As Liam Smith prepares to defend his WBO World Super-Welterweight at The Echo Arena on Saturday, Glynn Evans highlights a fistful of Liverpool legends who ‘Beefy’ one day intends to emulate.
5) Ernie Roderick
A crafty, crisp punching ringmaster, Roderick held the British welter and middleweight titles simultaneously during the 1940s and might have advanced even higher had his career not been disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War – he served in the RAF – and a certain triple world champion named Henry Armstrong.
Ernie challenged the latter, ominously known as ‘Homicide Hank’ for the Yank’s world welter title at Haringey Arena in May 1939 and, despite suffering from a thyroid complaint, survived the full 15 round trip against one of the top five to ever lace the gloves.
Roderick kicked off his 140 fight, 17 year career in a 10 rounder (!) whilst just 17 and, in addition to his domestic titles, briefly reigned on the continental 160lb throne. In his pomp, he was infamous for filling his lungs with cigarette smoke then puffed out into his opponent’s face as he dipped between the ropes.
Also the city’s champion pigeon fancier, Roderick was the first Lonsdale Belt holder to qualify for the Board of Control’s one pound per week pension.
4) Nel Tarleton
Named after one-eyed Admiral Nelson, featherweight ‘Nella’ had his own disability to contend with; he had only one lung after suffering from tuberculosis as an infant.
Yet despite an almost skeletal frame, Tarleton proved one of the toughest ‘mudders’ ever to climb the steps and, aligned with the sharpest of ring brains, he never suffered a stoppage defeat in a 148 fight career between 1925-45.
The brother-in-law of Roderick, Tarleton too joined the paid brigade as a teen but had to wait until his 83rd start to commence the first of three British title reigns. He became one of just seven fighters to win two Lonsdale Belts outright and twice challenged unsuccessfully for the NBA world title owned by Cincinnati southpaw Freddie Miller.
The first of those fights took place at Anfield Football Stadium where Tarleton was a regular star, revered for his defensive wizardry. He took pride in departing the battle zone with his slicked down hair as unruffled as when he entered.
3) Alan Rudkin
This baby-faced bantam was actually born in Corwen, Wales – mum was evacuated during WW2 – but was raised in Dingle and Scouse to the core. Rudkin made abortive world title challenges overseas on three separate continents but would almost certainly have been ordained a global champion had he been active today.
Edged out over 15 rounds by ferocious Jap, Fighting Harada in Tokyo (1965), he was desperately unlucky not to get his arm raised after finishing like a train against Lionel Rose at the Melbourne Tennis Stadium four years after. Farcically, one judge sided with the local by 15 rounds to nil?! In a third world spat, Mexican Hall of Famer Ruben Olivares rubbed him out in two rounds in LA. No disgrace there.
A level below, Rudkin trousered British, Commonwealth and European honours, split a pair of epic 15 rounders with ex WBC flyweight king Walter McGowan, and twice mastered London pride Johnny Clark. His choirboy looks and blond Beatles’ mop disguised a proper fighting man; an aggressive but gifted two-fisted terror, blessed with boundless stamina and wonderful composure.
Later awarded the MBE, Alan was embraced as much for his warm, witty personality as for his fighting prowess and his social circle included George Best and the Kray twins. Over a thousand mourners attended his funeral at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral after he suddenly collapsed in the street in 2010.
2) Paul Hodkinson
Shy guy ‘Hoko’ clattered his way to British, European and WBC featherweight glory. While his innate meekness saw him overshadowed by the likes of Benn, Eubank and Lewis, some regarded contemporaries list him as the best British fighter of the early 1990s.
Hodkinson honed his craft as a spar hand to Barry McGuigan and Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley at manager Barney Eastwood’s Belfast gym. However, the Board of Control were close to evoking his licence before he reached championship level due to his chronic short-sightedness!
Frighteningly fit and relentless, the short-armed 5ft 4in hooker owned quick, heavy hands and a gung-ho mindset. In November 1991, he dethroned concrete chinned Mexican Marcos Villasana at the second attempt with a disciplined 12 round decision in Belfast – the only one of his 22 career wins that lasted the scheduled distance. He successfully retained three times before succumbing to another Azteca - Gregorio Vargas - in an uncharacteristically subdued performance in Dublin.
That unscripted loss put the kybosh on six-figure showdowns with Colin McMillan and New York’s Kevin Kelley. ‘Hoko’ retired, aged just 28, after a gallant 12th round defeat to WBO boss Steve Robinson. Last heard of working on railway maintenance on Merseyside.
1) John Conteh
This hugely charismatic and outrageously gifted light-heavyweight was, alas, as difficult to handle outside the ropes as he was between them.
A former two-weight ABA champion and Commonwealth Games gold medallist before joining the pros at 20, Conteh looked sensational collecting European, British and Commonwealth, and WBC titles – from Rudi Schmidtke, Chris Finnegan and Jorge Ahumada respectively – by the age of 23.
He had the world at his feet; Hollywood looks, a fantastic physique and all the lines. Inside the ring, he had every attribute in spades, a fanatically driven, fistic thoroughbred, well versed in the darker arts. It was said he needed a third glove to cover his notoriously wayward head!
Despite successfully defended three times, the world title and accompanying celebrity became a poisoned chalice. One on 10 kids from humble Sierra Leone stock, John became embroiled in futile and costly legal battles with both advisers and administrators which fleeced him of his fortune and saw him stripped of his title.
Three efforts to regain it – all overseas – were averted though he came mighty close against Mate Parlov in Belgrade and Matt Saad Muhammad in Atlantic City. Having survived bankruptcy and overcome drug and alcohol abuse, he now fights the good fight for The Lord.
[Image credit: Liverpool Echo, The Guardian & Bleacher Report]