It's not far from Las Vegas to Calcutta
Boxer, Terrence Alli went up with his friends and is still down on his own By William Walker
February 29, 2004
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I missed the turn off to Terence Alli's house. The road to Berbice dribbles along after the Mahaicony bridge with turns that look the same with the same jarring potholes past homes with the same deranged bougainvillea.
I was looking for the Burma turn but it was not sign-posted and when I went over the Abary bridge, I knew it was too far, turned around and asked a boy mixing cement on the roadway at a village called Calcutta. Immediately he pointed to a dam - "third house on the left" - and there was a man banging in a post on his property, thick biceps with the tattoo, 'Rodlyn Love Forever,' and he knew it was me and I knew it was him.
You don't become a championship boxer without determination. It had been a few weeks since I had sent a message through two people that I wanted to see Alli, and the next day a voice with a thick slur which suggested someone older, less agile, had come on the phone, "Anytime you can come, I am always home." And I had put him off and he called two more times until it was clear this interview was important to him.
I sat in his living room, with its faded green walls, a framed certificate from the Burnham Agricultural College and a water-stained picture of him much younger with a man in a tuxedo. On a coffee table was a belt for the USBA championship, tarnished and dusty.
There was no electricity, no phone, and a large television, a precursor of the flat screens that must weigh a ton, lay moulding in the corner. One bedroom had a sheetless piece of foam on a bed frame. There was no sign of a woman's presence.
I sat on his suite. He said he had brought it down in the mid-nineties, a kind of rococo faux Louis XV set-up with lots of carved curls and lush upholstery covered in plastic. The suite was the kind of thing young flush boxers get duped into paying way too much for. Now threadbare, there was a huge chunk torn out of the sofa's arm revealing dingy yellow foam.
Outside the yard smelt of chickens and the two goats Alli minds.
He bathed quickly and settled down in one of the armchairs, still agile, powerfully built in the shoulders with hardly a belly. But his face bore the scars of a boxer. His right eye gazed down and away with a dead-fish stare. He had two surgeries in the US for it. "The doctor says it's some loose tissue; I can't see too well out of it." The slur, which observers say was not there while he was fighting, suggests some mental impairment, but in fact Alli's mind is perfectly lucid and he can remember the dates of many of his fights, even particular rounds or how he won or lost. Fights that many Guyanese will never forget.
Every boxer has a tipping point, a moment in their career when they become past their prime. "It was just before the Julio Cesar Chavez fight, I found myself not being able to get my punches off and the sparring partner was beating me. I didn't think much of it and thought I would work through it."
The Chavez fight was Alli's biggest pay day - US$200,000 - and as he recalls he had to bargain hard to get it. He had lost his edge and says perhaps Chavez knew that. He lost but says any time he saw Chavez after that the Mexican would always say, "Alli time, Alli time," as if to encourage him that he would one day be champion. Instead it was the beginning of a slow but steady decline which would eventually see him fighting for as little as $6000 in Sweden, and losing at home to a young Six Head Lewis.
Alli was born in 1960 in Linden, one of thirteen children. "I always liked the limelight and was disgusting, wanting to be the baddest even though I was smaller," he recalls. "My mother did not have time to mind me." At 17 he joined the Bauxite Bombers gym and pretty soon was making a name for himself, in 1978 becoming the only Guyanese to win all three titles at the amateur, novice, junior and open. In the meantime he joined the bauxite company, Guybau, as a casual employee.
His first pro-fight was against Walter Goodridge, which he won on a decision and it would be one of many in the next two decades which would see him fighting in New York, Australia, Las Vegas, Italy, France and Sweden.
Now, 23 years later, he has little to show for it except the belt and a suitcase full of mildewed photos of him doing his trademark back flip, or holding up a hand in victory.
"Everyone say Alli do drugs, smoke all his money away or go behind girls, but I have never drunk a beer in my life, I never did drugs, I never partied. When I was preparing for a fight I would stay in my hotel room."
Alli says he has been let down by numerous unreliable people who he entrusted with his money and properties: an accountant in New York, partners here who were supposed to manage a truck he shipped down. It's now parked on the side of the road a few villages away. "I shipped down stereo sets, they took out all the parts... equipment for my wife's hair salon..." Saddest of all is that his wife, Rodyln, whom he took at age 15 but never legally married, chose to live in a house with a pool he bought in Miami from the Chavez pay day rather than come back to Guyana. "She didn't want to come down here. You know Guyanese women, she would feel shamed about taking a minibus after being married to a champion."
And he doesn't see or hear much from his four grown kids despite becoming a grandfather recently. He gets a barrel once in a while. Regrets? "Yes I regret coming to my homeland, you know Mohammed Ali had a saying, 'You go with the people and you go down by yourself.' But I am proud that I have never begged for nothing."
Like many fighters he never admits he deserved to lose, even now when he has no compulsion to brag or be defensive. The Chavez fight was a premature stoppage. "He knocked me down and the referee sent Chavez in the corner. I took the standing eight count and the next thing Chavez is celebrating and the ref stopped the fight."
Or this, on a late knock-down in a bout in St Tropez for the WBC: "I won it. I was given nine out of 12 rounds. But you know fighters are always told to win the final round and I got caught."
More than one local fight fan said Alli took way too many punches, five for every three he landed. "No way, I was always a clever puncher... My style was always to keep punching, never stop punching, always be aggressive. Once the bell ring Terrence Alli would run across the ring throwing punches... I am a boxer. I admire Mike Tyson for his very good punch, but I feel as a boxer a punch can count once it is in the right place at the right time. It's an accumulation of punches and I was always very conditioned. So later down after six rounds I would get the KOs. Not in the first or second.
"I always said to myself that any time I go to Guyana and lose I would quit." That came in 1996 when Six Head Lewis stopped him in the second round. Once again: "I know all fighters make excuses but that was a premature stop. I was on my way out, yes, but I was absorbing his punches. They weren't hurting me. He did not knock me down but the ref stopped it because I was not punching back... I was surprised he won the championship because he was no world beater. He did not show me no style or punching power that he was in the same class with Chavez or Mayweather." Six Head has since lost his title and many worry that he may be lost in a boxing wilderness of few offers to fight and too much idle time.
Now 43, Alli has stopped watching boxing. Not because he is bitter, just that it is kind of boring, "since you know who will win." Instead he plays and watches basketball on TV or walks down the road to play draughts. "At night it's so dark they call out Alli man, Alli man, and I can't even see them." At least he's famous in one small village.
He really wants to train young boxers and thinks he can bring his experience of the ring to bear. But that looks a long way off.
Whatever the factors that brought him to his current state, Alli has gone the way of many fighters, in fact many sportsmen; he fought too long because he had few other options.
And while he boasts he was never truly knocked out in the ring, when it was all over, uneducated and with few skills, forsaken by fair-weather friends, he hit the canvas hard and is still there today.