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Sylvester Mittee, Welterweight Champion

August 3, 2012
by the gentle author

It is my pleasure to publish this interview with Sylvester Mittee that I contributed to BOXERS, Photographs of Boxing in London by Alex Sturrock , a large format colour book recently published by Ally Capellino.  A few copies signed by 1976 Montreal Olympic veteran Sylvester Mittee and by 1948 London Olympic veteran Ron Cooper are available by clicking here.

Sylvester Mittee

I shall never forget my visit to Sylvester Mittee, unquestionably one of the most charismatic and generous of interviewees. We met in his multicoloured flat in Hackney where Sylvester keeps his collection of hats that he waterproofs by painting with the excess gloss paint left over from decorating his walls. During the course of our interview I began to go blind due to a migraine, yet Sylvester cured me by pummelling my back as a form of massage. Thanks to Sylvester’s therapy, I was bruised for weeks afterwards but my migraine was dispelled, and I came away with this remarkable interview.

“666 is my birth number, and my mother got scared until a priest told her that 666 is God’s number. I was called “spirit” back then. My mother, she went to the marketplace a few months before I arrived. She told people she could already feel me kicking and they said, “I think it’s the devil you got in there!”

My father was born in 1906, he was a very sober man and he liked to give beatings. He especially liked to beat me and I learnt to take it. He came to Britain from St Lucia in 1961, he’s passed away now. My mother still lives in St Lucia, she was born in 1926, she’s a tough old girl.

1966, 1976 and 1986 were important years for me, and at school nobody got more sixes than I did. Six is the number of truth and love and enlightenment. The only time I believed six was unlucky was when I was ill and life wasn’t happening for me.

I’ve been fighting for my life since I stepped off that banana boat at Southampton in 1962. Does a banana boat sound primitive? Ours had air-conditioning and a swimming pool.

My dad worked his bollocks off, doing everything he could to keep us alive. At first, he had a place in Hackney, then he rented a little run-down one bedroom flat in Bethnal Green, with my parents in one room and eight kids in the other, two girls and six boys. We had to live very close in them days. I came from St Lucia with my mum and dad in 1962 and my four sisters came in 1964 and my remaining four brothers in 1966.

When I came to England racism was bare. The kids in the playground ganged up on me and outnumbered me and they attacked me. Nobody did anything about it, parents, teachers, nobody. There was etiquette in fighting back home, but there was none of that in England. I was taught that you let people get up and you don’t hit people when they are down. But, if somebody hits you, you hit them back – that’s how I was brought up. I had to learn to fight. And I had to be good at it to survive. I had no choice. I fought to live and boxing became my life.

Before I knew how to reason, boxing was a short cut. The demons that you have inside, they control you unless you can think in a philosophical way. Boxing becomes a microcosm of the world when you are exposed to the extreme highs and lows of this life.

The experiences that boxing gave me have allowed me to grow. I’m like a tree and the punches I throw are the leaves I drop, so boxing is like photosynthesis for me. I fulfill my immediate needs, but I can also recognise my greater needs, and it is a chance to grow stronger.

Boxing is an opportunity to profess your philosophy through your actions and discover who you truly are. We are born into a part in life and expected to play our part bravely, and I am playing my part as good as I can. Boxing taught me how to grasp life. But the achievement is not in the winning, the enterprise will only hurt you if you seek perfection. I was European Welterweight Champion, but I say boxing just helped me get my bearings in life.

The boys in the playground who beat me, they were the ones who bought tickets to see me fight and they were cheering me on, supporting me. It gave me heart. I like to think it changed them, made them better people. I am a youth worker now in Hackney, and I also go to old people’s homes to do fitness classes and mobility exercises. Those kids that fought me in the playground and beat me, they live around me still. Now they are grown up and I work with some of their kids, and they come to me and tell me their parents remember me from school.”

Sylvester Mittee, European Welterweight Champion 1985.

Sylvester in his living room.

Sylvester on the cover of Boxing New 1985.

A few copies of BOXERS, PHOTOGRAPHS OF BOXING IN LONDON signed by 1948 London Olympic veteran Ron Cooper and by 1976 Montreal Olympic veteran Sylvester Mittee are available here

Photographs copyright © Alex Sturrock

You may also like to read my interviews with

Ron Cooper, Lightweight Champion Boxer


Sammy McCarthy, Flyweight Champion Boxer

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Vicky permalink
    August 3, 2012

    Sylvester Mittee gets a Gold, a perfect 10 for Sportsmanship and another for Philosophy of Life. Hero.

  2. Hardy permalink
    August 3, 2012

    Sylvester you’re an inspiration to us all. I’ll be at Excel watching the Olympic boxing later today and remembering your words ‘boxing taught me how to grasp life’.

  3. August 4, 2012

    i’m with vicky. a gold heart, i would add.

  4. George permalink
    October 17, 2012

    As a young man who has been helped by Sylvester in the past it is wonderful to see him get the praise and attention he deserves. Well done to the interviewer too. The transcript is faultless, I could almost hear his voice.

  5. Jerzy Konstanciak permalink
    December 11, 2013

    I Work for Sylvester on his loft corvention over 3 month, and I have to say “what a character”

  6. Kavin Robert permalink
    August 3, 2014

    Hider Mittie,
    was a great fighter. But he could had gone further.

  7. John Emmanuel permalink
    January 21, 2015

    I worked with Sylvester as part of Hackney’s sports development team. They were great times made even more special because of Sylvester. A good friend is hard to find and Sylvester is one of the best. Good on ya mate.

  8. Eric ragonesi permalink
    April 11, 2015

    I like to wish syvester all the best for the future. I fought syvester in 1973 junior ABA finals at crystal palace if I remember correctly. He seems a very likable guy. If he come down telford Shropshire Id love to buy him a drink or two. Good luck , be happy syvester .

  9. elle permalink
    July 5, 2016

    Really uplifting to see Sylvester, so happy and receiving the acknowledgement and love for, the varying components that make up Sylvester. From his fierce boxing stance, to his philosophy, and the very profound poetic verse he is able to create…..together with with the supported youth work he carries out, he is a great guy, a strong ‘brotha man’..lots of respect for him………elle

  10. Vince Elliott permalink
    August 4, 2019

    Sylvester was and is an admirable gentleman. He was part of a truly golden age in British boxing. God bless you Sylvester. Vince (Manchester, UK)

  11. Ray Purdy permalink
    May 7, 2020

    Hello Silvester, remember Longbow house? I had the privaledge to spend time with
    Your family, your mum was an amazing lady, your brother Gregory was my mentor,
    He said I should follow your example,which I did,training sessions in bin bags,we did
    Crown n manor, Lion club,n Repton training regimes, but none of us could keep up with
    You Sylv, needless to say we all followed your career with pride, you sold me tickets to
    The Albert Hall, I was so proud when you won that bout,remember Sylv when you helped
    Me when I was being bullied by a Turk 4yrs older than me, you allowed me to confront
    Him without losing face, which I did,Thank you, and then to see you defend yourself by
    Chinning him when he attacked you was a treat. Hope you n yours are well,stay safe,
    Thank You for your friendship, Take care my friend.?

  12. Wayne Cooper permalink
    February 28, 2021

    Hi Sylvester hope your well remember you working at the Halerbury club opposite Stepney Green school back in the 80s??

  13. Martyn Smith permalink
    February 20, 2023

    Just met this chap in Hoxton he started chatting and I thought hear we go , how wrong was I he started telling me about Hoxton and his life what a lovely interesting person full of spark and charisma , made my day ?

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