The Fights for London's World Heavyweight Title

By Shaun Murphy - Back in the 1970's, there were a large number of fighters who couldn't get licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control. The reasons varied: criminal records were strictly forbidden; plus some boxers were judged too unskilled, undisciplined or ''temperamental'' to fight in the professional ranks. However, from this plethora of ''outcaste boxers'' grew the ''unlicensed'' boxing circuit [''unlicensed boxing'' simply means bouts that aren't sanctioned by the BBBofC. It's completely legal and still continues in a less extreme form today!.]

Although things have changed and London's ''unlicensed'' boxing is now promoted by a Church-going Family Man. In the beginning, the savagery of unlicensed shows - head buts, elbows and stamping on downed opponents etc - attracted a seedy-underbelly of gangster spectators and extremely dangerous fighters. From this arena of fame-seeking, testosterone-filled macho men; emerged two ''urban legends'' who achieved genuine iconic, mythological status. Roy ''Pretty Boy'' Shaw and his nemesis ''The Guv'nor'' Lenny McLean. 

''The Guv'nor's'' road to Roy Shaw

Lenny McLean was born on 9th of April, 1949, and like Roy Shaw tragically lost his farther at an early age. Two factors shaped ''The Guv'nor's'' violent life: one was his upbringing on the rough-and-tumble streets of Hoxton in London, and after his father's death [Lenny was six]; ''The Hardest Man in Britain'' was subjected to emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a twenty stone monster called Jim Irwin.

Lenny McLean grew into a 6.3 twenty-stone powerhouse, and his first taste of organized fighting was in the brutality of east London's bare-knuckle boxing sub culture. Lenny McLean's violence and bare-knuckle boxing escapades built him an infamous reputation in the London underworld, and he was given jobs like ''minder'' and head doorman as a result. Many people suspected he was London's hardest man and when the ''unlicensed'' boxing circuit started; people flocked to see Lenny McLean up close.  

I'm not, like many others, going to claim Lenny McLean was world-class, but he was a formidable force. A huge man and very strong; 'Big'' Lenny was also a natural boxer and possessed all the qualities needed to strike fear, into any opponent. However, during his ''unlicensed'' career, ''Big'' Lenny did lose to descent ex-pros like Johnny ''Big Bad'' Walden and Cliff Fields by first Rd KO  [something he never admitted in his autobiography] 

''Mad Gypsy'' Bradshaw was no Mike Tyson: an unskilled, out-of-shape, middle-aged brawler and definitely in the ''Couldn't Get A Pro License Club.'' However, he was violent and he head-butted the huge Lenny McLean during the referees instructions for their fight...What happened next was pure violence: the bell rung, Lenny touched where '' Mad Gypsy'' Bradshaw head-butted him, the big Londoner then moved into range and unloaded a meaty left hook, and Bradshaw went down...Then Lenny McLean went into an uncontrollable frenzy and kicked and punched his semiconscious on-the-canvas opponent until; Five people, literally, had to stop him from killing him...It was fights like these, and his violence on the streets that built ''Big'' Lenny's reputation. The Londoner, also, had a talent for self-promotion and even challenged Muhammad Ali to a no-holds-barred street fight. On the horizon Roy Shaw was building a similar reputation, and London wasn't big enough for both of them.  With the infamous Joe Pyle as mediator and promoter, the two meet in a London pub to agree on terms for the title of London's hardest man ['The Guv'nor']
Roy ''Pretty Boy'' Shaw's Rise to Power

Ronnie Kray's ex-wife, Kate Kray, wrote a book profiling Britain's toughest men called ''Hard B@@!!rds'' and decreed Roy Shaw was the hardest of them all. Although, undoubtedly, this doesn't mean ''The Mean Machine'' deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Hall-of-Fame greats, no one can dispute Roy Shaw was one tough man.

Roy Shaw born, March the 29th, 1939, in Stepney London, had two events occur in his childhood that shaped his destiny. First: When Roy was 10 his farther died. From that point, he developed a deep-seated anger and directed his rage mercilessly at his bullies, other toughs and any other male who stood in his way. Secondly: Roy Shaw started boxing aged 11 and won his first fight by 1st round KO, in an old-fashioned boxing booth in east London. The young Shaw had discovered a talent, and went on to win the National Amateur Championships by 16. Roy Shaw was developing well, but was very small, so when he got a call up for National Service he believed it would aid his boxing aspirations; but it was the start of a story that merged boxing, street fighting and crime in one man's struggle against the system he hates....

In the Army, Roy discovered he was ''anti-authority,'' and was so violent he was sent to Military Prison and became the institution's boxing champion. Eventually, Roy was released from service, and he joined his sisters boyfriend's criminal gang and graduated to Borstal [again, he was Prison Boxing Champion, the ''Daddy''.] Roy escaped Jail and turned pro under the alias ''Roy West,'' and achieved a very-impressive 10/10 [6] record. Next a decision was made that maybe deprived Britain of another World Champion - Alan Minter and many others believe Roy Shaw was a potential world beater! - when the BBBofC refused to grant Roy ''Pretty Boy'' Shaw a pro license. From this decision, ''The Mean Machine's'' life spiralled even more out-of-control and he was sentenced to 18 yrs in jail for armed robbery. Where his aggression got him sent to Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane. Roy was released at 42, with his in own words: ''Plenty of life to live - and plenty of fighting left to do…''

''The Mean Machine'' was a free man and looking for legal money. People wanted to see him fight, and the ''Pretty Boy'' was led by his lack-of-funds into the seriously lucrative world of ''unlicensed'' boxing and bare-knuckle prize fighting. Roy ''Pretty Boy'' Shaw fought many anonymous ring and bare-knuckle fights; but apart from Lenny McLean, Roy's two other significant opponents were Donny ''the Bull' Adams and Ron Stander. Donny ''the Bull'' Adams was a hard man: and a granite-tough, bare-knuckle brawler. His party trick, at Gypsy gatherings, was to offer a pound to anyone who could knock him out with a 'free shot'! Initially, it was agreed, ''The King of the Gypsies'' and Roy Shaw were to fight bare-knuckle; but due to possible arrest, instead, the pair meet wearing very thin gloves. A blood thirsty crowd of Travelers and London gangsters witnessed Roy Shaw KO Donny ''the Bull'' with his first punch. Next, the Londoner, furthered his ''psycho'' reputation through savagely beating his downed opponent, and sinisterly becoming an icon for all fans of pure violence. Roy Shaw's reputation spread to the states, and the ''Pretty Boy'' issued challenges to Joe Bugner and Muhammad Ali to fight ''unlicensed''. Both refused, however, the world-class heavyweight contender Ron Stander agreed and Roy Shaw stopped him [Roy Shaw always espoused ''The Council bluffs Butcher's'' broken ribs were the reason.] Due to Roy Shaw's obvious abilities, London's fight people were split on who was the best fighter between ''The Mean Machine'' and ''Big'' Lenny McLean. With the infamous Joe Pyle as mediator and promoter, the two meet in a London pub to agree on terms for the title of the City's hardest man [the Guv'nor]

England's Most Notorious Heavyweight Trilogy

Although that heading is quite a statement, it's very true. Around England's boxing gyms, bars and anywhere else Englishman talk ''fight;'' Roy Shaw verses Lenny McLean is spoken about with a demi-religious awe.

Fight One

Not much is known about the first fight, except, Roy ''the Boy'' Shaw won by KO. This was, literally, a massive achievement for ''The Mean Machine;'' as Lenny McLean was 13 years younger, 4 stone heaver and 7 inches taller. Although Lenny McLean used his gloves as an excuse for the loss. Roy Shaw was a natural middleweight, and knocking out a man of McLean's size showed courage only given to a rare few!

Fight Two

Lenny's pride was hurt, and the huge Londoner desperately wanted revenge. This time Lenny McLean won by 1st Rd KO, and regained his reputation as London's most feared underground fist fighter. Now Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw were equal. The essential rubber-match, fought to decide ''the Guv'nor,'' made Lenny McLean into a cult figure. I also believe, the ''outsider'' appeal of these fights indicated the inevitable success of MMA.

Fight Three

In April, 1986, the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury-Park London, the biggest underground heavyweight boxing match in history was set to decide, once-and-for-all, who was the ''governor.'' To both boxers, and London's fight people, this was a world-title fight and the rivalry was real, they hated each other. Standing face-to-face in the ring's center, it became clear Lenny McLean was in the better condition and his youth might prevail. As soon as the bell rung, Lenny McLean pounced on his smaller opponent and unloaded a fusillade of extremely hard clubbing punches. ''The Mean Machine'' bravely tried to fight back, but was trapped in the corner by Lenny's powerful onslaught, once there, ''The Guv'nor" landed a series of hard, unanswered punches at the granite-jawed Roy Shaw until he went down. Then, Lenny McLean went into hysterics: the huge, barrel-chested fighter repeatedly shouted to a crowd out-of-their-faces on adrenaline and alcohol ''who's the 'Guv'nor.' From that victory, Lenny McLean earned a title he could never lose...

Lenny and Roy's Unlikely Celebrity

Apart from their shared love of fighting; both Lenny and Roy had very different personalities. Lenny McLean was a sociable extrovert and Roy Shaw was an introverted semi-loner, so their life's took very different courses. Lenny McLean's life crashed, when remanded for a year on a murder charge, but he was acquitted and became an actor. ''The Guv'nor'' made an appearance on ''The Ruby Wax Show'' [an American only known on British TV?] and hit the big time with London crime blockbuster ''Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.'' Unfortunately and very sadly for his cherished family, ''The Guv'nor'' contracted cancer during the filming and died before its release. However, Lenny McLean completed his role as ''Barry the Baptist'' and won many fans for his acting abilities. The Film's director, Madonna's husband Guy Ritchie, dedicated the film to McLean and it simply read, "'Dedicated to Lenny McLean, The Guv'nor.''

Although, I believe, Roy ''Pretty Boy'' Shaw could have been one of the best middleweights of all time, his adventures in the ''unlicensed'' ring still had extreme long-term benefits. ''The Mean Machine,'' used his ring earnings wisely and became a multimillionaire property developer. Today: Roy Shaw still works out and has written autobiography, done documentaries and has an autobiographical film planned on his life. Anyway, were they top fighters - no! But they have a place in boxing history, wherever the purists like it or not.  

Article posted on 19.05.2009

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