NEW YORK (Reuters) - Saoul Mamby trains himself at John’s Gym, a South Bronx oasis suspended in time -- a perfect fit for a former world champion who is fighting on at the age of 60.
It is not just to stay in shape that Mamby is skipping, working the speed bag, sparring and pounding a heavy bag hung from the rafters of the musky, converted postal station.
He wants a shot at winning another title.
“I fought the best in the world. At one time I was the best in the world,” the grandfather of 11 told Reuters at the gym, where old timers visit and schoolchildren take their first steps towards learning the craft of boxing alongside professional wannabes.
“If I can reach that level again, there’s no harm in trying. I don’t want to sit back and be one of those shoulda, coulda, woulda people. I want to give it a shot.”
Earlier this month, Mamby, who was first crowned WBC light welterweight champion 28 years ago, became what is believed to be the oldest boxer ever in a sanctioned bout when he lost a 10-round decision in the Cayman Islands.
Mamby, lean and articulate with no grey showing in his braided brown locks, said he was rusty against 32-year-old Jamaican Anthony Osbourne, whose dismal record rose to 7-25-1.
“I need fights like that to bring myself to where I was,” said Mamby, whose record dropped to 45-34-6.
“I hadn’t fought in eight years, fighting a fighter who has been active. I was in good shape but my tools were rusty.”
The native New Yorker, a superb defensive boxer who failed to go the distance only once in his remarkable career when he was stopped at the age of 46 by American Derrell Coley, is not impressed by the current crop of fighters.
“With all the titles out there today, it’s not like when I was champ before. I was WBC, Aaron Pryor was WBA,” said Mamby, who made five successful defenses in two-and-a-half years as champion.
“Now they have multiple alphabet soups. So my theory is one of them belongs to me.”
He said he was not worried about getting hurt. “I don’t have any injuries. I don’t have any damage to myself. I’ve never been knocked out cold.”
Mamby won the World Boxing Council (WBC) light welterweight title from South Korean Kim Sang-hyun in February 1980 by stopping him in the 14th round in Seoul.
He made his first defense against Esteban De Jesus of Puerto Rico, the only man to beat Roberto Duran over the Panamanian’s first 73 professional fights.
Mamby, who frequently fought overseas, also defended against Thomas Americo in his native Indonesia and against Nigerian Obisia Nwankpa in Lagos before relinquishing the title to American Leroy Haley in a split decision in June 1982.
He traces his determination to a haunting tour of military duty in Vietnam.
”I used to sit down with the guys,“ he reminisced about his fellow soldiers. ”I would listen to everybody, what they were going to do. Maybe a month later, a few days later, they put them in body bags.
“Whatever you want to do, you do it, I vowed. This is what I like to do, so I‘m doing it.”
Mamby, son of a Jamaican father and a Spanish mother, takes his freedom of choice seriously.
”When I was a kid, 20 years old, they sent me to war. I survived. Now that I have a little age on me you’re going to tell me what I fought for I‘m not allowed to participate in?
“I fought for freedom, justice and equality. Now here I am, 60 years old and you’re going to tell me ‘you can’t fight, you’re too old’?”
Surrounded by the yellowed newspaper pictures of boxing greats taped to the dingy walls of John’s Gym, Mamby recalled some memorable opponents, including Duran.
”He was knocking everybody out but I lasted for a decision (1976),“ he said. ”He was a good fighter but he wasn’t the hardest fight I had.
“The hardest fight I had was a guy from Indonesia named Thomas Americo, I fought him 15 rounds (1981) in the first championship bout in Indonesia. My god, he was so strong.”
Mamby grinned when he thought of De Jesus. “Every Puerto Rican in New York lost money, because they all bet I was going to lose and I knocked him out in the 13th round.”
The best current boxer, according to Mamby, is Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Mayweather is a good fighter but realistically, he wouldn’t have stood up to Duran.”
Mamby thinks that after two or three warm-up fights he would match up well against Briton Ricky Hatton, recognized by Ring Magazine as the world’s best super lightweight, who lost to Mayweather in a welterweight title fight.
“It would be a good fight and I might beat him because I have the style to beat him,” Mamby said. “Ricky Hatton, if you want to give me a shot then fine. I‘m available.”
Mamby said he was not picky. “I‘m looking to win a title. With all they got out there, one of them belongs to me. If I get one, I can say ‘no mas’ with dignity.”
Editing by Clare Fallon