Micky Duff: A Tribute from Simon Block!
Monday, 24 March 2014 | Carl
Simon Block delivers a fitting tribute to one of Britain's greatest promoters
I AM very sorry to learn of the death of Mickey Duff although after his many years of illness.
From the time of my boyhood through to just before I took over from John Morris as General Secretary of the BBB of C, Mickey was the biggest character in British boxing and along with his partners, a principal mover in the most influential group of its time in the British sport. At the beginning they faced competition from Jack Solomons and by the mid - 90s, from Frank Warren, Barry Hearn, Frank Maloney and associates and Barney Eastwood but there was a period through most of the '70s and '80s they were the dominant force.
Mickey was a larger than life character and his mental agility, knowledge and his instinct for and judgement of the sport, made him a unique and a world figure and certainly I doubt we will see his like again. These qualities made him formidable competition and it might be said that until Frank Warren began to assert himself in sport in the '80s he really was without equal. He once told me that when he was younger he never had a telephone book. He kept everyone's number in his head.
He wasn't always the most likeable of people but once he felt he could trust you he revealed a much more compassionate side. It is fair to say that in my early days with the Board he did not take too kindly to me and we had our fair share of rows but once I had been away with him with boxers boxing for championships abroad his attitude mellowed and we developed a good and constructive working relationship. When I flew to Hong Kong to represent the Board at a huge tournament featuring Frank Bruno, Ray Mercer, Tommy Morrison, Steve Collins and many other stars which never actually took place, being cancelled before the weigh-in the day before through lack of finances, for some reason I arrived a day early and, the hotel being fully booked, had nowhere to stay that first night. I thought I might have to sleep in the lobby but Mickey, when he heard, immediately offered me the second bed in his room which I was very happy to accept.
His relationship with the Board, and with Ray Clarke, its General Secretary when I started was greatly misunderstood and misreported in some quarters. Having overheard many of their arguments sitting in the office next door, when Ray Clarke put his foot down no amount of persuasion could get him to relent. When discussing foreign opponents, a very contentious matter around that time, Ray once told me to always ask Mickey if he had actually seen the boxer in question in the ring. If he said he had, you could accept his recommendation. If he said someone he knew had recommended him, then that might be another matter. On that basis I once allowed Trinidad boxer, Joe Alexander, coming off 10 straight losses, to box British Champion Tony Laing at Wembley Conference Centre and much to everyone's surprise Alexander won.
His work was his life and apart from gambling he appeared to have little outside interests. In the days before mobile phones he once told me that the only time he relaxed was waiting to board or actually flying on aeroplanes. He said it never bothered him if there was a delay as he was perfectly happy until the plane landed and then he could get going again.
I can recall a weigh in at the Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road for big Wembley or Albert Hall show when everything had gone well, all the boxers had weighed in OK and their was no problem over purse disputes or ticket money. When everything was over Mickey heard there was a problem with a 6 round undercard opponent who was having to pull out and to me, he seemed almost pleased he had something to deal with before the show.
Much of the criticism levelled at Mickey was misguided and came about as a result of his role acting as a buffer between Terry Lawless, who saw himself solely as a manager and Mike Barrett who saw himself solely as a promoter and their conflicting requirements. Watching him in action as a manager was an education and I recall him threatening to pull Pat Barrett out of a European Championship match in Italy, despite the handsome purse Barrett was to receive, unless the promoter paid some additional monies from TV revenues. The argument started at the Rules meeting the day before and continued all throughout the day of the contest until finally, around 5pm the promoter relented and Barrett was paid an additional £2500. Mickey's percentage of that would have been about £500 so it can hardly be argued that he was acting purely for selfish gain, given that he was already on his manager's percentage of the original purse.
Barrett was told from the outset that there was no question of his being withdrawn from the contest over the issue despite Mickey's threats to the promoter so he remained untroubled by the whole thing.
It would not be inappropriate to call Mickey a boxing 'great' and he has been honoured by many boxing institutions for his achievements. There is a whole catalogue of British talent that can thank Mickey, a master of timing and knowing when to make that big match for one of his boxers, for the success they had and I hesitate to list names for fear of omission, there being so many. Like all 'greats' he will have his detractors but I am not among them despite my access to both sides of his personality. I am pleased to have known him and to have worked with him and learned so much from him, which can only have helped contribute to any of the small successes I may have had in my time with the Board.
There is one quote I remember him making to a newspaper which for me sums up the contradiction in the character of one who could be both a bitter enemy or a staunch friend. He said something like, "I wouldn't dream of going to Las Vegas without ringing Cornelius Boza Edwards (the former world champion managed by Mickey, now a trainer there) but if he lived in London I'd never speak to him."
Mickey, thanks for your friendship, rest in peace.