Now, how's this for fighting talk?
"I am the first American-English boxer there has ever been. I am the first English Hagler. I will 'destruct and destroy.' I will smash to pieces anybody who gets in the ring with me. I'm the Ragamuffin Man. I'm Flash Harry. I don't give a——."
The young, fine-featured West Indian stands on a South London street, a sidewalk dandy, holding two perfectly matched, five-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier pups on a twin lead. But anger rumbles in his voice. "The English do not believe in Flash Harrys," he says. "The English like their heroes to be humble. They actually prefer losers. Just ask [heavyweight] Frank Bruno—it seems to me, he likes being a loser. He gets a better press. Bruno can't believe in himself and neither do the people around him. But there is a new breed of boxer coming, from my background. And he's saying, 'Hey, Lloyd Honeyghan can do it, so I can do it, too.' "
Yes, Lloyd Honeyghan, the Ragamuffin Man, has proved he can do it. He's the WBC and IBF welterweight champion of the world. (He was WBA champ, as well. But he dropped that particular belt into a trash can on a London street in December to protest the WBA's continued sanctioning of bouts involving citizens of South Africa.) And he lives up to his name in more ways than he knows. He understands "ragamuffin" as just old-fashioned slang for a rough-and-ready sort of fellow. But the word was first coined nearly 600 years ago by the British poet William Langland as the name of a demon.
May 3, 1987
And it was Ragamuffin the Demon, no less, whom undisputed welterweight champion Donald Curry found he had conjured up when he was destroyed in six rounds by Honeyghan last fall in Atlantic City. Since then, Honeyghan's demonic fury in the ring has been demonstrated twice more, in his round-and-a-bit demolition of Johnny Bumphus in February and two weeks ago during a unanimous decision over Maurice Blocker, the WBC's No. 1 challenger.
Honeyghan also represents, through his background, a new type of British boxer as hungry as any kid from Detroit or Philadelphia. He was born 27 years ago in the town of Saint Elizabeth in Jamaica. When he was nine his mother, Evadney, brought all five Honeyghan children to London. Five years earlier his father, Sylvester, in classic immigrant style, had gone on ahead, and he had saved enough money hefting cartons in a London supermarket to set up a home for the family in the city.
So is Honeyghan a Jamaican, an Englishman, or what? Spend five minutes with him and you have the answer. Neither. He's a latter-day hybrid: a black cockney. He has the humor, the resilience and the worldly wisdom of a Dickensian street urchin. But this only partly overlays his essential blackness and his awareness of what that affords him in a city that has known black immigration for only one generation. It is a highly volatile combination and, as a cynic might tell you, leads with equal ease to a world championship belt or a race riot.
But this spring morning, on which Honeyghan has gone to visit his parents in the little apartment in which he was brought up, the boxer's own fierce oratory is the only note of discord. The Honeyghans live in a section of the city that few tourists penetrate, though it's barely a mile from London Bridge. The area is known as the Elephant and Castle, in honor of a now defunct pub of dubious reputation. Much of it is a featureless sea of city-built, 12-story apartment houses, the foundations of which were crudely excavated by German bombs during the Blitz.
But however hard the city fathers try to turn the place into a gray stage set for 1984, the ancient cockney love of clamor, color and street drama breaks through, as in the bright-hued, organized chaos of the East Street Market. There Honeyghan worked as a kid, setting up stalls, pushing barrows into position, piling vegetables high. And it restores his good humor to visit the place as a hero, weighing out oranges for mothers, signing autographs for children, being photographed as he shakes hands with dads. The champ loves every minute of it, even though it makes him late for an appointment with his tailor.
Appointment? His tailor? The Ragamuffin Man?
Let's switch to another of Honeyghan's favorite names for himself—Flash Harry. An amiable, uncomplicated addiction to dandyism is one of his most cockney characteristics. Which is why we are now paying a visit to Mr. Archie Constantina, from Kyrenia, Cyprus, who works in a neighborhood tailor shop and is meticulously fashioning a suit for Honeyghan. "You like it?" asks Flash Harry. "I designed it myself. It's like in the old-time gangster movies, see?" Such broad stripes and expansive lapels have not been seen since the days of Dutch Schultz. "Don't give me more than a touch of waist," he instructs Constantina, as both the young Stafford-shires begin to whine impatiently.
Two weeks before his fight with Bumphus, the magazine section of Britain's Mail on Sunday featured a fashion section in which Honeyghan was seen-reclining languorously, on a couch and over two pages, in what looked like a black silk bathrobe. That photograph was taken in a trendy London gents' boutique called Ebony, whose owner, John Kaye, commented, "God, he was so over the top it wasn't even flash. But you could see he liked clothes and, well, we just clicked. And he bought a full-length evening coat in silver silk, very 1950s, with coordinating jacket and trousers."
That image of Honeyghan as fop might have amused Bumphus, the 28-1-1 former WBA junior welterweight champion, had he chanced to see it. So might Honeyghan's appearance on fight night in his "suit of lights," an outfit consisting of silver diamante robe and trunks that reputedly cost him $2,000. But the ferocity with which Honeyghan cluster-punched Bumphus into defeat—courting disqualification by leaping across the ring to smash the challenger with a left hook just as he was rising from his stool for the start of Round 2—did not invite comments about bathrobes.
Actually, Bumphus was unlucky to have been the first fighter the Ragamuffin Man met after Curry: Honeyghan was still simmering from comments that a weight problem, not he, had beaten the Texan. Curry's camp insisted that their man had weakened himself while getting down to a welterweight's 147 pounds, and the fighter himself said later, "The weight caught up with me. I had no zap." Excuses aside, Curry was not only beaten but comprehensively destroyed. The likelihood is that he and his handlers had seriously underestimated Honeyghan.
That match was meant to be a pushover for the highly regarded Curry. In spite of his 27-0 record, Honeyghan was unknown in the U.S., and the 25-year-old Curry had not lost a fight since he was 16. "Curry spoke like I wasn't in the room," Honeyghan recalls now of the prefight press conference. "All he wanted to talk about was the $10 million he was going to get to fight [Marvin] Hagler." (The day Sugar Ray Leonard beat Hagler, Curry sued Leonard and his manager, Mike Trainer, contending that Sugar Ray had misled him as to his comeback plans in order to delay Curry's move up into the middleweight division and a possible big payday against Hagler.)
"London Bridge is falling down," Akbar Muhammad, Curry's business manager, had taunted at the press conference. Muhammad predicted it would take his fighter just one round to finish the job, but Honeyghan was the better, if cruder, prophet. "I'll smash his face in and take his titles away," said the Ragamuffin Man, and he was right. The bell for the seventh never rang because Curry was out of the fight and on his way to the hospital, his nose broken, cuts over his left eye and on his lower lip and, according to promoter Bob Arum, worth about $10 million less as an asset.
Curry is not the first fighter to underestimate Honeyghan. He is a difficult man to categorize. The little parlor of the senior Honeyghans' apartment vividly displays the strange, schizoid world of the West Indian immigrant in England. There are the photos, cut from magazines, of Di and Charles, Andrew and Fergie, favored by the fighter's mother, but there are pictures of Jamaican politicians as well, and the reggae records are piled high. As a boxer, Honeyghan looks to America for inspiration—he frequently trains in the U.S. before major fights, and his best friend is Buster Drayton, the IBF junior middleweight champion, who lives in Philadelphia.
"In England," Honeyghan says, returning to an earlier theme, "you have to be a gentleman. The English can't understand anybody believing in himself as totally as I do. So how do they expect the guy they put into the ring to win?"
Honeyghan's arrogance is utterly natural, utterly sincere. And you can see how it kills him stone dead with the English public. He is absolutely right: The English do prefer a big, amiable loser like Bruno to a guy like the Ragamuffin, who wins a title and then announces, as he did joyously after the Curry fight, that he had fathered four children by three different girlfriends. And it also seemed wantonly arrogant when, as an undisputed champion in his division, Honeyghan shed one of his titles as casually, it seems, as he shared parenthood.
Or maybe not so casually. To defend the WBA segment of his title, it was possible that Honeyghan would have been required to meet white South African Harold Volbrecht. Honeyghan said he wouldn't be able to look at himself in the mirror if he fought a South African—black or white.
Okay. But was it necessary to dump the WBA belt in a London trash can? Thundered Boxing News, the 78-year-old voice of the sport in Britain, "Championship belts may not, in themselves, be either valuable or beautiful (the WBA's is certainly neither) but what they symbolize is...beyond measure. Duk Koo Kim died trying to win a WBA belt against Ray Mancini."
Honeyghan is a little shamefaced about the incident now. "I didn't really mean to do that belt thing," he says. "Like, that was the press. They say, 'Come here, Lloyd. Hold this, hold that.' I realized what they done too late."
Cynics, however, point out that the chances of Honeyghan meeting Volbrecht were slim, that the South African was scheduled to fight Mark Breland; in fact, because the title had been vacated, Breland became WBA champion on Feb. 6 with a seventh-round knockout of Volbrecht. Honeyghan's critics further assert that dumping the WBA belt was an easy way for the Ragamuffin Man to avoid meeting Breland, at least for the moment. And in the whole affair, they implied, they saw the fine handiwork of his manager, Mickey Duff. Later, much later maybe, there would be big money in a Honeyghan-Breland unification fight.
The Ragamuffin Man, of course, is scornful of any suggestion he is dodging Breland. "Sure, I'll be a three-way champ again," he says. "Sure, I'll take Breland. I see him hanging 'round in the Bumphus fight, but I didn't pay him no attention." In the meantime. Duff is careful to point out that because Breland is currently under a two-year WBC suspension for fighting Volbrecht, no unification fight is possible.
Yet, true to form, Honeyghan is thinking much bigger than Breland and a tripartite crown. Nine days before defeating Blocker, the Ragamuffin Man, in unusually somber attire, called a press conference to announce that the fight would be the last of his career—unless he was matched with middleweight champion Leonard or WBC junior middleweight champ Duane Thomas. Duff was genuinely taken by surprise at this demand, and shortly thereafter Honeyghan recanted.
So the boxing game goes. And in time England may find in her lost generation of West Indian kids the country's first seriously hungry fighters in many years. Honeyghan, meantime, has already made a kind of special nonsense of the London-Bridge-is-falling-down baiting he had to take before the Curry fight.
London has suffered the fate of many once-great port cities—container ships now discharge their cargoes far down the Thames, and the city's wharves are deserted. Today, huge waterfront warehouses, luxuriously converted, have become the ultimately chic London address. A one-bedroom apartment can go for $400,000.
After he had beaten Curry, Honeyghan bought himself a five-bedroom waterfront home. From any one of three balconies you can look upriver to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, which most Americans think, mistakenly, is London Bridge.
"Man," Honeyghan says, "my nearest neighbors is them sea gulls. I love to lie on my bed and watch them sea gulls."
And for the future?
This August marks the 25th anniversary of Jamaican independence. And the odds are that a Honeyghan fight in Kingston will be a part of the celebration. That's something the Ragamuffin Man says will delight him. If, of course, some suitably distinguished opposition can be found.