Anthony Leaver pays tribute to a man to whom Matchroom and British boxing owe a huge debt
AT my first Matchroom Boxing show I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I remember the first person to speak to me was an energetic old geezer in a garish waistcoat called Sandy who didn’t like the look of me on sight.
“Do you know boxing then?” he asked suspiciously.
“No sir, not really.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, I have to teach you too, f**king great.”
And boy did he teach me. Because that was Sandy Risley. He was a cantankerous bugger for 10 seconds and then would go out of his way to help you. A giant of a man that Matchroom and boxing will miss dearly.
I realised quickly that Sandy was not to be messed with – but always to be listened to. And that’s his legacy in a nutshell: Honesty. Fighters would say “I won that” and he would say “no you didn’t” and tell it straight. There was no ego – only honesty. And isn’t honesty better? Something to learn from. Don’t we miss that? Truth from the heart instead of cheerleading. Sandy didn’t mean to offend – he just wanted fighters to improve and learn. If he said you were unfit, he meant you could improve and he would help – and given he was running marathons at 61, he knew plenty about fitness.
I was fascinated by Sandy’s history. He worked for Leyton Orient for years, dragging Barry Hearn around marathon courses with his boundless energy and those wiry legs the perfect fuel to keep the competitive Essex entrepreneur on course for countless personal bests. Sandy was no paceman; in truth, he probably held back. But all he ever wanted was for people to better themselves and those images of Barry and Sandy running have never been more special.
A fitness fanatic, Sandy knew how to ensure boxers made the weight safely. John Wischusen said to me this week: “There was nobody better than Sandy when you had a foreign boxer who had just flown in overweight. One time, a Mexican arrived heavy, and as he was shadow boxing, he indicated he could do no more. Sandy promptly stripped off his clothes, and stood there in just his pants, and started doing the workout the fighter said he couldn’t. He was 23, Sandy was 72. The other hotel guests looked on in amazement, the fighter was embarrassed, resumed the workout with Sandy and made weight.”
The news of Sandy’s death hit like a wet towel to the face, but the likes of Tony Bellew, Gary Lockett and Barry McGuigan spoke with such affection, and them taking time to pay tribute says it all: Sandy was truly adored.
Hearing from his son Gary, he lived the life he wanted to the fullest and he was loved by all of us, and that’s what matters. We’re all feeling a little blue these days, but Sandy wouldn’t accept anyone wallowing for him. And we wouldn’t be where we are without Sandy.
I can’t speak for those that knew him longer than me, but 12 years ago he gave me a good talking to, and I’ve loved the fella ever since. Sandy taught me the sport and now I am living in New York and working for the biggest promoter in the world in the best city in the world – and that’s in no small part thanks to him; because he was so kind, helpful and generous with his time.
So, RIP Sandy. British boxing loves you and I love you even more my friend.