Charlie Nash: Derry's king of the ring

Derry boxing Legend Charlie Nash at Ring ABC. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 12-4-2018.
Derry boxing Legend Charlie Nash at Ring ABC. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 12-4-2018. Derry boxing Legend Charlie Nash at Ring ABC. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 12-4-2018.

TEN-year-old Conan Nash calls the front parlour of his grandfather’s home on Derry’s Culmore Road “the boxing room”.

Only real champions get to have a room like it and Charlie Nash enjoys sitting in there sometimes surrounded by pictures and trophies with a collection of memories and keepsakes from his glorious boxing nights.

There were Irish titles and the Olympic Games as an amateur and Irish, British and European belts as a professional.

Remember the night he beat the great Ken Buchanan, or the night he put world champion Jim Watt on the seat of his pants in his own backyard? Remember the crowd roar when he danced and dipped and landed that whiplash right hook.

‘Chaaar-leee, Chaaar-leee, Chaaar-leee…’

The ‘boxing room’ is no shrine, it’s a living museum and when Conan visits, he gets granda's old gloves on and they get down to some playful sparring.

Granda has so many great stories to tell…

WITH five Irish lightweight titles (still a record for a Derry fighter) and appearances at the European Championships and the Olympic Games already under his belt, Charlie Nash didn’t hang around when he turned professional aged 25.

On October 2, 1975, he made his pro debut against Ray Ross for the Irish lightweight title and won on points at Derry’s Templemore Sports Complex.

Nash had two more fights with manager Gerrt Hassett – both points wins – before they parted company and he signed with legendary London promoter Jack Solomons.

Boxing Hall of Famer Solomons had promoted the Henry Cooper's 1963 heavyweight bout with Muhammad Ali and was still one of the kingmakers in British boxing in the 1970s.

He established Nash on the London fight scene and brought quality opposition to Derry and Charlie, with his distinctive mop of jet black hair and handlebar moustache, cut a swathe through a series of quality opponents.

He has kept a dairy of all his fights and each one gets a page in the notebook.

Names from yesteryear, some were wannabes, some were gonnabees, but all of them were dangerous, hungry fighters.

Willie Rodriquez: “That boy was class”.

Larry Stanton: “Great puncher”.

Stanton was on the card when Sugar Ray Leonard became a world champion at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. Nash beat him in Derry but then suffered an unexpected first loss of his career against Adolfo Osses.

He had won every round, but his eye was badly cut (cuts would become an increasing problem for Nash) and the referee stopped the fight.

Despite the defeat, he took on Johnny Clayton for the British title at Templemore just over four months later and he stopped the experienced Londoner to win the belt.

“I always had to be at my best,” said Nash.

“My boxing skills were good and they got better as I went on.

“I beat those boys with my level of fitness and my boxing skills, you had to put the two of them together.”

He knocked out Osses in his next fight to settle that score and talk of a rumble with Scotland’s Jim Watt, who held the European title, grew louder and louder.

But Glaswegian Watt refused to travel to Derry to defend his belt and he was stripped of the belt. With the title vacant, Nash outclassed Frenchman Andre Holyk at Templemore to be crowned champion of Europe.

Now he had the title to go swimming with the really big fish and they didn’t come much bigger than Scotland’s Ken Buchanan.

Former world champion Buchanan had been a massive draw at New York boxing Mecca Madison Square Garden earlier in his career, but by the late 1970s he was based in Copenhagen, Denmark. When the Buchanan team won the purse bids, Nash had to go there to defend his title.

“He would have been the last boy I wanted to fight,” says 66-year-old Charlie, who coaches twice a week at Derry’s Ring ABC.

“Ken Buchanan was my idol. I didn’t want to fight him, but I had to fight him. I didn’t know whether to get in and jump on top of him, or box him and stay out of range.

“I decided to hit and move, hit and move, try to not to get caught at all. For the first five rounds I did that and I won every round. When it got to six or seven, Buchanan changed his style and started to dive in and as he put more pressure on me I was getting tired and I started to lose rounds then.

“I always knew in my head where I was on points and I knew it was touch and go and I needed to win the last three rounds to win the fight. I knew I had to match him so I went in and got on top of him.

“All three judges gave it to me.”

Nash won a point on one judge’s card and by two on the others.

That win forced Watt to give him a shot at his world title and so on March 14, 1980 Nash and his army of fans descended on Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall.

“Watt was a southpaw as well and I knew he was strong, I knew he could punch and he came forward,” says Charlie.

“I knew it would be a hard fight but I thought that, with my skills and style and movement, I should beat him if I was at my best.

“In the first round I went out ‘bang, jab, move’ and there was about 15-20 seconds left in the round when he threw one at me, I went back on the ropes. He threw another punch and I moved inside it and threw right jab, left hand and a right hook that caught him flush on the chin. Down he went.

“I had to pass the referee to go to the furthest neutral corner. I was passing him and he got me by the arm, burled me round and sent me to the other corner.

“By that time Watt was back up and the referee says ‘box’, there was no count. So who won the round? I went in and tried to throw a combination to catch him. Then ‘ding, ding’ the bell went.”

Watt had got off the hook, but Nash was still the driving seat and the Scot was picked off in the next round.

“I used my skills and Watt was coming on to my punches,” Nash recalls.

“In the third round I was doing well but in the fourth, I stepped in and caught him with two shots, but as I stepped back to get out of range he was standing on my foot.

“All of a sudden I was falling and, as I fell, I put my hands on Watt’s shoulders thinking he would keep me up. But he came down with me and I hit the ground like a sack of spuds. I banged my head off the canvas and all I could see was stars.

“I could hear ‘six, seven, eight…’”

The referee ruled that Nash had been knocked down by a left hand from streetwise brawler Watt just prior to that clinch. The Scot smelt blood as a dazed Nash got back on his feet.

“Nash is in desperate trouble and there’s still a minute of this round to go,” reported BBC commentator Harry Carpenter through the deafening noise.

Nash was down from left hook and another big left from Watt put him down in his corner. This time he didn’t get up.

Solomons has passed away three months before the fight so Nash hooked up with Mickey Duff and he put the defeat in Glasgow behind him by beating Panamanian Pedro Acousta and then Francisco Leon to win back his European title.

Barry McGuigan made his pro debut on the first fight of an outdoor show at Dalymount Park in Dublin in May 1981 with Nash topping the bill against Italian-Australian Giuseppe Gibilisco. It’s was a bad night for the Derry man.

“He was hitting me with punches that I never got hit with,” Charlie recalls.

“He was coming in swinging.

“He caught me with a punch in the first round that sort of staggered me but it didn’t teach me anything because I came out again and it was boom, boom, boom…

“It was probably the worst fight of my career. He knocked me out and I had to go to hospital in Dublin after it.

“That was the lowest point.”

Nash recovered some ground with back-to-back wins at Derry’s Guild Hall but the old sparkle had faded and his career ended in Cologne, Germany with a stoppage loss against ‘Macho Man’ Renee Weller.

“Weller fought for the European title in his next fight so I was still fighting the best, but really I should have been fighting boys that were up-and-coming at that stage,” said Nash.

“I was fighting for a living, it was my job and if somebody said ‘fight him’ I fought him.

“Weller was the last one. I’d had a great career and I didn’t want to spoil it by losing to boys that shouldn’t be beating me. Knowing when to quit is the secret.

“I got phonecalls from people offering me fights and I would have loved to take them because of the money I was getting offered. It was tempting but I had four children by then and it was hard for my wife.”

Regrets? Well, he has a few.

Being based in Derry meant it was difficult to get the quality sparring he needed to fulfill his potential. If he had his time over again, he’d do things differently.

“When I was 30-31 I was fighting for European and world titles so I just waited too long,” he says.

“I should have turned professional when I was about 21-22 and learned the game. If I was coming back now, I would turn professional earlier and make sure I got a good manager, a manager that would look after me and make sure I had the sparring partners to bring me on as a professional.

“But I’m delighted with my boxing career and what it gave me.

“It gave me a good life for my family and it set my children an example for what they had to do – work hard, never say ‘no’, but never say ‘yes’ either unless you not exactly what it is.

“There’s very few people come out of boxing without losing and I lived the life that a boxer should live if he wants to be the best. I did everything possible that I should have done and I had a fantastic career.

“I’m very proud and I’m very happy with my life because I did alright financially out of boxing. I’m retired and very happy with my family and the lifestyle that I have.

“I remember the pride the people in Derry had for me because I was Charlie Nash, the best boxer in Ireland… It gave me so much confidence.

“People coming to the house, looking to talk to you, get your autograph, get photos with you… Jesus, it was unbelievable and I just look at my photos now and it brings the memories back.”

Chaaar-leeeee, Chaaar-leeeee, Chaaar-leeeee…