Big Frank, A Cyclone & Other Fighters Who Defined My Youth
Boxing in some way shape or form has seemingly always been there, passively at the start, at other times obsessively so. Even when my age was still in single digits, boxing was present in even that embryonic period in my life.
Muhammad Ali bouncing a brave but outclassed Richard Dunn in 1976 off the canvas in Germany was my first recollection of a prize fight.
Ali would very much be the main focus point of that early interest, sadly at the painful end of his wonderful career. I vividly recall Ali saying “I shall return” after the novice pro Leon Spinks shocked the world. Unfortunately Ali did return, far too many times and ultimately paid a heavy price for his refusal to let it go.
But it was in the 1980’s when it became an obsession, gathering an almost encyclopedia knowledge of the sport, that was far easier then than it is now.
There wasn’t the access there is now to the fights, but there was still enough to satisfy, if not quite enough to fully satisfy the appetite.
There are many long lasting memories from that period of time, seeing that incredibly tough Welshman Colin Jones come so close to lifting the world welterweight title on two different occasions in America will not be forgotten.
All these years on I still can’t quite believe how Milton McCrory survived Jones’s onslaught in both of their fights. Jones came so close, but the likes of Charlie Magri, John H Stacey and others did manage to win world titles.
But somehow, two of the most gifted fighters the UK has ever seen didn’t. Kirkland Laing, the eccentric, but at times brilliant welterweight is perhaps best known for his two losing fights with Colin Jones, but did once beat the great Roberto Duran.
The win over Duran, gave Laing the platform to even greater nights, but he went missing for a year, and his career was largely one of frustration and what could have been.
Unlike Laing, Herol Graham actually had the opportunity to win world titles, but on multiple occasions it didn’t quite happen. Julian Jackson put Graham to sleep when he was seconds away from being stopped himself, still one of the most sickening and heartbreaking sights I have witnessed.
Errol Christie the highly decorated amateur promised so much when he turned pro. But the career of Christie highlights the difference between the two codes, success in one doesn’t guarantee the same in the other.
Jose Seys started what was to come, but Christie still had his moments, a career best performance against Sean Mannion was the highlight but that savage fight with Mark Kaylor in 1985 can’t be overlooked, despite Christie coming up short.
But two fighters stand out from that time, both had incredible highs, and the inevitable lows that are part of any sport.
Frank Bruno had a dream, and despite the setbacks along the way, he wouldn’t give up on that dream.
James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith, Tim Witherspoon, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis all overcame early difficulty to beat Bruno. But on that emotional night at Wembley Oliver McCall couldn’t. How could anyone not forget that final round, an exhausted Bruno clinging on, even then you wondered if he would fall again. But at the 4th time of asking Bruno could finally call himself a world heavyweight champion.
Further down the weight divisions a Barry McGuigan fight night seemed to stop the nation, and even the troubles of the time. McGuigan united many on different fronts.
Before Steve Cruz ended plenty in Las Vegas, McGuigan treated us to some very special nights. He was near perfect in beating the excellent Juan LaPorte, only one hell of a right hand in the 9th round threatened to stop the inevitable. Miraculously McGuigan barely flinched, he caught the right hand flush, but he marched forward regardless.
Eusebio Pedroza the long-reigning world featherweight champion was brought over to the UK in 1985 at great expense to defend his WBA title against McGuigan at the home of Queens Park Rangers.
Loftus Road would prove to be the final bow for the great champion. Pedroza made McGuigan work for his win, long before the final bell he must have known his title reign would end, but he bravely saw it through, but there was an inevitability about the whole evening.
It was one of those nights when there was something in the air, McGuigan just wouldn’t be denied.
McGuigan fight nights were memorable, something special, and I don’t think we have seen anything to rival it since.
Bruno and McGuigan took us to different levels of emotion, in different ways they gave us nights that will probably never be replicated.
There was something so pure about both, you knew what it meant to them, you lived every second of their fights with them, and not many nights since have quite managed to recapture the same feeling or emotion.