Dubai Boxing is renowned for its comebacks, with many legendary fighters such as George Foreman and recently Ricky Hatton unable to fill the void in their lives once they hang up their gloves. The latest pugilist to make a return to the ring, albeit in low-key fashion for an exhibition bout, is Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham, the former British, Commonwealth and European light-middleweight champion and British and European middleweight champion.
Graham, now 53, will be fighting in Dubai at the White Collar fight night on Friday, November 9 at the Andalous Ballroom in the Habtoor Grand Hotel. The impending fight comes 15 years after his boxing career ended after three valiant but unsuccessful world championship attempts.
Graham will be taking on Val Riazanov, a security consultant here in the UAE and founder of the Ballistic Striking System, who is a former member of the Russian Special Forces and a black belt sixth dan at judo. Graham’s opponent has also trained with the Soviet Olympic team and in his youth was the Soviet sambo (Russian martial art) champion.
Graham admits he does not know much about his opponent, but was more than willing to speak to Gulf News about his enduring passion for boxing, career highlights and regrets — and also fellow Briton Ricky Hatton’s decision to resume his boxing career.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
GULF NEWS: What’s made you take this fight at the age of 53, 15 years after you retired? Some people might not take this seriously given your age. What would you say to them?
HEROL GRAHAM: I’d say I’m fitter than most people half my age. I enjoy boxing and still train for between two to four hours each and every day. So even though this is an exhibition bout, it allows me to get back in the ring and do what I’m good at.
Is this fight the start of many? Could you make a proper comeback like other veteran boxers, or is it just an exhibition event? What can fans expect from the evening? Will it be a serious fight?
A comeback, eh? I think it would be better to see how it goes and not get ahead of myself. Time is not exactly on my side, and no matter how hard you train that’s something that really is impossible to beat. However, I am always happy to do the odd exhibition bout to show the fans I still know what I’m doing in the ring. And of course it will be serious. I want to show my fellow bombers that Herol Graham still has what it takes.
How many rounds will the bout be and what training have you been doing towards it?
The fight will be three three-minute rounds. I’ve been training every day for the last 12 months, so I’m in pretty good shape. It’s always nice to get back in a ring in front of an audience, and I hear that the crowd at White Collar Boxing is quite something. All I can say is watch out, Val!
Will you do any homework on your opponent?
Yes, of course, [my business partner] Jon Ryley has met Val a couple of times and we plan to watch videos of him competing in order to get to grips with his style, so we know what to expect. Judging by his history, he’s pretty competent, so it will definitely be a very interesting experience.
What was the highlight of your career? And regrets?
The highlight of my professional career was winning the world international super-middleweight crown against Chris ‘Mr Showtime’ Johnson back in 1997. Chris was up-and-coming at that point, with 18 wins and no losses; and no one gave me a chance, and don’t forget I was already 37 at that point. I suppose not winning a WBC/WBA or IBF title is a regret, but you move on, you have to keep on going and not let it bother you.
Have you been to Dubai before and what are your thoughts on fighting here? Do you know much about the UAE boxing scene?
I was invited to Dubai in 2010 by Transguard, so I’ve seen a bit of the fight scene before. Although it is still in its infancy, it’s growing at a rapid pace and fans of the sport are extremely passionate and engaging. I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing how it has grown over the last two years.
What do you do these days?
I am very active on the after-dinner circuit as well as doing quite a bit of television and radio sports commentating work. I still teach boxing at our local neighbourhood gym as well. I am also actively involved in Jon Ryley’s Core Combat, a reality-based, self-defence programme, which is partly responsible, along with Transguard, for bringing me to Dubai for the exhibition bout at White Collar Boxing on November 9.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to thank Mike McGeever and the organisers Transguard Events for inviting me to fight at White Collar Boxing in Dubai. See you on November 9 — it’s going to be quite a show.