Darrell debut was start of thrilling ride
Andre Lambe will retread the steps of an exclusive group of Bermudian boxers when he performs his first ringwalk as a professional at the Fairmont Southampton tonight.
Just a few paces behind Lambe, as part of the southpaw's coaching team, will be former middleweight title contender Troy Darrell, the finest of the island's boxers to join the paid ranks.
When Darrell, who will serve as Lambe's second, takes his position on the edge of the ring apron, he could be forgiven for momentarily drifting his mind back to September 16, 1981 when he turned pro.
On that autumn night at the War Memorial Auditorium in Syracuse, New York, a 19-year-old Darrell made light work of fellow first-timer Al Garcia in their welterweight bout, stopping his opponent in the third of their four-round contest.
“Obviously I was nervous, but I did what I had to do,” Darrell remembers. “I always knew I'd put the work in and when you put the work in, it usually pays off. I remember it was the same night Sugar Ray Leonard fought Tommy Hearns for the first time [at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas].
“It wasn't a really tough fight for me and I did what I needed to. It was four rounds and it went three. The guy then quit.”
Also on the undercard was another product of the vaunted Pembroke Youth Centre in the formidable form of Clarence Hill, who had won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Montreal five years earlier.
The heavyweight southpaw was also victorious that night with a first-round knockout against Ron Hope.
“I know I was nervous, but I had Clarence Hill on the card with me,” Darrell says. “We had the same manager and were travelling together and stayed in the same neighbourhood [in New York].”
It would be another five years until the Bermudian public were able to watch the pride of PYC in the flesh, with Darrell not returning home to fight until his 21st pro outing when he defeated Jake Torrance at BAA.
Darrell preferred to be based in New Rochelle, West Chester County, a 30-minute subway ride from Manhattan, where he could hone his craft alongside stablemates such as Mark Medal, who lost to Hearns via a technical knockout in Las Vegas in 1986, and Mark McPherson.
“Back then in Manhattan you had to battle for your position; I used to battle with my gym-mates Mark Model and Mark McPherson,” recalls Darrell, who was introduced to the sweet science at the age of seven.
“By the time I started fighting at Atlantic City [in his second fight against José Antonio Martínez] my mind was focused. I was like, ‘What happens, happens; I've done my work'.
“I was getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning, running on the road, making time at the gym, doing more work after the gym. When you do all of that stuff, you're focused. You're not thinking about anything else.”
All of the gruelling road work and fierce sparring sessions were paying off for Darrell, who made his major breakthrough when he claimed the New York State junior super-welterweight championship after defeating Pedro Estrada by a technical knockout at the Felt Forum in 1984.
“One of my highlights was winning the New York State Junior Middleweight Championship,” he says. “That was one of my hardest fights against Estrada.
“It was my fourteenth fight and I got a write-up in the New York Times.
“I also had Troy Darrell Day in New Rochelle after I beat Estrada; I was given the keys to the city! Those things are special to me.”
Darrell does not do regrets. If he did, however, his controversial defeat against Michael Olajide in Atlantic City in May 1987 would be at the top of his list.
It was merely meant to be a tune-up bout for the Canadian, who was expected to turnover Darrell en route to fighting for the vacant IBF middleweight crown. Darrell, however, came close to shoving Olajide out of the title picture.
Twice put down in the first round of the televised contest, Darrell switched his tactics and rather than fighting a long range, he fought inside for the remainder of the ten-round bout, punishing his opponent with short left hooks and uppercuts.
“I thought I won against Olajide,” Darrell says. “It was an fight-off for the vacant IBF middleweight championship. It was between me, Olajide, Frank Tate and Mark McPherson.
“In the end, I fought Olajide and Tate [and lost] and they both fought for the vacant title.
“It was hard for me. I'd beaten Ralph Smiley [at BAA in July 1986] and felt in good shape. I was moving up the ladder, but then I was off for ten months. They couldn't get anyone to fight me. I'd been watching Olajide on television for the past ten months because he'd been fighting and then I got the fight, which was a surprise to me.
“I was like the pawn between Olajide and Frank Tate. By the time I fought Tate [at Atlantic City in July 1987] my body was feeling tired and I had manager problems. It is what it is.”
The headline in the following day's Royal Gazette after Darrell's defeat to Olajide read ‘We wuz robbed'.
The revered Angelo Dundee, Darrell's trainer, was in agreement. “I thought the wrong man got the decision,” he told The New York Times.
“That's another highlight of my life,” Darrell said of working with Dundee, who famously trained the great Muhammad Ali. “Mr Dundee picking me up and taking me training, taking me here and there.
“[Dundee] was a strategist. He didn't worry about the personal training, but when it came to fighting an opponent — well, he was A1 for that.”
Tonight it will be Darrell's turn to impart his knowledge as part of Lambe's coaching team. Lambe can rest assured; Darrell learnt from the best.