There are often a lot tears left in the gyms, rings and divided homes of the boxing game when fathers and sons decide to work together in the oldest and hardest of sports.
Some of the working relationships last a lifetime, ending only when the glories of the boxer come to a natural finish, and there are others, the most common type, that end in ugliness and separation beyond repair. Joe Calzaghe and Enzo Calzaghe are the finest example of the good and Buster Douglas and Bill Dynamite Douglas remain the textbook favourite for the bad.
On Saturday, Michael Hennessy Jr, just 19 and a towering middleweight, has his first professional fight on a show in Manchester promoted by his father, Mick. It is the same Mick Hennessy who promoted the boxing debuts of both Carl Froch and Tyson Fury and then took the pair to world titles and a million or two in the bank. The acrimony followed, it always does.
It is a rare pairing of son and father because of Mick’s success as a promoter, a position which has allowed him to observe all the good, all the awful and all the versions of the boxing truth from the finest of ringside seats. He is a man shaped by the ugliness of the savage business, familiar with all the treacherous acts and suffering that are necessary evils of his trade as a boxing promoter.
“When I was 12 and unbeaten in three fights, my Dad sat me down,” said young Michael. “He went over all the types of boxers I could be – he talked about all of it. He is a boxing anorak, he knows his boxing.” Seven years later the pair have taken the jump and entered the world that the father warned the son about.
Before that chat Mick spoke to his son and promised him that he would let him box when he turned 11, but Michael wanted to box a lot earlier. They reached a deal, they shook hands on it and Mick kept the deal: “On my 11th birthday he asked me if I still wanted to box – I said ‘Yes’ and that was it.” This is not a vanity project, young Hennessy can really fight.
“I have been forced to turn him pro,” Mick explained. “There were too many bad decisions, too many upsets. Michael had Olympic dreams – he has beaten the number one boxer at the GB squad. But, the decisions have never gone his way.” A few months ago young Hennessy lost in the London championships, a film of the fight circulated, there was a four-minute round and the verdict against him was harsh. It was the last act for father and son. “What choice did I have? I had to protect him, he’s my son – I didn’t want anymore setbacks for him,” explained the father.
So now the promoter has to guide his son, who in boxing years is still a baby, through the tricky first year of the sport, where tough men with long losing records will not fold under any pressure. Michael Hennessy will become a man by beating the hardest of men in a typical apprenticeship, but one with some added expectations. It will be a different level of expectation to the pressure placed on the sons of famous boxers, men and boys often harshly condemned because of their failure to be as good as their father. Too many famous sons seem to be fighting for the wrong reasons and seldom have the deep experience – he has fought over 100 times – Hennessy has.
Buster Douglas all those years ago was desperate for his father’s love, but it was always the Dynamite Douglas show, always about exotic nights in fearsome venues against the great men Dynamite stood and traded punches with. Dynamite was a real contender and nearly twenty years after his life from the ring was over, he still had total recall, his son the great listener, silent and proud of his great dad.
Three times in Buster’s career he had spells with Dynamite in his corner and three times they split; on the eve of Buster’s iconic win over Mike Tyson in 1990, the son called the exiled father for advice. Dynamite told him: “Attack him. Fight the sissy. Just hit him.” It was perfect advice, but then Bill Dynamite Douglas – middleweight contender, difficult man, adored father, sad and bitter old slugger – just had to add: “Wish I could fight him.” He meant he would win, but Buster would lose. But Buster was blessed that day in Tokyo, breaking the troubled soul of Tyson, his father a distant and reluctant celebrant. Buster Douglas hated being the son of the man he could never beat, his father, Dynamite Douglas. He was the heavyweight champion of the world, he fought for 24 million dollars in his first defence and still had to be told by his father just how great his father was.
In contrast to the heartbreak of the fighting Douglas men, the Hennessy boys are packed with unconditional love, they are different beasts and the unique promoter-son axis might create some intriguing moments.
“I never wanted him to fight,” Mick insists. “I made a deal with him about boxing when he turned 11 and he has just kept fighting – it is his life, he has been around boxing all his life. It is all he knows.”
On Saturday the pair start again, another deal in place, a boxing contract signed at the kitchen table in the home they share, a kid and his dad, who is also his boss, working closely together, but separated by four ropes. There is every chance that the four ropes might remain the only thing that gets in the way of the special bond these two have.
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