under Steward's guidance he regained the WBC title, lost it and won it back. His three WBC titles earned the trade's respect, and some decent American paydays, but he remains virtually unknown to the wider sporting public. "It doesn't bother me," he insists. "Nothing gets to me. If it did, I'd be cracked up by now. The media and the British people like losers, and all that bullshit. Well, go on your way, man, 'cause I'm not a loser."

His nomadic lifestyle requires an understanding wife, Odette, with whom he has been "since we were kids at school". "She's a strong woman and we love each other. We decided early on we'd be together in this boxing thing and we were gonna do it. If you got someone to support you in what you're doing, you got no problems.

"I lived in Detroit from 1987, and I'm still back and forth. But I've got two boys now. They're getting bigger and I need to be there, to be a daddy for them. I was reared up with no father, and I'm not going to make the same mistake. I got to be there for my own kids.

"I'll know when to get out of boxing. I don't want to push it too much. Give it another year, maybe two, and that's it. I'll let boxing be. For now, I enjoy what I'm doing. Why quit all that to drink and go to the bars? That's when you will get old.

"I'll keep working, 'cause I got to. Some people are born lucky, and then there's the rest of us. You see that guy won £1m on the lottery and wants to give it back? I can't understand that: why play a game if you don't want to win?"

sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all