British heavyweight boxing legend Frank Bruno, an absolute national treasure, today celebrates his 60th birthday. Born in Hammersmith, London, “Big Frank” would absolutely capture the imagination of an entire nation. The Bruno story is quite the story: Frank fought the best of the best in the ring, he was a warrior who never gave up, and in his retirement years Bruno has battled with depression and other mental issues.
But Bruno is here to talk about it all, he is the epitome of a courageous fighter, both in and out of the ring. Frank doesn’t know the meaning of giving up. Bruno, who finally, at the fourth attempt, saw his dream of becoming world heavyweight champion come true (winning the WBC crown with a win over Oliver McCall in 1995) does plenty of charity work, he meets and greets his fans on a regular basis and he remains a hero to millions.
A naturally strong man, Bruno won the ABA title at the age of 18 and, after some early eye trouble that threatened his career before it had even begun, he set about reaching the top. With his raw power, his stiff left jab and an incredible work ethic in the gym that saw to it that Bruno was always in superb physical shape, Bruno knocked over the usual suspects (Winston Allen, a faded Scott Ledoux, Mike Jameson) before he almost came a cropper in his first test. Jumbo Cummings almost took Bruno out in their October 1983 battle, and for the first time Bruno’s suspect chin was revealed. Bravely, Bruno (who had been saved by the bell after being left on incredibly stiff legs at the very end of round-one) came back to get the stoppage win in round-seven.
Enter James “Bonecrusher” Smith.
Winning every round of his second real world-class test in May of 1984, Bruno was suddenly caught by Smith in the tenth and final round. Pounded to a nasty KO defeat, Bruno had been exposed. But the first of many comebacks was about to begin. Bruno regrouped, he beat Anders Eklund to take the European title (Frank never did fight for the British title) and then he took out former champ Gerrie Coetzee in a round.
Enter Tim Witherspoon.
With millions rooting for him, Bruno gave defending WBA champ Witherspoon a hard night, before the bugbear combination that was Frank’s shaky chin and his suspect gas tank struck again. Bruno was battered into submission in the 11th round. Still he wasn’t done. Far from it. Regrouping again, Bruno, still only 26, beat James Tillis and a faded Joe Bugner (in a fight that was a huge deal in the UK).
Enter Mike Tyson.
Bruno, a massive underdog against the “invincible” Tyson, shocked the world in the opening round. Well, almost. Bruno did rock Tyson with a hefty shot to the head, and Brits everywhere, Harry Carpenter included (“get in there, Frank!”) went nuts. Tyson maintained his composure and he stopped a brave but outgunned Bruno in the fifth. It was back to the drawing board.
Stringing together a series of decent wins, over Jose Ribalta, Pierre Coetzer and Carl Williams, Bruno was rewarded with a third crack at the world title.
Enter Lennox Lewis.
This one got nasty for a while, as Bruno called Lewis an “Uncle Tom,” and the nation watched with great interest to see who would win – the Canadian or the “True Brit.” After once again giving a good account of himself in the first half of a fight, Bruno’s was stunned by a Lewis left hand and he was then stopped, on his feet (this a common trait with Bruno) in round-seven. Would Bruno ever become heavyweight champion?
Enter Oliver McCall.
This was Frank’s last chance and everyone knew it. McCall, who had upset Lewis to take the WBC belt, defended against Bruno in September of 1995. All of London and the UK hoped Bruno could finally do it. It wasn’t easy, and in the later rounds, having piled up a big lead on the cards, Bruno looked like he might fall as a desperate McCall poured it on. But Bruno held on. He had done it, by unanimous decision. An entire nation shed a tear.
There was just one fight left. Enter Mike Tyson (again).
The rematch saw Bruno pick up a well-deserved big payday but he had nothing to trouble Tyson with this time. The returning Tyson wiped Bruno out inside three disappointing rounds. And that was it, the Bruno story had ended. In the ring, that is.
Bruno soon battled some major demons, being sectioned at one low point, but he is today in a good place. And Frank has some career to look back on. Bruno’s legacy is perhaps that of a person who showed us all how we must never give in, how we must never allow our dreams to get away from us.
Frank Bruno, WBC heavyweight champ 1995 to 1996. 40-5(38).