“Nobody thought I’d become world champion. In fact, nobody thought I’d beat Crawford Ashley, Ole Klemetsen or many of the other guys I beat. In a fight, I was never afraid of losing because nobody ever expected me to win.”
Although extremely proud of achieving world honors, boxing certainly wasn’t Clinton Woods’s sport of choice. “I’ve got four brothers and two sisters. When I was seven years old, on Christmas morning my brothers got football kits, the girls got prams and dolls, and I got boxing gloves and a boxing bag. I asked my dad, ‘Why did you get me gloves instead of football boots?’ and he said, ‘Because you’re shit at football!’
Woods reflected on his amateur career. “I couldn’t fight until I was eleven, so I trained from seven until then before having my first amateur fight. I had sixty-eight fights, lost about ten, won a few regional titles, and boxed for Yorkshire.” Destined for more silverware as a senior amateur boxer, Woods’s life took a dramatic turn, which saw him abandon boxing and school. “I was messing about and got a girl pregnant when I was fifteen. I wouldn’t say it was a regret of my life getting a girl pregnant, because I’ve got a thirty-two-year-old son and a granddaughter now. The biggest regret of my life is that I didn’t see my son for twenty years. I can’t get that time back.
“I got in touch with him twenty years later and, when I met up with him, I told him the truth. At that time I didn’t give a shit about anything, then when I started [professional] boxing, the only thing on my mind was boxing. At the age of fifteen I was cleaning on building sites for plasterers, whenever I could. You wouldn’t be allowed to now at that age, but back then I had money in my pocket and was enjoying life. People ask if I wished I had boxed from fifteen right the way through to when I turned pro, and the answer is no. I enjoyed my youth and did all the shit I wasn’t supposed to do. I got that out of my system instead of doing it later in life. There’s no regret apart from not seeing my son.”
Fighting was still a part of Woods’s life in his teens, but, unfortunately, not in the boxing ring. “I got into fights all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever caused one in my life, but it was always things like sticking up for mates and because I was tall, bullies would have a go at me. I could always scrap and can’t remember losing one on the street. Okay, maybe a couple! Then one time I really bashed this kid and I’d been done for affray before and had done two years of community service, so it looked like I was going to prison. Somehow I got away with it.”
Then came the turning point. “My mum sent me a letter saying every time I went out she was scared because I was constantly getting into fights and that the people I’m sticking up for are not real friends, because they wouldn’t put you at risk like that. Something sank in.
“I was in the pub that night having a drink, with a black eye and someone said to me, ‘Why don’t you start boxing again? There’s a gym round the corner from here.’ Next day I was at the gym. I didn’t initially go to be a pro boxer, I went to get fit and it went from there.”
Sheffield’s fighting son had his professional debut on November 17, 1994, at the Pinegrove Country Club, Sheffield, winning a points decision over six rounds against Dave Proctor. Woods went on to win the next eleven on the bounce and in his thirteenth contest, on November 14, 1996, he fought Craig Joseph for the vacant super-middleweight Central Area title. “I sold a load of tickets for that fight. I’d watched Joseph a few times and he was a tidy boxer who had a good amateur career. At the time I was an upright fighter, but I was never a confident boxer. It was close on points, but I think I deserved to get the win because I was the aggressor and in control of the fight. If I’d have lost, I would have retired. Simple as that. I didn’t really care.”
Six fights later, on December 6, 1997, Woods took on Mark Baker at the Wembley Arena, London, for the vacant super-middleweight Commonwealth title. Baker was 20-1 at the time. “I fought Jeff Finlayson and straight after I was asked if I’d like to fight for the Commonwealth title in two weeks and I said yeah. I wasn’t someone who was following boxing at the time and didn’t have a clue who Baker was.” Woods won a close points decision.
Shortly after, on March 28, 1998, the Yorkshireman lost his first fight and hard-earned title to David Starie. “At that time I had nobody helping with my diet and I was eating what I wanted and was able to make the weight quite easily. Then somebody introduced creatine to me, which gave me muscle but made it really difficult to shift weight. I should have come off it a couple of weeks before, but come fight week, I was miles above and dieting like mad.
“The weigh-in was at a sports center and there was one of those vending machines that sell crisps and chocolate. I was chucking money into it getting bags of crisps, because I was starving. As I was tucking in, Starie walks past and must have thought, ‘Look at the shit he’s eating.’ I’d sparred with him a few months before the fight and he had people looking after his diet. He was taking it professionally, whereas I was playing at boxing.
“On the night of the fight, there was nothing in me. Starie never really troubled me in the fight; he just beat me on points. If I’d have been at my best, I would have beaten him without a doubt.”
Woods’s initial reaction was to retire. “I’d had a good time in boxing up to that point with my fans and honestly thought that was it.” Thankfully he returned, but as a light heavyweight. “I could have made super middleweight in my career if I wanted to, but I felt stronger at light heavyweight.”
Just under a year after the Starie loss, Woods clocked up two wins before fighting world title challenger and fellow Yorkshireman, Crawford Ashley on March 13, 1999, at Bowlers Exhibition Centre, Manchester. Ashley put his British, Commonwealth and European light-heavyweight titles on the line. “I’m truthful about boxing. I’m not going to bullshit you, I got Crawford Ashley at the right time. I know he was struggling at weight, so that’s why my tactics were to go at him. It was the first time I’d ever fought like that. He actually bust my nose in the first forty seconds of the first round! I needed two operations after. It was the first time I’d ever felt pain like that in a fight.
Woods went on to stop Ashley in the eighth session. “I was buzzing that night as if I’d won the world title. Crawford’s a top man. I used to watch him fight and I know that at his best he would have beaten me that night.”
Nine fights later, on September 13, 2001, Woods took on Ugandan-born Italian, Yawe Davis. The fight was a world-title eliminator for the WBC world light-heavyweight title. “I think it was the first time I’d been in with a southpaw. It was a really tough fight.” Winning by a wide points margin, Woods moved one step closer to a title shot.
From fringe contenders to boxing legends. One year later, on September 7, 2002, Woods took on Roy Jones Jr. at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, for his full complement of world light-title heavyweight titles. “I got a good reception [from the Americans] and they looked after me. The press out there were obsessed with why I started boxing, having been a bad boy in my previous years.” Woods reflected on sharing the ring with one of the best 175-pound fighters of all time.
“I was fighting Roy Jones Jr. at his best and here I was, this lad from Sheffield with a very inexperienced team in comparison. However, on the night of the fight, I was buzzing. Couldn’t wait. The first two rounds I thought I had a chance and even managed to bruise his eye and landed some good shots. Then, third round he hit me with a big body shot, but I managed to stay on my feet.” The contest was stopped in the sixth round. “I’m glad they pulled me out when they did, because I think he would have smashed me to pieces. He wasn’t the biggest puncher, but he was the best. His speed was unbelievable. He’d show me a feint with one hand, then hit me with the other.”
Four fights later, on November 7, 2003, Woods took on teak-tough Glen Johnson for the IBF world light-heavyweight crown, walking away with a split decision draw. “Johnson went down and it went down as a slip, but I definitely landed a punch. That was a very close fight.
“In training for the rematch three months later, I had nothing in me at all. I still didn’t have anybody taking care of my supplements even though I was fighting at world level. I kept coming home and falling asleep after training. When he beat me [on a close points decision] in the second fight, I had a lot of tests and it turned out I had an iron deficiency. I started taking supplements and vitamin B12 injections and I was a totally different fighter. I was stronger, doing things in training I wouldn’t have attempted before.”
Eight months later against on October 24, 2004, Woods took on Aussie Jason DeLisle in an IBF light-heavyweight eliminator. “I went down in the first round, but I couldn’t remember going down because I bounced straight back up on my feet. I then knocked him down in the seventh and stopped him in the last round.”
Fifteen months after the Johnson loss, on March 4, 2005, approaching his thirty-third birthday, Woods had his third attempt at becoming world champion at the Magna Centre, Rotherham, for the vacant IBF crown. His opponent was unbeaten American Rico Hoye (18-0 at the time), who had beaten Montell Griffin in his previous fight. “The hunger was still there. I was flying at this point. The best I’d ever been. At that point, nobody wanted to fight Hoye, because he’d knocked out nearly everyone he’d boxed, but the night I fought him no light heavyweight could have beaten me.” Woods stopped the Michigan resident in five hard-fought rounds.
After defending his crown twice, Glen Johnson felt confident that he would beat his old foe and take the title back home to US soil on September 2, 2006. “I was having really bad trouble with my elbows by this point, but I thought I’d beat him easier than I did. Instead it turned out to be a grueling fight. I believe that was his last big fight and mine also. We were never the same after.” The Sheffield man won their third encounter with a split-decision win, evening up their fight trilogy, to make it one win apiece and a draw.
Not one for taking the easy option, after defending his title against Julio Cesar Gonzalez, Woods put his IBF crown on the line against the first man to have stopped Roy Jones Jr. On April 12, 2008, Woods fought Antonio Tarver in his backyard of Tampa, Florida. “My elbows were really bad now, I’d fallen out with my trainer, had a big argument with my manager, and my training for the fight was shocking. I asked to be pulled out a couple of weeks before, but I was told I couldn’t do so. I’d lost the fight before I’d even got to America, but I wasn’t bothered, because I knew my career was over at that point. I was diabolical that night. I was so embarrassed by that performance.” Woods lost his world title on a points decision.
After beating Elvir Muriqi, Woods had his swansong against unbeaten Tallahasseean, Tavoris Cloud, who was 19-0 at the time. The contest was for the vacant IBF light-heavyweight crown. “I beat Elvir Muriqi [on points], but if I’d have been on top form as I was a few fights before, I would have stopped him. I was training with Glyn Rhodes for the Cloud fight, who’s a brilliant man, but my heart wasn’t in boxing anymore.
“In the fight I got hurt a few times, which hadn’t really happened in previous fights. I wasn’t fighting for the money, because there wasn’t any in those fights. I just didn’t want to go out the way I went out against Tarver. I knew that was my last fight.” Woods lost by unanimous decision.
After forty-two wins, five losses, and one draw, during a fifteen-year professional career, Clinton Woods took on the best in his division and along the way amassed the full set of honors from area level up to world champion. “I’m very proud. As an amateur and a pro, I’m very proud that I’ve only ever been down twice with head shots and never been down with a body shot ever. Also, I’ve never been knocked out. I never thought I’d achieve what I did.
“If I had to change anything in boxing? Nothing really. Maybe a bit of advice on diet, but I won my belts the old school way. I tell you what, though: I’m glad I’m out of it now, which sounds daft as I have a boxing gym, but I’m not up to date with the sport anymore. Also, I’m glad I boxed when I did, because nowadays, you’ve got to be a bit of celebrity to get the fights and that was never me.”