After hearing from some readers of last week’s post that they would like to see some history on Prince Buster and his foray into boxing, I decided to delve into the archives and see what I could find. And it’s pretty interesting, I think you’ll agree.
First, we know that Prince Buster is a man of flash and prowess, so why not start with a little flair. From the Daily Gleaner, October 5, 1964:
Monograms on the dressing gowns worn by boxers are always a source of interest and sometimes amusement. Saturday night, Prince Buster’s glowing scarlet and white robe had inscribed on the back in bold letters of black “Prince Mohammed the Great,” the inscription on Joe Brown’s robe read “Joltin Joe,” Bunny Grant’s read “Bunny Grant — The Whip;” and Vincent Ramsay had to addition to his name the spiritual acknowledgement “In God I Trust.”
Despite the fact that his first fight ended on a “sour note,” Prince Buster had quite a lot of fun before, during and after the bout. Amidst a thunderous ovation he made a grand entry, followed by an entourage of about 20 supporters. His entry into the ring was dramatic and he did quite a bit of shadow-boxing a la Cassius Clay his “Big brother,” before resting briefly on the not too regal stool provided for him. His antics during the fight again drew laughter and applause and at the end he spent about half a minute in the centre of the ring, arms high over ha head and gazing intently at the sky.
Prince Buster, born Cecil Bustamante Campbell, grew up on Orange Street in a rough neighborhood in Kingston and only ended up in the music industry after literally fighting his way in. He received nickname “Buster” after his middle name Bustamante, but “Prince” was the nickname he received while boxing. He learned the skill as a teenager from Jamaican boxing greats Kid Chocolate and Speedy Baker. Prince Buster told me in a never-before-published interview from July 14, 1997 that he wanted to be a boxer initially. “I was in a dance troupe and would sing solo. I used to have problems going to school in the day because I stayed up so late at night. I paid less attention to singing and was more into boxing and wanted to be in fights but really there was no money in boxing. You’d get punched up and then there was no money. So I leave that and go back to singing and started recording. From day one, I started for me.”
Prince Buster’s first fight was on October 3, 1964. Daily Gleaner sportswriter L.D. Roberts wrote in anticipation of the debut, “Prince Buster is to make his ring debut in four rounder and this in itself should be a treat. But if the Prince forgets he is in the ring and starts to do the ska instead of throwing leather he may get his block knocked off.”
The connection between Prince Buster and Cassius Clay, who by this time was known as Muhammad Ali (Clay changed his name on February 26, 1964), is evident in the comparisons between the two fighters and likely because Prince Buster had begun a relationship with Muhammad Ali and due to his influence converted to Islam himself. Prince Buster changed his name Yusef Muhammad Ali although he still went by the stage name Prince Buster. The two fighters met during a trip to London where Prince Buster was transformed by Ali’s faith in the Nation of Islam. During Prince Buster’s trip to the 1964 World’s Fair with Bryon Lee & the Dragonaires, Ronnie Nasrala, and entourage, Prince Buster took Jimmy Cliff and his friends to a nightclub in Harlem to meet his comrade Muhammad Ali. Prince Buster had also been with Muhammad Ali in Miami when Ali invited him to attend a Nation of Islam talk at Mosque 29. So the two were connected by a friendship and faith.
The Daily Gleaner on September 19, 1964 discusses Prince Buster’s planned debut in the boxing ring:
With all the flair and the gimmicks of deposed world heavyweight king Cassius Clay, Prince Buster bows into the ring with a song on his lips on Lucien Chen’s October 3rd promotion. The promotion is with the cooperation of David A. Lindo Ltd.
The ska singing sensation, more popular in the areas of ‘Wash Wash,’ claims intimate association with his ‘big brother’ Clay. No opponent he says, will last four. He fights in the first-round opening bout on the October 3 promotion. Like Clay, the Mighty Prince Buster claims to be Black Muslim. He has dubbed himself The Mighty Prince Buster Mohammed I in keeping with the Mohammed All, the name assumed by Cassius Clay after his seventh round TKO victory over Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title. Buster returned to the Island recently from a tour of the USA, where he had ‘the advantage ‘ of meeting and hobnobbing with some of the biggest names in boxing in the country, among them, Sonny Liston. “Going from gym to gym in the USA, I decided to become a professional boxer.” Mohammad I said after his return. He is currently undergoing training at the Liberty Hall gym. And like Clay, Jamaica’s newest professional has this to say in verse.
I Mighty Prince Buster, Mohammed the first,
Predict my first fight will end in the first
When the gong sounds for the first round,
My opponent will already be on the ground,
I have no time for fooling around,
There must be better herring around.
Prince Buster said that there was “no money” in boxing and certainly that was true—not because Prince Buster didn’t win, and not because it wasn’t offered, but because he didn’t receive the money because there was suspicion the fight was not fair. The Daily Gleaner on October 5, 1964 tells of that first fight against Gene Coy in an article entitled “Prince Buster’s purse withheld.” The article states, “The Jamaica Boxing Board of Control announced Saturday night after the Prince Buster-Gene Coy scheduled tour found at the National Stadium, that the purses of both boxers would be withheld and an investigation made on Wednesday. Ska singing Prince Buster recently turned boxer was making his fight debut, so too was Coy. After a light flurry to the midsection in the first round, Coy hit the canvas and was counted out, as Buster had predicted in a poem. The 15,000 strong crowd that had cheered him into the ring five minutes earlier, booed as Coy lay on the canvas.”
But Prince Buster did get his money after all amid the spectacle. The Daily Gleaner on November 5, 1964, over a month after the bout, states:
The Jamaica Boxing Board of Control, yesterday announced that ska-singing lightweight, professional boxer Prince Buster and Gene Coy whom he floored in the first round on October 3, will receive their purses. The Board had withheld the purses of both boxers after a questionable performance in the four-round bout promoted by Lucien Chen at the National Stadium. Principals of the five fight card were Bunny Grant vs. Kid Bassey for the Jamaica Welterweight title and Percy Hayles vs. former world lightweight title holder Joe Brown.
Boxing Board Secretary George Abrahams said through a release after a meeting of the committee set up to investigate the fight. “It was decided that in consideration of all the circumstances the purses of both boxers, which was previously withheld, should be paid and that severe reprimand be issued to Coy’s trainer.”
Coy, who trained at Liberty Hall, maintained that he was sick and that his trainer said he should fight.
Coy was floored by a light flurry to the mid-section seconds from the end of the first round as Buster had predicted in his poem.
Prince Buster has recently returned from Miami where he watched world heavy-weight boxing champion Cassius Clay’s early training for his title defense with former champion Charles (Sonny) Liston in Boston, Massachusetts on November 10. Buster says that he is going to Boston to be in Clay’s corner for his return bout with Liston.
Although Prince Buster continued for a short time to help support other boxers by appearing at their bouts, such as his mentor Muhammad Ali, Bunny Grant, and Grady Ponder, whom he helped convert to Islam, the October 3, 1964 boxing match against Coy was the only professional fight that Prince Buster ever fought.