Lisburn man recalls a wonderful and rewarding life in his chosen sport
|Former boxer John Rodgers at home with gloves from Madison Square Gardens and a precious picture showing him with legend Mohammad Ali US09-406PM||Showing John Rodgers (second left) with legend Mohammad Ali US09-407PM|
LEGENDARY Lisburn boxer John Rodgers has recently been honoured for his services to sport by being entered into the Irish Amateur Boxing Association's Hall of Fame.
John, who achieved countless medals and trophies during his career, was honoured at a special ceremony at the National Stadium in Dublin on January 27.
John fought in many competitions during his career including the Olympics, two Commonwealth Games and European Championships, with his greatest achievement coming in the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand where he won a bronze medal.
Throughout his career he met many boxing greats and historical figures as he travelled around the world including Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro.
He also witnessed tragedy unfold before his eyes as he participated at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, when eleven Israeli athletes were held hostage and killed by terrorists.
"I have no regrets. I would do it all over again. I've flown all over the world and met some fantastic people," said John."It was really nice to be entered into the Hall of Fame, it's good to be recognised and I hope I can encourage other young potential boxers from Lisburn to become involved with a wonderful sport."
John began boxing with Lisburn Boxing Club when he was ten years old, training with Lisburn man Frank Prentor until his retirement from the sport in 1976.
"I started boxing when I was ten. It was something I was interested in and 50 years ago there weren't many facilities, boxing was the cheapest and easiest to get in contact with. I lived in the Low Road area and the boxing club was in Bridge Street.
"I went through the juvenile stages before moving on to challenge for titles."
John certainly won many titles. His first was the Ulster title in the 8 stone 15-17 group when he was 15 and at 16 he became the All-Ireland Champion in the 8 stone 15-17 group.
John also became the Ulster Junior Lightweight Champion and was the Ulster Senior Lightweight Champion when he was picked to go to the European Cup in Warsaw, Poland in 1966 where he won a bronze medal.
Having become a full international boxer John then got his first taste of International games when he represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970.
Two years later he reached the last 16 in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where his joy at taking part in one of the greatest sporting spectacles on Earth was overshadowed by the harrowing events which occurred.
"We knew it was happening," said John. "We were in the Olympic village and we kept hearing there was a deadline for this and that, and then we got up one morning and found they were dead.
"One of the greatest shows on earth was ruined by this terrible thing."
John was also the first Irishman to take part in the World Amateur Championships which were held in Havana, Cuba in 1973 where he met Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.
"It was quite scary. There were a lot of secrets. We were behind the 'iron curtain' but they tried to put on a big show for westerners.
"I stayed with the Americans in the Olympic Hotel, Leon Spinks who beat Muhammad Ali when he was still amateur was there.
"I remember shaking hands with Fidel Castro, he was there watching every night. He was a scary man."
During his career John had 60 full internationals for Ulster and he represented Ireland in 60 full internationals, fighting all over the world.
"I was very proud to represent my country. I really enjoyed myself travelling all over the world. I fought in Madison Square Garden, New York against the All-American Champion. It was funny, because I was Irish they made gloves especially for me, green gloves with Madison Square Garden stamped on them. I still have them. They are signed by Floyd Patterson, the World Light Heavyweight Champion, who fought against Ali for the World Heavyweight title."
John was also privileged to meet Muhammad Ali when he was training in Dublin for the 1972 Olympics.
"I was at a training session in Dublin before the Olympics and he was there. I have a photograph of myself with him, it's a group photo but he's talking to me. I can't remember what he said to me, it could have been anything, but it's very special because he was never one for getting anyone else pictured with him.
"I've had some great experiences, there are not many people with experiences like that."
John is keen to encourage children and young people today to become involved with boxing. He is still involved with Lisburn Boxing Club as a trustee of the club and often visits to see what is happening.
"It has a great discipline attached to it for young people," said John, "I never got into any trouble, it gave me a good discipline throughout life. It is well respected and it broadens your mind."
John's final fight was Ulster against Hungary in 1976, "I had planned to retire. I knew when to finish and I have some fantastic memories. I would do it all again."