Clinton Woods - I played at boxing but won it all !
Clinton Woods exclusive interview
By Michael J Jones
“The one thing with boxing is I went in not expecting to win anything...but I ended up winning everything” Clinton Woods
Livefight recently had the opportunity to catch up with former light-heavyweight champion Clinton Woods. Retired now for four years, the former Sheffield star had a career of proving people wrong and fought the best of his era and more than held his own. At one stage a scrawny super-middleweight who lacked a heavy dig, the tall Woods flourished when moving up to light-heavyweight and proceeded to win British, Commonwealth, European and IBF titles in a glittering career which ended with a tough points defeat to Tavouris Cloud.
Surprisingly, Clinton’s career very nearly never got started after the youngster packed boxing in aged 15. Tough-talking Woods picks up the story.
“I had about 80 fights as an amateur but even as a teenager I was working on building sites and grafting. When I stopped boxing I had no intention at all of going back to it.”
With no aspirations of turning pro, it took a brutal street fight to convince the former fighter to get back in shape.
“I remember it well, I’d gotten into a fight with two bouncers on a night out. They gave me a right-good beating so a few weeks later I went back there and smacked one of them in the mouth. They beat me even worse the second time (laughs). That’s what I used to like doing; work hard, go out drinking with my brothers and have a fight.”
The latest punch-up left the beaten youngster in a reflective mood however. At 22-years-old Woods was still fit from working on building sites but decided to get ‘fighting fit’.
“I was always a strong, fit kid. I liked a drink but never touched anything else; most of the lads then were on ‘whizz’ (speed) or ‘E’s’...I never touched anything like that. The drink put weight on my belly but otherwise I was still pretty fit.”
The fighter got down to 168lbs to make his pro debut in November 1994 and, despite “playing” at the sport, soon built up an impressive unbeaten record and had claimed the Central Area title.
“I came up very quietly back then. I still went out drinking in between fights, I did no special diet or strength training but I loved to go to the gym and train...that’s pretty much all I did as a fighter (at that time). One day I won a six-rounder and someone came up to me and asked whether I’d like to fight for the Commonwealth title in two weeks. I said yes so I fought Mark Baker at Wembley a fortnight later.”
The virtually unknown Woods, then 18-0 (9), was a big underdog versus the rough-and-tough Londoner Baker. The bout, chief support to the Herol Graham-Vinny Pazienza clash, went the distance where the Sheffield prospect won a close, but deserved, decision. The elation of the winner was evident as he raced around the ring upon hearing the verdict read out.
“I kept winning and thinking (boxing) would come to an end soon, I never thought I’d win any title so there was no pressure at all on me before the fight. It was close but I won most of the early rounds. It annoyed me afterwards when Sky (Sports) only showed the last three rounds of the fight. They were probably (Baker’s) best rounds but that’s what TV people tend to do; get behind the London fighters. They seem to love London fighters...Mark Baker was a tough kid and his supporters thought he had won but I definitely won that fight and I was made-up afterwards.”
The new champion didn’t enjoy a long reign though as he was matched in his first defence against former amateur star David Starie. Just four months after the Baker victory it was a tough proposition for the 25-year-old who dropped a clear decision to the former British champion to surrender his unbeaten record and Commonwealth title.
“I was still just playing at boxing even at that stage” admits Woods fifteen years after the bout. “I’d always made weight easily to get to 12st but before Starie I started taking (training supplement) Creatine. I put loads of weight on and by fight-time was a mile over the weight. I had to starve myself to make the weight and as soon as I was off the scales I ran to the food machine to scoff crisps (laughs). Starie then came around the corner to see me eating...he must have guessed at that I’d struggled to get my weight down.”
“The difference was he had a proper team behind him, proper sparring and diet etc...it made a huge difference. In our fight I was so weight-weakened he would just tap me to the stomach and I’d start cramping up badly.”
The beaten fighter surprisingly wasn’t overly disappointed to suffer his first reverse as he explains.
“It wasn’t even a massive disappointment (losing to Starie) as I always had the mindset that I’d lose at some point and it wasn’t a big deal. When I went back to training hard I decided to move up in weight (to light-heavyweight) and I could feel the effects straight away. I felt better and stronger in sparring and stopped my first two opponents at the higher weight. The second of which was 15-0 Mark Smallwood who had been a good amateur but I stopped him in five or so rounds (actually seven)."
The upstart in the division was rewarded for his stoppage of Smallwood with a shot at the reigning British, Commonwealth and European champion Crawford Ashley. The big-punching Leeds champion had been dominant on the European stage for many years and had only lost to the very best in the division such as Virgil Hill. Woods looked a big underdog again and got off to the worst start as he suffered damage to his nose which bled freely from the first round. The bloody challenger wasn’t to be denied though.
“He hit me with a right in the first and it smashed my nose...it was one of the only times in my career where I thought I may have been out of my depth but I got back to the corner and I just got told to ‘go after him’. It wasn’t classy (the way Woods boxed) but I kept the pressure on him and ground him down.”
His face a mask of blood for most of the fight, the challenger fought hard and by the eighth an exhausted Ashley was pulled out by his corner.
“I think he took the fight with me for an easy payday” reflects Clinton. “I really think the corner shouldn’t be able to throw the towel in to stop fights. I wanted to finish him off better than that but his corner denied me that chance.”
As a light-heavyweight multi-champion from 98’ to 02’ Woods would beat all in his path at every level just below world class. In that period he won all thirteen contests including eleven by knockout.
“I had some tough fights in that time” reasons Clinton about his winning streak halted only by one of the greatest fighters to ever box. “I beat Ole Klemetson (rising from a knock-down to stop the Norwegian puncher in nine) who was a very tough kid and hard to stop at that stage, also Yawe Davis who had just destroyed (Neil) Simpson. I won a unanimous decision.”
By my own reckoning, in the Sheffield man’s 48 bout career only Klemetson and a domestic fighter named Kevin Burton ever put him down. I query this to Clinton.
“No Burton never put me down that was a trip. It’s a claim to fame of his, I see him all the time but that was definitely not a knock-down (Woods halted Burton in the sixth). The only guys to have me over were Klemetson and the Australian Jason DeLisle. Both flash knock-downs where I wasn’t really hurt. The only guys to hurt me were Jones Jr and in my last fight (to Tavoris Cloud).”
That point cleared up, we next talk about Woods’ first world title shot against a boxing legend.
In 2002 Roy Jones Jr was at the peak of his powers; a former three-weight world champion who had dazzled all in his path for over ten years. Although conceding he was “out of his depth” Clinton strongly questions both his own preparation for his biggest fight and Jones’ own training methods.
“I wasn’t ready for him at that stage, my camp was terrible. We went to Jamaica for sparring and the two opponents were shite. I also didn't like the venue. Why do you think we fought in Portland? It was a state where they had no drug testing. I’m not saying I would have won either way; I was shit.
The Yorkshireman continues-
“It turned into a holiday over there. I never imagined making the money I got for that fight. I was out there for three weeks and enjoyed myself and the occasion. He hurt me a bit to the body but never to the head.”
Woods fought bravely but was rescued in the sixth just as Jones was starting to tee off at will. It would be the only inside-the-distance reverse the durable Sheffield fighter would suffer despite continuing to fight at the highest class for seven more years.
The twice-beaten fighter didn’t have to wait long for his next world title shot. Just over a year after the Jones Jr loss, Woods was matched with former champion Glen Johnson for the vacant IBF belt. The bout went ahead in the UK (Woods’ hometown of Sheffield) and after twelve closely-contested rounds the bout was declared a draw. Three months later the two met again and this time teak-tough veteran Johnson won a unanimous decision.
Did Woods agree with both decisions?
“The first was a very close fight the draw was fair but I thought I dropped him in the last. I caught him and a couple of seconds later he went over. I thought it was a delayed-reaction knock-down but it wasn’t called.”
“The second fight I had absolutely nothing left in me and I thought he won nearly every round.”
While Johnson would go on to have his best year as a pro, beating both Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver, Woods was left in the fistic wilderness. The struggling fighter had been suffering from extreme fatigue all through camp and, upon seeing a specialist after the loss, was diagnosed with an iron deficiency.
“I’d just felt terrible all through training but, as soon as it was diagnosed, I took B12 injections and met a nutritionalist to start eating properly and it was never a problem again. That was when I became a proper boxer.”
To be continued...