Former boxer Michael Watson MBE showed why he is still the People’s Champion as he talked of his miraculous recovery from a near-fatal injury.
He spent 40 days in a coma after a WBO title fight with Chris Eubank left him with a bleed on the brain. Told he would never walk or talk again, he’s defied the odds to walk the London Marathon and devotes his life to helping others.
Michael was at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) last night in conversation with Leicester’s Sugar Christopher at an event organised by Serendipity Arts and Cultural Exchanges, where he was given a standing ovation.
Michael told the audience: “They said if I do recover, I would not be able to talk, or walk. I would be bedridden, never live a normal life. I would be a cabbage. Well, a fine cabbage am I.”
A wide-ranging conversation covered his road to recovery, his early inspirations, boxing highlights and the lack of support and mentoring for today’s fighters once they stop competing.
Michael credited his spiritual belief with giving him the inner strength to get through his darkest times and long rehabilitation.
He said: “I’ve been through some seriously dark spells in my life. A lot of people would give up, but I told myself I’m here for a purpose. I kept my vision. My purpose is to help the hopeless, and that’s how I kept strong.”
It was a visit from his childhood idol Muhammad Ali, who had flown from the US to visit Michael by his bedside, that proved a turning point.
He said: “In life, you can learn off each other. With Muhammad Ali, he was my complete icon and to see my hero walking through my hospital room that night… I could not believe that my hero was there. He came overseas to someone like me, he changed my life instantly. He made me what I am.”
Ali’s visit to Michael inspired him to do the same, and now he visits others working with charities such as the Teenage Cancer Trust, helping young people to stay positive.
He said he bears no grudge against Chris Eubank, his opponent in the fateful fight at White Hart Lane: “Forgiveness is a powerful weapon. I had contentment, to put the whole thing behind me and look toward the future with joy.
“A lot of people don’t do that, they grieve, they think of the past – it saps your energy.”
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He said he still trains every day and still sees himself as a boxer - “it’s in my nature”. He remains the only person ever to put down Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank for the first and only times in their careers.
His British Commonwealth title fight against Nigel Benn remains his favourite match. “Best fight, without a doubt, Nigel Benn. I trained for my life, I knew how dangerous he was. I never trained as hard as I did. No other fighter have I faced in my life like Nigel Benn, 22 explosive knockouts.”
He said he hoped his legacy would be as someone who helped and inspired others to be their best selves. “I want to put a smile on people’s faces. I am the People’s Champion.” And the audience last night could not agree more.
Posted on Wednesday 27th February 2019