A British Boxing Blast From The Past

21.09.06 - By John Carter: As a boxing nation, Britain has had its up and downs over the years. No doubt there has been some lean years but we have also produced some “canny” fighters, boxers and brawlers. Lets take look.

Frank Bruno 40-5-0 Heavyweight Champ

“Big Frank”, or “Our Frank”, one of Britain’s best loved sporting sons whose career highlight was winning the WBC Heavyweight championship in 1995. Success wouldn’t come easy for Frank. There would be many up’s and downs along the way. Bruno in quick fire fashion knocked up 21 straight victories all by KO until he ran into James Bone Crusher Smith and subsequently ran out of steam in the 10th and final round to lose by KO.

Bruno had been ahead at the time. He was soon back into contention with wins over Rodriguez, Eklund and Coetzee and in July 1986 he challenged Terrible Tim Witherspoon for the WBA title.

Bruno had perhaps the finest physical body of any fighter at the time, he looked more bodybuilder than natural fighter and often looked tense, this physical attribute soon came back to haunt him, Bruno was Ko’d in the 11th round after again running out of gas. It could be said that this extra muscle sapped Bruno’s strength into the later rounds. In 1989 Bruno challenged the self styled Baddest man on the planet, Iron Mike Tyson only to fail by round 5, not before rocking Tyson with a monster uppercut and with it laying the blue print for Buster Douglas. Frank challenged Lennox Lewis in 1993 in probably his best outing, despite being stopped in the 7th round, Frank had put up a good performance against the divisions future star performer.

Bruno would not be deterred. In 1995 Oliver “ The Atomic “ Bull brought his WBC strap ( won from Lewis ) over to London and over 12 atmospheric rounds Bruno out pointed McCall to win the title. Frank was Heavyweight champion of the world. Success was however to be short lived, Bruno’s first defence was to be battered into defeat at the hands of Mike Tyson in 3 rounds, it was to be Bruno’s last fight.

Bruno subsequently had a successful career in Pantomime and even attempted to enter politics. A divorce in 2001 from his childhood sweetheart and wife of their 3 children would be the start of Franks fall from grace. In 2003 Frank was removed from his home in Essex under mental health legislation suffering from depression. The break up of his marriage, the suicide of his former trainer and of course no longer being in the fight game contributed to Franks state of health. By 2005 Frank was back on track and he now makes a decent living appearing at events and after-dinners as a speaker.

Lloyd Honeyghan – 43-5-0 Undisputed Welterweight Champion

Affectionately known as The Ragamuffin Man, he was given little or no chance when thrown into the lions den against Donald the Cobra Curry, regarded by many as the worlds top pound for pound fighter at the time. The time was September 1986 and the place was Atlantic City, Honeyghan was supposed to be easy meat for Curry who was looking ahead to bigger things at a higher weight, potential fights with the likes of Marvin Hagler. No one had told Honeyghan the script and rumour had it that he had even placed a bet with the bookies for himself to win.

During that electrically charged night in Atlantic City, Honeyghan caused perhaps Britians biggest ever upset by battering Donald Curry into submission after 6 rounds. Honeyghan had shocked the world but not himself. Donald Curry was never the same fighter again after his beat down by The Raggamuffin Man. Lloyd would go on to defend his title three more times before losing it and subsequently regaining it from Jorge Vaca for a second time in 1988.

In the February of 1989, Honeyghan defended his welterweight title against Marlon Starling and after throwing over 400 punches in the first 4 rounds, he tired badly and was stopped after a brutal onslaught in the 9th round. Honeyghan would himself never truly recover from this defeat but would go on to fight another 13 times during the following years for more domestically rated titles.

After retirement, Hongeyghan became a fight promoter at the Elephant and Castle, not on a large scale, but it didn’t matter. Honeyghan’s night in Atlantic City will be remembered forever.

Nigel Benn – 42-5-1 WBO Middleweight Champ, WBC SM Weight Champ

The Dark Destroyer, a firm favourite with British Fight fans and fans worldwide with his all action style. Benn boxed in the army and had a superb amateur record of 41 wins and only 1 loss. After turning professional in 1987 Benn racked up a winning streak of 22 wins, all by knock out until 1989 when he was matched against a slick boxer named Michael Watson. Benn was found wanting that night and Watson stopped him in the 6th round of an excellent domestic dust up. Benn would travel to Atlantic City 4 fights later to rip the title from the tough Doug de Witt for the WBO middleweight strap. Next up was the dangerous Iran Barkley who Benn blew away within a round under the ridiculous 3 knock down rule, Barkley was hurt, but not out. No matter, fight was over.

Benn would then lose his title to his arch nemesis, Chris Eubank. Each fighter would give their all over an absolute pulsating 9 rounds in a fight that most fans can remember where they were for this one. They would fight again 3 years later, this time to include Benn’s newly won WBC title taken from Galvano IN Italy. A Draw over 12 rounds in an engaging fight was about the right result. In the February of 1995 Benn would fight the awesome punching Gerald McClellan which would change both their life’s forever, every fight fan knows the outcome and brutality of this fight. According to Benn’s trainer, the G-Man fight took the fighting spirit out of Benn. He would beat Nardiello and then Perez before losing to Malinga in 1996. Benn would lose to Collins twice, retiring on his stool in the second fight, the dark destroyer was finished as a fighter.

Benn is still a celebrity in England, he is a successful DJ at many of London’s top night clubs. He now lives on the Spanish island of Mallorca with his family where he became a born again Christian. Benn can still be seen attending some of the bigger fights in the UK.

Chris Eubank 45-5-2 WBO Middle/Super Middleweight Champion

Self styled, self imposed and self centred, but Christopher Livingstone Eubanks could also fight. Learning his trade as teenager at the Jerome boxing club Eubank turned professional when he was 19. After racking up a quick 10 victories he started to make noises about challenging Nigel Benn. As detailed above Eubank would prevail in 1990 against Benn in a legendary fight to win the WBO middleweight title. Like Benn, tragedy would strike four fights later against the likeable Michael Watson. Having beaten Watson on a dubious 12 points decision, a re-match was ordered. In one of the best British fights ever Eubank would come back to stop Watson in the last round, knocking Watson out after himself close to being beaten. Watson through lack of oxygen and medical help ringside would slip into a coma which nearly cost him his life, he remains severely disabled.

Eubank would have 20 world title fights in a row, including epics against Steve Collins who psyched him out and a young, hungry Joe Calzaghe ( remember him ) before Carl Thompson called time on his enigmatic career.

Away from boxing Eubank carved a TV career, in fly on the wall documentaries and reality TV shows. However he was never far away from controversy. His wife divorced him in 2005 and in the November of the same year he was declared bankrupt. Numerous visits to court would also ensue for misdemeanours. In 2006 Eubank was voted the 2nd most eccentric star, beaten only by Bjork. Perhaps that says it all about Christopher Livingstone Eubank.

Michael Watson. 25-4-1 Super Middle Weight

Watson had a successful amateur career, reaching the final’s of the ABA’s in 1981 and winning the title in 1984 before following the route of turning pro.

Fast forward to 1989 and Watson was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nigel Benn who was lining up a big time fight with Michael Nunn in Las Vegas. In a Winky Wright “peep-a-boo” style Watson put on a boxing clinic to knock out Benn in 6 rounds to shock everyone and ruin Benn’s plans.

The victory set up a clash with the legendary Mike “ the body snatcher” McCallum for the WBA middleweight title. Watson was advised by his camp to box forward more and attack McCallum. The plan back fired and the tough “body snatcher” stopped Watson in the 11th round. Watson then beat Errol Christie and two fights later was matched up with Chris Eubank for the WBO Middleweight title. In a classic encounter at Earls Court in the June of 1991 Eubank was given the decision much to the disbelief of the 12,000 crowd and millions on TV. A re-match was ordered. In September 1991 Watson’s life would tragically be changed forever. Over 12 pulsating rounds for the WBO Super Middleweight title, each boxer pushed themselves to the very limit and after climbing off the canvas Eubank would stop Watson in a frantic 12th round. Watson would collapse in the ring and the lack of ringside medical help would mean Watson being starved of oxygen. He would spent 40 days in a coma and have 6 separate brain operations.

Watson spent years in a London hospital and was he told would be severely disabled for life and would certainly never walk again. But Michael Watson would not be defeated.

In 2003 Watson became a national hero having completed the London Marathon in 6 days, Chris Eubank was there at the finish to greet him. In 2004 he received an MBE by the Queen. Later Watson was awarded £1 million pounds damages. It only just covered his medical expenses. Michael Watson is a symbol of bravery if ever there was one.

Henry Wharton 27-3-1 Super Middle weight.

There can't be many fighters out there who can lay claim to going 12 rounds with Benn, Watson and Robin Reid, but Henry Warton did.

Wharton was very durable but he also possessed fantastic fitness and genuine punching power to take opponents out. He ko’d 20 of his 27 opponents. He was a former undefeated super middle weight champion at European, Commonwealth and British levels, but at the highest echelon Henry Wharton didn’t quite have it. The ultimate prize remained out of his reach and his only professional losses were points defeats to world champions Benn, Eubank and Reid.

At the age of 31 and with a 4th crack at the world title in the pipeline, Wharton walked away from the sport. He claimed his heart was no-longer 100 % in the fight game. Wharton said at the time “ If I cannot give it my all then I am cheating myself, my family, my friends and my fans”. True to his word, he never fought again.

Wharton now runs a pub in his home town. To this day, he swears he has no regrets

Charlie Magri 23-5-0 Flyweight

As an amateur, Charlie Magri won Junior ABA titles in successive years, ’72,’73, and ’74 and when he moved to the senior ranks he did the same, winning the flyweight title in three successive years.

Magri turned professional in 1977 and soon captured the European flyweight title in 1979 at Wembley. A set back against Jose Torres in 1982 would not stop Magri from avenging that defeat later in the year. A world title shot beckoned. On the 15th March 1983 Magri would earn his nick name “ Champagne Charlie “ when he stopped Mercedes in the 7th to win the WBC flyweight title. TV appearances and public appearances would enhance the likeable Magri as a public figure and celebrity. Magri enjoyed his new found status perhaps a bit too much as he would lose his title 6 months later in the September of 1983. Magri would get the chance to regain his title against the the formidable Thai champion Sot Chitalada. Charlie was an excellent fighter until he bumped into the prime Chitalada. That fight probably ruined Magri and he retired at the end of the 4th round. He fought only twice more.

Magri now runs a promotional business and is Vice-President of the London ex-boxers association, helping those who are less fortunate. He is also the landlord of a pub.

John Conteh 34-4-1 WBC Light-Heavyweight Champion

Conteh was perhaps one of Britains more illustrious champions. He enjoyed great fame and was often on the front pages of the papers as well as the back. John Conteh love to party and he loved women. It was no doubt this excessive lifestyle brought short Conteh’s career.

By 1973, Conteh would hold the British, Commonwealth and European titles and would then challenge Jorge Victor Ahumada in the autumn of 1974 winning a split decision over 15 rounds. Conteh would defend that title 4 times unitl losing it to the tough Mate Parlov.

Conteh would try twice to win back his old crown but would come up short against Saad Muhammad. Conteh retired from the ring in 1980. At the peak of his powers Conteh was touted as a possible opponent of Ali, he was that good.

John Conteh now makes an excellent living as a after dinner speaker, his hair may be a bit thinner but his gift of the gab is not.

Terry Marsh 26-0-1 IBF Light-welter weight champion

Terry Marsh was an outstanding boxer who remains today the only English boxer ever to retire as undefeated world champion. Marsh gained fame as the “fighting fireman” in the 80’s and and even more so in 1989 when he was charged with the attempted murder of Frank Warren, he was of course acquitted – “ wasn’t me Guv “

As a fighter, Marsh won every domestic boxing title. He would take the british light welter weight title from Clinton Mckenzie in 1984 and the European title would follow in 1985. By 1987 Marsh would get a crack at the IBF light welter weight title held by American Joe Manley. Marsh would prevail by TKO in the 10th. He was world champion. He defended the title against the Japense fighter Kameda. In the December of 1987 Marsh had to make the tough decision to retire after he was diagnosed with epilepsy.

After boxing, Marsh attempted to enter politics, he had been charged with fraud and deception but was also cleared of those charges. Marsh was a larger than life figure, he was a chess champion, a Royal Marine Commando and a stuntman. Above all, he was the undefeated light-welter weight champion.

Naseem Hamed 36-1-0 WBO/IBF Featherweight champion

Where to begin and where to end ? You either loved Hamed or hated him, there was rarely a middle ground, where there is no doubt is that he was flamboyant and good for the fight game. Self styled as “ The Prince “ Hamed was flashy, cocky and had an unorthdox style, firing punches from seemingly impossible angles. Each fight often brought a new ring entrance, millions tuned in to watch, with some in the hope to see him get beat, but they would have to wait.

In only his 20th fight, Hamed would take the WBO featherweight title from Stevie Robinson in Cardiff in 1995, in the process making the likeable Robinson look a fool, they were a class apart. Hamed would make 9 defences against the likes of Manuel Medina and Tom “ Boom Boom “ Johnson. Next up was Kevin Kelley in MSG, New York, 1997. Hamed went down in the 1st, 2nd and 4th and Kelley himself down in the 2nd and twice in the 4th. It didn’t last long but it was one of the fights of the year for many. Hamed had sold himself to the American networks. Several defences followed including a notable take out of Augie Sanchez. Hamed was then matched against the legendary and elite Marco Antonio Barrera and would lose a UD over 12 rounds. Hamed’s career was all but over. MAB had made Hamed look ordinary, which he wasn’t.

In May 2006, Hamed was jailed for 15 months for dangerous driving and was released in September 2006 having served only 4 months. Although not officially retired Hamed is now 32 and will not have fought for over 5 years. When he was jailed it was reported that he weighed over 170 Lb’s. Hamed only ever lost one fight, and that was to an ATG, future HOF.

Article posted on 22.09.2006

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