A boxing champion turned trainer who coached three world champions and inspired dozens of young boxers to reach for the top has been reunited with the local legend he steered to world title glory.
Former Trinidad and Tobago featherweight champion Ronald Reginald Radcliffe Rodney Rush, known as ‘Ronnie Rush’, has trained countless youngsters to boxing success over the years – including three former world champions.
Few people who live in the village of Ely, Cardiff, where he set up his own boxing school, Ronnie’s Gym, 25 years ago, aren’t acquainted with the charismatic champ who is credited with turning around the lives of many disadvantaged youngsters.
As a thank you for his dedication and service to the boxing world, carers at The Forge Care Home, in Ely, a member of Care Forum Wales, organised for his former protégé and WBO Featherweight Champion Steve Robinson to pay him a special visit.
Ronnie, 81, who has dementia, moved to the home earlier this year and enjoys nothing more than to share his boxing experiences with fellow residents.
Ely-born Steve was trained by Ronnie from the age of nine when he was an amateur boxer and during the majority of his professional days including his eight title successes between 1993 and 1995 – and says the trainer taught him everything he knew.
“He’s been an inspiration to me and like a father figure,” said the 47-year-old, who lives in Cardiff.
“He always knew I had the talent and pushed me all the way. He would knock on my door at 6am and take me for a run. He was always a world class trainer and we’ve shared some good times.
“It’s quite emotional seeing him again as we lost touch towards the end of my career. But he taught me so much. He is very technical and my style never changed throughout my boxing.”
Ronnie added: “It’s a great moment to see Steve. We go back a long way. They were really special days.
“When you train a lad to become world champion, nothing beats it. It’s very special. And quite a few of mine went on to become champs which makes me very proud.”
Ronnie, who has 11 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, started his early boxing career in the West Indies where he was born. He boxed professionally for 10 years alongside three other professional boxers who together were known as the “Calypso kids”.
Ronnie moved to the UK in 1956 and continued to box professionally for a couple of years before retiring from the sport to help bring up his children. It wasn’t until one of his sons, Randy-Lee, said he wanted to take up boxing himself that he went back into the ring as a trainer.
“I remember him saying to my brother if you’re going to become a boxer then I’m going to train you because it’s a dangerous sport,” said Ronnie’s daughter, Juanita Rush, 54.
“When he eventually gave up, my dad continued with the amateur boxing for the next 40 years.”
Ronnie, a father-of-five, originally coached at the Trelai Youth Club and later at the Homeguard Boxing Club, both in Ely.
Among his other proud achievements is previously training Jane Couch MBE, who became the first officially licensed British female boxer in 1998 and who won numerous world titles, and coaching Welsh boxing star Barrie Jones.
His original protégé Steve, who he trained for most of his career, was working in Debenhams as a store man in Cardiff when, with just two days’ notice, he accepted the fight against John Davison in 1993 for the vacant WBO Featherweight title and won the contest on a points’ decision. The defending Featherweight Champion, Ruben Palacios, who had been due to defend his title in Washington in Newscastle, had been stripped of his title after failing an HIV test and a new opponent was needed urgently to face Davison, from England.
“I remember the day he called me. He said there’s a fight and I asked him what it was and he said it was for the world title,” said Steve.
“I asked him if he thought I was ready and he said ‘you’re super fit and you’ve nothing to lose’ so I packed my bags and headed to Washington – and came back with the title.
“It was amazing and I really had to pinch myself because it happened so quickly. A lot of people thought it was a fluke at the time but I defended it against former world champions and proved everybody wrong.
“Steve was called the Cinderella man for a while because he came from nowhere to be crowned World Champion,” added mother-of-three Juanita, who lives in Ely.
“My dad had trained him for years as an amateur and was even best man at his wedding. He encouraged him to give the world title a go, saying ‘what’s the worst that could happen’.
“Dad has always been so passionate about boxing; he lived, slept and ate it. We had the Boxing News on order for years. All of us have memories of being in the kitchen cooking steaks for the boxers and them being in the garden skipping frantically to drop those last few ounces off.”
After losing his first wife, Patricia “Pattie” Rush, suddenly in 1990 from a blood clot on the lung, Ronnie threw himself back into boxing, launching his own gym in Grand Avenue, Ely.
Through the gym, he trained dozens of local youngsters of all ages and also provided youth club activities including a pool table to give local youngsters something to do with their time.
“He was devastated when my mother died,” said Juanita.
“They’d been married for 32 years in the February and she died in the January. My dad’s way of coping was to work all hours of the day and night training boxers so he didn’t have any time to think.
“Very few people in Ely don’t know him. He did a lot for this area, not just boxing but because he gave the children a purpose and got them off the streets.
“The kids who didn’t take up boxing still came into the gym to play pool and other games.
“He was very big on discipline. He was always Mr Rush to the boxers. If any of the children turned up at the gym when they should have been at school he was right on the phone to the school and sending them back.
“There was no smoking, no bad language. My father wouldn’t entertain anything like that, he was very strict but they benefited so much, many saw him as a father figure and they all loved him.”
Steve, a father of three, retired from boxing in 2002 and now runs his own gym in Cardiff, as well as being a personal trainer. He hopes to follow his former trainer’s legacy by training a world champion himself and might not have to wait too long. His leading pro, Craig Kennedy, is currently unbeaten and has already secured an IBF International title.
“I was trained the old school way and although I have my own style, the way that Ronnie taught me all those years ago is the way I teach my boxers,” he said.
Ronnie, who remarried to Lyn a few years ago, moved into The Forge Care Home earlier this year when his family became worried about his deteriorating dementia.
His daughter recently got a job as a carer at The Forge so she could be closer to her dad and help look after his needs.
“Dementia is a very cruel illness. I see him struggle and it’s heart-breaking,” she said.
“It robs people of so many things and whatever we can do to make their lives better and make a difference we do it.
“We wanted to organise the visit from Steve to help my dad remember but also before his condition worsens to the stage that he doesn’t recognise people.
“It was amazing to see them together again and my dad was chuffed to pieces. He tells everyone how many champs he has trained but because of his memory condition, some people are not sure whether to believe him. It’s been lovely to show people how special he is.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, praised staff at The Forge for making Ronnie’s day.
“Clearly Ronnie has been an inspiration to the lives of many, not just former world boxing champions but also local children who greatly benefitted from his service to community life,” he said.
“The Forge was deeply honoured to welcome a former world champion boxer and I’m sure his visit was a real treat for the other residents. It’s not every day you get to meet a real sporting legend after all.”