Pride and Prophecy by Eddie Copeland
Hooks and uppercuts thudded through my leaky defence. Each punch felt like a lightbulb exploding in my face. My breathing was heavy and laboured, each gasp for breath was mixed with the blood that was running down the back of my throat from my crushed nose. The referee was hovering, looking closely at my reactions to this bombardment. If the fight were not for the East Lancs and East Cheshire ABA lightweight championship he would have stopped it, but as I kept coming out of my shell and firing back with a few straight punches he gave me every chance. My energy was depleting with every sinew sapping second. My previous experience, a three round exhibition bout against one of my club mates did not prepare me for such a baptism of fire.
It was karate that got me into boxing. None of my family had boxed, although a few on my mother’s side were known street fighters but the rest were mainly into football. I had spent the previous six months studying karate before I walked into the MANCO police club in Stretford Manchester. My main reason for going was to use the equipment to sharpen up my karate skills. At the time the karate club had no equipment and therefore I spent most of my time hitting thin air. I quickly learnt to love the boxing training, the whirr of the skipping rope, the boom boom of the heavy bag, the learning something new and executing the new move in sparring. The boxing bug quickly got in to my blood.
Ding, ding, ding, the bell rang to end the torture of the first round. My corner sat me down quickly and began to clean up the bloody mess, which I once knew as my nose. My corner shouted instructions as to what I must do, they didn’t register. I couldn’t clear my head of the thought “What the hell am I doing here”? I sucked in air as if to store as much oxygen as possible for the next round. My arms and legs felt heavy, I was 2lb over the weight at the weigh in and I had to work hard to shift the weight and now it was having an effect.
Ding, ding. The bell sounded to start the second round. I circled slowly, watching my tormentor stalk his prey. As he came into punching range I threw a left jab, almost instantaneously a right hand exploded into my face, the blood flowed down my nose again, punches began to rain down on my body and head, the crowd roared, sensing the fight was soon to end. In desperation I lashed out, one, two, three straight punches to the head, I heard my corner excitedly spurring me on. The fourth and fifth punches missed. I was then back on the receiving end. I tried to implement the rope a dope; it worked for Muhammed Ali 6 months earlier against George Foreman in the Rumble in the jungle. I thought perhaps a bit of Muhammed Ali might just rub off on me and allow me to tame this beast before me. My thoughts were cruelly interrupted, cut short by a vicious right uppercut left hook combination, which almost cut me off from my senses. The punches pistoned in to my bruised and battered features but couldn’t put me down. I wanted to go down to end this onslaught but my pride wouldn’t let me.
The teacher looked at me, I had just taken a bit of a hiding off a bigger lad and it showed. I had just explained to the teacher why I had got into the fight with the bigger lad. I told him “ I couldn’t back down” The teacher said, “ pride always comes before the fall”. My schoolmates told me it was the best scrap they had seen in a long time.
“Are you okay son,” said the referee. I nodded I was okay. The referee led me back to my corner after stopping the one sided contest mid way through the second round. The crowd gave me a sympathetic round of applause, they knew I’d been outclassed and had taken my lumps without going down. My face was testimony to the punching power of my opponent.
I felt sick with disappointment, I felt like a boy in a man’s world and had been taught a painful lesson. I saw the look on my Dad’s face as I trudged forlornly through the crowd to the dressing room. His expression was pained, it was the face of a father who had just watched his son get run over by a run away truck. I could tell what he was thinking, his eyes transmitted his thoughts, it was, you are going to get hurt son and I can’t bear it! I looked away, I felt shame and humiliation, I felt that I wasn’t good enough, I felt I had been found wanting.
“Listen son” said my opponents trainer, “my lad is a young England international, he’s knocked out last years ABA champion, the Scottish champion and the German champion all inside a round, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of son, you caught him with a couple of good punches in there and you hurt him, so don’t be downhearted”.
Lot’s of people were milling around trying to console me, I wasn’t listening. I was listening to my own internal dialogue inside my head. My thoughts had gone into a dark room, the door shut behind them. You talk to your soul, somewhere in your heart of hearts you question yourself, should I quit, am I good enough, the doubts rise up, am I a coward, have I got what it takes? Should I find an excuse to quit? Eventually I came out of that box but the doubts stayed. My pride came out but the doubts lingered like a vulture waiting to tell pride “I told you so”. I thought to myself “ Pride you will either get me through or cause me to fall, which will it be?
“Eddie, Ive got a letter for you, it arrived today, care of the club, it’s from a Colonel, there’s some photo’s in it” proclaimed Jack my trainer. I read the letter and studied the photos. The Colonel had been gracious to send me photo’s where I wasn’t being battered, although you could tell from our respective positions that I was just about to be. The Colonel expressed an interest in my boxing experience. I wrote back revealing that the sum total of my boxing experience was an exhibition bout. He wrote back predicting that in two or three seasons I would be ABA champion. I scoffed at this prediction but I must admit old Mr. Pride puffed up a bit.
The Winner and ABA champion of Great Britain for 1979 at Light Welterweight….Eddie Copeland. I had to keep looking at the electronic scoreboard high in the stands at Wembley Arena. I couldn’t take it in, I’d actually done it and beat a good fighter in Terry Marsh in a bout that was judged the amateur bout of the year by Boxing News the trade paper. Whilst I savoured what was to be the pinnacle of my Amateur career in that Wembley ring I saw a different look on my Dads face and the words of the Colonel ran through my head, “I predict that in two or three seasons you will win an ABA title”. Mr Pride was on my shoulder; he winked at me and said “I got you through it, old son!”