On Friday evening 6ft 7in Highlander Gary Cornish attempts to deliver Scotland its first ever British heavyweight champion when he collides with Norwich’s former belt holder Sam Sexton in a BoxNation screened ‘pick ‘em’ affair at Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Leisure Centre.
Glynn Evans identifies some of the key post-war battles that Cornish and Sexton will endeavour to emulate.
Bruce Woodcock v Freddie Mills, London, June 1949
‘Fearless Freddie’ was Britain’s biggest boxing idol of the post-war period and a crowd of 48,000 rammed into the open air White City Stadium to witness the reigning world light-heavyweight champion attempt to add the British heavyweight crown to his title collection. Promoter Jack Solomons billed the showdown – also for the Empire and European belts – as ‘a world title eliminator.’
But defending champion Woodstock – a year younger at 28 and 20 lbs heavier – had an alternative script. All but blind in the left eye following a battering from US contender Joe Baksi two years earlier, and with blood gushing profusely from his nose from the early stages, the Doncaster Adonis found the radar sufficiently with his potent right cross to record four knockdowns en route to a 14th round kayo win.
Joe Bugner v Henry Cooper, London, March 1971
Reigning BBC Sports Personality of the Year Cooper declared in advance that this would be his final ring fling and an adoring crowd of 11,600 filled Wembley’s Empire Pool to give the 36 year old three time Lonsdale belt holder a rousing send-off.
Alas, the Hungarian born Bugner spoiled his party. Just three days past his 21st birthday, but with 34 pro gigs already on his CV, the 6ft 4in former British junior discus champion popped and pecked with his jab for 14 rounds then finished like an express train to pickpocket Cooper’s British, Commonwealth and European titles by the narrowest quarter point margin on the card of sole arbitrator Harry Gibbs.
Though the crowd booed long and loud, the media were evenly split and it was certainly no ‘scream up’. Nevertheless, Cooper – later Britain’s first boxing knight – blanked fellow Londoner Gibbs for 28 years before finally consenting to a handshake for charity, shortly before the official’s death.
Bunny Johnson v Danny McAlinden, London, January 1975
Included for its historical impact rather than because it was an epic fight. Jamaica born, Birmingham bred Johnson entered the annuls as Britain’s first black heavyweight champion when he trounced ex sparmate ‘Dangerous Danny’ by way of ninth round countout before the bib and tucker brigade at the World Sporting Club in Mayfair. Ironically, McAlinden, originally from Newry, County Down, had been the first Irishman to claim the crown when he battered Jack Bodell at Villa Park three years previously.
Trailblazer Bunny, then 27, conceded half a stone and in the modern era would have flourished in the then non-existent cruiserweight class. He later dropped to light-heavy and won a Lonsdale Belt outright before pursuing a career in law and serving on the Midland Area Council.
Of the subsequent 26 British heavyweight champions, 15 were men of colour!
Joe Bugner v Richard Dunne, London, October 1976
In a clash of former Muhammad Ali victims, joltin’ Joe delivered the most explosive performance of his 32 year career to destroy the Bradford ex paratrooper in just 134 seconds at Wembley’s Empire Pool.
Twenty-six year old Bugner was a gifted but habitually passive operator after killing Trinidad opponent Ulric Regis when he was just 19. Nevertheless, he broke a 14 month retirement to reclaim the British, Commonwealth and European crowns after the goading Dunne publically flushed a photo of Bugner down the toilet!
Promoter Harry Levene billed it as ‘The British Heavyweight Battle of the Century’ but it proved anything but. The Yorkshireman tumbled from a beefy right after just six seconds and capsized twice more before the carnage was culled.
Lennox Lewis v Gary Mason, London, March 1991
Boxing News dubbed this clash of undefeated, world rated London heavyweights as ‘Who’s Kidding Who?’ And it was defending British champ Mason, entering 35-0 (32), who proved the charlatan, before a disappointing turn-out of 6,000 at Wembley Arena.
Surprisingly, Jamaica born Mason carried the crowd support over West Ham native Lennox but it failed to galvanise him. Twenty-five year old Lewis, who’d captured World Junior and Olympic gold medals in a Canadian singlet and was defending the continental crown he’d won in his previous start, jabbed the amiable Mason silly, causing his right eye to close from the third and forcing referee Larry O’Connell to intervene early in round seven. Inexplicably, two judges had the slaughter level at the close, whilst the other had Mason a round ahead?!
Having inherited Mason’s inflated world ratings, Lewis progressed to become Britain’s greatest ever big man, winning the world title on three occasions and unifying the division.
Danny Williams v Mark Potter, October 2000
In perhaps the greatest display of valour ever witnessed inside a British ring, Brixton bomber Williams rallied to spark Mark, whilst incapacitated with a dislocated right shoulder at Wembley Conference Centre.
Entering unbeaten in 21 (17 quick), the 27 year old south Londoner had looked lethargic prior to the shoulder popping out in round three. Thereafter, he continued one handed and in excruciating pain, with his right glove draped limp and redundant below his waist.
Entering round six, it was a toss-up whether he would concede by retirement or disqualification after being docked three points after ‘Get Out of Jail’ left hooks strayed low.
However, the future Tyson slayer bit down hard on his gumshield and somehow manoeuvred Potter onto a hellacious left uppercut, dropping the Walthamstow warmonger like a stone. Moments later the remarkable comeback was complete. ‘It came from God,’ quipped Muslim convert Williams who later required keyhole surgery.
Anthony Joshua v Dillian Whyte, London, December 2015
These former inmates had history and for once the hatred wasn’t hyped.
In his 2009 amateur debut, Brixton’s Whyte had dropped and defeated the future Olympic champion and he hadn’t been slow to remind the world via social media.
Joshua, unbeaten in 14 but yet to venture beyond round three, was 14-1 on to atone when the unbeaten antagonists from opposite sides of the Thames reconvened before a 20,000 sell-out at the O2 Arena.
The grudge was genuine and the action frenetic. A cheap shot from AJ after the bell to end round one proved the cue for the fighters and their feuding factions to engage in an unsavoury free-for-all in mid ring. In the following session, ’Josh’ wobbled like a weeble after swallowing a left hook but eliminated any clouds regarding his chin or ticker by remaining upright and then stretching Whyte with an explosive right uppercut in round seven. No count required.