Years ago, a good friend of mine was a pretty successful DJ. This was before the days of iTunes, downloads and all the rest of it and picking up the latest house, white-label, vinyl releases was not an easy task. A good deal of his time was spent having long conversations with the owners and scouring the shelves of obscure record shops. When he found a rare gem, he was delighted. Not only was it something he could wow knowledgeable dancers with during a Friday or Saturday night slot, but it affirmed to him some kind of underground status – that he knew about and was able to acquire a disc that few others were aware of.
I experienced something approaching that feeling myself this week. As part of the research for my next book – Wiped Out? The Jerome Wilson Story, I have been sent some closed links to fights of Jerome’s that were recorded but are not publicly available. There are several fascinating contests among these, but two in particular that are simply mind-blowing.
For those who don’t know, Jerome was something of an enigmatic character on the UK boxing scene. Former British champ Curtis Woodhouse said he was the best he ever trained with. Three time world title challenger Ryan Rhodes called him ‘Sheffield’s Mayweather’, manager and former trainer Dave Coldwell repeatedly and publicly said he was world class.
The whispers from the gym were that in sparring Jerome would dazzle and show flashes of physical genius. When on song, no-one could lay a glove on him while he picked off opponents at will. A natural athlete, beautifully balanced, with a long reach and hands so quick they blurred before your eyes, many observers, including such luminaries as Brendan Ingle, had tipped him to reach the very summit of the pro game. Of course, in reality he never got there, but those whose understanding goes beyond watching Sky shows on Saturday night will appreciate that boxing is a sport that doesn’t always reward talent.
Despite his gifts, Jerome struggled with an inner battle and also to cope with the business side of the game. There were still times in his career when his attributes shone through, however. Not only a slick mover, but also powerful enough to produce a spectacular finish, the most public display of his ability was probably this bout, on the undercard of the David Haye v Audley Harrison contest in 2010
Yet it is the two fights that ended his career, in such terrible circumstances, against the fearsome Cameroonian Serge Ambomo, that really take one’s breath away. The first of them, contested at the Ice Arena Sheffield on May 9th last year, is a bout of such staggering intensity that you can barely believe what you are watching.
In a previous column, several months ago, I wrote about boxing in the movies and how the action is so often portrayed cartoonishly. When watching Wilson / Ambomo 1 I feel like retracting that statement. No Hollywood director, no matter how imaginative or reckless with the truth could exaggerate the brutality of that bout. Gatti / Ward round 9? It was like that all the way through. The only way to up the level of sheer violence would have been to cut both men’s gloves off and give them weapons to use instead.
Wilson came out in the first looking every inch a multi-million dollar fighter. His footwork was fluid, his jab quick and hurtful. He followed up with rapid-fire combos. Ambomo had no response. The powerfully built African was lost in the barrage, lumbering after Wilson, missing and eating leather. A minute into the round, Ambomo was down. He bounced up and continued marching forwards, only to be put down again a minute later. By the time the round finished the bout looked set to be a cakewalk. Wilson had made Ambomo look pedestrian.
Round Two started in much the same way, but perhaps over-confident after his first session landslide, Wilson closed the distance and tried to finish his man off. At three-quarter range Ambomo began to find traction for his mighty, wrecking-ball hooks and from the halfway point of that round the whole contest descended into what can only be described as madness.
Until the final bell rang at the end of round six it was non-stop back and forth, undiluted aggression. Neither man gave an inch. Wilson was down in the third, but both looked on the verge of being stopped several times. Neither the crowd nor the commentary team for Coldwell TV could contain their excitement. It was a scene of pure, gladiatorial voyeurism.
The decision, a 3 point margin of victory for Ambomo, raised eyebrows and a rematch was immediately called for from all quarters. In the four months it took to make the return, Coldwell TV stopped operating and was absorbed into Matchroom Fight Pass. As a result the film of the contest disappeared from the internet, remaining unavailable ever since.
Their second bout at the same venue on September 12th 2014 was marginally less intense than the first. There were only two knockdowns, for a start, but as many readers will know, one of them was permanent. Jerome went into that second fight determined not to get drawn into a war. By then he knew from bitter experience that Ambomo is built like a tank and fights like one too. Yet try as he might, it seemed carnage was simply unavoidable. Sometimes two fighters just happen to combine in a particular way. Wilson and Ambomo’s styles were a recipe for mentalism. It’s the only way to describe it.
The second fight has never been made publicly available for the same reason that Benn v McLellan was held back for many years. The horror of the way it ended means it would be deemed insensitive to put it on youtube. Yet as Jerome recovers from his terrible ordeal – leaving the ring on a stretcher, his ten day coma, the many awful after-effects – there may come a time when it is right for the public to be able to see these two battles.
Everything that makes boxing so captivating and yet horrifying is contained within them. A clean-living, highly skilled yet self-doubting family-man up against an archetypal, mean-faced hardcase. A Mohawk-wearing, African asylum seeker, living in a hostel and fighting hungry. They went to war for twelve truly unbelievable rounds that changed both of them forever.
The former ended up with a quarter of his skull missing and his life hanging by a thread. For the rest of his days he will fight only for his sanity. The latter lost his license, his manager and trainer and has still not boxed again since. Not long after, he was arrested for brawling in the street in Rotherham.
Two amazing fights, one amazing story. It’ll soon be told in my book. And if Weinstein, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Sony Pictures or any of the rest of them want a real boxing tale, that doesn’t need the silly Hollywood treatment, well, they know where to find me.