Champion in the corner
When boxing enthusiasts tell stories of South African trainers who made a special impression on them, the name of Cyril Carroll is always among the first to come up.
Carroll, from Germiston, was one of South Africa’s most successful trainers of amateur boxers and later became a respected professional trainer and corner man.
A journalist once described him as having a face like a contour map, ridged and lined through a long battle against pain. But few people who knew Carroll, or who saw him working the corner, knew he had, for many years, an incurable bone disease.
Some came to know the gravelly voice and many watched him as he harangued his fighters between rounds. In later years he wore a steel splint, strapped with leather, to his left forearm to support his wrist.
Carroll began training boxers at the East Rand Engineering Amateur Boxing at what used to be a church hall in a run-down section of Germiston. He loved the city, which was never regarded as one of the prettiest in South Africa. “It’s the heart that counts; there’s a great heart beating in this city,” he once said.
Few knew boxing and boxers the way he did. During the early part of World War II, when there were only amateurs to train, he pointed to an energetic 12-year-old in his gymnasium and said the kid would be a world champion one day.
He was right. The lad was Vic Toweel, who won the professional world bantamweight title in Johannesburg on May 31, 1950.
Toweel beat Mexican-American Manuel Ortiz in points over 15 rounds and is still regarded as probably the best SA boxer in history; the only one who held an undisputed universal world title.
TRAINING THE IRON MAN
Carroll trained and managed another “kid” who became a hero. Johnny Wood won the vacant SA middleweight title at the age of twenty when he stopped Alex Dekker in July 1965.
Known as “The Iron Man”, Wood lost the title to Willie Ludick, regained it and lost it again to Ludick. He also fought in two epic bouts with Pierre Fourie in trying to regain the title in 1969.
Carroll trained and treated Wood as if he were his son. When Jan Kies knocked him out in October 1970, Carroll declared: “Johnny is finished and so am I.”
Wood never fought again and Carroll stepped away from boxing, attending tournaments on only rare occasions.
The 68-year-old Wood still refers to “Mister Carroll” when he speaks of his former trainer.
BILL DOLLERY AND OTHER CHAMPIONS
Another fighter who stood out in Carroll’s stable was the handsome Bill Dollery who won and lost the SA lightweight title three times.
Dollery won the title in only his eighth professional fight when he beat Charlie Els over 12 rounds in March 1962. He lost the title in a return match, regained it from Els five months later and then lost it to Stoffel Steyn.
He regained the title when he outpointed Herby Clarke but lost it to Andries Steyn in November 1965 when he was knocked out in the first round.
Carroll is credited with “making” about 30 SA champions. He used to tell a story of a well-built and good-looking Italian who came to his gymnasium and said he would like to become a professional boxer.
The Italian was not much good, but Carroll kept him working on the heavy bag, trying to show him the important moves. After several months, Carroll sent the Italian into the ring for a sparring session.
The only available sparring partner was an “old-timer” who came to the gym only to keep fit. He had only one eye but he sometimes did spar with the boxers.
He was snapping the younger man’s head back with good jabs when he was hit by a wild round-house right that shook his glass eye right out of its casing.
The Italian jumped out of the ring and ran out of the gym, still wearing his gloves and boxing shorts. People who were in the gym caught up with him a few blocks down the road, where he screamed at them: “Leave me! I mustn’t box anymore. I am too strong. I will kill somebody. One punch and I knock out a man’s eye.”
Carroll died at the age of 62 on November 23, 1974.