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RSR Sits Down With the Former Canadian Welterweight Champion Donnie “El Toro” Poole to Talk About his Career in Boxing & More

Interview by Mike “Rubber Warrior” Plunkett

“I always knew with my abilities, dedication and determination that no matter who it was or how many titles they had, when you were fighting Donnie Poole, when they got into that ring they had to bring their A-game” – Donnie Poole

It seems only like yesterday that I first saw Donnie Poole fighting on some card at the C.N.E Coliseum in Toronto. I remember him as a whirlwind force of nature-type that went at his opponents like his life depended on it. Later I realized that he grew up not far from where I was raised on a street right around the corner of a house where I lived in a rented basement apartment. In many ways it was a beautiful and peaceful area, but just a stone’s throw down the road was indeed a different world, far removed from my almost worry free existence. The section of Canlish Road where “El Toro” grew up didn’t have white picket fences or lush green lawns. It was one of the many Ontario Housing projects sprinkled throughout the eastern Toronto region of Scarborough, segregated by an invisible line that once crossed, those white picket fences and lush green lawns, not to mention the feeling of hope, suddenly made their appearance.
In the years since that May 1982 bout, “El Toro” has quietly enjoyed a sort of well earned legendary status among general sports fans and local hardcore boxing fans. On more than a handful of occasions when it has become known that I was a collector of vintage bouts or wrote for Ringside Report, the question of whether I recall Donnie Poole the local prizefighter always came up. Scarborough residents remember him and speak of who he was as a fighter with the utmost respect. It’s as though “El Toro” annexed a world title. He fought with the type of professionalism, pride and intensity that forever etched his image and blurred saga in the minds of those that once followed or heard about him.

For me as a lifelong Scarborough resident and boxing fan, it was indeed a rare an golden opportunity to be able to sit down and speak with the former Canadian welterweight champion about a boxing career of a lifetime ago, his second career as a firefighter and paramedic, and to get a true sense of the grounded and good natured person behind that local legendary status.

MP: You are held in very high regard in and around eastern Toronto and particularly Scarborough. Many of the local hardcore fans that I have encountered over the years have spoken notably of your fighting spirit and ability, often asking me whatever became of “El Toro” in the years after you stopped fighting professionally.Bring us up to speed on what you are doing today.

I just retired from the fire department after eighteen years. During my fighting career I was always interested in being involved with fire rescue, medicine and stuff like that. When I met my wife in New York City I told her of my plans and she showed me what doors I needed to open and what I needed to do in as far as my education in order to get into such a career. I never had the greatest education, I had to go back; I went through my high school education being an athlete as opposed to a student. I went to college and got my medical certificates in fire science, emergency medicine and was able to get a job with one of the most violent cities in North America. It’s been quite an experience. I love it but it has taken a toll on my life as a human being in what I’ve seen and dealt with. Being a fire fighter and medic was more of a goal for me than being a world champion.

MP: Your involvement with boxing, first as an amateur and later as a professional obviously prepared you to be a successful individual in life. As a product of the Cabbagetown Boxing Club in Toronto how do you feel boxing prepared you to move forward in life?

First of all I started with Tuxedo Court at 14 years old. It was an on and off kind of thing with George Zeller who was the trainer for the amateurs there. I’d read an article in the Scarborough Mirror when I was 15 about Cabbagetown Boxing Club and I went down and talked to the trainer there, Peter Wylie. Now in Peter Wylie, if anybody had a hand in the person and fighter I became, it was Peter Wylie. Anybody who was born and raised in the Canlish neighborhood was poor, we were very poor. As an athlete or as a human being we were disrespected. People didn’t care for us because we were raised in Ontario Housing and we were looked upon as garbage. I felt as though I had to prove myself. Peter had been raised in the same environment as I had been. Peter had become a highly regarded member of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Department SWAT team and Bomb Squad.

I felt as though if he could do it, I could do it. I learned so much from Peter on just being a good person, and I owe him so much to this day; he gave me confidence to be not just a good person but also to be a great athlete. Just because I had nothing it didn’t mean that I was nothing.

I was hard because my dad couldn’t stand Peter Wylie. I don’t know if it was jealousy having somebody paying attention to me, and I had as much respect for Peter as I had for my dad. He was as much of a role for me as my dad was. He was a great influence on me. That led to my success in life. When the boxing was over I stepped out of it and never looked back and I continued by getting into emergency medicine, saving lives and helping people.
MP: The confidence you exude and your drive to succeed enabled you to move forward into the field of emergency medicine, which in turn prepared you to help others under strange and often dire circumstances. Recently that confidence and training was put to good use in an unexpected situation. If you hadn’t been present, and versed in how to react and give proper aid in an emergency situation somebody would have died. Relate to our readers what happened.

My mother had passed away. There was a wake for my mother I went to the funeral home and I was standing at my mother’s side and I heard a strange sound and I turned around to see a man collapse to the floor. At the time I had no idea who the man was but later found out that he was a man that was my father’s best friend for 30 or 40 years. I hadn’t seen him in 25 or 30 years. When I got to him, I automatically kicked into overdrive. I checked him for a pulse and respiration; he had neither. I started doing CPR. My lifelong friend, Murray Cleveland, I grew up with him, he’s a big strapping guy as strong as mule, he was there assisting me with doing CPR on this guy; he did compressions and I did respiration. Two hundred people stood there watching it all take place. After 911 was called it took eleven minutes for the paramedics to arrive. Biological death takes place at about five to six minutes. It took them eleven minutes to show up. We got a pulse back on him just prior to loading him up, the fire rescue defibrillated him and shocked him, and we got a sinus rhythm on him. He had had a stroke and a heart attack, which was a double whammy. He has since made a full recovery. He’s doing well today. He’s alive, no brain damage, no nothing. To this day he’s doing well, and I thank God for that.

MP: Getting back to the topic of boxing, it’s been said that hockey was your first love, but what originally drew you to the sport of boxing and what were the key influences in your life that made you want to become a fighter?

My dad. What you have to understand is that I had a rough childhood. The kind of person that I am, I’m not a big guy, and I decided that I was going to have to learn to take care of myself. I decided that I was not going to be somebody’s punching bag so I learned to handle myself. My dad didn’t want me to be a boxer, why I don’t know, but after I got involved and started getting write-ups in the Scarborough Mirror, which brought some attention, he got interested and started supporting me. My dad was a great source of support from that point on.

When I was playing hockey, and I’m not just saying this to brag, I was a very good hockey player. I was the captain on an GTHL AAA team. Do you know who Larry Murphy is? Larry Murphy played for the Washington Capitals. We were as kids on the same team together.

I was hired years later by the Washington Capitals to teach their players how to fight on ice and defend themselves. Larry Murphy was on the team at the time. That’s quite a story there in itself. I’m not a big guy and these guys were really big guys, big powerful athletes. What happened was David Poile was the General Manager of the Washington Capitals. They had Bryan and Terry Murray; they were the coaches of the team at the time. They hired me to work with their European players because they didn’t know how to even make a fist. Europeans weren’t much for fighting where as in North America players would fight. Anyways, there was a guy named Dwight Schofield who was the team bodyguard and thug. When I showed up the managers and the coaches and I had a private sit-down to go over their expectations of me and to find out what mine were of them. They warned me of Schofield and that I may have a problem with him. Schofield felt I was a little guy and had no right to teach a big strapping killer like himself how to fight when he could annihilate me with his baby finger. I had no interest in confrontation. Schofield was 6’6 and about 260lbs.

Dwight Schofield had no respect for me from the very beginning and asked me to spar with him. He didn’t feel I could teach him anything. He had brought his boxing gear and told me he trained at the Kronk Gym when he wasn’t playing hockey. I told him I wasn’t there to fight with him and also I did have any of my boxing gear with me at the time. No mouthpiece, shoes, no nothing. After a few days of this I had had enough and accepted. It had gotten back that it had made its way back to the General Manager, coaches and all that. They heard Schofield had been giving me a hard time and asked me if I wanted them to stop it. I warned them that that I would be more than happy to spar with him, but I wanted them to understand that it was Schofield’s doing, not mine.
Owners, captains, assistant captains, all of them were there and it seemed like a set-up. Schofield had his hands wrapped, fourteen ounce Mexican puncher’s gloves on, his trunks and boots and a mouthpiece, and there I was walking in, wearing my running shoes, street shorts and they handed me a pair of sweaty sparring gloves. This asshole is bouncing up and down, all revved up, head guard on and sneering at me like a bulldog. Everybody wanted to see it. I was being set-up. I was infuriated! I said, OK, this is what you want; this is what you are going to get. I’ll tell you what, Dwight, kill me if you must, but don’t punch me in the mouth, I have no mouthpiece and I don’t feel like losing any teeth. He laughed at me. They gloved me up in sixteen ounce gloves. I’m 5’7 and about 155lbs. They called time and Dwight Schofield came running out at me like he thought he was Mike Tyson, I met him in the middle of the gym, he fired a right hand looking to drive me right in the mouth, I slipped to the side and hit him with a left hook and knocked him cold. One punch and he was unconscious. They picked him up and he came to and after about thirty seconds after he realized he had been knocked out, he went into a rage. They held him back as he tried to shake them off. I told them to let go of him and again he came running at me. Two more shots he was out like a light again. A couple of days after that he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins and after that his career was over. This was back in around 1986.

All of this was done on the sly and behind closed doors. What actually happened was that it hit the papers, so there must have been a reporter present in the gym at the time. They wrote up the whole story.

MP: That’s some story. You certainly knew how to drop the left hook on an onrushing foe and its amazing considering the size and condition of Dwight Schofield.

In 1981 or ’82 I was in Montreal, I had signed with Guy Lebreque and he had Gaston Brubee who was getting ready to face Trevor Berbick. He was 6’6 and about 240lbs. We were at the time from the same stable of fighters. I was fighting at 147. We had the same trainer, who asked me to spar with Gaston whose sparring partner did not show up. Well, it went down and they told Brubee to take it easy. They told me to just stay away. He came out at me and fired a big right hand, I slipped it and countered with a perfect left hook and knocked him cold. He’s unconscious, Lebreque is yelling at everybody to make sure none of this hit the papers. Later that night we’re all sitting at the dinner table and Guy and Gaston start having a heated conversation with each other in French, all of a sudden Gaston slams both fists on the table, lifting me off my chair. Anyways, Brubee blamed Lebreque for having me spar with him. Lebreque went upstairs to get his gun and I went after him and stopped him as he was coming out of the bedroom with a 9mm pistol in his hands. I told him in the name of God, don’t do this. Stop now and go back into the bedroom. He told me to get Brubee out of the house or he would kill him. I get downstairs and convince Brubee to go to the bus station. I took him there, dropped him off and told him I’d have Francine, Guy’s wife, to mail him his gear. Brubee thanked me and told me I probably saved his life. I never saw Gaston Brubee again.

What started everything was Guy Lebreque asked Gaston Brubee how he could let himself get knocked out by a welterweight. From there it just got heated and almost deadly.
The thing is, if I didn’t knock him out, that big bugger hit so hard he would have put me through the roof. I had to jump on him right away. He was the strongest guy I had ever met in my life. He could rip two decks of playing cards right in half! That’s how strong he was.

MP: Which fighters did you admire the most, who did you look up to or perhaps pattern yourself after?

They would be Carmen Basilio, Rocky Marciano or Jake LaMotta, that type of fighting style. Those were the fighters I patterned myself after.

MP: You turned professional on December 16th 1980 at the Masonic Temple in Toronto, scoring a first-round TKO over one Steve Robinson. What do you recall leading into and just after that moment?

I remember George Chuvalo and Bill Lehman were training me for that. When George trained me, he trained me like he fought; fight like an animal and that’s the way I loved to fight. Billy Lehmen wanted me to use my head, be smart, box and do this or do that. So I kind of combined the two. Steve Robinson was a really well-built heavily muscled guy and a good puncher. It was my first pro fight so I said I got to do what I got to do, so I jumped right on him and knocked him cold in the 1st round. I give a lot of credit to George and Bill for the way they prepared me for my first pro fight. I was very green, obviously. I had a lot of amateur fights but fighting professional and fighting amateur are two different worlds. As an amateur I fought more like a pro so it came very naturally for me when I turned professional.

MP: Just eleven months after turning pro you were handed your first loss by Gaetan Hart, a far more experienced and somewhat iconic journeyman with at that point seventy-two fights on his record who had challenged the great Aaron Pryor for the light welterweight championship the year before. Hart at one point had the reputation as an immensely powerful puncher, sadly due to the unfortunate demise of a couple of his previous opponents. Was it too much too soon?

No, and I’ll tell you what happened. My manager at the time was Ronnie DesRoche. Ronnie was a good man with a good heart. He was a street guy. My understanding was Henry Spitzer the promoter in Montreal, they got Ronnie a couple of hookers and a bag of weed and he signed a contract without my approval and sold me out. I was signed to face this far more experienced guy who had killed a man in the ring and put another guy in a coma for ten months. He had to that point fought more rounds in one fight than I had had in my whole career. What’s worse is that Ronnie had signed a contract that stipulated that I would fight at 143lbs. when I usually struggled to make 147. So then Ronnie sold my contract to Guy Lebreque who warned me I didn’t have the experience. So we went down to Philadelphia to have Joe Frazier train me for that fight. Now Joe was a great fighter and trainer, but he wasn’t a nutritionist and I had not eaten in ten days, so my weight was down to 141. I was so weak and so sick that when I was going up into the ring my legs almost gave out. I was dehydrated and weak. I’ll never forget this; in the 7th round I said Lord please give me the strength to finish this fight without being knocked out or getting hurt. I remember so little of the actual fight itself. People told me I fought a great fight. When the final bell sounded, I looked at Gaetan and said you win the fight but if we ever have a rematch I’ll kill you because it’ll be on my terms.

MP: Ten months and five wins later you avenged that first loss, stopping Hart in three rounds in the rematch, which ultimately earned you a shot at the Canadian welterweight title.

At the weigh-in for the Hart rematch I told Gaetan tonight I’ll annihilate you. He then said his piece because he was a foul-mouthed clown. In the 3rd round I annihilated him. I’ll tell you what as well, Aaron Pryor didn’t knock him out in three rounds, Claude Noel, all these world champions, they had their hands full with him.

MP: You once stated in The Montreal Gazette that you felt that you were the best at welterweight in Canada and that “You gotta think like that, even though you know there’s always some guy out there in the wings who’s better than you”. How did this mantra help drive you forward during difficult moments in the ring and in training?

I always said no matter who you are, how great you are, how hard you hit, how fast you are or how smart you are, there is always somebody bigger, badder, smarter and faster than you. It’s life. I always knew with my abilities, dedication and determination that no matter who it was or how many titles they had, when you were fighting Donnie Poole, when they got into that ring they had to bring their A-game. I had trained hard, I was a disciplined well-trained athlete; I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I trained like an animal and I fought like one. I didn’t care what kind of reputation they had. That was just the way I perceived myself to be and I never disrespected anybody. It was how I carried myself.
MP: On July 30th 1985 you had your greatest moment as a pro winning the Canadian welterweight title with a 10th- round stoppage of Ricky Anderson at the Halifax Forum. What do you recall of that moment?

I remember it as a bittersweet moment. Ricky Anderson was a very arrogant…he was a world champion as an amateur. He wrote a book and in it lied about me and said all kinds of crap, and there’s nothing I can do or say about that that is going to matter. What does matter is that the night we got into the ring he was this cocky, arrogant fighter in his hometown with his hometown judges and people, the whole bit. Before the bout starts he’s moving around the ring and he body checks me in the middle of the ring. I moved away from him and he tried to do it again and I said hit me now and I’ll knock you out before this fight starts. He stopped dead in his tracks and went the other way. I knew right off the bat that it was going to be a war. I’ll say this about Anderson, he had hands like pistons and he was a good puncher. Prior to the match I had my nose broken in sparring. The doctor told my trainer and my manager, Teddy Atlas and Dave Wolf, you have to cancel this fight. If he gets hit correctly, it will kill him. Dave Wolf asked me what I wanted to do but I had chased Ricky Anderson long enough. I told him I was willing to die to get the fight underway, so we took the fight.

In the very first couple of rounds, he hit me so fast and so hard I literally thought the referee was helping him. It was wicked hot that night, under the ring lights it had to be 120 degrees because it was 90 in the arena itself. When I got in that ring I could feel the heat coming from the lights and I said to myself, yes I feel the heat on my back, but so does Ricky Anderson, let’s rock. Anderson cut me for 26 stitches and broke my nose so bad I was breathing out of the back of my head. It was the worst beating I had ever received in my amateur or professional career. I caught him with a big left hook in the sixth round and he starts bleeding. I looked at him and I wondered why my blood was coming out of him. I was so delirious I actually thought he was bleeding my blood! In the seventh round I broke his ribs with a left hook to the body. I saw him wince and sort of buckle. He tried to get away from me I smiled and told him that dying time is here, I’m gonna get ya! From then on he tried to stay away from me, pumping his southpaw jab and trying to run. I kept banging him to the ribs and at that point I knew I had him and that he was about to die on me. In the 9th Teddy Atlas warned me to get him out, that if I didn’t knock him out and the fight went to the judges I wouldn’t get the verdict. Knock him out or lose the title. I got off the stool for the 10th and smoked him with the left hook and the fight was over. I was so elated. Like never before. I was so exhausted and hot; I just looked up and said thank God I got him.

Anderson’s hometown fans went psychotic. They attacked my sister in law. I went down to help her when two cops grab a hold of me and run me down out of the arena down a hallway and into a broom closet. I’m shoulder to shoulder in the closet with two cops. One of them turns over a pail and tells me to sit down while the other pulls his gun out with his back to me and announces to the crowd that if anybody comes in and he’ll shoot. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the fans were turning on me and trying to kill me. I didn’t get my title belt in the ring and I wasn’t there to be announced as the new Canadian welterweight champion. I never got that glory. So yeah, it was a bittersweet moment. I’ll never forget that.

Later when I went to the hospital to get my eye stitched and get my head put back on straight and to find my nose, who did I see sitting in the hospital but Ricky Anderson sitting all alone? Nobody was with him. Now that he had lost his title everybody had abandoned him, he was all by himself with nobody there to console or support him. I walked over to him and put my arm around him and it startled him. I told him Ricky you were a great champion and you fought a great fight tonight. I have all the respect in the world for you. Figure out who your people are because you shouldn’t be here alone. I felt bad for him.

MP: You took ten months off after winning your title before making your next ring appearance. After that you remained inactive for three years, never actually losing your welterweight title in the ring. Why did you stop fighting?

What happened was I told Dave Wolf when I was in Toronto healing up after getting surgery on my nose and my eye was all stitched up. His response was to get my ass back to New York and if I didn’t my career was over. That really upset me. No regard for my health or well being. I needed proper time to heal. I was so upset that I had been given direct orders to get my ass back in the ring because I was owned and I meant nothing but a payday to Dave Wolf. He didn’t care one bit about my health or my welfare, so I decided to wait out my contract till it was over with Wolf. I did it to save my own life. I put my life on the line in the ring and I came out the winner in more than one way but I decided to let myself heal. I simply couldn’t jeopardize my life.

MP: You returned in 1989, notably losing a ten-round unanimous decision at Rochester’s War Memorial Auditorium to former IBF light welterweight champion Joe Manley. In 1990 you finished off your career as a light middleweight, going 2-1 before calling quits. Was the desire to press forward gone by that point and what aspirations did you have in life as a young man beyond the sport?

Getting to the Manley fight, that’s all fine and dandy. I was ready for Manley and I had trained very hard but several curious little episodes leading up to it had thrown me off tremendously. During training in Rochester while doing my roadwork, while I was running at around 6:30 in the morning, a guy came out from behind a tree with a 12-gauge shotgun and pointed it at me. I stopped and turned around and ran off the other way. If they were trying to upset me, they did a good job of it. What I didn’t know was at the time my wife was getting death threats. She was in Weehawken on the other side of New York City. She didn’t tell me at the time because she didn’t want to upset me before the fight, meanwhile I didn’t want to tell her what I was going through in Rochester because I didn’t want to scare her. Another morning I got up to throw a load of laundry in and somebody had thrown a peach pie in the washer with my clothes. They were messing with my head.
Anyways it threw me off, Joe Manley ran from me. He fought a good fight but I regret fighting him the way I did but to say I was 100% ready for it, no I was upset because of all that happened during training for it. I’ve never known Teddy Atlas to be worried for his own welfare but he was and it was obvious to me that he was also fearful. It said to me who owned Joe Manley’s career and they were capable of doing what they wanted to do and get away with it. It was upsetting to say the least.
When I have to go into a contract signing and worry for both my wife and my own safety, and I got to go in with a 357 Magnum on my lap, I said this is ridiculous. I’m not going to further put my wife or myself through this so that’s when I decided to pack it in.

MP: How do you wish to be remembered?

I want people to remember me as a really good man, a really good person, never disrespected anybody, who treated everybody the way I would like to be treated, and was honest and never did anything that I didn’t want done to myself. What little bit of fame I had I used it the best way I could by helping people and to make the right decisions. I’ve done everything I’ve set out to do. I was God blessed, God blessed me. I’d prayed for my wife and the kind of person that she is. God gave me my wife 100% to my prayers. My wife and I have done so much to help people and helping animals. I couldn’t ask God for a better wife than he gave me. Everything we’ve done we’ve done together and we’ve changed lives and saved lives. I want to be remembered as a good man with a deep faith in God that I didn’t do anything that I wouldn’t want done to myself. The fame and fortune that I had with boxing I put it towards helping others. Anything I can do to help others, people, animals, I’ll do it to my full capabilities.

Donnie Poole
Nickname: “El Toro”
Division: Welterweight
Professional Record: 30-6-1, 21 KO’s

Date Opponent Location Result

1980-12-16 Steve Robinson Toronto, CA W TKO 1

1981-01-27 Bobby Buscombe Toronto, CA W KO 1
1981-02-09 LaVant Williams Ottawa, CA W TKO 1
1981-04-28 Ralph Doucette Montreal, CA W KO 1
1981-06-02 Phil Batie Toronto, CA W KO 1
1981-06-14 Carl Morais Montreal, CA W TKO 1
1981-07-07 Jean Paul Petrin Montreal, CA D PTS 6
1981-08-11 Mike Norman Toronto, CA W KO 1
1981-09-10 Denis Sigouin Hull, CA W PTS 4
1981-09-29 Ghyslain Deroy Montreal, CA W UD 8
1981-11-03 Gaetan Hart Montreal, CA L UD 10

1982-01-26 Robert Thomas Montreal, CA W TKO 5
1982-03-04 Jean Paul Petrin Montreal, CA W UD 8
1982-04-06 John Herbert Montreal, CA W PTS 6
1982-05-04 Frank Minnigan Toronto, CA W TKO 6
1982-07-27 Cecil King Scarborough, CA W TKO 8
1982-09-21 Gaetan Hart Montreal, CA W TKO 3
1982-10-19 Mario Cusson Montreal, CA L UD 12
Canada Welterweight Title

1983-01-11 Cesar Guzman Montreal, CA W UD 10
1983-04-26 Sam Gervins Montreal, CA W UD 8
1983-09-06 Tom Moody Atlantic City, US W UD 8
1983-09-25 Tyrone Hatcher Toronto, CA W KO 4

1984-08-22 Khaliq Abdul Muhammad Toronto, CA W TKO 1
1984-12-04 Ernest Perry Atlantic City, US W TKO 1

1985-01-08 Russell Mitchell Atlantic City, US W KO 2
1985-02-16 Leonardo Bermudez Reno, US W KO 2
1985-05-10 Nick Miller Latham, US W TKO 1
1985-06-28 Allen Braswell New York, US L UD 10
1985-07-30 Ricky Anderson Halifax, CA W TKO 10
Canada Welterweight Title

1986-05-27 Collin Keller Montreal, CA W TKO 4

1989-04-27 Cornelius Drane Washington, US W TKO 3
1989-06-06 Larry McCall Halifax, CA W TKO 2
1989-07-06 Dexter Smith Poughkeepsie, US W UD 10
1989-09-20 Joe Manley Rochester, US L UD 10

1990-04-01 Aaron Smith Washington, US L SD 6
1990-06-30 Johnny Gutierrez Fort Myers, US L PTS 12
1990-07-13 Larry Nichols Jacksonville, US W UD 6

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