|Q&A with Maurice ‘Termite’ Watkins
Interview by Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (June 19, 2008) DoghouseBoxing.com
Maurice ‘Termite’ Watkins of Houston, Texas challenged for the world junior welterweight title, but lost a decision to Saoul Mamby in 1980. He had 61 wins in his career and only lost five times. He became one of the top 2% of car salesmen in the country. His dad had an exterminating business that he helped with. For the third time, he was approached to go to Iraq to help with the exterminating business there. Against his wife's wishes, he finally agreed. When it was found out that he was a former boxer, Watkins was asked to put together an Olympic boxing team in two months.
What he achieved in that time has been turned into a book and movie rights. There was not a boxing team representing Iraq since 1960. He heard horrible stories from the Saddam Hussein regime. One boxer told him that if a boxer did not perform well, Uday Hussein would make the boxer get in a boxing stance. Then Uday would hit him. In the meantime, Uday had one of his henchmen stand by as if he were a referee, but he had a pistol in his hand. If the boxer hit Uday back, the henchman would shoot the boxer in the head.
The following is an interview with none other than the man they call the ‘Termite’. This is a man who put his life on the line and had a contract on his head. The soccer coach was killed by the enemy. Watkins took 24 Iraqis to Jordan and Kuwait to train. One member, Najah Ali, all 106 pounds of him, qualified and won in his first round bout of the 2004 Olympics.
Ken Hissner: How did you get the nickname ‘Termite’?
Maurice Watkins: My family is in the pest control business. The day I was born, a friend of the family that worked for my dad said that I looked like a little termite and started calling me ‘Termite’.
KH: I understand you met George Foreman when you were 14 years of age. Tell us about that.
MW: I did meet George around that age. He trained at a gym in downtown Houston. A man ran the gym named Shifty Dandio. He had cauliflower ears and was a little on the punchy side. One day, Shifty was trying to run me out of the dressing room. To my surprise, Big George said, "He's my little buddy and he will be dressing in my room from now on."
KH: You amassed a 128-10 record as an amateur and won the national Golden Glove title when you were 16 years old. You went on to become a professional and lost to a young Olympic gold medalist named Howard Davis, Jr. in 1979. What kind of an opponent was he?
MW: Howard Davis was a great fighter in my opinion. Olympic Gold is about as good as it gets. I have a lot of respect for Howard. He and I are still good friends. He was a great boxer, could take a great punch, and was very clever with a lot of natural ability.
KH: Four knockout victories and one year later, you got a title shot and lost by decision to WBC junior welterweight champion Saoul Mamby. How did you get that shot?
MW: They finally had to give me a title shot. I was supposed to have had several other shots when I was undefeated. However, I would not play the game that most promoters play. They want you to sign your life away for the opportunity. I would not. It took me longer, but they finally had to give me a shot.
KH: You retired at the age of 26 after losing to former champion Alfredo Escalera in 1982. Why did you retire at such a young age?
MW: I had two eye surgeries from a non-boxing related problem. In the fight with Alfredo, I had double vision from the third round on. It was time to hang em' up. My problem was not from boxing.
KH: Almost seven years later, you made a comeback in 1989. After the first fight ended in a draw, you won seven straight, but retired less than a year after the comeback. Why did you retire again so quickly?
MW: In my seventh fight back on the comeback, I broke my wrist in the second round and I did not stop the guy until the eighth round. My body just did not heal like it did when I was younger. I wanted to retire a winner and retire when I wanted to, not when I had to, so I did. Then, I did what I enjoyed most. Just be daddy!
KH: I understand you had a very wild life after this. How did your belief in God play into this?
MW: I did get wild at one point after retiring. Drinking and drugs. I have always had the most wonderful wife in the world. Fortunately, my wife told me, "Termite, you have to make a choice. It's me and the kids or the drugs." I love my family more and so I quit. I got myself involved in serving the Lord. He was the answer. He is the answer to all problems. I do believe that sometimes God lets us hit rock bottom so we have to look up to him. Then, He uses angels disguised as wives to help us.
KH: I understand you became a top car salesman. Then, you were approached in 2003 to change your employment. Tell us about that.
MW: In 1996, I had lost everything basically. I had just quit drugs and I needed to make more money because it was time to get back on track with my life financially. I went to a dealership where a friend of mine worked and he got me an interview with one of the managers. Young squirt. He basically said he was not hiring. He was just talking with me because my buddy asked him to. I said, "Okay, but you just passed up the best salesman you ever met!" He said, "I thought you have never sold cars." I said, "I haven't, but I am the best salesman you ever met!" He hired me out of fear that I was right. The general manager was a lady and she required all new salesmen to attend a sales class for a week or so. I did not want to because I needed money. The class started on Monday, but I decided to come in on the Saturday before and watch and see how it was done. They got busy, so I decided to help a customer. I made the sale. The general manager demanded that I be at the sales class on Monday at 9:00 AM. I did not want to go to this. I knew I could sell if I was just given the chance. Well, I am an early bird. So I got to work at 8:00 AM. I found a customer. I sold a car (didn't get to go to class). On Tuesday, I got there early and sold another car. On Wednesday, the same thing but sold two cars. The general manager was really mean. She came up to me and I thought, "Oh no." She put her arm around me and said, "Whatever you are doing, keep on doing it. Forget about the class." So I did. After a few months, I was among the top three salesmen. After a year, I was the top salesman. Then I was asked to teach the class I had never gone to. When you want something in life, you just have to go after it with a no quit attitude, an "I will find a way" attitude.
KH: You were asked if you still had your exterminating license because Iraq needed exterminators. I imagine your wife was quite upset about you going to Iraq.
MW: My wife was upset about me going to Iraq. I was walking away from a high paying job. She thought I was nuts. After we had a wreck in Iraq and I saved two people's lives, she knew I was exactly where God wanted me.
KH: How did the military people treat you in Iraq?
MW: For the most part, the military treated me great. There was a few that tried to be rude, but I nicely told them that I would not put up with their bad attitudes. I also reminded them that I was there to support them, not hurt them. They were the only reason I was there at that time. They are all great, but many are under a lot of pressure.
KH: You were approached to put together a boxing team to represent Iraq for the 2004 Olympics. How in the world did you do that?
MW: When I went to Iraq, I went to be a servant. It was my time to serve. When a person really wants to feel good about life, try being a servant. Anyway, the second day I was in Iraq, a British Colonel came up to me and was real arrogant and rude. It was time for me to take a stand, but in a correct way. I did (It is in the book). The next thing you know, I was training him. Then, I started training approximately 35 of our great men and women of our military. Then, I was challenged by Mr. Mike Gfoeller to get the Iraqis back to the Olympics. Call me on this and I will tell the setting. It's too much to talk about in one interview. Anyway, it was during the middle of a war. We could not leave the compound without the worry of getting shot at. We were in the middle of the desert in an oasis on the Euphrates River, about a mile and a half from Babylon. From that point on, it seemed like a miracle. All the right people seemed to always be right around me everywhere I went. I just had to meet them and get to know them (a big lesson in life). All the pieces just seemed to fall into place, of course with much prayer, faith, and work.
KH: I understand you have a new book out and a possible movie deal. Tell us about that.
MW: I do have a new book out called "Termite". I want to invite everyone to read it. It is a book about people helping people by them finding a way, overcoming, and much more. It is not about Iraq, not about politics, not about the war. It is about an American man and a young Iraqi that bonded and proved how two people from different cultures, from different countries, could love each other and together overcome most every obstacle put in front of them. The book was written by Suzy Pepper, a very close friend of mine since I was four. There is a movie that will be coming out called "They Call Me Termite".
KH: In closing, is there anything you would like to say to your many fans?
MW: I want to say that everyone needs to read this book. It will touch their lives whether they are teenagers, adults, men or women. I would like to ask everyone to visit my website: www.termitewatkins.com. I close with a scripture I live by: Phil. 4:13. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." So can everyone. I was the most likely not to succeed, but I did. God bless everyone. Oh, and one more thing. I challenge everyone to put God back in our country. This country was built on God and that is what makes America such a great country. Let's put God back into everything. If we don't, we will surely fall.
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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