Curry vs Honeyghan: A Night of the Unexpected
Donald Curry 25-0, coming off a destruction of Milton McCrory in 1985, the undisputed welterweight champion of the world and seemingly on his way to a showdown with Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Curry looked a superstar in the making, only a routine defence of his titles before the next step on the roadmap to that golden future.
Lloyd Honeyghan, also unbeaten in 27 fights, but largely written off, nothing more than a curiosity, a 6-1 underdog. Honeyghan was probably picked for a reason, but the British challenger had his own reasons for being there.
Curry had only fought two rounds since his total destruction of McCrory, relative inactivity and a never-ending battle with the scales, the signs were there of what was to come, even if nobody would dare say. Problems inside his camp, Curry fearing he wouldn’t make weight wanted to pull out of the fight, he was convinced not to, a decision he will probably always regret.
A small room in Caesars in Atlantic City hardly a fitting arena for a star in the making. Despite the hype, there was also apathy in Curry, more so with his latest challenge. Even the majority of the British press had little interest and stayed at home.
Honeyghan came to America with little fanfare in 1986, the perceived no-hoper, the long odds a sign of the expectations. Mickey Duff was tempted enough to wager $5,000 on his man. Honeyghan also gambled he would win, he got slightly shorter odds, the two split the difference. Duff and his fighter were convinced they had got Curry at the right time.
Duff had a history of handling difficulties with his fighters. The likes of John Conteh and Kirkland Laing tested his patience, and his wallet, Honeyghan was another. Terry Lawless threw him out of his gym because they couldn’t get on, Duff told him he was mad, Lawless told him to sign him himself. Duff did so.
Honeyghan always had belief in his own abilities, always in a rush. Honeyghan wanted to be pushed, his team were cautious not as convinced as Honeyghan was in his potential. Honeyghan was considered a decent amateur nothing more. The early days of his professional career were low-key and away from the TV cameras. In his 16th fight, he won the British title and a big win in Italy over Gianfranco Rosi in 3 rounds to win the European title convinced many he was carrying a little more potential than originally thought.
Curry had always struggled to make the welterweight limit, with each fight he rolled the dice. After unifying the division against McCrory, each roll of the dice afterwards was a gamble of high risk with little reward. In many ways, Curry had no reason to stay at 147, his business was already done. He needed to move on and up.
The struggle to make weight always leaves a piece of the fighter in the sauna, the harder the cut, the greater the damage. Curry depleted his body too much, the potential he had leaving him with every drop of sweat dropped.
The fight with Honeyghan was indeed a mismatch, but not in the way anyone envisaged it. The challenger landed a big right hand at the start of the fight and smashed Curry all over the ring for 6 rounds. The Texas native had the look of a fighter who was boxing in a haze, his mind elsewhere, the body wanting what it was being denied. But Honeyghan did what he had to, beat the man in front of him. The British challenger was inspired, and had the look of a fighter who would not be denied regardless of what version of Curry he faced.
The departing champion had a split lip, a broken nose and a cut over his left eye that required 20 stitches. Apart from a brief respite in the 3rd round, it was a one-sided beatdown. Honeyghan was inspired, Curry a pale shadow of the fighter who blitzed McCrory just a year earlier. Bob Arum said: ‘Curry had no zip, nothing,’ he was right. After 6 rounds Curry stayed on his stool rather than face more of the same.
It’s difficult to gauge what damage those final few fights at welterweight did to Curry. The beating he took at the hands of Honeyghan, physically and maybe more importantly, mentally, almost certainly hastened his decline. Curry was never remotely the same fighter ever again.
The ‘Lone Star Cobra’ finally moved up in weight, but it was too late. Even winning a world title at light-middleweight couldn’t hide what could have been. A fighter who apparently had no flaws, suddenly had many. Curry once hinted at greatness, his career petered out to a sad disappointing end.
The new champion was a law to himself, his private life often got the attention of the tabloids. Flamboyant inside and outside of the ring, but unlike Laing he was dedicated to his craft. Duff and Honeyghan never really got on, a fragile relationship, but one that worked. Honeyghan had many good nights, brittle hands stopped him from doing more. Honeyghan blew away the likes of Gene Hatcher and Johnny Bumphus, before a shock loss to the unheralded Jorge Vaca on a technical decision ended his first run as the world champion. He became the first fighter to regain a world title since Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis when he got revenge over Vaca. But the end was coming.
Personal problems, the hands getting worse with every fight, Marlon Starling gave him the sort of beating that lingers long after the final bell. A horrible fight with Mark Breland when he tried to win back a version of the world title, was a sad watch. Honeyghan had nothing left, the boos he had to endure were harsh. The crowd forgetting what Honeyghan had previously given them.
A move to light-middleweight gave Honeyghan an Indian summer to his career. He won a Commonwealth title, but defeats to Vinnie Pazienza and a final one to Adrian Dodson in 1995 and that was finally the end.
The win over Curry is still one of the best wins ever on American soil by a British fighter, Honeyghan had belief where others doubted. The subdued setting and the atmosphere it created, didn’t do the fight or Honeyghan justice. It deserved better.