'Bunny' Grant, a Jamaican star

Monday, November 05, 2018

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It's a difficult thing to ask Jamaicans, now in middle age or younger, to properly understand the impact of Mr George Leslie “Bunny” Grant, who died late last week at age 78.

In the 1960s, at a time when the Internet was science fiction, television was in its infancy and battery-powered radio had yet to be available in every household, the name “Bunny” Grant resonated on every Jamaican lip.

In terms of fame, he rivalled the great politicians of the day, such as Sir Alexander Bustamante and Mr Norman Manley later to be declared national heroes.

He must have come close to being as popular as the legendary Jamaica and West Indies cricketer Mr George Headley, 30 years earlier.

In simple terms, Bunny Grant was the Usain Bolt of the 1960s.

It helped that Mr Grant became synonymous with Jamaica's political independence from Britain in 1962. On August 4, just two days before Independence Day, Bunny Grant won the Commonwealth lightweight title before an overspill crowd at the newly built National Stadium, stylishly out-boxing the highly rated Englishman Dave Charnley.

The latter was no slouch. When Mr Charnley died in 2012 he was rated by contemporaries among the very best British boxers never to have won a world title.

For Jamaicans in the early 1960s, that victory by their hero became their Independence gift. Mr Grant, along with his legendary contemporary Mr Percy Hayles, lifted the popularity of Jamaican boxing to heights not seen since.

The fact that he later lost a world title junior welterweight contest to the then world champion, American Mr Eddie Perkins, at the National Stadium, had little negative impact on Mr Grant's standing in the eyes of Jamaicans.

So popular was Mr Grant that Jamaicans would pay to watch him train in the build-up to big fights.

People would crowd into local gyms in downtown Kingston, such as the famous Liberty Hall on King Street, the TK Wint Gym on Victoria Avenue, and later the gym on the western side of National Heroes' Circle just to see Mr Grant train and spar.

In boxing terms, Mr Grant was a great technician — an apostle of the 'sweet science', which dictated that he sought to score with his punches while, as much as possible, making his opponent miss. He led with a swift, precise, left jab, while constantly on the move with head and body, in order to avoid being hit.

The contrast in Mr Grant's boxing style with that of the more direct and robust Mr Hayles meant their contests were a must-see for Jamaican boxing fans.

More than any other Jamaican boxer, Mr Grant's superb technique influenced others such as Messrs Roy Goss, Richard “Shrimpy” Clarke, and the greatest of them all, Mr Michael McCallum.

Quite correctly, Jamaica's Sports Minister Ms Olivia Grange informs us that each of Mr Grant's victories “was a victory for the Jamaican people”.

We note the drive to honour Jamaica's great Olympians with statues at Independence Park, which is understandable as the nation matures, and there is more and more of a desire to commemorate the work and times of those who served.

It would be appropriate, we believe, if thought is given to honouring the memory of Mr Grant in similar fashion. It should have happened in his lifetime. But that's gone. Let's do the right thing now.

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