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Nightmare end for Olympic hero

Carruth's professional journey came to a sad end in London showdown

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Michael Carruth in action at the National Stadium in 1998

Michael Carruth in action at the National Stadium in 1998

SPORTSFILE

Michael Carruth in action at the National Stadium in 1998

Ireland had waited 36 years to win an Olympic gold medal.

The memory of Ronnie Delany's remarkable achievement in Melbourne in 1956 was becoming dim when Michael Carruth surprised the world with a ferocious display of courage, determination and skill in the welterweight final in Barcelona in 1992.

The man from Drimnagh brought home gold. And two fractured fists. And a busted elbow.

He wasn't to know it but when he stepped off the plane at Dublin airport, Michael Carruth, Ireland's newest sporting hero, was stepping into a whole new world of pressure.

That he needed to recover from his injuries and wasn't able to train for months, didn't prevent the inevitable questions of what he was going to do with his career.

Being in demand for speaking engagements and supermarket openings wasn't the future Carruth had foreseen for himself.

"Hold on," he said to himself. "I need to get back into the ring. I need to get back to doing what I do best."

And so it was that Michael, deciding to join the professional ranks, signed with promoter Frank Warren.

He made his professional debut in February '94, winning a six-round bout with George Wilson on points.

He had six fights that year and won the lot, four of them by stoppage.

Three years later, with his record at 14 wins and 1 loss, he went to Germany to fight for the WBO world welterweight title.

His opponent Michael Loewe (Mihai Leu to his father, racing driver Nicolae Leu) was 27-0. While one judge scored the fight 114 each, the Dubliner lost on a majority decision.

Following the defeat in Aachen, Michael's career seemed to stall. He had one fight in '98, a points win over 12 rounds against Scott Dixon in Dublin. At this point, an enthusiastic young promoter named Brian Peters stepped in and arranged three fights for Carruth in '99.

The new millennium was just a few weeks old when word came through that Carruth had secured another chance of joining his Olympic Games team-mate Wayne McCullough in the record books as an Irish world champion.

He was slated to meet WBC super welterweight champion Javier Castillejo in Madrid in March. Carruth relished this opportunity to impress on the world stage.

At 32, this was set to be a career-defining fight for Michael Carruth.

I got to spend some time in the gym with Michael ahead of that fight and was afforded an insight into the insecurities of a pro fighter, no matter how decorated their career might be.

Having dedicated his life to boxing, Michael's faith had been tested by months of inactivity and a succession of lesser fights down the undercard in almost empty venues.

The man who'd climbed the Everest of the amateur game, craved the big pro fights. "I was ready to give up if I didn't get a world title fight," Michael revealed. "I felt I didn't get enough breaks in my professional boxing career."

But he had his world title shot and poured everything into his training camp. The fight with Castillejo for the WBC title was now as important to him as his Olympic gold. This would determine his future.

Worthy

"This fella's a worthy champion," warned Michael. "He took the title off a good champion, Keith Mullings. He defended it three times. He's going to have 20,000 Spaniards cheering him on. He's on his home turf. It's going to be war. I'm ready to go to war."

Also spurring him on were the two defeats he'd suffered in the pro ranks.

"They were two defeats I didn't lose," he argued. "Gordon Blair in Scotland in '95 I battered him and then they gave it to him. I justified it just over a year later when he came to Millstreet and I took him out of it.

"Then Loewe for the WBO title, I beat him," he said. "All the boxing pundits had me winning by three rounds. It was another one. To me, I'm unbeaten."

I wasn't with Michael in his training camp in Jersey when, just two weeks before the big fight in Madrid, he received the crushing news that the fight was off, officially due to the champ picking up an injury.

Carruth was furious and, suspecting skullduggery, described Castillejo's injury as "a dose of yellow-itis."

Deflated, Carruth returned to Dublin but within days Brian Peters came up with a fresh alternative. A Sky TV top-of-the-bill bout in York Hall in London against Adrian Stone, a boxer from Bristol who'd been based in the States.

The event was being promoted by Panos Eliadas and Frank Maloney, the duo who'd been guiding world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

The prize was an IBO world title which offered a route into the big time. Stone's record of 21 KOs in 26 wins, with 2 draws and 3 losses, suggested he could punch.

Usually gracious, Carruth seemed subdued and worried when he arrived at the weigh-in. When the scales revealed he was two and a half pounds overweight, officials said he had until 6.0pm to lose the extra weight.

It proved impossible.

A successful televised Saturday night title bout was just what Carruth's stuttering professional career required but over the course of a few hours on a Friday afternoon his golden opportunity turned to mush.

Reducing the headline fight of Sky TV's Saturday night schedule, a world title bout, to the status of sideshow exhibition bout was tantamount to committing commercial suicide.

It was bad. But worse was to follow.

The bout was a parody and what unfolded was a sporting tragedy. With Carruth debilitated from his Herculean efforts to shed weight, Stone imposed himself from the first bell.

The Dublin fighter was a shadow of his former self. He had no answer to the punishment he was taking and looked dazed and confused. He'd lost each of the first five rounds and was cut, bruised and totally demoralised.

In his corner, his coach Austin appraised the situation. With his son slumped on his stool, Austin waved off the fight. It was over. And so was Michael's career.

The drive to shed the pounds had played havoc with Carruth's system. His leg muscles began to cramp during the bout. He was so dehydrated, his lips had begun to crack. His hands throbbed with pins and needles and his back went into spasm.

Afterwards, a battered-looking Michael was courteous and stoical.

"The proper Michael Carruth wasn't out there tonight," he shrugged. "I kidded myself for this fight, thinking I could lose weight, get in and fight him. I'm to blame for that."

On the night of the last fight of his career, the memory of his Olympic gold medal held little consolation for the Irish hero.