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Troy Waters: Forged in fire

Troy Waters
Troy Waters

By Anthony Cocks


It has been said that sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it.

 

Perhaps that has never been more true than it was on a mild June night in 1993 when Australian junior middleweight Troy Waters challenged “Terrible” Terry Norris 34-3 (20) for his WBC 154-pound title at the San Diego Sports Arena in San Diego, California.

 

One of the rising stars of the game, Norris was Don King’s latest signing and was earmarked for bigger and better things. The Waters clash was the first bout of a four-fight deal that was set to culminate in a match-up with the winner of the proposed middleweight world title bout between WBA champion Reggie Johnson and Norris-conqueror Julian “The Hawk” Jackson.

 

At the time Norris was at the time one of the most feared and fearsome boxers on the planet. His stocky 5-foot-9 frame was packed with muscle and had the sculptured build of a thoroughbred racehorse on stakes day. Simply put, he looked built for fighting – and it was more than merely cosmetic. Since getting stopped in two rounds by superbly talented and supremely dangerous knockout artist Julian Jackson four years earlier, the 26-year-old Texan transplant had gone on a tear. After destroying the formidable John “The Beast” Mugabi in a single round to claim the WBC 154-pound title in 1990, the San Diego-based Norris had made eight title defences almost exclusively against former or future world champions. Along with Mugabi, Maurice Blocker, Meldrick Taylor, Donald Curry and Carl Daniels all fell at his hands, while “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Jorge Castro and Rene Jacquot went the distance but were comprehensively out-boxed. His last three opponents had averaged just three rounds against him.

 

The Ring magazine had rated him the third best boxer on the planet pound-for-pound for two years running behind only the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez and defensive wizard Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker. Norris was, at the time, the next big thing. He had the world at his feet.

 

Meanwhile, half a world away Troy Waters had developed into an Australian favourite. The youngest of four siblings, Troy was born in England in 1965 before his family moved to Australia while he was still a young boy, settling at a ramshackle farm on the New South Wales Central Coast. Along with his older brothers Dean and Guy, Troy was taught to box by his tyrannical father Cec who matched them against each other in their outdoor ring on the property as he moulded them into Australian champions through a mixture of brutally hard work, physical deprivation and psychological abuse. Troy was the first to escape his father’s violent grasp with Guy following soon after, but it would take a family tragedy of Shakespearean proportions before Dean could fully escape the life that Cec had laid out for him.

 

Troy turned pro at 19 and won the New South Wales state title in just his fifth pro bout. In his sixth outing he was matched against hard-hitting Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) champion In Chul Baek 35-1 (35) in Gangneung City, South Korea, losing by 12-round split decision. Waters won the Australian title against Paul Toweel 22-2 (11) in his very next fight and picked up the Commonwealth title against the vastly more experienced Lloyd Hibbert 19-3 (2) from Birmingham, England at the Wrest Point Casino in Hobart, Tasmania in just his ninth pro bout. Waters would successfully defend the Commonwealth crown three times before landing a shot at the IBF title held by Italy’s Gianfranco Rosi 46-3 (15) in 1989. The hometown advantage made all the difference in the fight, with Rosi winning a points decision in a bout that Waters was unlucky to lose.

 

Waters bounced back to string together six consecutive wins and establish himself as the WBC number five contender at 154-pounds. Norris had selected him as an opponent for a voluntary title defence.

 

By the time of the fight Troy was 28-years-old and in his physical prime. Lean as a greyhound and mean as a junkyard dog, the stylish and aggressive Waters entered the bout with a record of 20-2 (14).

 

Australia had already forged a reputation for building tough fighters with the Johnny Lewis-trained duo of Jeff Fenech and Jeff Harding already having broken through on the US-scene, but Waters was a virtual unknown. The WBC number five ranked contender, Waters was seen as a soft defence for the recent Don King-signing who was being groomed for greater things by the shock-haired promoter.

  

The card was broadcast by Showtime in the United States with a commentary team consisting of Steve Albert, Bobby Czyz and Ferdie Pacheco. The ring announcer was the urbane

Jimmy Lennon Jr.

 

Waters entered the ring first wearing black trunks with pink trim. At 5-foot-11, the lean and wiry Waters was incorrectly listed at 5-foot-9 in the Showtime tale-of-the-tape graphic. Weighing in at a trim and ready 152-pounds, “the Glamour with the Hammer” acknowledged the crowd with a raised right glove as ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr completed his introduction. Waters was trained by Bruce Kennedy, assisted by Billy Moore, the son of the legendary Archie Moore, with Sydneysider Ern McQuillan taking care of cuts. It was a quality team.

 

Next up, Terry Norris. The roar of the crowd built up to a crescendo, almost drowning out Jimmy Lennon Jr before he even began.

 

“Really needing no introduction to you, the boxing fans,” crooned Lennon Jr. before proceeding to introduce the champion to us, the boxing fans. Weighing in right on the junior middleweight limit of 154-pounds and wearing white trunks with red trim, the 5-foot-9.5 Norris brought to the ring a record of 34-3 (20). He was accompanied by trainer Rudy Elias, co-trainer Orlin Norris Sr, manager Joe Sayatovich and cutman Dr Gerald Farrow. Carved into his hair in all caps was the name of his adopted hometown, SAN DIEGO.

 

"Terry is so far ahead of other fighters," Sayatovich had boasted to reporters earlier that afternoon, "that he’s the Michael Jordan of boxing."

 

Jimmy Lennon Jr summoned both men to centre ring where referee Marty Denkin gave his final instructions: “Gentlemen, remember what I told you in the dressing room. You do your job and I’ll do mine. Good luck to both of you.”

 

The two boxers returned to their respective corners – Norris to the red, Waters the blue – while their cornermen cleared the ring.

 

“Norris told us yesterday with his usual air of confidence he’ll continue to do what got him to this juncture,” Steve Albert told the TV audience at home. “He’ll come forward, use pressure and look to get Waters going backwards.”

 

Then came the familiar clang of the bell. It was on.

 

Norris stormed out of his corner with both guns cocked and loaded ready to meet Waters at centre ring. The challenger got off first with a jab that Norris parried with his right glove. But the champion wasn’t getting paid for overtime and if his last few fights were any indication, he wasn’t looking for it. There was no feeling out process from Norris, no tentative jabs to gauge distance or establish range. Norris wanted to get right to the meat of it, and fast.

 

By way of introduction Norris bowled over an overhand right followed by a left uppercut and a left rip. Waters held his gloves high while Norris dug in to his body with two more lefts. Waters defended well as they circled each other in a clockwise direction, the Aussie sticking to his jab while the American fired power punches in return.

 

Less than a minute into the opening frame Norris had walked the Australian back to the ropes near the neutral corner. Waters tucked in, his gloves pinned to his ears and his elbows against his ribs, as Norris teed off on him trying to find the slim openings that would accommodate his heavy-handed shots.

 

With Waters cornered on the ropes Norris tilted his thick body almost imperceptibly to the left and brought up a left rip under the point of Waters’ elbow. The Aussie instinctively dropped his arm to cover the injured ribcage just as Norris was bringing a left uppercut up the middle, splitting his tight guard. Waters was now leaning forward as Norris launched his coup de grace, a right-hand over the top that caught the collapsing Australian on the top of the head. A left hook sailed over the top, missing everything, then another right hand grazed the top of his unprotected head. Waters pitched forward, landing on his knees on the canvas, then toppled forward to ground his gloves. It was the first time in his career that Waters had been down.

 

It was barely a minute into the opening round.

 

Waters look up at the referee with an earnest expression on his boyish face. As he got to his feet, referee Denkin docked Norris a point for the right hand to the top of Waters’ head, adjudging it to be a late shot. The score for the round was now 9-8.

 

Referee Denkin held Waters’ face in one hand and looked into his eyes for what seemed like a long time. Finally satisfied that Waters was fit to continue, he waved the fight back on.

 

Norris didn’t waste any time getting back into the fray, loading up with both hands as he looked to close the show. Left hooks and uppercuts were the order of the day, punctuated by the occasional chopping right hand that forced Waters back to the ropes where he protected himself with the cross-arm defence. At 1:30 into the round Waters initiated the first clinch of the contest.

 

“This fight is all but over right now,” crooned Czyz. “Terry’s in a bad mood and he’s taking it all out on Troy Waters.”

 

“He doesn’t want to stay here long. Waters cannot stay on these ropes and take this punishment. He can’t do that, he’s gotta get out of there,” added Pacheco.

 

Norris snapped Waters’ head back with a left uppercut, followed by two right hands to the head and another to the body.

 

“It is target practice for Terry Norris,” said Albert.

 

But just then, almost imperceptibly at first, something changed. With a jab, right cross and another jab, Waters worked his way off the ropes and landed two hard, borderline shots to the body. Still standing in the pocket, Waters was picking off Norris’s harder shots with his gloves, arms and elbows as Norris started to fatigue. And in between Norris’s hard punches, Waters was slipping in some hard shots of his own; a left jab here, a chopping right hand there. Norris pawed with his own jab and landed another crunching uppercut, but for the last 45 seconds of the opening frame they traded on fairly equal terms.

 

The bell rang to close the round. Waters had shipped a lot of punishment but his toughness and resolve showed he was a worthy world title challenger.

 

After a minute’s rest the two fighters resumed hostilities in centre ring. Norris picked off where he left off, landing two right hands to the head but Waters retaliated with a nice combination of his own. A left jab, right cross and left rip landed flush on Norris, while a follow-up right hand and left hook flew harmlessly over the top of his head as the champion crumpled, unexpectedly, to the canvas.


The crowd erupted in a vocal state of collective shock.

 

“Norris goes down!” shouted Albert. “Unbelievable, what a turn of events!”

 

Barely a minute had elapsed in the second round. Norris was quickly back to his feet, more embarrassed than hurt. The champion didn’t baulk, ploughing forward again to bully Waters into a neutral corner behind a wall of power punches. But the tenacious challenger was unfazed, going with him punch for punch as he picked his spots to retaliate with short hooks and jarring right hands. Both men showed tremendous chins to avoid going down.

 

The fast-paced action was getting the better of the commentary team, who sounded at times like they were on the verge of self-induced heart attacks.

 

“And Terry is wearing out! He is wearing out! He is throwing everything he’s got!” said Pacheco over the noise of the crowd.

 

“He hurt him again! He hit him with a left uppercut and Terry fell right into it,” added Czyz.

 

Albert joined in.

 

“Back comes Waters! This crowd is in a frenzy! Most of them standing! And most of them in disbelief!” he bellowed.

 

The action made the ring look small as Norris used his physical strength to back Waters up, but the Australian fought back effectively off the ropes. Referee Denkin hovered nearby, occasionally closing in for a better look.

 

“Norris must be thinking,” mused Albert, “what do I have to do to get rid of this guy?”

 

With 15 seconds left in the round they boxed their way out of the corner. Waters threw a double jab to disguise the big right hand that followed; the punch bounced off the champion’s chin, momentarily buckling his legs. A second right cross clipped Norris’s whiskers with eight seconds left to go in the round.

 

“What a right by Waters!” hollered Albert.

 

The two traded bombs until the bell. It couldn’t come soon enough for the reigning champion.

 

“One of the rounds of the year!” concluded Albert.

 

The corners worked on their fighters while the TV audience at home watched a replay of the knockdown.

 

“But Norris comes back, scared as he must’ve been and embarrassed as he must’ve been, he came back with everything he had, but the Australian was there at the end, he was still standing. What a display of guts,” enthused Pacheco.

 

“What a tremendous round,” chimed in Czyz.

 

With a knockdown apiece and the point deduction from Norris in the first, the fight hung in the balance.

 

Then the bell rang and both men returned to battle.

 

Waters established his jab early in the third frame, pumping it into Norris’s face with regular precision. Not to be outdone, Norris worked his way around Waters’ cross-arm defence, banging in hard shots to both sides of his ribcage and raining down looping right hands over the top. Just when it looked like Norris was taking over, Waters would nail the champion with a three-punch combo in return. This was trench warfare at its finest. During one of the exchanges Norris sliced through Waters’ guard with a left uppercut, opening up a cut under the Australian’s left eye and for the first time in the fight, there was blood.

 

“Again, Waters getting pummelled to the face but refusing to go down!” observed Albert.

 

Waters retaliated to this comment with another combination to the body and head. Norris returned fire with a series of body shots of his own punctuated by a left uppercut to the chin.

 

“What an incredible display of intestinal fortitude by Troy Waters of Australia,” said Albert in genuine admiration. It was 1:30 into the third round.

 

Waters worked in three shots to Norris’s body as the inside battle continued.

 

“We heard that Waters was a tough kid, but this is incredible,” said Albert.

 

“He is redefining tough,” added Czyz.

 

Waters returned fire, landing a pair of uppercuts of his own. Then Norris leaned back to create some space and landed a counter right cross that dropped the challenger to the seat of his black-and-pink silk shorts. Deep cuts had opened up over Waters’ right eye and the blood was dripping down his face. The crowd erupted again.

 

“Waters goes down!” yelled Albert over the noise.

 

“Will Terry Norris punch himself out or will he be able to keep cool?” wondered Czyz aloud.

 

It was the third knockdown of the fight and we were barely eight minutes in.

 

Referee Denkin began his mandatory eight-count as Waters – battered, bruised and bleeding – courageously got back to his feet, took a couple of deep breaths and prepared to go back into the trenches with 0:53 remaining on the clock.

 

“Troy Waters absorbing an amazing amount of punishment,” said Albert in disbelief.

 

Norris had regained the ascendancy and was keen to make the most of it before this tough guy from Down Under pulled another trick from his bag. Digging deep, the champion peppered Waters with power shots, loading up with every punch as he dug in to the body and threw uppercuts to the head. Every blow that landed was sapping the energy from the bloody challenger, who gamely battled on.

 

“His face is falling apart. It is. It’s coming apart!” observed Pacheco just before the bell clanged to mark the end of the third stanza.

 

Waters pivoted and walked back to the blue corner on dead legs.

 

Referee Denkin went with him and intercepted Waters before he reached his stool. He looked at Waters’ busted-up face and summoned the doctor.

 

Waters sunk onto his stool.

 

His face was bent and misshapen, a patchwork of lumps and bumps roughly joined together by a roadmap of cuts. Cutman Ern McQuillan had his work cut out for him, but it was all in vain. The brave man sitting slumped in front of him was spent. He was past the point of no return. He was gone. Done.

 

The corner had seen enough. Waters had had enough. The fight was over. Denkin raised both arms above his head to signal the end of the contest. Norris had won by TKO3.

 

“Terry Norris retains his WBC super welterweight championship with against a game and courageous Troy Waters of Australia,” Albert advised the viewers at home.

 

The ring quickly filled with Norris’s family, friends and backers who congratulated the champ on his ninth successful title defence of the coveted green belt.

 

Meanwhile, across the ring a despondent Troy Waters struggled to come to terms with the result.

 

“I was one punch away from a world championship,” he would later muse, rueing his missed opportunity in the second round. As reward for his efforts he would end up receiving 24 stitches to patch his rough-hewn face back together.

 

What Waters could never have known at the time was that those nine minutes of action would become the signature of his career. During those 180 seconds he displayed more courage, guts and pure determination that some boxers show in their entire careers.

 

Forged in fire, his reputation as a ring warrior would follow him for the rest of his days.

 

Troy Waters proved that there can be victories even in defeat.

 

POSTSCRIPT: The second round of Terry Norris vs Troy Waters was named Ring Magazine Round of the Year for 1993. To watch the full fight in high-quality click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maaeMHzHq10

 

TROY WESTON WATERS passed away on 18 May 2018 after a lengthy battle with leukaemia. He was just 53 years old.

 

The former Australian and Commonwealth junior middleweight champion was first diagnosed with the rare blood cancer acute myeloid leukaemia in 2014 and underwent chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant later in the same year.

 

The fighter is survived by his wife Michelle and two teenage children, Nate and Shontae.

 

A three-time world title challenger, Waters sits comfortably alongside the likes of Les Darcy, Dave Sands, Charkey Ramon and Paul Briggs as one of the best Australian boxers to never win a world title. In 2009 he was inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame.

 

Waters inspired a generation of young men to pick up the gloves, none more so than those on the Central Coast of New South Wales where he grew up. Athens Olympian and former world title challenger Jamie Pittman is among those who looked up to Waters as a local hero.

 

“If he was fighting now he would have won three world titles,” Pittman, who challenged Felix Sturm for the WBO middleweight title in 2008, told the Courier Mail.

 

“He had three shots at it, he fought the very best in Terry Norris, and to me he’s the most underrated boxer we’ve ever had in this country.”

 

Veteran New York matchmaker Don Majeski has been involved in boxing for almost half a century. During that time he has worked with thousands of boxers including many of the biggest names in the sport. He echoed the thoughts of many who had met Troy during his lifetime.

 

“Troy Waters is the finest human being I have ever known who was also a professional boxer. An exemplary person in every way possible,” he wrote on social media.


“If anyone is aware of the hardship he endured and overcame when he was growing [up] you [would] be incredulous as to the kind of individual he became.


“If you want to idolize anyone in our profession then Troy Waters is the one to choose.

“Troy Waters’ death was not a loss to boxing but a loss to humanity.” 

 

Vale Troy Waters.

 

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Waters family at this trying time. If you enjoyed watching Troy fight and want to do something in return, you can donate here: https://au.gofundme.com/troy-waters-family

 



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