An Interview With Mickey Vann
By Paul Oltai
Mickey Vann: From helping out at the fairgrounds to ringmaster inside the squared circle.
Mickey Vann grew up helping his family out on the fairgrounds with his Mum and Dad among other relatives to have different shows he travelled with. It was here he was first introduced to prize fighting more in the traditional way than we have grown to know it now.
‘My Uncle Tom always used to build up a boxing booth, and you know a lot of the time we found ourselves building it all up. And as kids on the fair we used to all jib in and watch the fights, it was like where they gave you £3 if you went 3 rounds you know what I mean. If things where a bit quiet we used to put a pair of gloves on and the fair ground kids would have a shot.’
Leaving school at the age of 7 when his Dad came back from America post war and started to tour with the fairgrounds travelling all over being home taught by his mother for an hour a day his education seemed to be in the form of life lessons.
During winter quarters where the weather was too bad for the fairs to go up but give them time for essential maintenance, Mickey was based in Brixton for this normally which allowed him to go to Kennington to school where he was starting to be taught the sport in which he would end up an integral part of for so many years.
With the authorities then catching up with him and demanding a base be made where he could be properly educated he decided to plant his roots in Leeds with his Grandmother on his Mums’ side.
This is where one day he would be watching boxing on tv which drove him to want to join a club properly, so took himself down to the Market District boys club in Leeds the destination the boxing on the tv fights he had been watching.
It was here he stayed by his own admission a while but never really achieving anything to a high standard ‘just a few trophies around county level that’s it really.’
Tragically his Grandmother passed away and one thing led to another and Mickey was left to fend for himself after a disagreement with his father. Boxing here and there he found life then got in the way a little of his dream to be involved in boxing full time.
‘You meet a girl and that spoils everything, I got married and of course I found I was skint. I had bought a house and didn’t have a lot of money so I went to Market District and had been sparring with a couple of fighters the pros, then went to Alan Richardson’s manager to see if I could turn pro for a bit of money. He didn’t want to take me on probably thought I wasn’t good enough. I don’t know how it fully turned out but I met Tommy Miller who had the old Red House gym in leeds and he gave me a trial and gave me a contract to box as a pro, I had 14 fights and lost 9 so I wasn’t that bloody good. But I made a few quid and got myself started.’
After finishing as a pro and finding himself missing the sport he went back to see Tommy to try and get involved in training fighters and helping bring new talent through into the game, this ended before it had even got start with Mickey recalling the quote Tommy gave him ‘Jesus Micky what the f**k could you teach anyone?’
But it was also the same time that Mickey was given a suggested way to stay involved in boxing that would see him officiate in the sport from 1976 to 2019 visiting over 40 different countries and officiating over 100 world title fights.
Tommy had suggested there was shortage of referee’s within the central area and suggested he send for a rule book learn the trade and go before the area committee to see if you will be accepted.
‘You then have to go to different shows and you sit and do mock score cards and hand them in where they are then checked against the official cards and see how they match. And when you get near to theirs you were sent to London for an interview with the BBBoC and it goes on from there.’
Even right up until his last fight the turmoils of the stomach turning knowing that this is what your legacy within the sport could hinge upon stayed with him.
‘You can have a great career and you mess up big time on one fight and that is the one you will be remembered on.’
I had the honour of asking Mickey a few questions and enjoyed the answers given so please read below to see how this went:
When you are in there do you feel under pressure?
‘No, of course you did to start with you know shaking like a shitting dog type of thing. Only because you don’t want to make a mistake where you have tried all this time to make the grade and you don’t want to mess up. I actually fell at the first hurdle, I passed all these scoring tests and what have ya and went to London and passed that.
‘You then get in the ring and have a ref on the outside who watches you, you score it and if you stop it then that stands but if it goes the distance you look down at the star grade ref who was Wally Thom at the time and he nods to which corner and you go lift that corners hand. Then you give your sheet in when you get out the ring and they compare it to his.
‘What happened was a guy called Jackson from Birmingham and I can’t remember the other guy, I was nervous with it being my first fight I reffed and I go to the corner at the end of the fight and looked at Wally and he pointed to the corner so I went and lifted the guys hand but they had swapped corners to thank each other for the fight etc and I lifted the wrong guys hand and it went crazy. So it nearly ended before it all started for me.’
What was the most memorable fight you officiated?
‘Most memorable has got to be but not in terms of action although it was quite good, it was the world heavyweight title with Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno. But there was a few like the Jean-Marc Renard and Farid Benredjeb fight for a European title was out of this world, they both ended up having to be taken to hospital.
‘Micky Ward and Shea Neary that was a cracking fight also. I had a belting fight in South Africa between Phillip Ndou and Cassius Baloyi and they needed a neutral ref to do it and selected me which was lovely. What a fight where Baloyi had his jaw broken but wouldn’t pull out but wasn’t getting hurt enough to stop him.
‘I was proud to be asked and do that. I did one here in Leeds with Michael Gayle and a Canadian called Brent Kosolofski and I was regarded as being from Leeds. Kosolofski actually wanted me to ref it and I said you do realise I am based here don’t you? They said it wasn’t a problem and that they wanted me in there. He stopped Michael if I remember rightly.’
What fight in history would you have liked to have officiated?
‘Yeah Frazier vs Ali the Rumble in the Jungle. It would have been awesome that bloody awesome.’
A friend of mine asked me to ask what happened with a Darkie Smith incident in 2002?
‘Ah yeah Darkie, that was Ricky Hatton vs Stephen Smith which was Darkie’s son. There was a punch up in the corner during the fight then the bell went and Smith came away with a cut to the eye from a punch from Hatton and Darkie started shouting and screaming saying he elbowed him with a follow through.
“I said to him go away and sit down and he pushed me and even then I said listen go away and he wouldn’t so I called the fight off and he got his son disqualified. If you look at the films of it then you see that Rickys’ elbow never touched him it was a punch and that was it. If I remember rightly that was my 100th world title fight. After he had pushed me and it all happened I wished but I am glad I never did give him a left hook.’
Would you say there is anything in the sport that you would change that would make being a ref easier?
‘That is a tough one. I don’t find reffing a fight hard so no. What is hard is probably the public’s vision of who has won and who has lost. What you have got to remember is the ref or the judge whoever is scoring is sat concentrating they are not talking to their mate or messing around they are concentrating just on that fight, and there is something you could miss at home if you turn your head to speak to your partner or whoever is sat with you and you can miss a punch that is a defining shot for that round.
‘This could give that fighter that round but you have missed it. It also doesn’t mean to say when you see a wide difference in the judges cards that any are wrong for certain. I reffed a British title fight before and gave the verdict and the board secretary as he handed out the belt thought I got it wrong and then a few weeks later he came up to me at another fight and apologised and said he rewatched it back and agreed with me.’
‘If I hadn’t been a ref I would never have been able to visit the places I did or experience the cultures I did.’
This is the quote I will end this piece on, so just because you can’t be a professional boxer it doesn’t mean there is not a place in the sport for you.