Now, how's this for fighting talk?
"I am the first American-English boxer there has ever been. I am the first English Hagler. I will 'destruct and destroy.' I will smash to pieces anybody who gets in the ring with me. I'm the Ragamuffin Man. I'm Flash Harry. I don't give a——."
The young, fine-featured West Indian stands on a South London street, a sidewalk dandy, holding two perfectly matched, five-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier pups on a twin lead. But anger rumbles in his voice. "The English do not believe in Flash Harrys," he says. "The English like their heroes to be humble. They actually prefer losers. Just ask [heavyweight] Frank Bruno—it seems to me, he likes being a loser. He gets a better press. Bruno can't believe in himself and neither do the people around him. But there is a new breed of boxer coming, from my background. And he's saying, 'Hey, Lloyd Honeyghan can do it, so I can do it, too.' "
Yes, Lloyd Honeyghan, the Ragamuffin Man, has proved he can do it. He's the WBC and IBF welterweight champion of the world. (He was WBA champ, as well. But he dropped that particular belt into a trash can on a London street in December to protest the WBA's continued sanctioning of bouts involving citizens of South Africa.) And he lives up to his name in more ways than he knows. He understands "ragamuffin" as just old-fashioned slang for a rough-and-ready sort of fellow. But the word was first coined nearly 600 years ago by the British poet William Langland as the name of a demon.
And it was Ragamuffin the Demon, no less, whom undisputed welterweight champion Donald Curry found he had conjured up when he was destroyed in six rounds by Honeyghan last fall in Atlantic City. Since then, Honeyghan's demonic fury in the ring has been demonstrated twice more, in his round-and-a-bit demolition of Johnny Bumphus in February and two weeks ago during a unanimous decision over Maurice Blocker, the WBC's No. 1 challenger.
Honeyghan also represents, through his background, a new type of British boxer as hungry as any kid from Detroit or Philadelphia. He was born 27 years ago in the town of Saint Elizabeth in Jamaica. When he was nine his mother, Evadney, brought all five Honeyghan children to London. Five years earlier his father, Sylvester, in classic immigrant style, had gone on ahead, and he had saved enough money hefting cartons in a London supermarket to set up a home for the family in the city.
So is Honeyghan a Jamaican, an Englishman, or what? Spend five minutes with him and you have the answer. Neither. He's a latter-day hybrid: a black cockney. He has the humor, the resilience and the worldly wisdom of a Dickensian street urchin. But this only partly overlays his essential blackness and his awareness of what that affords him in a city that has known black immigration for only one generation. It is a highly volatile combination and, as a cynic might tell you, leads with equal ease to a world championship belt or a race riot.
But this spring morning, on which Honeyghan has gone to visit his parents in the little apartment in which he was brought up, the boxer's own fierce oratory is the only note of discord. The Honeyghans live in a section of the city that few tourists penetrate, though it's barely a mile from London Bridge. The area is known as the Elephant and Castle, in honor of a now defunct pub of dubious reputation. Much of it is a featureless sea of city-built, 12-story apartment houses, the foundations of which were crudely excavated by German bombs during the Blitz.
But however hard the city fathers try to turn the place into a gray stage set for 1984, the ancient cockney love of clamor, color and street drama breaks through, as in the bright-hued, organized chaos of the East Street Market. There Honeyghan worked as a kid, setting up stalls, pushing barrows into position, piling vegetables high. And it restores his good humor to visit the place as a hero, weighing out oranges for mothers, signing autographs for children, being photographed as he shakes hands with dads. The champ loves every minute of it, even though it makes him late for an appointment with his tailor.
Appointment? His tailor? The Ragamuffin Man?