Colin "Sweet C" McMillan talks about his career
Livefight Interview: Former WBO featherweight champion Colin “Sweet C” McMillan
By Michael J Jones
“Apart from my first loss on cuts, I only ever lost to world champions and I’m very proud of that” Colin McMillan
Boxing history is littered by stories of how young men were manipulated, soul-destroyed and failed to reach their potential due to bad management, injury or poor training habits. As a writer I’ve become accustomed to hearing such tales, many a time they are very hard to listen too; in boxing there are rarely happy endings.
Before speaking to Colin McMillan I knew all about his shoulder injury that turned a very promising career into one of disappointment. It was very pleasing to find Colin devoid of any bitterness regarding his boxing career and doing extremely well in life.
Since leaving the sport in 1997 following a punishing stoppage defeat to future world champion Paul Ingle, McMillan has excelled in many different business ventures from property development, managing, promoting, running a boxing agency and commentating. The former WBO champion has recently also released an up-dated version of his biography “Fight the Power”.
Now 46-years-old, the retired champion was a sublime boxer at his best. Very fast of hand and foot with Ray Robinson-like skills, McMillan, trained by Howard Rainey, was a terrific amateur and expected to make big waves as a pro. The former four-time London ABA champion shrugged off an early cuts stoppage to race impressively to British and Commonwealth championships. When the streaking contender bamboozled experienced WBO champion Maurizio Stecca to lift the title, the Londoner was expected to enjoy a long and successful reign.
However, a freak shoulder injury saw the defending champion dethroned in his maiden title defence against Colombian Ruben Palacios. McMillan only surfaced once in the next 28 months as he lost a tough decision to in-form “Cinderella Man” Steve Robinson in a crack at his old WBO title. The former champion regrouped to string a series of victories together after that defeat in the hope of taking on Prince Naseem Hamed but ended up being beaten by Yorkshire’s Ingle and never fought again. He left the sport with a 31-4 (14) record with two of his defeats due to injury in fights he was winning.
McMillan still lives in London with wife Sue and has two daughters Keisha 24, and 19-year-old Amber. An intelligent and articulate individual, here is what Colin had to say-
LF) How did you first discover your love of boxing?
CM) I remember watching boxing on the TV and was enthralled by Muhammad Ali. I was about 15-years-old and I was in school with a guy who boxed at the local Barking ABC gym. One day I went with him and just fell in love with boxing....and I’ve been boxing ever since.
LF) You were a touted amateur, what were some of your highlights in the unpaid code?
CM) I was a four-time London ABA champion and got to the semi-finals of the national championships. I was a two-time ABA finalist; I lost both finals by split decisions. I had about 75 fights in all and won about 61 or 62.
I always wanted to go to the Olympics to win a Gold medal like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard did but it wasn’t to be for me.
LF) Many people forget you actually suffered a defeat in your third fight when Alan McKay beat you on cuts. Most young prospects when suffering a reverse of that nature aim for an immediate rematch but I noticed there never was a return with McKay?
CM) Well I’d beaten Alan McKay twice in the amateurs and stopped him one of those times but in our pro fight I got cut from a bad clash of heads. I was winning the fight when it happened but they stopped it straight away. I wanted to put the record straight and we nearly fought again with the Commonwealth title on the line but it never came off.
LF) You racked up the victories in the following few years until rewarded with your first title shot. You boxed Gary De Roux for the British title and stopped him impressively in seven rounds. What do you remember about your first title fight?
CM) It’s actually one of my favourite fights that I had. It took place in the New London Arena and De Roux was a very tough fighter and a big puncher. Early in my career I’d been told to avoid him as he was so dangerous and he was very confident before the fight, there was some exchanges between us in the build-up, all in good nature of course. In the fight, I boxed very well and put in a good performance and after not winning the ABA finals and not being able to go to the Olympics, to win the British title was just fantastic. Nobody could take that away from me that I was British champion.
LF) You followed up that win with solid defences against Kevin Pritchard and Sean Murphy and beat Ghanaian Percy Commey to add the Commonwealth belt. The good form was rewarded with your first world title fight against experienced WBO champion Maurizio Stecca. Was that the realisation of a dream?
CM) Yes without a shadow of a doubt. From an early age I’d dreamt of two things; winning an Olympic Gold medal and winning a world title. In that fight I actually killed two birds with one stone. Maurizio Stecca wasn’t just a world champion, he’d been an Olympic champion too and the winner of the Val Barker trophy. To beat him felt to me like I’d achieved both my dreams in the one fight and I was absolutely made up.
LF) Nobody could have predicted what was to come in the next three years of your career as you struggled with an on-going shoulder injury. Going back to your failed first defence versus Ruben Palacios, were there any problems with your shoulder going into that fight?
CM) No there were no prior problems with the shoulder before that fight. Palacios was an experienced fighter and he was rough and tough in there. He shook me up a bit in the second or third round but I was ahead on all the judges’ cards when he went to hit me into the body. He hooked my arm and the shoulder just popped out of its socket. It was a totally freak accident, I tried boxing on for a while but the referee could see I was in distress and what was going on so he stopped it.
LF) You were out of the ring for 13 months after that injury defeat. Did you have surgery in that time?
CM) I tried to let it heal itself for a while but whenever I started sparring it would go again. I knew I needed an operation so I had one and they put a pin into the shoulder but even after that it wasn’t right. I knew full well it wasn’t right even when I signed to fight Steve Robinson.
LF) You went straight into a shot at your old WBO title against in-form Welshman Steve Robinson. Do you regret going straight into that fight, a tough challenge even for a fully fit fighter?
CM) No not really. I knew my shoulder wasn’t right and I didn’t want to risk it popping out in a lesser fight for less money. I felt confident beforehand that I could beat Steve the way I was. At the end of the fight, I think we both knew it had been close, it was a close fight.
Before I fought Robinson I had made enquiries about corrective surgery in America so the week after the fight I went over and had corrective surgery over there.
LF) You were inactive for a while before embarking on a comeback 15 months later. I seem to remember you offering to box for free at one point when trying to kick-start your comeback?
CM) Yes that’s correct. I boxed in Barking town hall. I felt a bit frozen out of the title picture so I made the offer to box for nothing. My fee was given to the local hospital instead.
LF) You carried on winning and regained the British title with an exciting win over Jon Jo Irwin. Did you feel at that time you still had it in you to make it back to world level and a bout with Naseem Hamed?
CM) Yeah Irwin was a tough fight for me, he was a lot younger than me and it was a good scrap. I had to go to hospital afterwards to be treated for dehydration.
I did feel at that stage I could still return to world level; I still felt I could be a world champion. A fighter is always confident but looking back I can see now I was never the same fighter after injuring my shoulder. I never had the same power in my left hand, it just wasn’t there anymore.
LF) You impressively stopped Trust Ndlovu in your next fight before taking on Paul Ingle. Although he had been a decent amateur, he hadn’t ever boxed at that level in his previous fourteen contests; were you surprised at how intelligently he pressured you in that fight given his inexperience?
CM) I was very confident before fighting Paul. I’d been around longer and had boxed in a higher class but I wasn’t over-confident. The “Naz” fight was just around the corner but Paul came at me young and was hungry. He pressured me good and was very fired up and won. I take my hat off to him for beating me.
LF) You never boxed again; did you ever contemplate carrying on?
CM) Not really. I always said that once I retired I’d never come back. Paul showed me I didn’t have it at top level any more. I didn’t want to be one of those fighters that goes away then comes back and out-stays his welcome. Apart from that cut-eye loss, I only ever lost to world champions and I’m very proud of that.
LF) You have kept extremely busy since your boxing career ended; aside from acting as an advisor and manager to Audley Harrison a few years ago, you also are involved in property development and a boxing agency amongst other things. You appear to enjoy keeping busy?
CM) Yeah I’ve got quite a few things on the go. It can be hard to keep yourself active when your boxing career ends but I’ve managed to keep myself busy. I run the boxing agency for fighters to make public appearances; I also promote shows for my old amateur club and have just started a boxing academy in Redbridge.
LF) You’ve also just released your biography I believe?
CM) Yeah I wrote the original about 15 years ago when I retired but have added extra chapters to it to include the last few years and working with Audley etc. It’s available online at my website http://www.colin-mcmillan.com/merchandise.html
LF) Colin many thanks for your time it’s been a pleasure.
CM) Ok thanks take care of yourself.