British boxing – The Decades
With no boxing on the horizon I thought I'd take a look at some British boxing over the decades and pick out a few fights that were not only notable in the boxing history books, but also notable to me on a personal level. They made me a consumer of boxing on all fronts, whether that be participating, watching, buying my first now no longer in print Boxing Monthly or having a dabble at writing about it. Apologies to anyone or anything pre 1980 but I'm not one to wax lyrical about things I've never seen so the only logical starting point was the 80's, and half way through it at that..
June the 8th, 1985. Eusebio Pedroza defends for the 20th time his WBA featherweight World title against 'Clones Cyclone' Barry McGuigan in front of 25000 people at Loftus Road (Home of Queens Park Rangers), London, England. I was nine at the time, football was my world but I loved a ruck, generally on the football pitch or shortly afterwards, we didn’t have games consoles or the internet, we had a ball and a bottle of squash, some times tempers flared, I didn’t mind, I was quite handy with feet or fists. Watching people beat one another up was a no brainer. TV consumption back then was binary. You watched what your dad was watching, or nothing, he just happened to have the BBC on. My old man was a pigeon fancier, raced them all over, never got bitten by the bug myself. He was very much a casual fan of other 'sports'. If he were alive today I'm sure he'd have no trouble finding a channel or stream dedicated to pigeon fancying, he'd be happy as a pig in shit and every bit as avid a consumer of that, as I would become of boxing.
I'm by no means an expert, always suspicious of those who say they are, but my understanding of boxing has grown over the years through various experiences and time served if you like. At nine years of age, it was just a decent punch up between two little blokes. The black bloke making the early running before the white bloke caught up to him. I had no other method of distinguishing between the two, no idea who McGuigan was and certainly no idea who Pedroza was. My Dad was limited help. Who do we want to win Dad? "The White fella".
Boxing hadn't sunk it's hooks in at this point. My viewing was sporadic, in todays money I'd be called a casual. A fight here or there, generally highlights if me Dad would let me stay up late to watch midweek sports special. Football highlights finished, bit of boxing. Always seemed to be Kirkland Laing on the box, it wasn't. I did watch McGuigan lose the title he won from Pedroza against Steve Cruz in the barmy outdoor heat of Caesars. It was only 12 months between the Pedroza and Cruz fights but I remember it in far more detail. My recollection of the fight was all wrong of course. In my minds eye I see McGuigan falling apart at the seams, barely able to stand, melted by the Las Vegas sun. It wasn’t quite as dramatic. The climate was a factor for sure but McGuigan got Pedroza'd. Barry made the early running, Cruz came on late with a couple of last round knockdowns which ultimately won him a very close decision.
September 27th 1986. Lloyd Honeyghan challenges Donald Curry for the undisputed welterweight championship of the World. I was coming up ten. As with McGuigan Pedroza I had very little idea who Lloyd Honeyghan was and even less of a clue about Curry. All I knew was Curry was a bad man and Honeyghan was given very little chance. In the wise words of me Dad, E got no chance (we don’t pronounce the H in he in our part of the World). At least he's got a smarter shorts I remember thinking. Some consolation.
The fight itself was pretty routine, "he's winning easy Dad" I'd say. "You wait" said the old man. I waited.
Technically ruled a stoppage due to an accidental headbutt, but that headline doesn’t do Honeyghan the justice he deserved. He bossed the fight from start to finish, he beat Curry up. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and people will tell you that Curry was this and Curry was that. Those debates will linger on for far too long. What's not up for debate is that Curry was 25 years old, 25-0 with 20 KO's and the undisputed Welterweight champion of the World and pound for pound number 1. Honeyghan went to the States where the proper fighters lived at that time and ripped the title from the Lone Star Cobra, and it remains one of the greatest British performances in a boxing ring.
Iron Mike Tyson defends the big three (WBC, WBA, IBF) heavyweight titles against Frank Bruno. 25th February 1989. Bruno has his second crack at World honours after falling short three years earlier on home soil against Terrible Tim Witherspoon. Bruno was more than a boxer, he was a national treasure. I knew about Frank Bruno, the boxer. I'd seen him flattened by Bonecrusher Smith, seen him flatten Gerrie Coetzee. Seen him defy gravity after being rendered unconscious by Jumbo Cummings but remain upright and manhandled back to his corner before going on to win the fight. But I never really followed Bruno as such. Little did I know that watching Bruno eventually win a World title at the fourth attempt would be one of the greatest pleasures as a consumer of boxing. The agony of watching him drag his exhausted fame to the finish line against Oliver McCall was pure theatre. Bruno was more than a boxer.
The fight itself was as you'd expect. A not quite peak but still rampaging Mike Tyson was far too much for Bruno and ended proceedings in five brutal rounds. A trademark Tyson hook to the body, uppercut to the head brought the curtain down on Bruno's plucky effort. Bruno landed a beautiful short left hook about two minutes into the first round that wobbled Tyson. It was a punch that punctuated Bruno's performance in the fight and birthed one of the greatest pieces of ring commentary from Bruno's long time sparring partner and broadcasting royalty Harry Carpenter, as Harry took off his professional hat, became one of 'us' and implored Bruno to "Get in there Frank!"
Tyson would go on to lose his titles two fights later against James Buster Douglas in one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
21st May 1989 Nigel Benn defends his British Empire Commonwealth title against fellow Englishman Michael Watson. Again, I knew nothing of Michael Watson. Benn, different story. The Dark Destroyer or Big Benn as he was then, was the next big thing and I remember watching a handful of his fights on TV. Benn was flattening everything in front of him. It's fair to say I liked the way he handled business and I fully expected him to do the same to Watson. Watson didn’t read the script. A better orthodox boxer than Benn, Watson cupped a high guard around his ears and let Benn go to work in the early rounds, occasionally poking a jab or right cross out from his shell. Benn was huffing and puffing but getting little to no reward for his efforts.
I remember the finish like it was yesterday. Around half way though the sixth round Watson landed a straight right hand that hurt Benn, Benn turned away and dabbed at his eye with his glove. Watson had hurt Benn a couple of rounds previous and from that point on started to put a bit more on his punches. The referee stepped in and told Benn to box on. Benn did as Benn does and tried to fight fire with fire. Watson as composed as he had been all night, walked a squared up Benn onto a ramrod left lead and dumped Benn on the seat of his pants. I remember being a bit lost for words…..a jab?! This wasn't how it was supposed to go. Referee John Coyle was looking away from Benn as he completed his count which it looked like he'd beat. There was no complaint from Benn though. He'd been turned over. Out thought and then out fought by a brilliant Michael Watson.
I'll do a 90's one at some point. Probably...
When God said to the both of us "Which one of you wants to be Sugar Ray?" I guess I didnt raise my hand fast enough