Terry Marsh’s world title win must have been beyond his wildest dreams. In fact all his title wins, from the British to the European and then the world, must have seemed unlikely, especially when you consider that he had lost his first ever boxing match. With that said, Terry’s first loss had lit a fire in his heart, as well as introducing him to a feeling, losing, that he did not like.
“Well, I lost my first (amateur) fight to a guy called Tommy Mooney,” he explained over a cup of coffee near Euston station a few years ago. “I had always been very competitive so I wanted to beat him. Every time I was in the gym throwing punches it was Tommy Mooney’s face that I was seeing.
“I carried on in boxing purely to wipe the slate clean. I have this competitiveness where I’m not aspiring to win, I’m aspiring not to lose. They are different sides of the same coin in many ways, but at the same time it is different in the sense that I never had the killer instinct the way other fighters, like Nigel Benn, did. What I had was the sense of self-preservation, which I think is the stronger instinct.”
Lennox Lewis, like Marsh a keen chess player, also had that same instinct, and was damned with faint praise because of it. Marsh recognised something in the style of Lewis, something that he had carried throughout his boxing career, a ‘Wisdom of the Owl’ riposte to the ‘Eye of the Tiger’ mindset.
“Lennox had the fear there I’d say”, mused Marsh, “some say he had no ‘Eye of the Tiger’, but the fear, the anxiety, was there in his style. Fear is necessary in boxing, but most boxers ignore it. If you are afraid, you are afraid that your weaknesses will be exposed and if you ignore this fear you are not effective. Fear (in boxing) is your friend and your enemy. You have to fear your opponent because you can then recognize your weaknesses, and make sure that you don’t expose them.
“Nigel (Benn) fought his best fights when he was afraid. Many boxers say ‘I’m not afraid’ but how can they know they are not afraid if they don’t recognize fear? They must know fear to deny it; you have to fear your opponent.
“When the lion is searching for his prey, but is unsuccessful, he can’t just give lunch a miss that day. The prey is fighting for everything. So they must have more resolve than those who have the killer instinct, that is where I was coming from in boxing.”
That mixture of fear, awareness and effectiveness were mixed into a hectic style of boxing. Marsh could box, but would often smother his opponents with his desire for victory.
“I would say that when I did lose I would suffer to an extreme degree which (is) taken to the point of obsessive. It really eats at me (and) because I experienced that pain in the past I would do my utmost to avoid losing.”
I asked Marsh if this fear of losing was almost pathological, especially when the danger of boxing was thrown into the equation.
He said: “The competitiveness was there in the sense that when I’ve lost (in the past) I’ve realised how much it hurts. I’ve never been asked this question and I always looked in the dictionary to make sure I had the words to answer it if I had the opportunity [pauses]. I would say that when I did lose I would suffer to an extreme degree which (is) taken to the point of obsessive. It really eats at me (and) because I experienced that pain in the past I would do my utmost to avoid losing.”
Marsh was under no illusions as a boxer, give him an opponent and Marsh would train like a demon while assuming that his prospective foe would slack off upon realising he was taking on a milk bottle with fists in Marsh.
“You must know thyself. You must recognize your weaknesses and in boxing too few fighters do this, but if you don’t recognize your weaknesses you are exposed even more. If you recognize [your Achilles’ heel] you can make an allowance for it, this is how I see boxing.”
Terry felt that that he, more than most fighters, brought a holistic understanding of what boxing is about to his own game, even pausing to recognize that his own boxing style was filled with flaws, and where there is a flaw there is a weakness.
“You must know thyself. You must recognize your weaknesses and in boxing too few fighters do this, but if you don’t recognize your weaknesses you are exposed even more. If you recognize [your Achilles’ heel] you can make an allowance for it, this is how I see boxing. I’m not sure if it is 90% mental, but the defining moment is the mental side of things. I think for me (in my fights), I had the edge mentally. I knew what I was capable of and what I wasn’t capable of. No one talks about it in boxing as far as I’m aware, but you have to recognize your weaknesses and thrive through them.”
Ask Marsh about civil disobedience, politics or the penal system and you will get a cavalcade of words, talk to the former boxer about boxing and you may hit a little bit of a wall. Marsh is not rude, he will answer questions about specific fights yet for him it is an exercise in futility, as, in the eyes of Marsh, the fights themselves are not massively interesting, he took up the point.
“You don’t talk about sticking bayonets in if you have been in a battle, or talk about how this Army attacked that Army—I don’t anyway,” he said.
“I had these fights and to be honest most boxing matches are pretty bland, nothing to write home about. If nothing was exceptional (in one of my fights) I didn’t put it in my book. It was just a result surrounded by the little anecdotes that I did put in the book. My ring record is just that to me, a list of win: lose, win, lose, or in my case win, win and a single draw [against Lloyd Christie in 1982].”
Marsh’s correction to his list of fights, editing out the mention of ‘lost’ to make sure that we understand that he went undefeated in his career, suggests a swell of pride on his behalf. It was an ideal time to ask about his finest ring moment, the fight against Clinton McKenzie for the British title in September of 1984.
“I’d never forgive a trainer if he stopped any of my fights. I could accept the ref stopping it, but your trainer stopping the fight is like your wife compromising you with another man.”
Marsh really got into this part of our conversation, often punctuating his points with little shoulder blocks and parries, showing me how he took the steam off Clinton’s punches. He seemed proud of that performance.
“When my son watched that fight with me it showed him his dad could fight a bit back then,” he said with a smile. “It was one of the few times I watched one of my fights again and it was very good to watch. Clinton was a strong fighter, but could not get close (to me). I was blocking his punches with my arms and elbows, then getting my own punches off.”
In the final round of the contest an exhausted Marsh stood toe-to-toe with Clinton, gunning for the title, prepared to go out on his shield if required. Marsh feels this should be expected of all boxers.
“I’d never forgive a trainer if he stopped any of my fights,” said Marsh. “I could accept the ref stopping it, but your trainer stopping the fight is like your wife compromising you with another man.
“You are the fighter. Your trainer is like the caddy because when the bell goes you are the one having to fight the fight. I think that you need to work out your own strategy in the ring. I never watched opponents (on tape), I’d build them up in my mind to make them more frightening so I was cautious enough to give myself time to suss them out as the fight went on. I did this against Clinton [Writer’s note: Ernie Fossey, as Marsh himself accepted after the Joe Manley win, also played a big part].
“With hindsight it was foolish to punch with Clinton, but the crowd had got going after eleven rounds of good boxing, so I wanted to show them my fighters pride. It was hot and the arena was stifling, at ringside men were unbuttoning their shirts to cool off. I was fighting in that.”
Although Marsh says his decisions were always dictated by circumstance there was a bit of manifest destiny in the choices he made on his road towards boxing titles.
“I was a squaddie and that squaddie mentality prepared me for boxing. A lot of fighters won’t deal with hardship, they are these tough men in the ring, but often find it hard to cope outside the ring. When they do meet hardship for the first time it is usually in a tough fight.”
The Royal Marines and fire services instilled in him the fitness, his career as a chess player and bookmaker had provided him with an ability to play the averages, to mentally outwit opponents. All told, he brought the full package of learned skills to his boxing career, punch aside.
Marsh also credited the army with instilling in him the kind of mentality needed to survive in boxing. His experiences with the 41 Commando unit, which involved peacekeeping in Northern Ireland, had prepared him for a life in boxing.
“I was a squaddie and that squaddie mentality prepared me for boxing,” he confirmed. “A lot of fighters won’t deal with hardship, they are these tough men in the ring, but often find it hard to cope outside the ring. When they do meet hardship for the first time it is usually in a tough fight. It is best to hit the wall in training rather than in a fight and that is what I got from my training.
“Nutcracker [an intensive course that you must pass through in order to become a Marine] was three days of being cold, wet hungry and then the tiredness you feel comes from being cold, wet and hungry. It prepares you for late on in a fight, and it prevents you from quitting.
“I had some defining fights when I was hurt or injured. When I got into tough fights I would feel ready to quit. I would have the devil on one shoulder whispering louder than the angel on my other shoulder—and the devil was telling me to quit. My own conscience would have to live with it (quitting), so that always got me through bad periods.”
Marsh came into professional boxing by accident. He had hoped to go to the Moscow Olympics, but refused a box-off against a man he had already beaten in Joey Frost. This refusal to take the fight made his decision for him, there was to be no Olympic dream.
“I worked out that the reason other boxers got the better of me in sparring was because they was fresh. I was doing my runs in the morning so was shattered in the ring in the afternoon. So in sparring I had to nullify them and I could always figure opponents out as a result.”
The young fighter was unsure about whether he even wanted to be involved with the business of professional boxing. Eventually he took it on as a side-diversion, a chance to pay the bills while he went to college, seeking obtain the qualifications needed to reenlist in the Army as an officer candidate. Terry was never under any illusions about the sport itself, telling me that:
“Boxing is littered with tragedy so I had no real desire to be a pro. Maybe men that I’d beaten as an amateur, good fighters like Chris Pyatt [who became WBO Middleweight Champion], would win titles and it would reflect well on me.”
When his boxing career got underway Marsh started to set himself targets; they were small targets really, even when going for titles, as his larger aim was to get out the game with his ‘0’ intact. This took precedence over everything else.
“As I get there (to my target) I’ve already set my next target,” he claimed. “It is like a ladder, you have to climb it one rung at a time so you don’t get overcome. It is also like a safety mechanism to make sure that the size of your task doesn’t overwhelm you, taking it one step at a time. Every journey begins with a single step.”
Talk returned back to that Clinton McKenzie fight. Marsh’s then sparring partner John Andrews had been getting the better of Terry in training. On the night itself Andrew’s fought on the undercard, and was not impressive, losing by TKO. It led Marsh to a conclusion.
“When I fought McKenzie I had trained really hard with a guy called Johnny, who was my training/sparring partner. When Johnny and I were sparring he was getting the upperhand. When I was due to fight McKenzie Johnny was up before me. I was keen to know how Johnny went on, to gauge how well we had done our training together.
“Johnny came apart in the middle rounds, but had been matching me all the time in the gym—not only matching me but also getting the better of me in sparring. I was always the tired one so I concluded that he [Andrews] wasn’t doing his runs. I thought about it, a number of times when I sparred I found myself getting bashed up yet these gym fighters never produced it when it came to competition and they’d get found out in the later stages of a fight [Writer’s note: Errol Christie, a potential great in the gym, suffered his first loss, a stunning KO at the fists Jose Seys, on the undercard of McKenzie-Marsh].
“I worked out that the reason other boxers got the better of me in sparring was because they was fresh. I was doing my runs in the morning so was shattered in the ring in the afternoon. So in sparring I had to nullify them and I could always figure opponents out as a result.
“I strongly believe that many fighters are gym fighters because they are fresh from not doing runs. They do great in the gym, but when it comes to the hard rounds in a fight they get found out. Being dedicated to your training makes a big difference.”
With all said and done was there any lingering feeling’s of regret in Marsh, had he turned his back too completely and suddenly on the sport that he had served, and that had served him? For Marsh the idea of staying on was preposterous, and it held no challenges on the training side of things.
“No regrets,” he concluded. “I watch boxing from a coaching view at times. It is backwards compared to other sports in the way it is run and the way fighters are trained. Many trainers and fighters don’t think about tactics.”
Click here for Part One: “You know you’ve retured when the Christmas cards stop!”
Click here for Part Two: Prison, struggles with authority and wheel clamp theft.