John Conteh: Liverpool’s First World Champion
By James Lee
Undoubtedly, Liverpool has a history of ingrained combat. From Nelson Tarleton attaining a British title in 1929 with one lung to Callum Smith currently carrying the WBA Super-Middleweight title, there is little uncertainty about the plethora of talent in Merseyside.
It is John Conteh, however, who is still the biggest inspiration to the current fighting generation and will forever hold the accolade of claiming the first world title in the city’s history.
After claiming Commonwealth gold in his teens in 1970, he made history four years later when he won the WBC light-heavyweight title with a unanimous decision victory against Argentinian Jorge Ahumada. The Empire Pool in London was similarly the venue for his first defence of the world title against American Lonnie Bennett before he went on to defend the belt a further two times, with a triumph over Len Hutchins at Anfield the most notable.
He would go on to fight his last fight at Anfield similarly, in an ideal cycle to end his career as a sporting hero for the city, being a lifelong Liverpudlian fighting in the city’s iconic venue.
Surprisingly, Conteh built up a friendship with heavyweight champion and global icon Muhammad Ali over his career, with Ali persuading him to fight at light-heavyweight as opposed to heavyweight.
A decision that provided John Conteh with massive success, as he claimed the World, Commonwealth and British titles by his career end.
The first world champion from Liverpool, but not the last and it can be said his influence was vast on Merseyside becoming a hotbed for combat sports in the UK.
Callum Smith is currently WBA super-middleweight champion and is part of a family who have challenged for multiple world titles in the past decade.
Similarly, female boxer Natasha Jones made history in 2012, becoming the first British woman to compete at the Olympics in boxing.
UFC fighter Darren Till is creating an avenue in mixed martial arts for the city. He brought the sport’s biggest promotion to Liverpool in a sold-out event for the first-ever time in 2018.
Most importantly though, Conteh is an idol of Tony Bellew, who was one of the biggest stars in boxing before his retirement in November 2018.
His career achievements included winning the WBC cruiserweight title and beating former heavyweight champion David Haye twice. Bellew has regularly noted his admiration for Conteh, calling him the greatest fighter in British history and a role model for the city.
Rightfully, the Toxteth-born fighter was awarded an MBE in 2017 for his services to the sport. Regardless of more recent combat success for the city, Conteh’s fighting legacy will forever live on because he was first and being first is always the most arduous.