Joe Bugner, who fought during the Golden Era of heavyweight boxing, the Hungarian-born warrior sharing a ring with, amongst others, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, and Earnie Shavers, is sadly fighting a fight he cannot win today. Esteemed boxing writer Colin Hart, who covered many of the great fights from that special time in heavyweight history, revealed over the weekend how Bunger is suffering from severe dementia and is living in a care home in Brisbane, Australia.
Hart, writing in his regular column for The Sun, revealed how he had tried to call Joe up as he had done numerous times over the years, this to engage in “my usual banter with him.” Yet this time, Bugner’s phone had been disconnected, and Hart was soon informed why. Speaking with Joe’s son, Hart was given the bad news. The depressing news.
“I’m afraid there’s no point giving you dad’s mobile number because I’m afraid he remembers nothing about his boxing career,” 53-year-old Joe Jr said. “I found it heart-breaking when I visited him just before Christmas because he didn’t seem to know who I was. Physically he’s in great shape and looks younger than his age. He will be 73 next month, yet believes he’s only 38. He happens to be in his own little world. While we were chatting, he told me his wife Marlene was out shopping and would be back soon – Marlene passed away more than a year ago.”
Ghastly news indeed.
Bugner is, of course, not the first great fighter to have been cursed by this evil disease, and sadly he will not be the last. All we can hope for is a tremendous breakthrough in medical science that can and will prove so utterly life-changing for the millions of people stricken by all forms of dementia.
Bugner was a fine talent, though his was a career much-maligned. Coming to the UK as a teenager having left Hungary, Bugner went pro at age 17, and he defeated British boxing hero Henry Cooper at age 21, this via a razor-thin decision. The fans who so loved Cooper never forgave Bugner. The knock on Joe was that he didn’t give his all in fights, that he looked to survive. Yet one look at the at times savage battle Bugner engaged in with Joe Frazier in July of 1973 lets you know how Bugner could fight hard and with immense heart when he wanted to do so.
Bugner, who ruled as British, Commonwealth, and European heavyweight champion, also went the distance with Ali on two occasions. Next week (February 14), it will be 50 years since Bugner, at the age of just 22, fought Ali for the first time, this in a non-title bout. This was the fight Hart wanted to speak about with Joe.
In all, Bugner, who later relocated to Australia, boxed 83 pro fights, winning 69 of them and drawing one. Of the 13 men who defeated him, only four managed to stop Bugner.
Wins over Manuel Ramos, Brian London, Chuck Wepner, Cooper, Jurgen Blin, Rudie Lubbers, Jimmy Ellis, Richard Dunn, Anders Eklund, and, over the course of a comeback that was launched in 1986, James “Quick” Tillis, David Bey and Greg Page, prove that Bugner could fight. For sure, he could fight.
Fans should remember Joe Bugner. He’d have won a world title had he been boxing today.