Roman Greenberg, a highly touted heavyweight with remarkable ability, retired at 26, and his promoter Robert Waterman attempts to explain why
Roman Greenberg has long been something of an apocryphal figure in British heavyweight boxing. His trainer Jim Evans and sparring partners insisted the Maidenhead-based, Russian/Israeli Jew had rare talent, and his background suggested a lucrative career could be on the cards, but Greenberg retired aged just 26 and disappeared from the scene in 2008, following a crushing defeat in his first world-level test.
Rumours occasionally circled through the subsequent years regarding what had become of the excellent junior amateur, who was born in what is now Moldova, but these rarely came to anything substantial and the majority of the boxing community forgot about Greenberg. That was until October last year, when Elliot Worsell published his investigation into the man, the myth, for Boxing News, an excellent feature which is now available online for subscribers. One of the men quoted in that piece was Robert Waterman, Greenberg’s erstwhile promoter and the owner of Seconds Out. I called my boss today and, after chasing up expenses, I asked him how he first met a teenage Greenberg and persuaded the starlet to emigrate once again, this time to the UK.
“I was actually in Israel visiting boxing gyms,” Waterman recalled. “I met him training in a boxing gym in Tel Aviv known as the Gordon Swimming Pool. He was amongst a number of amateurs I was interested in, but two things stood out. He had very good footwork and movement, and a high level of what I saw as natural ability. I’d watched a lot of boxing by this stage. I then watched him in the Israeli Amateur championships and he was on a different level from anyone else in his weight class. He was 17, still a junior, so it must have been around 1999.
“He went to the World Juniors in 2000 in Budapest and I didn’t go initially. I got a phone call from his dad to say he got through the early rounds, so I flew out and watched him lose the final, capturing the silver medal. He came to London and trained with Finchley ABC for a while, even fought for them in Las Vegas during their annual trip. I brought him to the UK and showed him to Jim; he was probably the first boxer I took to Jim who he was totally taken with. Jim thought he was brilliant.
“He’d had a very tough life. He’d already emigrated from Russia to Israel as a very young child and due to an admin mix-up there was a bit of a scandal and his family had lived on the streets for a while. So moving to another country wasn’t a major issue for him. The problem was, he never felt at home in England, he terribly missed his social structures in Israel. He never came back to the UK on time.”
As Waterman points out, while Greenberg trained diligently once in the gym, getting him there – or to England in general – proved more problematic. The young heavyweight would often miss scheduled flights from Israel, actually returning far closer to his upcoming fights than his team would have preferred and suffering minor injuries due the abbreviated nature of his training camps. Roman’s ability was still sufficient to carry him to 27 straight victories, albeit against mediocre opposition, but when faced with the once-beaten fringe contender Cedric Boswell in August 2008, his inconsistent dedication finally came back to bite him. Boswell was no mug and family problems allied to a back injury had taken its toll on Greenberg in the build-up. It was a perfect storm and Greenberg was destroyed in two rounds.
“I’ve since had many conversations with Roman and he believes he screwed up,” Waterman revealed. “We used to take his behaviour as total confidence but I think in reality he was very nervous and we all misread the signs. After the loss, he was crestfallen, virtually had a breakdown, he couldn’t accept that he lost. Jim felt he’d never box again but I thought it could be the making of him. He was a very poor trainer – in that once he started he was great but he couldn’t get started - so we were always playing catch-up.”
Waterman last spoke with his former protégé around two years ago. Now a father of three, Greenberg, Robert reports, seems very happy.
“He was working as a security guard,” Waterman noted. “He was still harbouring thoughts of a comeback but now had responsibilities and couldn’t afford to come back without significant support. I think he appreciated he had messed up. With his ethnic origin, he could have been financially successful and achieved a lot more than he did. Obviosly I’m biased but if you speak to people like Dereck Chisora and David Haye – who he sparred – they all say he was world-class.”