Legacy and health at stake in Oakey’s return

Tony Oakey  Picture: Malcolm Wells
Tony Oakey Picture: Malcolm Wells

Boxing is littered with the carcasses of those who have fought on too long.

As the saying goes, it’s the man who is taking the punishment who is invariably the last to know when to call it a day.

Whatever our thoughts, though, we simply hope Oakey’s return goes well.

But so often ego and, more times than not, financial pressures push fighters into action when their best days have long been left behind.

Muhammad Ali is often heralded as the most saddening of examples on this front. There are hundreds of similarly desperate cases.

Tony Oakey is insistent he is not walking down the well-trodden path of his peers.

But there will be plenty who question that, following the news he is set to box professionally again – five years after his last contest.

Portsmouth’s favourite boxing son today announces in The News he is set to exit retirement for a match-up with a world-renowned name in the city later this year.

Oakey, of course, will go down as the most successful professional fighter ever produced in these parts.

A stellar career which saw the Leigh Park Warrior collect Southern Area, Prizefighter, Commonwealth, British and WBU titles also delivered some of the most memorable domestic nights of his era.

Those evenings will be etched in local boxing folklore, as raucous parties took place at the likes of the Mountbatten Centre and the home of British boxing, London’s York Hall.

There’s no taking away those memories, but, by the end of Oakey’s 12-year pro career, there were clear signs of deterioration evident.

After his defeat to Welsh rising star, Nathan Cleverly, in 2008, I wrote in The News the time was right to hang up his gloves.

He proved me wrong by beating three opponents in a single night to win the Prizefighter light-heavyweight series four months later.

But, with his no-nonsense aggression, there was never an easy night’s work for the 39-year-old.

Now he’s out to relive those Oakey-Kokey nights of yesteryear and, no doubt, prove a few of the doubters wrong along the way.

The possibility of a dream contest against American all-time great, Roy Jones Jr, has sparked the hunger for Oakey’s ring return.

He was touted as an opponent for Jones in a legends match-up in Liverpool in September.

The four-weight world champion opted for what was an easier contest against a local name, however.

But the furore from the boxing community for his return stirred the beast in the 29-6-1 man.

It’s also opened promoters’ eyes to the fact that, in reality, selling out an Oakey show locally will not be hard work.

That will especially be the case when the names in the frame as opponents, Glengoffe Johnson and Jeff Lacy, are big hitters in the sport – even if their best days are long behind them.

The good news is Oakey is arguably in as good physical condition now, as he was in his career.

Like his pal, Ricky Hatton, he was not the cleanest living of characters in between contests.

He has been a regular at trainer Michael Ballingall’s gym in Fratton, too, where he has proved dream sparring for the array of local pro fighters in the game today.

But all the 10-mile runs in the world cannot prepare a boxer for withstanding the blows which put them at odds with their nervous system.

Oakey is fully aware, too, he is in danger of diluting his legacy, if a ring return goes badly.

Pride exists in all sports but boxing, and its inherent dangers, make it the least forgiving to its protagonists who let it blind them from the weathering realities of time.

Whatever our thoughts, though, we simply hope Oakey’s return goes well.