By: Gianluca (Rio) Di Caro
One of the UK’s most exciting and talented Super Middleweights of the nineties and early naughties, Toks Owoh, made his return to the ring late last year and is now set to start his second championship campaign, albeit at Cruiserweight, in earnest at the Steve Goodwin promoted ‘Unleash The Fury’ Super Show at York Hall in Bethnal Green, London, on the 5th March 2011.
Throughout the 1990s Toks established a reputation as one of the toughest and most talented boxers to emerge on the British scene. One thing you could guarantee is plenty of excitement when Toks fought, his no nonsense all action approach ensured either an early stoppage finish, or if it went the distance an all action full on war to the final bell.
As early as his fourth professional bout Toks was well and truly on Frank Warren’s radar, and by his sixth was signed by the aforementioned Frank Warren to his Sports Network promotions company.
Throughout the nineties Toks built up a formidable 13-1 record, with no less than ten of his wins being by stoppage or knockout. His one and only loss in the 1990s came at the hands of New Jersey hardman Omar Sheika in 1998. By the dawn of the new millennium Toks was ranked #3 in the world and was already being touted as the World Champion in waiting.
Toks fought anyone that was willing to get in the ring with him. The year 2000 epitomised his willingness to do just this. In February he took on tough Ukrainian Kostyantyn Okhrey and firmly disposed of him in the fourth.
Then in June Toks traveled to Burton-on-Trent to face Hull’s Tony Booth for the second time in his career. At the weigh-in Toks came in at 169lbs, but Booth came in at 180lbs, a whopping eleven pounds heavier. Toks just shrugged this off and the fight went on regardless. Unsurprisingly Toks punished Booth by stopping him in the third round.
Three months later Toks finally gets a title shot, for the IBF Inter-Continental Super Middleweight belt. Originally Toks opponent was to be tough African southpaw Joe Lieya, but just a few days before the fight he pulled out and Glen Johnson stepped in.
Again Toks just accepted the situation, even though he had been training for a southpaw, and another all out war ensued, however this time it was Toks that got stopped in the sixth round.
After such a glorious career Toks more or less dropped off the radar, only making the occasional return to the ring during the next five years.
His final fight was against Paul Bonson in a four rounder Cruiserweight contest at the Equinox Night Club in London on the 24th July 2005, Toks won and then seemed to just disappear from boxing altogether. That is until now.
Earlier this week Toks popped in to the Ultrachem TKO Gym in Canning Town to chat with me, I spent a highly entertaining hour or so with him where he happily answered my questions, although have to be honest and admit I didn’t get to use all my pre-prepared questions as Toks covered them as he chatted away. So without further ado I am proud to present a conversation with Mr Toks Owoh - the unabridged version.
Rio - Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. My first question is an obvious one. Why did you retire and why did you choose to come out of retirement now?
Toks Owoh - Actually I did not want to retire, because that’s not my style. When I lost to Glen Johnson my comeback fight after that was supposed to be against Richie Woodhall for the WBU World title.
That’s when I was with Frank Warren. I went away to train for the fight, come back and the fight did not happen because Richie Woodhall pulled out. He said he had a bad back and retired after that.
There was no replacement for me. You know it’s like training for a war, but there’s no war. You know what I mean, you’re building an army but there’s no war. At the end of the day it’s like me wasting my money and there’s nobody to reimburse me for the money I’d already spent and that kind of hurt me, I was very disappointed with the promotion I was with at that time and I took a step back.
I was supposed to have another fight, which was supposed to be a warm up fight and that did not happen. So I left the promotion and took a couple of months off.
I went to another promoter and had a couple of fights with them, probably three or four fights and after that I decided to take a bit of a rest because I had been trying to keep my weight down for so long. I’d been at Super Middleweight for nearly ten years, that’s a very hard thing to do, staying at the same weight. So I thought you know what I’m going to give my body a rest for a couple of months.
I had a fight in 2005 at Cruiserweight just to give my body a rest. So I decided I’m not going to do Super Middleweight no more and I’m going to move up, because I couldn’t keep to the weight, it was killing me making the weight.
Then my Mum passed away, so I went to Africa to bury my Mum. Afterwards I come back to England to resume my career. A year and half into that I done my brain scan, medical and everything and ready to fight and my Dad passed away so it was like a double blow for me.
When my Dad passed away that was very, very difficult for me because, not only did I love my Mum and Dad, there’d been there for me. I was the only one born in England, out of twenty three kids. One of my Brothers is in Chicago, the eldest, so I have no choice after him it’s me. So I had no choice but to go back home, because my Dad had businesses over there, Hotels, Bakery, Restaurants and everything over there. I had no choice but to go home to bury my Dad and make sure everything is OK for my brothers and sisters , you know what I mean. I went over there, secured that, then when I come back and when I come back decided it was time to finish the unfinished business.
Rio - You’ve been right up there, ranked #3 in the world and fought for a major title - The IBF Inter-Continental against Glen Johnson. Could you give me your view of the fight with Glen?
Toks - When I fought Glen Johnson I was #3 in the World, I was rated high by the WBO and IBF. I was rated very high at that time. At that time I was undefeated for a long time. With Glenn Johnson I don’t want to say that he beat me fair and square. I’m not the kind of person that cries over spilt milk. I lost, I lost, I failed to prepare properly and I failed.
I failed to prepare properly and my body wasn’t right at the time. I was carrying an injury nobody knew about. I was in the situation where I had sold a lot of tickets. I was young, stupid and sold a lot of tickets so wanted to fight.
If you look at my record, look at my fights with Sports Network you’ll see that I sold a lot of tickets.
My fans come to watch me, but often the opponent pull out, that happened four or five times, it’s painful, nothing’s more painful than that. I’d rather fight and lose than let the fans down. It’s the most painful thing when someone pulls out. It hurts me more than anything. Not just that but also the pay day, it’s the only job that I have. Apart from the pay day the pain that you go through in the gym, letting the fans down hurts more than anything.
Coming back to the Glen Johnson fight it went six rounds, hard six rounds. I believe the hardest six rounds that he’s ever had. If you watch the tape, he tells me that he wasn’t expecting that.
You have to remember for that fight I was supposed to fight another guy, who was a southpaw. I was training for a southpaw. The mistake I made was to take the Glen Johnson fight too soon. I took the fight because I didn’t want to pull out because the guy I was due to be fighting pulled out. So they got me someone that had just fought for the IBF World title. Just three days before they told me the opponent had been changed from someone that could have been easier to a really hard one.
I’m a warrior, a fighter and I do this for a living. At the end of the day I got into the ring and I did my best. I wasn’t well, I wasn’t well at all. I was taking tablets for the pain in my side for weeks and weeks before the fight. But I wanted to get the title so bad and I didn’t want to let the fans down.
I gave him a good fight, he stopped Roy Jones in two rounds, I gave him a good fight, he didn’t knock me out. I was stopped on my feet. It was a good fight.
Rio - How badly did that loss affect you?
Toks - The effect of that loss was huge, that could have propelled me to something big, it was huge. This is the question, was I unlucky to get Glen Johnson at that day. But everything happens for a reason. There’s a reason why I am alive today, there’s a lot of people from then that are dead now. There’s a purpose because I am going to become a champion. Plus I had the opportunity to do it . I’ve been in a lot of dog fights but I haven’t been bashed up. I’m still fresh, in my mind I’m still fresh.
Glen Johnson got to fight for many titles and that could have been me if everything was right, if the body and the mind was right and that’s boxing for you. That’s the reason I’m back now I believe in this division. I’m comfortable at this weight and I don’t believe that anybody in this division can live with me.
I’m used to big guys. When I was twelve stone I was sparring people heavier than me, taller than me, so weight is nothing to me. I carry the punch from Super Middleweight to Cruiserweight. I can feel that on the bag, when I spar, I carry that with me.
Rio - On March 5th you are now set to face Billy Boyle after JJ Ojuederie pulled out. Do you know much about Billy and how do you see the fight going?
Toks - I’ve only seen bits and pieces of this guy Billy Boyle. He’s alright. I don’t condemn any fighters. I don’t say I’m going to this or do that. When I was younger I was a little bit Yeah I’m gonna do this and that, bit things are different now in Boxing, anything can happen.
You have to understand that I’m thirty eight years old now and my body isn’t the same as I used to be before. I’m good and there’s no real difference, that’s the weight. I’m still me, anyone that comes in the ring with me will get a good fight. It’s not going to be easy for them. Simple, it’s gonna be a very hard fight
With Billy Boyle I’m not going to say it’s gonna be easy, nothing is easy, it’s gonna be a hard fight but I’m gonna try and make it easy, because I believe I have been in this game longer than him. My experience, my power and I’ve got a variety of punches. I’ve mixed with the best, Chris Eubanks, Roy Jones, all of them I sparred. I learn a lot from them.
Rio - Your comeback fight was against Hastings Rasani at Heavyweight, you won it, could you tell me your thoughts on the fight?
Toks - Yeah that was at Heavyweight, but I’m really a Cruiserweight now, it was my come back fight and I was sixteen stone.
Hastings Rasani, God, I have to be honest with you, anybody and I’m talking about anybody after six years off to come back with Hastings Rasani. He beat JJ Ojuederei, he beat Leon Williams and he beat Bruce Scott.
To come back with Hastings Rasani as my first fight after six years, come on, to be honest with you I could have stopped him, I wasn’t in my best shape, I was flabby. I was say fourty percent in shape. I only had four months to prepare for that fight, I had a lot to catch up on. My experience and the way I know what I know in the ring that’s what got me through the fight. I wasn’t in any trouble at all with Hastings Rasani.
If you watch that fight I could have stopped him in the first round, but I took a step back and let me see how I would go for four rounds and get that into my blood stream. It’s not about taking people out it’s about getting the work out. When people get to know me they know I go about things the hard way and Hastings Rasani is doing it the hard way.
Rio - You’ve been a championship fighter, are you looking for titles on this your second campaign?
Toks - Obviously I’m looking to title fights. The British Boxing Board of Control owe me big time. The only reason I am saying that is because I have been a pro since 1994 or ‘95, it may even be ‘93 I can’t remember. (ed: since 1995). I’ve never done anything to tarnish the name of the game, you know what I mean, I’ve never take drugs, I’ve never fight outside the ring. I’ve always carried my way in the nicest way possible, I’m nice to people who are nice to me, I’ve been good to them and now it is their time to be good to me, in the way of giving me a title shot.
The British Boxing Board of Control should sanction me to fight for the British title. At one time for the Super Middleweight British title they gave it to David Starie and not me. Starie defended the title against Dean Francis. The board asked me to fight David Starie then for some reason between Frank Warren and the board they asked me which one I want, David Starie or Richie Woodhall, but they went for Richie Woodhall and the WBU title but personally I wanted to go for David Starie. You know, that’s what I want but they convinced me to go for the WBU. I said to the board no, I want to go for David Starie.
I fought about everybody around at that time, my record is strong, it’s not their place to go telling me I have to fight for these. My body is right and I make the weight, I should be fighting for the British title, I shouldn’t be going for the Southern Area because I passed that a long time ago. Know what I mean I passed that a long time ago. Southern Area is people up and coming, that’s what the Southern Area is supposed to be about, it’s about people with seven fights or so to give them their first taste of title boxing. I’ve had over twenty fights and I’ve mixed with the best in the World. At the end of the day if I’m going to start somewhere, they should start me of with the British title fight. You know what I mean, I don’t mind if I have to work for it, have a couple of fights for it. If I have to have an eliminator I don’t mind, but that’s what I deserve. I deserve that and I’m asking that from the board.
I talked to one of the guys from the Board, can’t remember his name, he was very nice and he said yeah Toks have a couple of fights and we’ll see.
Rio - Who do you have on the radar for future fights, especially bearing in mid your championship intentions?
Toks - Most of these guys in this division don’t want to fight me, know what I mean, we’re talking about Billy Boyle, he’s really a Light Heavyweight so I have to really, really move down to fourteen stone six or fourteen stone four for Billy Boyle. That’s a Cruiserweight Championship fight weight limit.
At the end of the day I put it on JJ Ojuederie, but he don’t want to know, you know what I mean, I understand JJ saying he don’t want to fight me, he don’t want to know.
We approached Leon Williams, he didn’t want to know. I like Leon Williams, when I was boxing for a title he was an amateur at that time. I remember when he was coming to the gym. He used to look up to me. I like him, he’s someone I like. But he’s someone in my way to getting the title. He’s a Cruiserweight and I’m a Cruiserweight and if you are going to get somewhere you got to get down or lay down. Move out of the way or get moved over, simple if you wont move out of the way I’ll move him over. If he wants me I’m here, the old man is here. That goes for all of them.
Matty Askin, he’s on my radar right now, Ricky Hatton (Askin’s promoter) is my boy, we knew each other well at one time, hopefully he’ll make it happen with his boy. Leon Williams I want him if he’ll have it.
Terry Dunston, how can I say, Terry and I go way, way back. He knows I’m a ruffian, me and Terry are around the same age. Like I said if anybody isn’t going to move over then I’ll make them move over. No disrespect for Terry, Terry’s my boy and he don’t have to move over I’m talking about the kids. With Terry it’s if it happens it happens as I’m not backing down for nobody. If it happens it happens but I’m saying, respect, Terry’s my boy and there’s some places you can’t go because of the respect for someone because of where we’ve been, because of the bond we have from the past. But if the worse comes to worse and we have to do it, then fuck it we’ll do it.
Anyone else in the top ten, you know Herbie Hide, whoever I don’t know them so that’s OK, Terry, it would be hard to fight Terry you know what I mean. Anybody else, Herbie Hide, Rob Norton, anybody else can get it, Leon Williams can get it. I want the guy that beat Leon Williams but JJ Ojuederie is not even on my radar no more, he had his chance.
Rio - Your ring name is Viper, how did you come to have that moniker?
Toks - The Viper, I was the first Viper, at that time Bobby Vanzie was around, but I was number one Viper. I turned professional way before Vanzie, way, way before Vanzie. At that time in the British Boxing Board of Control they asked for your nickname and my nickname was the Viper, you can check this out with the Boxing Board of Control. When Vanzie come he could box like a Viper as well.
It’s still there, it’s the eye to see where the punch can go in that split second. I’ve still got that, you see that in the gym, the Viper spit. You might see that on the fifth as I don’t like overtime. I’m in the mood now with the training I have for this fight is one hundred percent. With Rasani I was just fourty percent. You’re gonna see my body shape, your gonna see what my body looks like, for that fight and this fight. I look more compact and you’ll see the zip of my punches . It’s going to be different I know that. When I feel this way I am confident about the fight.
Rio - Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers about Toks Owoh?
Toks - Before the end of the year I believe I am working toward a World title because I want to try and rack everything together. You know what I mean, the way Boxing works is funny sometimes. I was managed by Frank Warren for nearly six years, there’s a funny story to that. A lot of people have to go to the Olympics, ABA to get with Frank Warren. I didn’t even ask for him, he asked for me, you understand.
At that time I was managed by Mr Akai at All Stars, a wonderful man and I had four fights, four knockouts. In my amateur career I had a fight with a guy called Jimmy Branch and he was a very good amateur, he was top amateur, and he beat me senseless. In my first international he beat me senseless.
Years down the line, that was when I was nineteen, when I am twenty three and professional so I was packing my bags to go to America to train with Eddie Fuchs, Eddie Fuchs was still alive at that time. I went to America to spar with Jimmy Little so when I was over there they say how many fights you had and I say I’ve had just four fights. They say you know what who are you with. I didn’t have a big contract with anybody who could look after me. Eddie Fuchs say that he will look after me.
I came back to England to sell my properties and things to move over there and the call came through to me, I was with Mr Akai, but Ernie Fossey call me for a fight, I don’t know where he got my number but he called me. They were looking after Jimmy Little, he asked me what I was weighing at the moment, I’ve never talked with Ernie Fossey in my life since that day. He says they were going to use me for an opening for Jimmy Branch. So they got me for Jimmy Branch even though I didn’t want to fight Jimmy Branch because the memory of him beating me so bad that I couldn’t swallow a banana after the fight, my body was just numb. So that was still on my mind. Four or five years down the line, I’m a man now not a boy and the memory was still there.
But the only thing that made me take the fight was when they mentioned the money they were going to give me was five grand, that’s a lot of money, that would help me out over there. So you know what I say that I’ll take it. For that kind of money, hell yes I’ll take the fight.
So I took the fight and went to Norwich, on the way to Norwich was me, Israel, John and Trevor and our car had an accident. No lie our car rolled over twice and then boom. We thought we were dead. If you believe in destiny I had been going there thinking I would do my best, I will try and win, I am undefeated so whatever happens, happens.
After the accident i was pumped up. When we got there we probably had four or five people supporting me and Ian Napa, who was just coming forward with Frank Warren.
I knocked him out, it was one of the fastest knockouts of the year - fifty seven seconds. I knocked him out, it was wonderful it was revenge. It was beautiful you know.
They didn’t give me my money that day so they asked me to come in to the office to come and collect the money. I’d already booked my ticket to go to America and when I got to the office Frank made me a tea and asked me to sit down and then asked me to join his promotion. A lot of people chase them, I didn’t chase them and I would love to sign with them but when you phone Sports Network you aint getting nowhere, you know what I mean.
There’s nothing boring about Toks Owoh, Sky TV will tell you any fight I’m in something happens in them, if it goes the distance it will be a dog fight. That’s one thing with me just look at my fights with Glen Johnson, Tony Booth. I had two wars with Tony Booth, when Tony Booth was good. So I go with Frank Warren. I can’t say too much about Frank Warren, I enjoyed my time with Sports Network.
Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to work with them again. I left them they did not leave me. I decided to go because I wasn’t getting the fights I wanted. They released me and there was no court case or anything. Maybe one day I’ll get to fight one of their boys. I know they’ve got Cruiserweights over there.
At the end of the day I can see myself fighting for a World title, if every thing goes well, body well, mind well. With the promoter I’ve got now, he’s a good guy, if the plan goes well. I can sense it by the way he talks to me. He’s very nice, very genuine, straight forward and he tries best to make things work. He’s the kind of person I like and that’s the way Frank Warren used to be when I first was with him.
Rio - Thank you so much, I honestly enjoyed our chat together and genuinely wish you the success you clearly deserve.
Toks - Thank you, I wasn’t sure about coming here but glad I did. I enjoyed it too and will see you at the fight.
Toks Owoh versus Billy Boyle headlines the Steve Goodwin promoted ‘Unleash The Fury’ event at York Hall, Bethnal Green, London on Saturday 5th March, and is supported by a top class eleven bout card that includes the return of the magnificent Michael Grant and another chance to see sensational Dutch Cruiserweight prospect Mitchell Balker in action, plus much, much more.
Tickets for Unleash The Fury at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, London on Saturday 5th March 2011 are on sale now - priced £35 (Unreserved) or £60 (Ringside). and are available on-line at www.tkoboxoffice.com, call 07960 850645 or in person at The Ultrachem TKO Gym, Gillian House, Stephenson Street, Canning Town, London E16 4SA.