Kaylor vs Christie: A Genuine Grudge Match With An Uncomfortable Edge To It
In many ways, the fight started long before the first bell. A pre-fight press conference at London’s Stakis Regency Casino erupted, words were exchanged, punches thrown prematurely. A forced exchange of pleasantries soon after failed to convince or defuse the hostilities or the anticipation for a fight that divided a nation. Boxing News made it their front page headline:
‘It will take more than a handshake to repair the damage.’
Mark Kaylor and Errol Christie had different recollections of that initial conversation, was it two words or three words uttered in Christie’s ear. One fighter disputed the word black was used, the other convinced it was. The unscripted fight cost Kaylor and Christie thousands in fines, Kaylor £15,000 and Christie a lesser amount of £5,000. Make no mistake this was no fake PR stunt to sell a few more tickets. A genuine grudge match with an uncomfortable edge to it.
After a summer of racial tension and inner-city riots, the country didn’t need anything else to inflame an already volatile situation, and boxing most certainly didn’t need it. Boxing had only just recovered from the drunken racist yobs that denied Marvin Hagler his moment in 1980. Boxing News warned that boxing was on trial. It was.
There were widespread calls for the fight to be called off, fears of a National Front presence were high. Christie received death threats. It was now much more than a mere British middleweight title eliminator. Cass Pennant a notorious West Ham football hooligan from around that time was hired by Terry Lawless to prevent trouble in the football type atmosphere at a sold-out Wembley Arena in 1985. A not so thin blue line of police highlighted further that trouble was expected.
Christie had a record of 20-1 at the time of the fight, looking to rebound from a shock 1st round stoppage to Jose Seys, his first defeat since he was fourteen, and justify on the hype his decorated amateur career promised
Kaylor was looking to reclaim the British title he had won from Roy Gumbs in 1983 and lost to Tony Sibson a year later. It was a must-win fight for both.
The two fighters were from different sides of boxing’s great divide. Kaylor, trained and managed by Lawless was a regular on the BBC. Christie was the ITV Golden Boy, managed by Burt McCarthy and featured on Frank Warren promoted cards. Warren, the new kid on the block was making waves and enemies as he threatened to break the near-monopoly in British boxing of the time.
A bid of £82,000 had sealed the fight, set for November 5th 1985, a staggering and then record amount for a non-title fight. But this wasn’t a fight about titles. It was a fight that carried far more meaning than any belt.
Christie was having problems with his body. His weight was fluctuating, he was struggling with severe nosebleeds. A regular runner and heavy trainer from an early age, Christie was struggling with overdeveloped calves and arches that were collapsing. When he needed it most his body was failing him.
The fight that started out on the cobbles, continued in a red hot toxic atmosphere. It was a heavily pro Kaylor crowd, sensibly no alcohol was sold at the venue. Even more sensibly, fans of Christie largely stayed away. Two decisions that probably saved the night and so much more.
Christie was down inside the first 30 seconds, a short right hand did the damage, a firework exploded soon after, the Kaylor faithful sensing their man was about to record a sensational victory. But Christie recovered and dropped Kaylor near the end of a dramatic 1st round. The scene was set, there would be no let up.
The two fighters traded punches with little respite for the remainder of the fight. Kaylor was on the canvas again in the 3rd round, Christie had a moment, he needed a little more. Kaylor came roaring back in the same round. Christie was hurt again, this time badly. The bell saved him. It did so again in the 4th.
It was a fight to the finish, both unleashing savage punches on each other. It was a battle for survival, Kaylor looked the more battle-hardened of the two fighters, Christie you sensed would be the one who would be found wanting, the fighter most likely to break. But Christie hurt Kaylor again in the 7th, his last glimpse of victory. It soon passed.
Kaylor finished it in the 8th, another right hand ended the brave resistance of his opponent. The fallen fighter desperately tried to crawl and scramble to his feet. He didn’t make it and Harry Gibbs waved it off, Christie had given more than we could have imagined prior. McCarthy said it was the worst he had seen his man box. He was wrong, it was anything but.
All the pre-fight animosity had been knocked out of each other. They embraced, at least some respect was earned in the heat of battle.
Christie admitted he had run out of ideas and energy. It became a slugging match, that type of fight would always favour one man.
The night went without trouble outside of the ropes, boxing survived on a night it couldn’t fail.
Christie never did live up to the hype, one good night against Sean Mannion, overshadowed by too many bad nights. He was just 22 when he fought Kaylor, at an age when he should have been coming into his peak, already he was past it. Boxing has an habit of making young men old.
For Kaylor, it was probably his last really good night. A loss to Herol Graham ended the momentum gained from the Christie win, a move to light-heavyweight didn’t end well. A defeat to James Cook for the European super-middleweight title in 1991 ended his career once and for all.
The narrative pre-fight was everything that was wrong in life in those heavily divided times. Post-fight it was about everything that was good about boxing.
Christie wrote in his autobiography about that pivotal moment in the 8th round of his fight with Kaylor:
“As my future crumbled before my eyes, I grasped for the rope. My entire life’s struggle was ending here, in plain view of my enemies.”
Those words say plenty. Even Christie probably realised at that moment he would never reach the heights he had hoped. But even more than that it said everything about his life dealing with racism and the overall tone of that night at Wembley. The boos that greeted Christie as he made his way into the ring, you sense were not just simple support for his opponent. They almost certainly had a deeper more sinister meaning.
Kaylor to his credit later apologised for what he said to Christie, and acted with respect in the moments after the fight. Whatever was said prior, Kaylor said the right things after. It was a night that could have ended very differently.
Christie was diagnosed with lung cancer and sadly passed away aged just 53 in 2017. Kaylor moved to California after his career ended. Both fighters shared a ring if little else on that infamous night. Thankfully it will be remembered for what happened inside the ring and not what led up to that incredible unforgettable fight.