Tribute to ‘Cornermen’

by Nimal Lewke,

Former National Boxing Champion

These days there are many news items regarding boxing because of the Commonwealth Games and, at the same time, an interesting subject published by boxing promoter Dian Gomes, titled ‘Cornerman’.

When you are talking about ‘Cornermen’ in the boxing arena, they are the coaches that produce, train and guide boxers.

My good friend H. M. Marzook who was one of the stylish, brilliant boxers produced by St. Michael’s College, Polwatte, went on to win all the best boxers’ trophies that were available. He won a bronze medal at the Asian Boxing Championship held in Sri Lanka in 1967.

My memories take me back to my schooldays at St. Sylvester’s College. Our Guru / Coach / Trainer was that respected Peradeniya University Marshall at that time, late Mr. Derrick Raymond. Under him, St. Sylvester’s produced some of the best boxers in this country. The College won Stubbs Shield year after year in the ’60s and ’70s.

He was the guiding light of all the boxers that were produced by Kandy at that time. He guided boxers from the age of 12 and got them to reach Asian Games, Commonwealth, Olympics and, as schoolboys, won National Championships. He produced schoolboys to be Olympic boxers.

Malcolm Bulner, as a 17-year-old schoolboy, beat Olympic boxer Sumith Liyanage and represented Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Games, Olympics and won the Nationals under his guidance as a schoolboy.

Myself was a schoolboy when he fought Olympic boxer and Asian Championships Gold medallist, H. K. Karunaratne. Raymond produced boxers in the calibre of Elsworth Perera, Danton Cooray, P. Edmon, the Bulner brothers, Malcolm, Michael, Noel, Christopher, Gunasinghe brothers, G. A. S. Derrick, Mahesh Sabaratnam, D. C. Weerasinghe, T. S. Hassan, S. A. Azwer, A. C. R. Herathge, the Janz Brothers, Milroy, Kenneth, Bernard and Marshalls, the Labroy Brothers, Annesley de Soysa. Most of them were Stubbs Shield champions and represented Sri Lanka Schools at M. D. Gunasena Trophy against Indian Schools and went on to win many titles later in their respective careers.

On the same line, late Anton John of St. Michael’s College, Polwatte, produced some brilliant boxers, P. G. Neil, Winston, Geffrey, Hans, Earnest Vancularberg Brothers, Mohamed Jaroof, H. M. Marzook, Sirisena Wijethunga, T. J. I. Ismail, H. A. Edward, and Somapala Perera.

There was Wolsley Fonseka and Barney Henricus who produced some of the best boxers from St. Thomas’s, Mt. Lavinia, and Zahira College, Maradana. Halaldeen Brothers, Ikram etc. Thomians like J. P. Vandernrisen, Jeyakumar Thangaveloo, William Kock, Gunaratne brothers, Somasundaram brothers and R. B. Ram to name a few.

Carey College, under the guidance of L. V. Jayaweera, produced Gordon Perera, H. D. A. Kumarasiri, H. D. R. Jayaweera, and stylish L. V. Douglas. St. Mary’s, Dehiwala produced, under Rafaideen Rodrigo, there were Bernard de Silva, Douglas Perera, Godfrey Vanheer, Chao De Kauw, Hans Vancularberg, etc. They went on to win National titles and represented the country.

Then there was the famous Army Major Kandiah who was a strict disciplinarian who shaped the careers of Weerakkody, Johoran, Brohier, Olympian H. K. Karunaratne and many others, including Marzook and Jaroof.

These are some of the best known ‘Cornermen’ in the past. They were brilliant coaches who had the ability to produce excellent boxers from just schoolboys. Their commitment, determination and dedication are unmatchable. How they transformed a schoolboy or a raw recruit and motivate them to take on a seasoned Olympic boxer is a testimony to prove their ability. They were real motivators and fatherly figures who earned the highest respect from their pupils. When they were in the opposite corner, the opponents are under pressure. They have earned such a huge reputation and produced results that gave them the status they earned through sheer commitment and discipline which guided the life and future of these young boxers and there were no shortcuts with them. It is real hard work with desire to achieve the next level.

I do not think that they ever heard about any performance enhancing substance (drugs) at that time. It was sheer commitment, motivation with limited facilities that they have produced boxers of very high calibre and it is a clear example that, if you have the will, there is a way. I have mentioned only about a few of the brilliant ‘cornermen’, but at the same time with due respect, I would like to mention that there were many others like late D. C. A. Wickramasinghe.

I never had the opportunity to associate them, as they were in a different era, but they were brilliant coaches who were behind Olympic boxers in the calibre of Sumith Liyanage, C. P. Jayasuriya and H. P. Jayasuriya.

The legacy they have left behind will be there forever. One wonders whether we will be able to see such wonderful ‘cornermen’ in the future. We, though, sincerely hope for the best.

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