Having retired from a boxing career spanning over 200 amateur fights and 27 professional ones and becoming one of only two Europeans to retire as undefeated world champions, perhaps Terry Marsh could be forgiven for bringing out the pipe and slippers and reflecting on a glorious career in the peace and quiet of his Basildon home surrounded by loving family.
But that would be to underestimate the man. Marsh is one of the great British boxers perhaps (shockingly) unrecognised by many of today’s young fighters. He cemented his place at the very heart of the English fight game and public consciousness by defeating America’s Joe Manley to win the IBF world welterweight title.
Now at the age of 57 Marsh was once again putting it on the line, maybe in the toughest fight of his life – fighting not only against a 23 year old powerhouse of an opponent, but also against the effects of time on his own sparse frame. The packed house at Scala, London knew this was sure to be a fight that promised drama and excitement, yet surely no-one could have expected the sheer quality and speed of the entertainment on offer.
Marsh’s opponent was the reigning WCBA middleweight champion Dymer Agasaryan from Armenia. Agasaryan is a junior weightlifting champion in his own country and a brutal puncher as his Chessboxing record of six straight wins attests. Armenia is famously the only remaining country in the world where chess is taught as part of the school curriculum and his ability in this discipline is undoubted.
As a chess player Marsh once battled to become London junior schools champion; but that was back in 1969. How much of that talent remained? And although Marsh has maintained an incredible fitness level, being a regular in his local gym in Basildon, to what extent could the limbs be roused and the spirit summoned for yet one more fight?
These were the questions that occupied the minds of the watching audience, but if they crossed the mind of Terry Marsh at any point, he certainly did not let it show.
Following the younger man into the ring he instantly gave notice of his state of mind by vaulting the ropes in gymnastic style. As the bout began, playing with the Black pieces, he weathered a fast and furious assault from the young Agasaryan, who managed to create a passed pawn on the e-file while opening a dangerous attack against his opponent’s King with Queen and Bishop. Marsh, however, held firm and as the bell rang to signal the next phase of hostilities he was only slightly worse on the board.
In the next round Agasaryan came out of his corner with deadly intent swinging hard left and right punches with power and fury. For a second Marsh looked as though he might be rocked by the sheer pace of the onslaught. Then, summoning all his experience and ability, he managed to find the angle of approach to nullify his opponents punches. Continually stepping inside, keeping a classical side-on stance and launching a lance like left jab into his opponent’s chin, Marsh began to take control.
Several times Agasaryan looked unsteady on his feet as the Marsh jab lanced home and by the end of the round it was Marsh who looked the more comfortable. In the next two rounds Marsh continued to consolidate his advantage. First he captured the dangerous passed pawn then he began to assert his control of the centre. At the end of the round he had a small material advantage and favourable position.
Round four demonstrated some of the finest boxing yet seen the Chessboxing arena. In an almost classical heroic battle of age versus experience Marsh continually shrugged off his opponent’s warlike assaults, all the while landing stinging jabs and working brilliantly on the inside, a skill that only the very best boxers can demonstrate with such cold precision. At one stage Agasaryan charged across the ring like an enraged bull finally backing Marsh against the ropes and landing a volley of powerful right hooks and uppercuts in the older man’s ribcage. These were the kind of hammer blows that crack ribs and sap a man’s strength and will – but not Terry Marsh. Absorbing the pain he slipped his man, spinning and landing a jolting jab on Agasaryan’s chin before dancing lightly out of reach.
It was a moment that seemed to sum up the fight and contrasting styles of the two fighters and as the bout progressed, Marsh began to assert himself more fully throwing the right hand and at times picking off his opponent almost at will.
On the chessboard Marsh opened up a solid advantage and creating a winning endgame, but failed to capitalise allowing Agasaryan to engineer a draw as neither man had sufficient pieces to create a checkmate. Under WCBA rules, in the event of a drawn chess game the contestants fight one more round of boxing with the judges awarding the decision to the fighter who has landed the most punches across the whole fight. At this stage – to most observers Marsh was clearly ahead and only had to survive the round to triumph, but by now he was clearly enjoying himself and set to work like the champion of old. You could almost see the years rolling away as Marsh darted hither and thither around the ring, ducking, weaving, slipping and landing rapid combinations and when the final bell came there could be no possible doubt about the outcome.
Terry Marsh “The Fighting Fireman” veteran fighter, undefeated world champion and now undisputed Welterweight Chessboxing Champion of the World. “I hurt all over!” he responded at ringside as he saluted a gallant opponent in Agasaryan. But whatever pain Marsh may have been feeling was nothing to the glow of pleasure in his eyes as the born fighter once more walked out the ring with a heavy champion’s belt at his waist and the laurels on his brow.
On the undercard the redoubtable Karl Ouch stepped up his claim to a world title shot in the light-heavyweight division with a bruising win over the tough Romanian debutante Ion Citu. Citu deployed an unorthodox style with a low guard and in doing so courted trouble, which duly arrived in round six in the form of a sweetly timed straight right hand which sent him to the canvas. There was a moment of trepidation as the medical team rushed into the ring to aid the stricken chessboxer, but within a few seconds relief flooded the room as he opened his eyes and signalled all was well.
The first bout of the night saw an upset as Max Williams, also making is debut, faced the experienced Steve Philp. Philp never got going in the fight and on the chessboard somehow allowed his King to become trapped in the middle – leading to a swift checkmate. A night to forget for the game Bristolian, but a stirring victory for Williams, who will publish his version of events in GQ magazine, where he works as a freelancer.