The MALESTROM’s resident boxing aficionado recalls some brutal bloody bouts and talks candidly with the man who knows how to keep his fighter in the game until the final bell.
SOMEWHERE in the bowels of Las Vegas amidst the chaos of fight week an ageing fighter cries out to a face in the crowd.
“Hey you! Yes you….cuts man!”
All eyes turn to the voice and then to a white-haired gent who looks up with a “who me?” look on his face.
“I thought I was outa there in the second round, man,” shouts the fighter.
“I thought I was home. Hey cuts man….you mother f****r!”
There is a moment’s pause in the cavernous hotel anteroom which is humming with media, hucksters and fight fans, and then the face of former IBF light welterweight champ Vince Phillips cracks a broad mischievous grin.
His words were delivered with humour and a smile that said “respect”.
The cuts man is Mick Williamson and those witnessing this boxing cameo nod in recognition of the compliment the London cabbie has just been paid by the American former champ.
Williamson of course stemmed the blood from an awful first-round cut opened by Phillips above Ricky Hatton’s right eye way back in their 2003 fight in Manchester for the WBU bauble.
It was deft and skilled corner work when the stakes were at their highest for Hatton who back then stood on the brink of a journey unique in British boxing history.
It was work that arguably changed the trajectory of Hatton’s career, and indeed the career of Phillips, who would never make it back to the top.
The Hitman went on to a unanimous points decision that night, the cut playing no significant role in the bout, or for that matter, in the result of any of his major fights for which Williamson was a permanent fixture in his corner.
When Vince Phillips and Williamson briefly renewed their acquaintance, the Hatton freight train had rolled into Vegas for the Hitman’s hard-fought 2007 victory over Colombian Juan Urango.
In characteristic understated style Williamson, now 70, chuckles at the memory from the living room of his comfortable home in north London.
“I just smiled back at Vince and went about my business,” he says.
“I knew what he was saying.”
It wasn’t the first time, and nor would it be the last Williamson would be the difference between victory and defeat for Hatton or for many others.
He was in Hatton’s corner the night he beat Kostya Tszyu in June 2005 for the IBF light welterweight belt and more significantly for the Hitman’s first defence and unification bout in Sheffield later that year with WBA champ Carlos Maussa when he was again cut badly before knocking out the Colombian in the ninth.
Williamson’s skills have seen him work the corner of many of Britain’s best fighters who recognise what he does in the precious 60 seconds between rounds can make or break their careers.
Just ask Paul Smith who survived a blood bath in 2010 to take a points win to retain the British super middleweight title in his first meeting with Tony Dodson.
He was cut on the left eye in the first round and then suffered two more cuts on the forehead and scalp. But Williamson staunched the flow well enough for Smith’s hand to be raised in victory.
Or ask Tony Bellew who again survived an horrific gash over his right eye in the third against tough Argentinian Roberto Bollonti in 2012 to keep his light heavyweight hopes alive.
Smith went on to fight for world honours, as did Bellew who held the WBC Cruiserweight and may go on to fight for a Heavyweight belt after that infamous fight against David Haye. Both men have Williamson in part to thank for their success.
Also consider the bloody career of battle-hungry bantamweight Johnny Armour, who was rarely in a fight when he didn’t cut.
“I was with Johnny right from the beginning and I remember around his 24th fight I worked out that there were only two fights when he didn’t cut,” recalls Williamson, who still drives a London cab.
“In some ways I learned my trade with Johnny. Put it this way, I got a lot of practice with him.
“But I remember the first Paul Smith Tony Dodson fight well.
“The referee Phil Edwards could have stopped it at any time but fair play to him.
“I was also in Joe Selkirk’s corner that night at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.
“He knocked out an Iranian kid called Manoocha Salari in about 30 seconds and he was joking about me not earning my money.
“So I took him to see Paul who was getting stitched up at the back of the dressing room and I said to Joe ‘here you go mate, do you want a bit of value too?’ and he soon saw the funny side of what he had said.”
When Jon Thaxton cut Ricky Hatton badly in the opening round of their 2000 clash for the British light welterweight belt only to go on to lose on points, the Norwich fighter’s sentiments echoed those of Vince Phillips.
“Jon came up to me after and shook my my hand and said: ‘F**k me Mick, I thought I had my mortgage paid.’”
So how do you becomes the best cuts man in the business?
“Luck,” says Williamson matter of factly, “and a good referee who doesn’t panic and gives you the opportunity to do the job if you are needed.
“But I had the good fortune in the early days to work with Ernie Fossey, Danny Holland and Dennie Mancini.
“I owe them a lot.
“Ernie always used to say good referees make good cuts men.
“I’ve also had the great fortune to work with great fighters who cut. Silly as that sounds that has helped me.”
Growing up in Bermondsey in south London in the 50s and 60s it was inevitable boxing would be in his blood.
A bout of TB curtailed his early amateur career and by the time he found his way back to the sport in the 70s it would be as trainer at the Islington Boxing Club over the Old Red Lion in Islington, crossing paths and absorbing everything about the sport from the likes of Fossey, Mancini and Holland.
So what are the secrets of the cuts man?
“No great secrets,” says Williamson
“Of course you need your 1 to 1000 adrenaline, swab sticks of different sizes for different size cuts which you make up yourself with cotton wool and then your medicated gauze and your vaseline and maybe an End-swell.
“But I always say never touch a cut. Even gauze is slightly abrasive and can make a cut worse. I just use it to wipe around the eye or the cut.
“I use pressure, either side of the cut. I press really hard and then put the adrenaline into the cut but I don’t squeeze it in because all you would do is squeeze it out. I’ve seen people do that. The adrenaline acts as a coagulant. You have to make sure it stays in the cut.
“You do that with a little vaseline on top to seal the adrenaline in. It is common sense when you know what you are doing.
“It is really important that the adrenaline is at body temperature too because if it’s too cold it makes the blood rush to it which is the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
“You store the adrenaline in the fridge but by fight time it needs to be at body temperature and you do that by keeping it in your pocket.
“It’s simple stuff but it works much much better.
“I always say to the officials to put it in their pockets before they give it to me.
“Sometimes they say the other trainer has told them to keep it in the ice bucket and I say keep his in the bucket and mine in your pocket thank you very much!
“There are some people with a bit of cotton wool and a bit of gauze who don’t know what they are doing.
“And they don’t have their act together ready for the end of the round. You’ve got 60 seconds and you have to be ready. “That’s the job.”
With his services more in demand than ever Williamson has no plans to quit and has little time for those who would over complicate the sport.
He added: “Ernie Fossey simplified everything when he gave advice and I’ve stuck to those principles.
“Common sense and keeping it simple helps the fighter.
“And all this ranting and raving that goes on is no good.
“You have to learn to keep calm because you are under pressure and sometimes on a massive stage.
“We get nervous like anyone or the excitement of a fight can get to you.
“A little thing Ernie taught me was to rest an elbow on the ropes to keep my hand steady if I was nervous or excited. It works. You have to keep your head. The fighter is depending on you.
“My psychology is very much to keep my mouth shut.
“And if a fighter asks how bad the cut is I tell him to shut up and worry about fighting and I’ll worry about the bleeding.”
David has been writing about boxing since 1995 starting for Boxing Monthly as their reporter doing British, European, Commonwealth and World title fights. He says it was a privilege to be their York Hall man covering fights there and others on the domestic scene. After a move to Scotland he became The Scotsman’s boxing writer (as well as news editor). He now contributes to Boxing Monthly, doing features.
Contact him at: email@example.com