As the boxing world awaits Liam Smith’s unmissable WBO Super Welter defence against Mexican phenom Canelo Alvarez in Arlington, Texas tonight, Glynn Evans recalls the adventures of fellow Mersey migrants who waged war in world title rings on foreign fields.
1) Alan Rudkin
Dingle dandy Rudkin was active in an era when there were fewer weight categories and significantly fewer fighters parading as world champions.
As a consequence he needed to pack his passport for each of his three abortive tilts at global glory – every time squaring off against the division number one for the undisputed crown in hostile terrain.
Edged out over 15 rounds by ferocious Jap Fighting Harada in Tokyo (1965), he was unlucky not to get his arm raised after finishing like a train against Lionel Rose at the Melbourne Tennis Centre four years after. Farcically, one judge sided with the local by 15 rounds to love?! In a third world spat, Mexican Hall of Famer Ruben Olivares rubbed him out in two rounds in LA. No disgrace there.
A top grade British, Commonwealth and European champion, the Mersey mite would surely have enjoyed a long and lucrative reign on the world title throne had he been rumbling in present times.
2) John Conteh
Conteh, the greatest Scouse scrapper of them all and one of the finest Britain has produced since the war, contested four world title fights abroad. Alas, his fortunes diminished with each passing outing.
His foreign service began brightly in October 1976 with a workmanlike 15 round points win over the very able Native American Alvaro ‘Yaqui’ Lopez in the second defence of his WBC light-heavy strap over in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Thereafter, affairs took an adverse turn for the outrageously gifted but incorrigible playboy after he conceded his crown to opponents named petulance and politics in late 1977.
In the first of three attempts to regain his status, joltin’ John was contentiously edged out on a split after 15 by 1972 Olympic champ Mate Parlov, a Serbian southpaw, before 40,000 at a football stadium in Belgrade in June 1978.
Though just 28, Conteh’s hedonistic ways meant he was already ‘on the dip’ when he swapped leather with rugged Phillie warmonger Matt Saad Muhammad at Resorts, Atlantic City, 14 months after. A brace of late knockdowns permitted Saad to retain controversially after 15 glorious rounds.
However, during the seven months it took to organise the replay (at the same venue), assorted vices caused JC to regress immeasurably and he capitulated rather tamely in round four.
3) Paul Hodkinson
The shy guy from Kirkby twice defended his WBC featherweight title on foreign climes...with mixed results.
In September 1992, the sawn-off Scouse made a successful – if not entirely convincing – second defence of his belt at an ice rink just outside Toulouse, France when he finally repelled spirited resistance from fanatically supported local Jewish gypsy Fabrice Benichou.
A severely severed lip prompted ringside doctors to curtail midway through round ten.
Unfortunately, the popular Merseysider conceded his crown on his next overseas excursion 19 months later. At a rammed National Stadium, Dublin, ‘Hoko’ was upset in seven rounds by Gregorio Vargas, a disturbingly good 22 year old Mexican, who looked ‘The Next Best Thing’ but pittered into obscurity.
4) Andy Holligan
There are underdogs and then there are UNDERDOGS!
In December 1993, chirpy Holligan, 26, jetted out to Puebla, Mexico for a WBC light-welter gig with Julio Cesar Chavez, fantasising about executing the greatest spot of giant killing in the history of British boxing, bar none.
At the time, ‘JC Superstar’ was unbeaten in 89 (one draw), topping all P4P listings, boasting more world title fights (26 spread across three divisions) than Holligan had fights (21) and performing to 35,000 idolisers at the Cuauhetmoc Stadium.
Our previously unbeaten British and Commonwealth king gave it an honest go but it was always going to end in tears. Thankfully, after five brutally one sided rounds, Holligan’s compassionate corner withdrew him – still upright – so that he could enjoy his reported £120,000 Christmas bonus at home rather than in hospital.
5) Tony Bellew
The current WBC cruiser king voyaged to Quebec City, Canada with plenty of gusto for a November 2013 WBC light-heavy spat against Haitian born local Adonis Stevenson.
Both the final presser and weigh-in became fractious and physical with the Liverpool loudmouth goading the champion as a ‘midget pimp’ – alluding to ‘Superman’s’ lack of inches and criminal past.
Alas, come fight night, ‘The Bomber’ bombed alarmingly on his 31st birthday. Evasive from the off, he was outboxed and outpunched before finally put to ground and stopped with a very eggy chin in round six. Across the globe, dwarfs and pimps rejoiced!
6) Paul Smith
Despite turning pro at 20, shortly after nailing an ABA title and Commonwealth Games silver, ‘Smigga’, eldest of the quartet of sibling scrappers, had to wait 11 years and 38 fights before belatedly granted a go at global glory.
In September 2014, he embarked for Kiel, Germany with cause for optimism as coach Joe Gallagher’s gym was riding the crest of 60 successive wins and Arthur Abraham, the industrial tough Armenian, appeared a champion in recess.
However, despite delivering a career best effort, the senior Smith was thwarted in a desperately close affair by three blind mice who returned scorecards in the champions favour by mystifying margins of eight rounds and six rounds (twice)!
Five months later, the pair reconvened in Abraham’s adopted home city of Berlin but the outcome was identical; though second time the much improved champion earned his clear unanimous verdict on merit.
7) Stephen Smith
Second eldest of the slugging Smiths, smart boxing ‘Swifty’ was always battling uphill once he was forced to travel to Mashantucket, Connecticut for his mandatory IBF Super-Feather challenge against Puerto Rico’s fast rising Jose Pedraza.
The 26 year old champion, a former Olympian and one-time world silver medallist who was unbeaten in 21, was a quality operator with a point to prove, having copped a fortuitous decision in his maiden defence to Edner Cherry six months earlier.
After piling up points behind a sharp jab over the fight’s first half, Pedraza forced Smith to touch down after landing a sharp right in round nine and cantered to a comfortable decision.
Buy Canelo v Smith now!