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'I can't get work even as a cleaner': Former boxing world champ Charlie Magri reveals his riches to rags story

Mirror logo Mirror 29/07/2017 Alan Selby
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Boxing legend Charlie Magri is now facing the fight of his life – for his very survival.

The ferocious warrior was once the toast of the nation, a world champion who counted Princess Diana as a fan.

But the fizz has definitely gone out of Champagne Charlie’s world.

At 61, the former flyweight hero is ­battling to rebuild his shattered life after having even lost his lowly cleaning job.

The East Ender’s riches to rags story is all a far cry from his glory days in the early 80s when, for six months, he was on top of the world.

Today courageous Charlie has opened his heart to the Sunday People to show he still has plenty of fight left in him.

He is 5ft 3ins tall but he proved size did not matter when he confronted one of Britain’s most notorious gangsters.

Gangland killer Reggie Kray , jailed for life in 1969 for murder, owed Charlie £1,100 and the wiry boxer was not about to get sucker punched.

Kray was supporting a young fighter from Yorkshire and his team would buy boxing gear from Charlie’s shop in the East End.

Charlie said: “I used to get associated with all sorts of people. For five years Reggie Kray sent me letters from prison trying to get me to go and visit. At one point he was calling me twice a week.

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“They always used to pay me but at one point Reggie had run up £1,100 worth of unpaid bills. That’s when I agreed to go and visit.” The boxer had mentioned the debt to Kray’s wife Roberta at a party but she wanted nothing to do with it.

Charlie said: “He sent a man in a car to pick me up and when I got there he could tell something was up.

“He asked me if I was okay. I said, ‘Yeah, Reggie, but the thing is you owe me all this money,’ and showed him the receipt. The next Friday someone came back to the shop – it was all paid in cash.” Now, sadly, the money has dried up and today Charlie is issuing a plea for help.

He said: “It would be great to see the ­boxing world do more for retired fighters. I’ve been hurting since I ­retired in 86.”

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Compared with the 80s, boxing today seems awash with cash, big prize money and lucrative TV deals. Charlie said: “Today if you win the world title you are set for life – Anthony Joshua and Conor McGregor won’t have to worry too much.

“The TV money is sometimes more than what you get from the purse. You’re set for life. I didn’t get that, and look where it left me. It makes me wonder what might have been.”

But it wasn’t always that way. Princess Di and Prince Philip were among the royals who used to toast his ­success in the ring.

By the time he turned pro in 1977 he had won seven Amateur Boxing Association titles.

Just 42 days into his ­career he scored his first of 30 professional victories by knocking out Neil McLaughlin at the Albert Hall in the second round.

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At 21 he won the British flyweight title in only his third fight, and went on to take the European flyweight title in May 1979. He defended that crown six times.

In March 1983 Charlie’s amazing ­career reached its pinnacle.

He became WBC world champ when after seven rounds the ref stopped his bout with Eleoncio Mercedes of the Dominican Republic.

Unfortunately his reign was short lived as he lost his title in September 1983 to Frank Cedeno.

Charlie, who is friends with actor Ray Winstone and ex-world heavyweight champ Frank Bruno , said: “In 1981 we were taken on to the royal yacht.

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Princess Diana asked why my family let me do it. She said boxing was far too dangerous. We didn’t know what to say, this was Princess Diana talking to us.

Then in 1983 after I won the world title Prince Philip was visiting one of the clubs we all used to go to. Dozens of us were lined up. He told me he ­recognised me, that he’d seen me fighting.

“He asked if I wanted a drink. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. He didn’t ask ­anybody else.”

Three years later Magri, nicknamed Champagne Charlie, had his final bout.

He was 29 and lost to Duke McKenzie. Charlie had also fallen out with manager Terry Lawless.

He said: “My heart wasn’t in it any more. I’d realised I wasn’t getting the money I should be.

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“I had a big tax bill so I ­needed one more fight to pay for it.

“After the bell Terry said ‘You know what you’ve got to do now? Get up off your arse and work for a living.'"

Charlie became the landlord of the Victoria pub in Bow, East London, but after a ­decade the ­business turned sour.

He was out of work and forced to tighten his belt even further, ­before a cleaning job came up.

He spent the next nine years sweeping, mopping and cleaning windows on the Burdett Estate, Tower Hamlets, where he grew up alongside the likes of football manager Harry Redknapp .

He said: “At my interview they asked what I’d do if a resident was acting up and started ­confronting me. Quick as a flash I said, ‘I’d knock him out.’ I was only joking but they liked me there. It was great seeing ­everyone, even if it was embarrassing to be seen like that.”

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A bout of rheumatoid arthritis last year meant he needed three months off.

But a doctor working for the housing association that employed him said it was too risky for Charlie to carry on working.

He took early ­retirement but is now trying to find work as a security guard to make ends meet.

Looking back on his topsy-turvy life, Charlie realises he was destined to be a boxer from his ­teenage years but believes he was taken advantage of.

He said: “I wasn’t clever enough. I just enjoyed fighting. I definitely never got what I should have got.

“The promoters were taking over the whole show – it was great to box in them shows but you never knew what you were getting.” Charlie may be down but he is ­definitely not out.

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He managed super featherweight Dean Pithie and would love to get back into training young boxers.

He said: “I’ve asked a lot of boxing agents for a couple of tickets for me and my son to go and watch boxing.

“But sadly it’s fallen on deaf ears. If they’re reading this maybe they will give me a bell. I’d love to train up boxing stars of the ­future, too.

“I still think I have a lot to offer.

“You would have thought Charlie Magri, former European champ, former world champ, I ­defended my European title six times, might be able to show these young fighters a few tricks.

“I’ve still got plenty to offer – there’s life in this old fighter.”

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