What’s a 6 ft 5 former Arena Football player from New Orleans doing in New Zealand, fighting in front of boxing-hungry locals? North Carolina Central University graduate, Clarence Tillman (7-6-1, 5 KOs), doesn’t have the record of someone who generally captures headlines, but he’s doing what most fighters can only dream of– fighting on his own terms, under his own conditions, and for his own benefit.
The heavyweight took a few moments from his schedule to sit down and speak to The Boxing Tribune about boxing, self-determination, and turning rough beginnings into happy endings.
The Boxing Tribune: First, the obvious question; what’s a guy from New Orleans doing down in New Zealand?
Clarence Tillman: Its a long story. I was contacted by Craig Thomson, a promoter here, before I even turned pro and, after the rough start, I was gonna take off to England, but once I spoke with him I decided to come down and check it out and it has been a blessing…Basically I got tired of Vegas and needed a change.
BT: Personal or professional change…?
CT: Professional. Vegas is a boxing cesspool if you live there.
BT: How so?
CT: It’s just so many snakes and no one looks out for the fighters…It’s just a “get me” environment.
BT: So, you felt that, without the right connections, they were looking to eat you alive…use you.
CT: Of course…So, after I realized that, I planned to go to England. but got the offer in New Zealand.
BT: You played college football, had a pretty decent amateur career….so, when you started fighting in Vegas, where did you feel slighted?
CT: Yeah. Well, I never felt slighted because I didn’t need to fight like most fighters. I have a college degree and can make money outside of the sport. I didn’t sign with anyone out of the amateurs because I heard too many horror stories from guys who did.
BT: Not to put words in your mouth, but then you started fighting and realized that without these connections you weren’t going to get a fair deal…?
CT: Exactly… because you would be brought in behind the 8-ball and have to get a KO to win in most cases.
BT: You worked with Jeff Mayweather and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
CT: Yeah, I went to Vegas because of Jeff. Jeff had other things going on and it just was a bad time for us to work together and Eddie, I thought was good for me in the beginning, but by that point I was sick of things.
BT: Do you think that being en educated, college graduate actually worked against you in a sense…made you realize what kind of business you were in?
CT: Of course it has. I have heard stories of guys dropping out of high school to box– are you fucking serious? I won’t mention names. (laughs)
BT: Lots of stories like that.
CT: Yeah, and the level of ignorance is crazy.
BT: In what ways? Help educate some of the kids out there who see the glory and big paydays…but not the dark side.
CT: First of all, most managers get 33 1/3 percent of a fighters purse, then a trainer gets 10 percent so that’s damn near all of your money gone before you get a dime..So, you may get a bright win/loss record, but you are broke. Then you lose and it like you have the plague.
BT: Lots of times fighters are living off of loans from their promoters or managers.
CT: True…borrow 1 dollar, pay back 2.
BT: And when they’ve squeezed the juice out of you, they’re off to the next kid.
CT: Exactly…Man I can give you at least 50 names of guys that has happened to.
BT: So, going back a bit, there you were, early 30’s, 2-4-1 in Vegas…like you said, behind the 8-ball…so you split for a better home base.
CT: Yeah…Thank god I could afford it and didn’t have to beg. When I see Floyd (Mayweather) in control of his career, I love that shit because people on the outside don’t understand the bullshit fighters go through. He fights when he wants to.
BT: I hate to use the analogy, but it’s almost a slave trade.
CT: That’s exactly what it is, so I bounced. At least now I’m in control and whatever happens, so be it.
BT: And that brings us back to a theme I wanted to touch on…Self-determination. You mentioned your admiration for Mayweather in that area…How would the sport look if there was some sort of movement to unionize or, at the very least, educate the kids like they do in the NBA…?
CT: I think it would be better IF it was to happen, but you would still need the right people calling the shots or it will be like UFC, the same guys getting all of the shots.
BT: If you think about it, guys like Arum are having an orgy off of guys like Pacquiao…the event brings in 150 million worldwide and the star of the show gets less than 10%…Will boxing ever be able to clean itself up?
CT: No, because its been like that since the beginning. Guys just need to educate themselves and not allow people to take advantage of them.
BT: In your case (being self-managed), how hard is it to run your own career and handle all the stuff from your personal life as well?
CT: It’s not as hard as it seems because I’m single with no kids.
BT: Are you still self-trained?
CT: I’m working with a few guys in New Zealand, but not anyone exclusively.
BT: How have things been different since the move?
CT: Well, first thing is the people that I have dealt with here and in Australia have been straight up with me and that in itself is different.
BT: What’s the fight game like in New Zealand/Australia?
CT: It’s not as technical, but most of the guys are tough and will fight. They don’t seem to pad records down here, (just) get in, fight, and see what happens.
BT: So, since re-locating, you’re 5-2…what would you say is your ultimate goal in boxing?
CT: To take this as far as I can…I’m heading to the UK in April to train and fights some, also.
BT: Will you be working with anyone specifically in the UK?
CT: I have been in contact with a really good trainer in Cardiff, so hopefully that works out.
BT: Tyson Fury…for real or just a big guy with an interesting name?
CT: Name. I was called to fight him before.
BT: What happened?
CT: They wanted a smaller guy, I think. At least that’s what I was told.
BT: You’ve only had 14 pro fights, but you’ve been around the gym a bit. Who are some of the names that you’ve sparred with?
CT: Evander Holyfield, Oliver McCall, Mike Grant, Dominick Guinn. Too many to name.
BT: Who taught you the most during these sessions?
CT: Probably Dominick Guinn or Mike Grant. Guinn was like a living guidebook to me…He would tell me the ins and outs of the business aspect as well as the actual fighting…I hate that he didn’t get his due in this game…Grant would just share info about life in general which is always helpful to up and coming fighters.
BT: You have a fight coming up with Michael Kirby (7-3-1, 5 KOs) on March 4th in Melbourne, Australia. How much does it play in your mind that these fights are “must wins” if you want to get to that next level?
CT: It doesn’t play at all…I know what I must do so I just have to do it.
BT: I won’t take up too much more of your time, so one last thing…If you could, share one insight with the fans out there who love the sport, but don’t have any first-hand knowledge of how things work behind the scenes.
CT: Just don’t believe what you hear…There will always be 2 sides– and then the truth– to anything in boxing.