Grim Reaper’s Last Stand

As the swimming world revels in Ian Thorpe’s shock return to the pool after five years on dry land, another former world champion his hit the comeback trail with a fraction of the fanfare that greeted Thorpedo’s sporting renaissance. Robin Reid, the former Olympic medallist and WBC super-middleweight champion, has decided to give the unforgiving world of professional boxing another crack after a four-year hiatus, during which time his charisma, good looks and physical attributes have been utilised in the marginally safer world of pornographic movies…

But, while Thorpe – a mere slip of a lad at 28 – prepares to face nothing more dangerous than an eyeful of chlorine, ‘The Grim Reaper’ Reid is embarking on a comeback in the toughest game of all at the age of 39. In fact, Reid will have hit the big 4-0 when he ducks his head through the ropes at the next instalment of Barry Hearn’s Prizefighter tournament on March 23; an age when, for many men, a brisk walk to the off-licence counts as physical exertion.

Sporting comebacks are usually inspired by one of three things: unfinished business (George Foreman); the desperate need to be in the spotlight again (Bjorn Borg); or money (nearly everyone else…). Reid insists he’s comfortable, having trousered a healthy amount of cash during his 14-year career in the prize ring, yet he still cannot resist the lure of the bright lights, the heat of battle and the buzz of competition.

The Runcorn fighter enjoyed a stellar career; winning a bronze medal in the light-middleweight division at the 1992 Olympics, before upsetting Italy’s Vincenzo Nardiello four years later to secure the WBC 12-stone title on hostile territory in Milan. He successfully defended the belt three times, and went on to give Joe Calzaghe the hardest fight of his career in a 1999 WBO title battle at the Telewest Arena in Newcastle. Reid lost a split points verdict in a contest that I, for one, thought he won.

However, my standout memory of Reid was his frustrating and sometimes comical challenge for Sven Ottke’s IBF and WBA super-middleweight crown in December 2003. At the time, Ottke was the biggest ticket-seller in German boxing despite possessing limited ability, somehow manoeuvering himself into the position of unbeaten world champion and national icon thanks to magnificent management and ingenious promotion. However, rumours were rife that judges were being slipped a few bob to make sure Ottke maintained his lofty position at the head of Germany’s boxing table, and his ‘fight’ with Reid in Nuremberg did nothing to dispel the gossip.

For the first few rounds Ottke looked as though he’d prefer to swap places with Andy Gray and Richard Keys at a Women’s Institute convention rather than share a ring with the physically imposing Reid. And, when the German did attempt to trade blows, his punches were so light that if he pounded on your front door you probably wouldn’t hear him. Then, in the sixth, Reid sent Ottke crashing to the canvas with a huge left hook. Referee Henry Tillerman ruled it a slip… Later in the fight Reid was given a warning… for punching Ottke flush in the face. “This is the worst officiating I’ve seen in my 17 years in boxing,” said ringside commentator Duke McKenzie. Ottke, predictably, won a points decision. The whole episode stank, but Reid brushed off the disappointment with typical good humour.

“You don’t expect any favours fighting in Germany, but at least Dick Turpin wore a striped jumper and a mask when he robbed people,” he fumed at ringside.

“I had no chance of winning, even if my mum and my two best mates were doing the scoring.”

Even if Reid’s comeback at Prizefighter fails to yield the trophy and the winner’s cheque for 32 grand, I’d like to think he’ll at least have a few more one-liners up his sleeve.

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