Steve Sims: ‘Fifteen soldiers around the ring with machine guns.’
By Chris Akers
The British featherweight division in the 1980s was arguably one of the strongest scenes domestically, with an array of talent of similar ability, challenging for honours on the domestic and European front on a regular basis.
One of the fighters in the mix at this time was Steve Sims. During his career, Sims challenged for both the British and European title as well as for domestic titles at super-featherweight.
His first foray into boxing was through been inspired by a certain martial artist.
“I tell you who motivated me to get me doing. It was Bruce Lee. I was a Bruce Lee fan. Anything Bruce Lee done I had to do. I’m still the same now. I still do press ups on the back of my wrist on one hand. When I was in my 20s, he done them on his thumbs, so I had to do them on my thumbs. And that inspired me then to do boxing.”
Initially going to a gym to improve his hand speed, his parents disapproved of his attendance.
“I went to the boxing gym at 14. My dad stopped me. He didn’t want me to do it. Said it was too dangerous. So at 16 I thought that I’ll start doing things myself now a little bit. So I went to a boxing gym and met the Pearce’s. I was still a fan of Bruce Lee and became a black belt when I was 16.”
The ‘Pearce’s’ Sims mentions were former British heavyweight champion David Pearce and his brother Gary. The gym Sims entered was run by them.
“Yes, that’s a true story. Dave Pearce my good friend at the time and Gary Pearce, he had a gym at the time. He’s only just turned pro Dave. He had a couple of fights. I went to their gym and I started sparring. I thought ‘Oh my God, I’m starting to enjoy this pain!’”
Later on, when he ran his own gym, Sims’ martial artist background would influence the advice he gave to the kids, that came through the gym’s doors looking to be taught.
“The boys and their mothers and fathers used to say to me. ‘I’d like my son to start boxing,’ and I’d say ‘Listen. Great. Do a little bit of judo first. Get used to the fighting style, then come along to the boxing gym.’”
Why get used to judo first before coming boxing?
“Some of the boys were a bit young. I’d like them to start about 10 years of age. But the mothers used to come to me and they’d hate it and I said ‘Well they’re not quite old enough to join my gym. They have to be 10. But take a tip from me. Start them on judo to get used to building up their confidence in one to one fighting.’”
Sims himself turned pro at the age of 17, after having 19 amateur fights. Though he disputes this.
“Well it might not have been that many. I tell everyone it was 19, but I think it was 14 or 15, something like that. So I didn’t have a lot at all. I didn’t have much experience at all. But what people don’t know is that I stopped 14 of my opponents. Either the ref stopped the fight or I ko’ed them. I know for sure I ko’ed seven of them in the first round.
“But my third professional fight against Joey Gilbert I hit him on the top of the head and broke my metacarpals. Then my punching power wasn’t as good as it was as an amateur. Of course, in those days, the trainers never went on courses, they never knew how to wrap hands good. Today there are expert trainers who can bandaged hands to perfection.”
Sims didn’t enter any championships while an amateur, though he did meet the man who would become his manager and trainer when he decide to go into the professional ranks: Billy May.
May was a former middleweight who won 11 of his 12 bouts. Bumping into May in town, Sims was made an offer.
“I can remember the day I bumped into my manager Billy May. He’d just come out of prison for assault. I’d knocked out cold my latest amateur opponent. I bumped into him in town two days later and he said ‘I seen one of your fights last week. What’s your name again?’
“He said, ‘Right. How do you fancy turning pro with me?’ I was going to say no. But when he said he’d get me £100 for my first fight I said ‘Ok!’ So I only tuned professional for the money. I didn’t turned professional for any other reason.”
His first fight was against Selvin Bell and he took home £90.
“I was chuffed!”
His motivation for turning pro was because of the need to buy a certain ring.
“Yes that’s right! It all adds up now. Turn pro for the money to buy her a wedding ring to get married for my wife. A good wedding ring was worth about 60 quid in those days.”
So you were paid 90 quid on your debut and spend 60 quid on a wedding ring?
“It was in Manchester that I boxed my debut. I was actually given £120 but £30 of that was expenses, so I ended up with 90 quid. My manager said ‘I won’t take my 25% from your first fight. Here’s 90 quid.”
Before a professional is a different experience for the amateur side. More rounds. Sometimes more people at the venue. how did he feel on his debut?
“I wasn’t nervous on my debut, but my second fight I was a bag of nerves. I knocked Selvin Bell down every round and won on points.”
In his second fight, he suffered his first defeat, losing to Eric Ragonesi, stopped in the fifth round.
“I knocked him down three times in the first three rounds. One knockdown each round and he got up on the count of nine. Then the fourth or fifth round was toe to toe. Two days after the Ragonesi fight. I remember getting married with a black eye.”
I bet your wife wasn’t happy about that.
“Oh no!,” he laughs.”
Winning some, losing some, Sims then went on some streak, winning seven fights on a row.
“My manager put me in the deep end. Put me on a hard route. I fought the likes of Don George, who was a Welsh champion. It was about the fifth or sixth fight I went up to eight threes. I fought John Feeney, Davy Lamour. They were all tough British level champion boxers. That’s what taught me to box, these tough fights. I learned the hard way.”
The winning streak put Sims in the position of a final eliminator for the British title. Stopping Jimmy Flint in that eliminator for the British title, Sims was due to fight Pat Cowdell for the British title, but Cowdell vacated.
“Well I beat Jimmy Flint for the final eliminator, then I fought Terry McKeown for the British title. I can remember sitting in the corner in the 11th round trying to breathe, as I’d used all my energy to get that far. I thought to myself, ‘Oh hang on. 12, 13, 14, there’s four more rounds to go. Oh my God!’ So I went out and I gave it my last. If he hadn’t have gone down, I think I would have gone down for lack of breath. But he went down from a good right hand and when I went to the corner I could hardly breathe and he didn’t beat the count. It was the best feeling. Best feeling I’ve ever had in my whole life.”
His next fight gave Sims a choice of one of two titles. Either defend his British title against Barry McGuigan or fight for the vacant European title against Loris Steeca. All this caused initially was headache.
“Well that was an awkward one. We were offered terms for £7,500, to defend the British title against Barry McGuigan over in Ireland. So we said ‘Ok’ and we had a contract. I’ve got the contract here with me now in a frame. Barry McGuigan signed it as well and I did.
“Pat Cowdell relinquished the European title to go and fight Azumah Nelson and they nominated me and Loris Stecca to fight for the vacant title. And Stecca’s team wanted me to fight for the title. So Barney Eastwood said ‘Right Bill, I’m going to go out of my way. I’m going to offer you 12 grand.’ I said ‘Listen Bill. I’ll leave it with you.’ We signed a contract to fight Barry McGuigan. I sold 150 tickets for the fight. It’s going to be a fantastic atmosphere at the Kings Hall. I said ‘Go on Bill, it’s up to you.’ And he went and chose Stecca.”
Barney Eastwood wasn’t impressed. Sims received letters from his solicitors.
“It was murder. My manager had an idea to get out of it. He said to relinquish the British title. So I fought Loris Stecca.”
Loris Stecca would win a world title back down at super bantamweight the year after facing Sims. At this time, his record was 28-0-1 with 20 knockouts. Training for the fight involved running the 290 steps of the Newport Transport Bridge.
“I did it for a week everyday. My legs had swollen up.”
The atmosphere on fight night was certainly partisan.
“Fight fans and crazy Italians in the arena. Fifteen soldiers around the ring with machine guns. Walking to the ring I thought to myself, ‘Good God, I wish I was back home watching the telly with the missus!’ I fought my heart out. I could feel him getting weaker. Then I caught a bad cut. The first cut in my career, right on top of the eyelid. Billy May panicked as he never took a cutman with him. He called the ref over, the ref called the doctor over. The doctor stopped the fight.”
The fight was stopped in the fifth round.
“He was well ahead in the fight. He was super fast, but I was coming back slowly. I could feel my energy coming back and I could feel him getting weaker. I experienced that before when I fought Jimmy Flint. I’ve still got the gloves with me from the Stecca fight. His thumb also went into my eye as well.”
Five months later, he returned to winning ways beating Chito Adigue on points.
“Dave Pearce was top of the bill fighting for the British heavyweight title against Neville Meade. What a fantastic memory. I came back here and all credit to Mickey Duff and Mike Barratt. They put a show on in Cardiff.”
“But then we got talked into a stupid fight for my next one. Mickey Duff and Mike Barratt came back to Cardiff with Kelvin Smart for a world title eliminator and they said they had one of their boxers coming over. His name is Nedrick Simmons. Very tall and a southpaw. I said ‘Listen Bill. I don’t want to be fighting him.’ First time I ever complained in my life as he was a southpaw. I hate southpaws,” he laughs. “I lost on points and that set me back that did.”
Not fighting for nearly a year after his defeat to Simmons, Sims’s next bout would take place Down Place. Melbourne was the setting for his next fight against Lester Ellis.
“My manager Billy May knocked my door 16 days’ notice and said there’s a fight come up. My wife was eight months pregnant at the time with our third child. I said, ‘Ok where too?’ He said Australia. I said I’ll take it as needed the money at the time, though my wife was worried. On the plane my manger said that he had ko’d all his opponents and that his name was Lester Ellis.
“I stayed in Australia for two weeks and after a 24-hour flight, I settled in hotel in the same room as my manager. Sparred with the best Australian boxers over there. A lot of my friends came to support. About 300 fans come to watch me. I was super fit for that fight. We went to sleep woke up and went for a run. I didn’t know what day or time it was.”
“Through the first four rounds Lester tried his best to ko me. A friend of mine who was good friends with Lester said his trainer told Lester to stop trying to knock me out, as he would blow up the last 3 rounds. It was toe to toe. In the 7th round he knocked all of my front teeth out and I still fought on. I won the last round, though he won on points. Great memory that is. I was the first to go the distance with him. My friend also said that when Lester retired, he said that I was the hardest fight he had.”
Yet Sims came back again, winning the Welsh Super Featherweight title by beating Steve Cleak.
“That was a fantastic feeling.”
After this fight, Sims decided to leave his manager Billy May.
“First of all, I wasn’t happy with not having no wage slips or statements. I’ve got to be honest, without Bill I would never have got to the top. I packed in boxing three times. I loved training but lacked confidence. Billy taught me how to be tough. He kept me going. The last resort was when I won the Welsh title. It was ten three-minute rounds and he paid me £400.”
Mac Williams became his manager and his first defence of his Welsh title was against Tony Borg.
“Brilliant amateur. Won a lot of titles. I sparred with him, so I knew him a bit. I also was running a newsagent. Up at 4am, close at 10pm and training four to five hours a day. It was a bit stressful. I rather of worked on a building site. He was very sharp. The second round he catapulted me of ropes and knocked me down. I got up at nine. Then the same old story. He thought he could finish me but started to blow up. I caught him with good body shots and head shots and he kept holding. The ref walked straight to me and put my hand up. It was a very close fight. He was very talented.”
“Me and Tony became good friends. I managed him and trained him. He was doing very well and got knocked over by a car. He packed up boxing with plates in his leg.”
Another shot at British featherweight title beckoned against Robert Dickie.
“I’d already sparred him. What a short six-inch puncher. Talk about Bruce Lee with his six-inch punch, he had it as well. He could punch. But it’s the same story. I had the shop again. I told my manager at the time Matt Williams that I was happy at nine stone four. I don’t want to lose two bags of sugar. It’s too heavy. It’s too much to lose. I’ve finished with nine stone boxing. Then he talked me into it.”
In short, he was weight drained going into the fight.
“That four pounds is deadly when you’re struggling to make nine stone four, super featherweight. Then you have to lose another four pounds. It’s not normal. I was spitting candy floss. There was no fluid in me a week before that fight.”
Sims was stopped by a body shot in the fifth round.
A penultimate points defeat to Racheed Lawal in Denmark was followed by a bout with a up and coming prospect called Paul Hodkinson at the Kings Hall in Belfast.
“The shop had got on top of me by then. I sold the shop. I didn’t want the fight. It’s too hard. I didn’t want to fight these young boys. I’d rather fight someone my age. I wanted to fight Najib Daho for the British Super Featherweight title. He was my age.”
The loss signalled the end of Sims’ career.
“I said ‘Right Mac. That’s it. I’ll pack it in now.’ I didn’t want more fights. I had plenty of life in me. Could have gone on. Regret it now I do. I shouldn’t have packed it in.”
“After I fought Paul Hodkinson, I still owned the news agency. It was making me so tired. I had the shop for a while, then decided to sell it. I was in the pub trade for 12 years at five different pubs. I also had a manager’s licence and a trainer’s licence and a boxing gym. I kept going forward. At nearly 29 I retired from boxing. The first boxer I managed was Tony Borg and I trained him. He said he was very impressed with my methods. I managed 15 professional boxers as well.”
At this point, we reminisce about various figures in the sport. At this point I ask him what he does now.
“I still train fighters. Happy working as a security guard with specialist security. I still keep fit. I do 1000 press ups a day, a 1000 sit ups and a 1000 squats Monday to Thursday. Friday I do 500 of each, Saturday I do 300 and Sunday I have off.”
It’s a workout that puts younger men to shame. It’s a shame that his career isn’t as well-known as it should be. Hopefully articles like this will change all that.
Steve is aiming to raise money for organisations that are feeding the needy by eating 1 million grains of rice. If anyone would like to donate to this, please click the link below.