The rise of boxing in Jamaica may require a well laid out thesis when all angles of the investigation required are done and that information is presented chronologically. But to encapsulate the rise we first have to look at the early entrance of the sport into national life. When the former Premier of Colonial Jamaica, Norman Manley, conceptualized the first constitution for the Jamaica Boxing Board, it was to fill a need to formalize the sport, back in the early 1930’s.
As the stories are told, there were several fist fights on the streets of Kingston, where bets were wagered on young men who considered themselves real boxers. Manley, a former law student at Jesus College in the University of Oxford and an athlete himself, lay the foundation to make boxing a sport in Jamaica.
Following the laying of the constitution, at least two decades later, regularly sanctioned fights by the Jamaica Boxing Board, would prove to be beneficial for sons of the soil. Ushering a stellar era of the 50’s and 60’s where early professionals made their regional and international mark. Leading the way was Percy Hayles winner of the Commonwealth (British Empire) lightweight title, George “Bunny’ Grant who won the Commonwealth Boxing Council Light weight Title. There were other notable Jamaican fighters during this period, who, although never got to acclaimed status as Grant and Hayles, had impressive records based on researched details. Those boxers who include, but are not limited to Gerald Grey, Alan Armond, Basil Campbell, Barry Mason, Wesley Hines, Bunny Sterling, Kid Totas II, and Stamford Harris.
The Island would see a transition at the end of that era, where upon the push towards the 1970’s and 80’s the respect for Jamaica would increase globally, with the accomplishment of Michael McCallum the first Jamaican to win a world title, Richard Shrimpy Clarke, and Trevor Berbick who held the world heavyweight title and the last man on record to fight Muhhamed Ali, winning a 10-round unanimous decision in Bahamas on December 11, 1981.
Although Sterling was mentioned in the era of the 60’s, it must be noted that Sterling became the first Jamaican immigrant to win a British title, copping the British and Commonwealth middleweight titles in 1970.
Through this period and into the 1990’s the Caribbean Amateur Boxing Championship, was the perfect platform for many talent which came through the ranks. In other words, boxers came from all over the island to fight for places on the national team, and hence a sustained influx of talent sprung up all over the country.
Interestingly during this juncture the exposure of many of the islands’ talent was facilitated by Dickie Coke (now deceased) who worked at the beverage company Denoes and Geddes, current General Secretary of the Jamaica Boxing Leroy Brown, former president of the board, Keith Brown the host of the ‘Thursday nights at the fight’ programme on the now defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, Dennis Woodbine managing director of J and J Garage, and Businessman Lucien Chen. All these esteemed men worked tirelessly in one capacity or another to contribute to the growth and rise of the sport in Jamaica.
Now to the recent efforts by Wray and Nephew in 2011 and 2012 through the ‘Wray and Nephew Contender’ the future of Jamaica’s boxing now sits in a solid position. Pumping over $60Million into the sport, Wray & Nephew’s efforts have gathered a significant momentum through the print and the electronic media over the last two years which has caused a jam-packed Chinese Benevolent Association auditorium in Kingston each Wednesday night.
According to Cecil Smith, Marketing Manager for Rums, at Wray and Nephew, the over $60Million invested in the Contender series to date has already reaped big returns on the investment. Smith explained: “There is a direct relation between the sport and the consumption of the brand, and we at Wray and Nephew are indeed happy for the enthusiasm surrounding the event and the return we have had on our investment. The Wray & Nephew Contender, by all indications, was arguably the number one watched local event in the island last year, and so far in 2012 the viewership and the attendance at the live matches have grown exponentially each week.”
The current contract with Wray and Nephew and MJK Productions for the Contender series runs out in 2013.
Looking forward Smith closed by saying: “Wray and Nephew is with the Contender series for the long haul, with the excitement and the following of the local fans, in addition to the exposure of all boxers, we believe there is a solid future for boxing in Jamaica.”
The organizers and sponsors of The Wray & Nephew Contender now have a great opportunity to continue improving, yet again, the popularity of the sport among the local populace and ensuring that Jamaican boxing stays on the Rise.