Steve Pons looks at the sad ending of Errol Christie
Less than 200 people attended the Errol Christie Wake-Up Boxing Party at Manchester Free Trade Hall in March 1993. There were many more at his funeral 24 years later and at both events I cried.
Christie fought for the forty-first and final time as a professional on a show promoted by Phil Martin. The golden boy was gone long before that night, and the man chosen to change British boxing had been beaten, hurt, ignored and forgotten long before the fight in Manchester. It fell to the “bottom of the barrel,” Manny Steward said.
Only distant memories remain of the days a steward spent in Cronk, the night he owned the Granada TV studios for a live show, and the nights he cut his victims with style and arrogance. Brilliantly promoted. Then came the defeats, the end of Errol’s days. The night in Manchester in March was silent, but one that no one will ever forget.
“I made a huge mistake,” Christie said of his last fight. “I came, I saw and I killed.” He did and was.
Early at night the locker room was crowded with Martin’s fighters. Eric Noe, Tony Ekopia, and Steve Walker were on the bill. There were the usual nerves, short visits from men not fighting, and messages from the crowd. The usual pre-fight ritual. Kristi was calm and relaxed. His brother Andy was there. There was also Frank Grant, Maurice Kaur, and dozens of others from Martin’s gym. Billy Graham was Martin’s assistant. They were the unit, a real united unit at the time.
“I wish he’d been with me from the start,” Martin told me late that night. “He could and should have been the world champion. I wish I had such great amateurs from the start.” Kristi was a wonderful hobbyist. Christie won 10 British amateur titles and the European Under-19 Championship in East Germany in 1982 before turning professional. No other British boxer has done so. That night in the Free Trade Hall, he lost his glory to history.
Trevor Ambrose of Leicester was the opponent. He was a tough, awkward, kickboxer and the kind of guy Errol once danced to. That was then, that was now and he finished in the second round. The first was cool, Kristi wasn’t exactly smooth in his golden pants. In the second round, Christie was caught, betrayed by his legs, grabbed and thrown onto the canvas. You ruled a slip. It’s over, we all know. Right and left hook has fallen off again. It was somehow in the “eighth”. Ambrose—as I wrote at the time—”goed into steam” and Christie kept his boxing career alive for another 60 seconds by holding on, holding on, and refusing to quit. What was he fighting for? Pride, those moments of glory, the dull sparkle? Pick what works for you, but he was fighting. Ambrose then found some space and found a left hook with a right chop that sent Errol Christie down for the last time in a loop.
It wasn’t quite over – the ending was never so quick in the last moments of real life in careers like Kristi. Every awesome moment lasts forever.
He stayed for a second and then moved, his eyes adjusting to the strange situation. In the ringside row, Andy, his brother, was still throwing ridiculous punches that would save the fight. Faith is never short in our game, and it is often next to illusion. This is beside the disaster. Christie almost sat at “three” and “four”, but then fell hard on his side. The count stopped at about “seven”. Phil and Billy entered the ring, followed by Andy. They went to their man, their fighter, their brother. The Doctor joined them in their protective assembly, and Ambrose arrived through the assembly with a wrecking glove to pat Christie tenderly on the head.
On the floor, in that grueling episode, Christy said to Phil and Billy, “It’s over.” It certainly was.
In the dressing room, hiding his bruised head and face behind a green towel, Kristi sat down to answer our questions – I was with Daily SportSteve Lillis, the only two writers there. We didn’t have anything, we just listened.
“Which round was it?” Christie asked him and Grant told him it was the second. “I never felt like I was in a fight and that’s it now. I’m ending it all now. Fighting is my thing, but it’s over now. It’s the end of the road for me. I’ve had enough.” This was met with silence.
Andy tried to convince him to keep fighting. It never went well with Martin and his frank children.
Martin pulled me to one side, out of earshot: “He’s gone knowing he’s gone. There’s no physical deterioration, but his resistance to his punches is gone.”
Martin rarely avoids hard facts and a few seconds later Christie says the same thing.
“I don’t know what this is?” Follow Kristi. “I’ve been boxing for a long time and my resistance to my punches is gone. I just got caught and then I’m gone. I’m out, my boxing life is over.” And then, as we passed in silence and began to leave with only lame words upon our exit, he looked up: “I was the original you know, before Benn and Watson and Eubank, I was: I was meant to be the star.”
We knew, that’s why we were there for the end of Errol Christie’s boxing life. It wasn’t much easier for Kristi. He went to schools to talk about knife crime, taught white-collar warriors, sold children’s clothes in the market, experimented with comics, wrote a book and remained the cutest man. It ended up in a south London hospice and here I saw him smile for the last time.