One night in San Remo Shaun "The Guvnor" Cummins was cruelly denied the finest victory of his career in a fight that would have changed his life. It was 1994 and Cummins was fighting the mighty Italian, Agostino Cardamone, for the European middleweight title.
Cummins was never a real contender, but in San Remo he had the chance to change all that when he sent the champion crashing down. "I hit him with the left hook, but sadly the right missed as he was going down," Cummins remembered in 2010 when I interviewed him in his bed – he had been paralysed in a motorbike accident in 2004. I was ringside that night on the Italian Riviera and watched in disgust as the defending champion and local fighter was given every chance to clear his head. It was a long and disgraceful count and Cardamone survived the round and retained his title. "It happens, that's boxing," said Cummins. Cardamone was over for nearly 30 seconds.
"That was not even the fight I wanted," Cummins told me. "I was offered a world title fight and I said 'Yes' before I was even told the opponent. It was, it turns out, [Steve] Collins. I would have beaten Collins. It never happened and I went off to Italy. I was foolish back then."
Cummins did have a reputation when he was fighting for being difficult to deal with and he certainly made a few enemies inside the volatile boxing business. He also made a few outside the ring, to be expected from a fighting man dubbed "The Guvnor", which is not a nickname that is worn for free.
"It was a case of live and learn for me and I was not very good at learning." Cummins admitted. "I look back and I have a lot of regrets." He tried to reach out to old friends and was still trying to build bridges from his bed when he started up a boxing website; it was not his only adventure online and he spoke boldly and with real passion about online deals that would make him rich.
He boxed for the Belgrave club in his Leicester home town but turned professional at 18, which, to be brutally honest, suited his style on both sides of the ropes. He was a smarter boxer than many like to remember, but a handful to control. He chased women, which is something he never stopped; one or two of the tales from his early hospital days suggest a fuller comeback than the doctors were perhaps willing to predict. "I was a bit wild, I've made my apologies over the years."
After the Cardamone fight there was one final local showdown that remains a vivid memory of mine. Cummins challenged Burton's Neville Brown for the British middleweight title in Derby. It was a stunning and dramatic night, a local brawl for bragging rights and not for the squeamish: Brown finally won in the fifth. It was the last time Cummins was in the ring. "I never actually retired from boxing," he said. "After boxing I made a few errors in life and I did a bit of bird. I wanted to fight but there were a lot of things going on in my life – not all good."
Cummins fought at 11st 6lb at his peak but was soon weighing in excess of 18 stone after getting lost inside the serious world of bodybuilding. He was used for personal security and "minded" the boy band, Blue. However, it was not all strictly legal work and his reputation was enhanced, his infamy secured, when he put his bulk and fighting skills to good use as a debt collector – though, he said, "I still wanted to get back in the ring."
The crash in 2004 that left him paralysed happened when he was on his way back from the gym. A car pulled out, he swerved to avoid going through the driver's window, and went through the back window. "I saved her life," he said. He was, he was keen to point out, innocent of blame. He was released after four months in hospital but his condition worsened when a cut on his backside became infected. He was in bed for the rest of his life, requiring daily assistance, growing fatter and even more depressed.
Last week the police entered Cummins' adapted flat in Leicester and found the remains of his body. Some parts had been stored in a freezer. A man has been charged with his murder, and an attempt to have the man's identity withheld was denied. Cummins had, so the court was told, "criminal connections". It seems to me that it was more like the Guvnor had criminal bad luck.
Shaun Cummins, boxer, bodyguard, debt collector and businessman: born Leicester 8 February 1968; died between 1 and 12 September 2012.
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