Tag Archives: combat

Players won"t fight for Rafa Benitez – Neil Ashton

Chelsea players are not fighting for Benitez and the fans have still not taken to him

Neil Ashton


00:10 GMT, 28 January 2013



02:24 GMT, 28 January 2013

After the rucks and rows with opposition managers over the years, Rafa Benitez developed the skin of a rhino.

As manager of Liverpool he called it on with Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, engaging in hand-to-hand combat as they competed for the game’s highest honours.

At Chelsea, employed as the club’s interim coach until the end of the season, he faces a unique challenge.

Hard times: Rafa Benitez is struggling to get the Chelsea players to play for him

Hard times: Rafa Benitez is struggling to get the Chelsea players to play for him

Tough crowd: The Chelsea fans make their feelings clear

Tough crowd: The Chelsea fans make their feelings clear

Chelsea fans still haven’t taken to Benitez and he was getting on their goat again when they were in danger of being blown away by Brentford in the FA Cup.

There were only 1,800 Chelsea fans squeezed into the Brook Road Stand, but their message in the 79th minute came over loud and clear.

‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ was the chant as Benitez prepared to replace a right back with another right back.

Chelsea were 2-1 down when it turned hostile and the idea that Cesar Azpilicueta could provide the attacking thrust to bring Chelsea back into this game seemed improbable.

Benitez just brushes it off, insisting that he simply concentrates on the job in hand. ‘I don’t hear any of it, I am on the touchline, I am concentrating on trying to win the football match,’ is his standard response to the fans’ dissent.

Finding it tough: Even though he scored, Fernando Torres had a tough afternoon

Finding it tough: Even though he scored, Fernando Torres had a tough afternoon

Benitez deserves more respect than this after a career dedicated to the art of management.

He may not be the perfect fit for Chelsea, but he remains, in the words of Brentford manager Uwe Rosler, ‘a world-class coach’.

Twice named UEFA manager of the year, a European Cup winner with Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005 and a FIFA Club World Cup winner, his list of achievements is pretty impressive.

Going ahead: Brentford's Marcello Trotta puts his side 1-0 up

Going ahead: Brentford's Marcello Trotta puts his side 1-0 up

Chelsea fans will never take to him, that much is clear, but he could do with a bit of a breather when it comes to this club. They began the season under Roberto Di Matteo in seven competitions and are fortunate to still be in two after this escape at Griffin Park.

Benitez appeared to have it cracked when they steamrollered Aston Villa 8-0 in a Premier League fixture at Stamford Bridge.

Since then they have spluttered through games, beaten easily over two legs by Swansea in the Capital One Cup semi-final and somehow surviving yesterday’s fourth-round tie.

This is a team in transition. Ross Turnbull, in goal yesterday, is an accident waiting to happen and his clumsy performance against Rosler’s team, only his 18th appearance for Chelsea, should probably be his last.

Not going to plan: Oscar, Frank Lampard and Torres look on after conceding

Not going to plan: Oscar, Frank Lampard and Torres look on after conceding

The rest lack motivation, uncertain of their goals after landing the European Cup against Bayern Munich last season. A great side would be using the aura of that famous win to gobble up trophies.

Instead the only silverware left is the FA Cup — if they can get past Brentford in the replay on the weekend of February 16-17 at Stamford Bridge — and the Europa League will be on if they beat Sparta Prague. It seems beyond them, particularly if the body language of the players in recent weeks is anything to go by.

They don’t fancy it any more and the legendary fight to the finish, along with their match-winning mentality, is a thing of the past.

Benitez is battling on, but the lack of application will be getting right under his skin.

Olympic taekwondo stars launch talent programme

Britain's Olympic taekwondo stars launch hunt for medal winners of the future



00:01 GMT, 16 November 2012

Great Britain’s taekwondo Olympic stars Jade Jones, Lutalo Muhammad and Sarah Stevenson have launched the first talent identification programme following the success of London Olympics.

In the build-up to the Rio Games in 2016 — and in conjunction with UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport — GB Taekwondo has launched Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil, a nationwide talent identification programme.

The programme is aimed at high achieving 16 to 26-year-old male and female combat athletes from all kick-based martial arts who believe they are capable of transferring to Olympic Taekwondo (WTF style) and making an impact on the medal table in 2016.

Talent search: The road to Rio has begun for taekwondo stars

Talent search: The road to Rio has begun for taekwondo stars

The sport has enjoyed an increased profile after the Games with one gold and one bronze medal achieved, which added to the bronze won four years ago in Beijing, but GB Taekwondo and the UK Talent Team remain convinced that there are athletes not currently involved in Olympic Taekwondo (WTF) who are capable of challenging for positions in the national team.

Recent rule changes increasing points scored for kicks to the head will further enhance the opportunity for talent transfer.

GB Taekwondo performance director Gary Hall said: ‘The original Fighting Chance talent identification campaign in 2009 was very successful for athletes to complement the talented juniors we were already developing.

‘The new Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil campaign should help us build on the successes we have had so far and reach wider audiences. The success we achieved in London was incredible but we are not resting on our laurels, there is more talent out there to discover.’

Since 2007, the UK Talent Team has worked in partnership with 20 Olympic and Paralympic sports and over 100 World Class coaches; run seven National athlete recruitment campaigns, and assessed over 7,000 athletes. These projects have resulted in over 100 athletes selected by sports into the World Class system with 293 international appearances made and a total of 102 international medals won.

Golden girl: Jade Jones celebrates her success at the London Olympics

Golden girl: Jade Jones celebrates her success at the London Olympics

Twelve identified athletes from the campaigns represented Team GB at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, including rower Helen Glover, who was part of the crew which won Team GB’s first gold medal and Taekwondo player Lutalo Muhammad, who won Olympic bronze.

Ian Yates from the UK Talent Team said, ‘The London 2012 Games saw great success for British athletes and there was notable impact on the medals won from talent ID athletes who have come through our campaigns including an Olympic gold medal for Rower Helen Glover.

‘The talent initiatives have a proven track record in discovering untapped sporting potential and we are now focussing on continuing to impact on British success through to Rio in 2016. It is fantastic that Taekwondo will be involved in our first initiative post London 2012.’

Jade Jones shot to fame this summer by winning Olympic gold in the women’s -57kg Taekwondo. Jones, who is also the current world number one, began taekwondo at a young age and now trains at the GB Taekwondo Olympic headquarters in Manchester. Jade made the switch from ITF Taekwondo five years ago.

She said: ‘I’ve had a lot of feedback since the summer’s Olympic Games that more and more people are looking to get into WTF Taekwondo,’ she said.

‘It is a fantastic sport and certainly has attributes which appeal to other combat athletes. My experience at London 2012 was incredible and I’m so happy that the sport is receiving more interest but I want to see this grow and continue in the lead up to 2016. Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil is a great programme to help that happen.’

Action stations: Jones (right) hopes to identify talent for Rio in 2016

Action stations: Jones (right) hopes to identify talent for Rio in 2016

Lutalo Muhammad came through the Talent 2012 Fighting Chance scheme before winning bronze in this year’s Olympic Games and commented on the campaign launch: ‘It is exciting to see the increase in popularity that Taekwondo has gained since our success this summer. London was an incredible experience for me and I would encourage others who think they could transfer their skills to WTF Taekwondo to apply for Fighting Chance as they too could experience the thrill of an Olympic Games in 2016.’

Sarah Stevenson won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games and became the first ever British athlete to medal in the sport of Taekwondo at an Olympic Games.

The 29-year-old from Doncaster said: ‘The Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil programme is a fantastic way to bring new talent to our sport. We had great success as a team in London and it would be fantastic to see that grow and develop on the road to Rio.’

The 2009 Fighting Chance campaign saw over 1,000 applicants from a variety of other combat sports, including ITF Taekwondo, kickboxing, karate, muai thai and others.

The application process is online and further information can be found at: www.uksport.gov.uk/talent, with the application process closing on Monday 14 January 2013.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – history of the Sweden striker

Ibrahimovic the maverick: Martial arts expert, star of France's Spitting Image… with a trademark on his own name



10:47 GMT, 15 November 2012

Perhaps it should not be a surprise that Zlatan Ibrahimovic was capable of the gravity-defying athleticism that helped him score one of history's greatest goals against England. After all, he has been a black belt in taekwondo since his teens.

The Swede was just 17 when he received the accolade at his local sports club, Enighet, in Malmo. He even earned honorary membership of the Italian taekwondo team during his career at AC Milan.

Since then, his career has been littered with spectacular acts utilising the combat techniques and self-defence he learned in his early life.

Zlatan’s flexibility is one of his greatest assets on the football field and it also helped him reach up to kick team-mate Antonio Cassano in the head.

The then-AC Milan bad boy was conducting a TV interview when Zlatan popped by and gave him a friendly shoeing.

That he managed to get his foot so high is testament to his balance. That he used his reach for such nefarious means is testament to his character.

From the wonderful goals to the random kicks of team-mates during training and live TV interviews, before Wednesday's piece de resistance, the audacious 30-yard propeller kick that was his, and Sweden's, fourth in a 4-2 win.

The breathtaking goal comes, though, less than two weeks after he was sent off in a Ligue 1 game for Paris St Germain attempting to pluck a ball out of the sky, with his feet more than two metres from the ground.

Zlatan also made headlines in Italy when he kicked team-mate Antonio Cassano during the Italy international's chat with pitchside reporters. And so it goes on…

So here, Sportsmail lifts the lid on one of modern football's most enigmatic stars.

Jumping for joy: Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one of history's great goals in the win over England

Jumping for joy: Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one of history's great goals in the win over England


When a female reporter jokingly suggested he was gay, Ibra retorted: 'Come to my house and you’ll see if I’m gay. And bring your sister.'

When a piece of skill left then-Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz for dead: 'First I went left, he did too. Then I went right, and he did too. Then I went left again and he went to buy a hot dog.'

When asked if he had found a house in Paris following his move to PSG: 'We are looking for an apartment. If we don’t find anything, then I’ll probably just buy the hotel.'

When asked to which other sportsman he should be compared: 'I'm like Muhammed Ali. When he said he would knock someone out in the fourth round, he did it.'

The simple stuff

Zlatan was born in Malmo, southern Sweden, to Sefik Ibrahimovic and Jurka Gravic, but his parents divorced when he was two. His family suffered from both alcohol and drug abuse, and the precocious talent found himself embroiled in shoplifting and other petty crimes.

He admitted: 'I was a savage, a lunatic and I couldn’t control my temper.' Arguably not much has changed.

Cold-hearted thieves

Although Zlatan’s macho posturing is the side of him we are more familiar with, this touching excerpt from his autobiography might make you think a little differently about the big man.

‘I got a bike when I was little, a BMX. I called it “Fido Dido” after the tough little cartoon guy with spiked hair,’ he wrote. ‘I thought he was the coolest thing ever.

'The bike got stolen outside of the Rosengard swimming baths and Dad went there with his shirt open and sleeves rolled up. He’s the kind of person that says: “No one touches my kids! No one takes their stuff”.

‘But not even a tough guy like him could do anything about it. Fido Dido was gone, and I was crushed.’

Happy birthday: Zlatan and wife Helena Seger

Happy birthday: Zlatan and wife Helena Seger

The best gift of all

The striker was asked what he had bought his wife for her birthday. Nonplussed, he replied: ‘Nothing, she already has Zlatan.’ It’s difficult to argue with that.

That’s my name, don’t wear it out
If you had any doubt about Zlatan’s knowledge of his own worth, this will set you straight – he has trademarked his own name.

In 2003 the striker applied for a ‘community trademark’, which is valid across the EU, on ‘Zlatan’ and ‘Zlatan Ibrahimovic’.

This applies to sporting goods, beer and more, with anybody’s use of the term ‘Zlatan’ in these contexts ‘most likely being perceived as (relating to) Zlatan Ibrahimovic’.

Spoiling for a fight

In training at Juventus he was involved in a couple of bust-ups. First he punched defender Jonathan Zebina in the face after suffering a bad tackle. Then he fouled Oguchi Onyewu, who did not take kindly to it – the pair had a major scrap.

Ibra spoke about the incidents: ‘Zebina went down immediately, not like that animal of an American, who’s big like me.' It later transpired that he had one of his ribs broken by Onyewu in the altercation.

Zlatan doesn't do auditions

He explained how he met Arsene Wenger and nearly joined Arsenal in 2000, but changed his mind when asked if he would have a trial there.

‘Arsene gave me the famous red and white jersey – the No 9 shirt with Ibrahimovic on it and I was so pleased I even posed for a picture wearing it,’ he said.

‘It was a fantastic moment for me. Arsenal had a great team then and here was an Arsenal shirt made just for me. So then I waited for him to convince me that I should join Arsenal. But he didn’t even try.

‘He never actually made me a serious offer, it was more, “I want to see how good you are, what kind of player you are. Have a trial”. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “No way, Zlatan doesn’t do auditions”.’

He ended up signing for Ajax.

What a nice man

In 2007 he opened a football arena in his home district of Rosengard in Malmo, where he used to play during his childhood. The pitch was created out of recycled athletics shoes. But in true Zlatan style the entrance carries a melodramatic inscription which read: ‘Here is my heart. Here is my story. Here is my play. Take it further. Zlatan.’

Hero: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the captain, leader, legend of the Swedish national team

Hero: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the captain, leader, legend of the Swedish national team

Need for Speed

‘I always drive like a madman. I got to 325kmph (202mph), leaving the police behind. I’ve done so many silly things I daren’t think about now,’ wrote Zlatan in his book.

He also caused trouble by driving one of his fast cars to work.

Zlatan said: ‘Barca players were banned from driving their sports cars to training. I thought this was ridiculous – it was no one’s business what car I drive – so in April, before a match with Almeria, I drove my Ferrari Enzo to work. It caused a scene.’

Barca breakdown

It was clear that Zlatan was not content with being a cog, even as part of the best machine in the world. His fractious relationship with Guardiola came to a head when he went face-to-face with the Spaniard and told him he had no balls.

Zlatan explained: ‘Guardiola was staring at me and I lost it. I thought “there is my enemy, scratching his bald head!” I yelled to him: “You have no balls!” and probably worse things than that.'

Read all about it: I, Zlatan

Read all about it: I, Zlatan

His confrontations with and comments about Guardiola are endless. Zlatan often compared Jose Mourinho, whom he loved, with Pep.

‘You are s***ting yourself because of Jose Mourinho. You can go to hell!’ he told his boss.

Zlatan also tried to intimidate the tactician. ‘I threw a box full of training gear across the room, it crashed to the floor and Pep said nothing, just put stuff back in the box,’ he said. ‘I’m not violent, but if I were Guardiola I would have been frightened.’

I, Zlatan

Zlatan’s autobiography was described as ‘the height of self-indulgence’. And for good reason – titled I Am Zlatan (also known as I, Zlatan) it gave him a platform to display his astonishing arrogance without constraint.

The book has been shortlisted for the Swedish equivalent of the Booker Prize and is expected to shift 'hundreds of thousands' when issued in French next month. In contrast, Rooney's book has sold only 6,000 in 7 weeks.

Getting slappy on the sly

hot-tempered Zlatan slapped Aronica Salvatore and tried to make it look
like it occurred while he was simply putting his arm around Antonio
Nocerino. It confused Aronica, who hit Nocerino in response, but not the
referee, who promptly red carded the protagonist.

From Paris, with love

Zlatan moved to Paris St-Germain in the summer he was asked whether or
not he had found somewhere to live in the French capital.

He responded: ‘We are looking for an apartment. If we don’t find anything, then I’ll probably just buy the hotel.’

The extravagant striker didn’t seem very well prepared for his move. When asked what he knew about the league he was moving to he said: ‘It’s true I don’t know that much about the players here in Ligue 1… but they definitely know who I am.’

French fancy: Ibrahimovic has proved a big hit since moving to Paris from AC Milan in August

French fancy: Ibrahimovic has proved a big hit since moving to Paris from AC Milan in August

Puppet master

Zlatan has taken Paris by storm since his move from Milan in August. He had his own puppet on their nightly version of Spitting Image, an honour it tends to inflict on presidents, politicians and pop culture stars.

It is ultra-violent, only speaks of himself in the third person, eats horse heads and entire pigs for breakfast, and comes home to his wife by handing her a mop and saying, 'clean my house, then I will Zlatan you'.

In one sketch, the puppet touts a cologne, 'Eau de Zlatan', made from concentrated Zlatan sweat.

One French television show plays the Darth Vader theme music when it reports on the hotshot striker

And only last week, the editor of the French OED was asked on national TV if he would consider including the verb 'Zlataner' in the next edition. The word has passed into general use, describing nailing something, or destroying it.

Let the football do the talking

For all the lazy lines about him being a ‘bully’ who only scores in small-time games and can’t cope against English opposition, how was Wednesday night for a riposte

His long-range bicycle kick which ended the match summed him up. Incredible and preposterous in equal measure.

And while in his youth at Ajax he showed Messi-like composure to fool an entire defence and net another of those hailed among the best ever.

Sugar Ray Leonard and Clinton McKenzie interview

In 1976, Sugar Ray Leonard fought Clinton McKenzie at the Montreal Olympics… Sportsmail brought them back together



21:30 GMT, 30 May 2012

They greeted each other like long-lost brothers and, to the intents and purposes of proper sportsmen who challenged each other to mortal combat in the prime of youth and lived to re-tell the tale, so they are. Brothers at arms.

Sugar Ray Leonard, the baby-faced darling of American boxing, and Clinton McKenzie, a grizzled but treasured memento of the British ring, recognised each other instantly.

Scroll down to watch a video of Sugar Ray Leonard v Clinton McKenzie

Good to see you! Clinton McKenzie and Sugar Ray Leonard meet up agaiin

Good to see you! Clinton McKenzie and Sugar Ray Leonard meet up agaiin

The sunlit, pastoral calm gracing the
veranda of a golf clubhouse in Southern California is light years from
the rattling tin shed in Canada within which their first, violent
embrace was cheered to the iron rafters. Thirty-six years to be exact.

‘Hey, buddy,’ said Leonard.

‘What’s up, man’ said McKenzie.

They hugged again. For the first time since Jimmy Carter was elected President, since we all kidded ourselves Donna Summer was looking at us when she sang Love To Love You Baby, since Concorde carried its first supersonic passengers to the skies, since petrol cost 70p a gallon and the original Rocky broke box office records.

Genuine, old-fashioned respect. Not today’s nuff gangsta posturing.

With the simple humility of an honest man proud that he won his British title, McKenzie said: ‘Unbelievable to be here. Unbelievable you still look the same.’

To the erudite manner born one of the greatest world champions, Leonard said: ‘I’m glad we have this chance to re-visit our moment in history.’

The chance came courtesy of this newspaper’s build-up for the London Olympics, our expression of the dream which will enchant our capital city two months from now.

Their mutual moment had come in the third round of the light-welterweight tournament at the Montreal Games.

‘Did you think you won’ asked Leonard with a playful slap of the bicep.

‘Oh no, you won all right,’ answered McKenzie, arms waving by way of illustration as he added: ‘You too smooth, too fast.’

Good memories: McKenzie and Leonard relive their fight at the Montreal Olympics

Good memories: McKenzie and Leonard relive their fight at the Montreal Olympics

Leonard, grinning: ‘Didn’t you think you might have got a draw’

McKenzie, abashed: ‘No, no. Too clever for me. I knew you’d go on and win the gold.’

‘Come on, Clinton. It was a good fight.’

‘But not close, Ray. Don’t forget I took a standing eight count in the second round.’

‘I don’t forget,’ said Leonard, putting a kindly arm around him.

Nor does he need to watch the video to remind him how he danced around McKenzie en route to Olympic glory, the lightning left jabs and pinpoint right hooks paving the way for the dazzling combinations which staggered him into that count and cemented the victory.

In fact, Leonard is possessed of extraordinary recall of all the vital events in an epic career which catapulted him from Olympic gold to the legendary fights which won him seven world titles in five weight divisions.

‘I remember all the important fights,’ he says, ‘Vividly. In detail. I studied Clinton like I studied every opponent before a fight, amateur and professional. I saw hardly any flaws in him despite his typical, straight-up European style.

‘He was an accomplished boxer and I was ready for a difficult fight. It helped me that on the day he was not aggressive enough. Too passive. Maybe that’s why (unlike his brother Duke) he never became a world champion.’

Champion: Leonard with his gold medal

Champion: Leonard with his gold medal

An unwitting explanation for that came from McKenzie himself when he told Leonard: ‘All the talk in the Olympic village was about this hot, hot prospect from the US. You. I knew I was going in against a future world champion, a future all-time great. It was an honour for me just to box you.’

A mite overawed he may have been but the Jamaican-born South Londoner helped prime Leonard for one of the most impressive triumphs in the history of Olympic boxing. The final pitted the brightest star of one of the finest US teams ever assembled for the Games against a mighty puncher from the amateur boxing power-house of Cuba.

Andres Aldama had knocked out all his opponents on his way to the final. Head-guards had yet to be introduced and Leonard recalls: ‘He wasn’t just knocking guys out, he was sending them to hospital. He was so impressive that people were beginning to wonder if I’d win the gold after all.’

Oh ye of little faith.

Sugar was anything but sweet that evening. He put Aldama to the sword, knocking him down twice and inflicting an eight count in the punishing course of racking up his fifth maximum 5-0 points win: ‘I’ll never forget the shock on his face and disbelief in his eyes the first time I floored him. He was supposed to be doing that to me but I beat him up.’

When he recovered Aldama vowed to win his gold four years later — and went on to do so by beating John Mugabi in the Moscow final.

Leonard announced his retirement: ‘That’s my last fight. I’ve achieved my ambition and I’m going back to college to get an education.’

That decision was not driven by the sexual abuse he suffered earlier at the hands of an amateur coach, which he bravely revealed in his recent book. He was concerned for his physical well-being and felt fulfilled as boxer.

‘It seemed like we were fighting every night in Montreal. Maybe there was the odd day off but really so little recovery time. It was hard. I needed a long lie in a hot tub every night and had to go to hospital for my badly swollen hands.’

Then this still-boyish wonder articulated the enormity of the Games: ‘I’d reached what I felt was my ultimate goal. Winning gold for me and my country.

‘The Olympics meant everything to me. Going through them is like nothing else you will ever experience. For those few weeks you are in another world. At that point I couldn’t see how there could ever be anything better.’

We meet again: McKenzie (left) with Leonard and Sportsmaill's boxing correspondent Jeff Powell

We meet again: McKenzie (left) with Leonard and Sportsmaill's boxing correspondent Jeff Powell

McKenzie, his own memories stirred, became emotional: ‘I loved the Olympics. I loved being with our team (little big man Charlie Magri et al). I loved every minute. Even loved losing to this man.’

Leonard smiled: ‘Hey, how many kids you got buddy’

McKenzie blushed: ‘Six.’

Leonard, hugging him again: ‘See, you beat me at that. Me, four.’ There they stood, the twin pillars of the Games. The triumph and the ecstasy in parallel with the simple beauty of taking part.

Leonard: ‘For me it was gold or nothing. I wouldn’t let anything stop me.’

McKenzie: ‘Of course I was trying to win but I was so proud just to be there, boxing for Britain. Always will be.’

It took a sharp dose of economic reality to jolt Leonard into turning pro.

As a handsome Olympic hero he was expecting to fund his new family and his quest for a degree with commercial sponsorship. But the ad-men did not cometh: ‘I suddenly realised that in 1976 corporate America was not ready for a black athlete.

‘Boxing at the time also carried a stigma. It was brutal and mob-related. There was no place for my picture on the cereal box. But it made me accept that I was pre-destined to be a fighter.’

Boxing clever: Leonard (left) beats Limazov Valbry at the Montreal Olympics

Boxing clever: Leonard (left) beats Limazov Valbry at the Montreal Olympics

Not that the transition was easy, not even for this genius of the ring: ‘Amateur boxing is all blazing away, throwing punches almost non-stop. As a young pro you have to learn that it’s about selection of punches — throwing the right punch at the right time for the right reason.

‘It’s physically tougher but at the same time mentally more demanding. You need strategy to set up the opponent.’

The most sensational example of that came in the 1980 re-match with Roberto Duran which followed defeat in their first fight: ‘I changed from standing and fighting him to hitting and moving, hitting and moving.’

After seven rounds of ‘pow-voom-pow-voom’ Leonard taunted Duran by pretending to wind up a right-hand bolo punch only to snap his head back with a stiff left jab.

Throughout, he had been tormenting Duran by dropping his hands and inviting him to hit his chin. One of the toughest — but on this night the most humiliated — of fighters turned his back seconds before the end of the eighth and famously told the referee ‘no mas’.

There was talk of a stomach bug but Leonard knew what had happened and had to smile as he said: ‘What he couldn’t really stomach was being messed about. He was a great fighter but I p****d him off.’

Not that he recommends the tactic to aspiring boxers: ‘Sticking your chin out with your hands hanging down is dangerous. High risk.

Gather round: McKenzie (far left) with his fellow boxers at the Olympics

Gather round: McKenzie (far left) with his fellow boxers at the Olympics

‘Your Naseem Hamed used to do it and I loved how he won that thriller against Kevin Kelley with all those knock downs in Madison Square Garden. But he didn’t have the basics of the game and when he tried it with Marco Antonio Barrera the game was up.’

Leonard also found ways to beat Wilfred Benitez, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns during the golden age of welter-to-middleweight boxing. Sometimes controversially, always brilliantly.

Over lunch in Las Vegas a few days before Ray met Clinton here in LA, we were joined by Hearns’ brother. They reminisced about the first fight, a unanimous decision by which Leonard unified the world welterweight titles.

Then talk turned to the re-match, which many thought Leonard lost but was scored as a draw. John Hearns asked: ‘What did you say to my brother when you whispered in his ear after they announced the result’

Leonard: ‘I told Tommy he won. He asked if I would tell everyone else but I said, “Hell no, it’s not the time”. But I told the world later.’

Hearns: ‘Our family grieved forever after that fight.’

Leonard: ‘Tell them to stop, I love Tommy. Tell him to change it to a win on his record.’

So close: McKenzie (right) lands a punch on Puerto Rico's Ismael Martinez in Montreal

So close: McKenzie (right) lands a punch on Puerto Rico's Ismael Martinez in Montreal

Leonard and McKenzie re-visited not only each other but the galaxy of fights in which one was magnificently engaged and the other watched with admiration from afar.

‘Thank god you didn’t quit after the Games,’ said McKenzie. ‘What a loss to boxing that would have been.’

Later in his career, Leonard made something of a habit of retiring and coming back.

He finally gave up the hard old game for good in 1997, aged 40. McKenzie, a year the elder, hung up the gloves eight years earlier after failing for the second time to win a European title.

Retiring is always a problem for boxers so how do they know when it really is time to go

‘You lose that edge,’ says McKenzie. ‘One day it’s not there. You think you can get it back but you can’t. All over.’

Leonard: ‘The time to stop is when the other guy hits you more than you hit him.’

Do they miss it

‘Yeah,’ says Clinton with a shrug.

‘I don’t miss getting hit,’ says Sugar Ray. ‘But what a time I had. And what a time it was. And what an amazing life it’s given me. I became a celebrity and that’s fine because I enjoy people. I’ve got my foundation which lets me help folk who are struggling. I’m happy. Oh, and I’ve got my golf.’

A warm, generous man, Leonard cut this particular round short as soon as he knew McKenzie had arrived: ‘Don’t worry, Clinton. It wasn’t going well.’

Close friends: Leonard and McKenzie

Close friends: Leonard and McKenzie

He plays off 14, but mostly for the pleasure: ‘Never had a lesson. Never want any more sports coaching.

‘I suppose I was always a natural. And I’ve got the plaque to prove I’m not bad on my day.’

That sign, at the difficult Tour Players Championship course in Summerlin, Las Vegas, records his hole-in-one there: ‘They had it inscribed and up on the clubhouse wall before I finished my round.’

That’s fun. But so was boxing, violent though it could be: ‘Muhammad Ali changed the world but so, in our way, did me and Marvin and Roberto and Tommy. We showed that boxing is not only about the heavyweights.’

Leonard accepts that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are playing their part now but is as disappointed as all of us by their failure thus far to fight each other: ‘Floyd should stop worrying about his unbeaten record. The public don’t give a damn. They want to see the best fight each other.

‘I would give a narrow edge to Mayweather but I wouldn’t bet my house on it because he doesn’t like southpaws and Pacquiao would throw more leather than he’s ever had to face.

‘Don’t be fooled by the trouble Manny’s had with (Juan Manuel) Marquez. Every boxer finds at least one other guy’s style awkward. Even Ali struggled against Ken Norton. In my time, the rest of us had to deal with Tommy being so incredibly tall at the weight.

Would the Money Man and the Pacman have coped with Sugar and the old gang

‘No,’ said McKenzie.

‘Well,’ said Leonard with another smile, ‘that’s always tough to answer but I don’t think so. They’re little guys and they would have needed a step-ladder to reach Tommy.

‘They are very good and have some interesting fights. But we all took on each other. If Mayweather never fights Pacquiao he will have to live with that for the rest of his life.

‘I watched Floyd against Miguel Cotto the other night and it was a nice fight. But do you know what it didn’t have that we had

‘The magic.’

Our day in the sun was quite magical, too.

McKenzie dressed snazzily for the occasion in one of his zoot-suit throwbacks to the jazz age. Leonard hurried off the course in his golf gear.

McKenzie does not play golf. He continues to trade on his charisma and (still) fast hands at his gym deep in south London, where he is looking for another rising star while offering personal training services.

Their lives took differing paths but now their history is re-joined. It was a delight to watch them stroll together down memory lane. A privilege to share the moment.

Sport as it forever should be. Olympian.

Tiger Woods considered quitting golf and joining Navy SEALS

Tiger wanted to be a SEAL! Woods thought about quitting golf for military, claims Haney

Tiger Woods was considering abandoning golf and joining the Navy SEALS, former coach Hank Haney has claimed.

The 36-year-old has won 14 majors, four short of Jack Nicklaus' record, but Haney insists Woods would have turned his back on the sport to join the military.

Haney even claims Woods had told him the Navy SEALs would 'make a special age exception' for him given their upper age limit is 28.

On the course: Tiger Woods at PGA National on Wednesday ahead of the Honda Classic

On the course: Tiger Woods at PGA National on Wednesday ahead of the Honda Classic

Writing in his book, 'The Big Miss',
excerpts from which appear in the April edition of Golf Digest, Haney
said: 'Wow! Here is Tiger Woods, the greatest athlete on the planet,
maybe the greatest athlete ever, right in the middle of his prime,
basically ready to leave it all behind for a military life.'

Woods' father Earl had been in the Army Special Forces and served in Vietnam.

Military man: Former world No 1 Woods in 2004 arriving at a golf clinic in Fort Bragg on a humvee

Military man: Former world No 1 Woods in 2004 arriving at a golf clinic in Fort Bragg on a humvee

In 2004, Woods took part in four
days of special-operations training in Fort Bragg which included
hand-to-hand combat exercises, four-mile runs wearing combat boots,
parachute jumps and drills in a wind tunnel.

His attendance at these camps
increased and shortly before the 2006 US Open Haney revealed he had sent
Woods an email saying: 'You need to get that whole SEALs thing out of
your system and stick to playing Navy SEAL on the video games.

One of the greats: Woods

Tiger's former coach: Hank Haney

Career change: Woods was ready to leave golf for the Navy SEALS, according to former coach Haney (right)

'You have history to make in golf and
people to influence and help. Focus on your destiny and that isn't
flushing bad guys out of buildings in Iraq.

'Just play those games some more. That Navy SEAL stuff is serious business. They use real bullets.'

In action: Tiger Woods hits from the sand during a pro-am before the Honda Classic on Wednesday

In action: Tiger Woods hits from the sand during a pro-am before the Honda Classic on Wednesday

However, Woods attended such camps more frequently, although Haney claimed the extent of his visits were hushed up in the belief there would be a media frenzy.

Haney added: 'When I later learned the full truth about the dangerous exercises that Tiger engaged in with the SEALs, it caused me to question whether the greatest golfer the game has ever seen severely hampered his chance at surpassing one of the most revered marks in all of sports – Jack Nicklaus' record – because of his fascination with the military.'