Tim Witherspoon talks about defining moments of his career that was anything but ‘Terrible’
By Ian Aldous: The tales of ‘Terrible’ Tim Witherspoon are so vast and interesting. A recent one-hour ‘Sporting Heroes’ interview with Sky Sports in the UK barely scratched the surface of his life and time spent inside the ropes. A book to be released next year called ‘Terrible Times’ hopes to have the definitive word on his life. A few weeks ago Tim took some time to talk with me about some of the defining moments of his career.
Going into the first world title fight of his career in 1983, Tim (15-0) went up against the man who had held the WBC world heavyweight title since 1978, Larry Holmes (42-0). A split decision defeat followed but a gargantuan amount of respect was gained. “Well, the thing was that Larry Holmes was trying to reach Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0 and all that. I think it was getting hard on Larry Holmes and he wanted to reach that goal of the 49-0 getting easy fights, I guess. So, when Don King offered us the fight I doubted it because I’d only had fifteen fights.”
The experience gained from that fight helped Tim in his successful world title fight with Greg Page just over a year later. The WBC title vacated by Holmes was now around the waist of Witherspoon thanks to a majority decision victory. “Yeah, I had a good trainer. His name was Slim Jim Robinson. He’s real good and he had several other champions and just him teaching me and me being positive and not scared to fight anybody and all that (helped me). I had sparred Greg Page before the Larry Holmes fight and I kinda like knew his number. I knew a little bit about him before I fought him. That helped, plus the teaching of my trainer, Slim, really helped even more, so I was well prepared for that.” Unfortunately for Tim, having won the title in just his nineteenth fight, a majority decision in his first title defence went against him, this time as Pinklon Thomas took his world title belt.
Long before battling atop the heavyweight scene, Tim served as a sparring partner for the one and only Muhammad Ali. The experiences went on to define and develop his professional career. “Yes, on a mental aspect and a growth aspect. I knew Ali had a good jab but he was a different type of boxer and as far as me learning anything from him, I learned a whole lot. As far as technical skills like sitting on punches and boxing, I already knew a lot of that. Being around him really put the icing on the cake about me trying to be a champion. Being around Muhammad Ali really enhanced everything that I was doing. Here I am, a young kid, nobody knew who I was, getting the opportunity to be with the greatest of all time. How many people would love to be around that?”
Just under two years after winning his first championship, the WBA version of the gold was taken from Tony Tubbs via another close majority decision. Witherspoon then looked to defend the title on enemy territory. Wembley, England was the venue and Frank Bruno was the challenger. “You know, I always wanted to go somewhere and beat somebody in their own back yard and this was ideal. I really didn’t know that much until I got there. I didn’t really realize it was that big until I got there and it was one of the greatest things in my boxing career because I got to travel and I got to know the people over here in England. I know England real good (now), when I first came I didn’t know where to go as soon as I stepped out the hotel. Right now when I step out a hotel, I know where I’m at! You get to meet people from all different shades of life. I went into this arena and knocked out their champion with all these people trying to kill us and came out on top. What more could you ask for?” The attendance on the night is disputed (boxrec.com quotes it as being 40,000). “No, no, no it was 61,000 and if they’re reporting it was (officially) 61,000, it had to be 65,000. It was a blessing to me.”
In the eleventh round, Bruno was TKO’d and another fight had begun. Having seen the home fighter defeated, fans began to riot and Witherspoon, his family and his team were pelted with chairs, bottles and other items. “I wasn’t scared or nothing but there was other people like my kids, mom and other people that was more fragile than a boxer that had to get outta there and we had to protect them. Somebody could of got killed, seriously. But the bottom line is we all made it out safe.” Back in the dressing room, a living legend in attendance that night gave a helping hand. “The other thing was Muhammad Ali. My dressing room was right near this big door and the English people was breaking the door down and I’d have said another fifteen bangs and they would of rushed in and got us but Ali came to the front and told the security guys to open the door and they did it. They didn’t move, people stopped right there, they wouldn’t even come through the door. Ali told them to leave and none of them came through that door. There had to be 3,000 people back there trying to knock the door down. Ali saved us (laughs)!”
When questioning Tim about the current heavyweight scene, he went on to tell me a story about how he reached out to a current heavyweight prospect to help develop his career through his own tutelage. “I think there’s a problem with a lot of different trainers. It’s a shame because I talked to David Price about three weeks ago and I talked to him a year ago and he said he wanted me to help him and never really called me back. I guess he’s getting it from his trainer and his people that manage him not to get help. So, I would say about three weeks ago I said to Dave ‘you my buddy, you might as well let me come over to Liverpool and let me start working with you’, he was real happy and said ‘great’ and then I never heard from him. This is what’s wrong with boxing, maybe his trainer or his people, they making a stupid mistake because with all my knowledge, I could bring him to be one of the top heavyweights. He doesn’t fight like a professional; he has skills that has to be moulded into a champion. He don’t have to get rid of the trainers he’s with, I’m like a specialist, I can just come in and help him and they can save themselves a ton of money and time.”
It was abundantly clear to me that Tim just wants to give something back to the sport and help out the current crop of talent competing for the titles he held three decades ago. “I’m really disappointed at Dave Price’s people because here it is, two-time heavyweight champion, one of the best guys at defence in a long time in boxing and they didn’t even wanna give David a chance and he’s about to fight the same guy that he lost to (Tony Thompson)! He might win his next fight but I can make it a lot easier.”
Since speaking with Tim, it has been announced that Price will be working with one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all-time, Lennox Lewis.
The very eventful and interesting story of Tim Witherspoon and his life looks set to have a book that will do him justice when British author and script-writer, Ryan Danes, hopes to release a book entitled ‘Terrible Times’. Ryan met Tim through a friend and after talking with him felt that this was a project he wanted to get underway as soon as possible. He was convinced by Tim’s passion. When I asked Tim about the book he said, “He’s writing it and people already saying they can’t wait for the book to come out. ‘When it comes out, I’m getting it!’” They are hoping to have the book published next year.