A Boxing Memory: Charlie Magri
A professional debut in 1977, six weeks later he was the British flyweight champion. When Charlie Magri turned pro under the tutelage of Terry Lawless, Magri knew this was the plan, Lawless knew his new signing was good enough to advance so quickly.
Yes, flyweights were a rare breed domestically, but Magri had the look of a special fighter. A stellar amateur career of multiple ABA titles at various levels, he fought at the 1972 Olympic Games, the professional career promised much.
Magri turned professional with ambition and naivety. Many fighters of his generation left the sport failing to realise their commercial value. They fought often without the rewards their talents warranted. Magri was one such fighter. When he realised, it was too late.
The professional career started well. A tough debut against the Irish bantamweight champion Neil McLaughlin ended in two rounds. A fight with Dave Smith for the vacant British title scheduled for 15 rounds was his third outing as a professional. Magri didn’t need 15 rounds. Only 42 days into his professional career Magri was the British flyweight champion. Magri was only 21, with the world at his feet.
The European title soon followed, the wins kept coming, but the precious world title shot didn’t. An unheralded Argentinian Santos Laciar came to London with little fanfare or expectations. When he left opinions had changed. Magri won, but it was a hard fight, probably his best-ever win. History would be kind on a night where Magri was pushed to his absolute limit.
Laciar lost but got a world title fight before Magri, and would prove himself to be one of the great flyweights of his era.
Magri would eventually fight his way to become the number one ranked world flyweight contender. But the fights were often, too often, a sign of the times, the schedule was unrelenting. Those fights and his notorious heavy training robbed Magri of his best years. The punches absorbed and that brutal battle of near starvation to make the flyweight took away plenty. The career at the top shortened, what came later, came too late.
A shock stoppage defeat to Juan Diaz in 1981 rocked his world. Frustrated with his long chase for a world title shot, the mind wasn’t right. A dire struggle to make weight left Magri weak and vulnerable. Diaz took advantage.
Another loss to Jose Torres the following year seemed to indicate Magri had reached his level. The big puncher who couldn’t hold a shot well enough himself. Magri was only 26, considered old for a flyweight at the time. The Magri world title dream looked over.
But Magri kept going and when he got his revenge over Torres 6 months later, Magri landed himself a world title shot when the WBC champion Eleoncio Mercedes was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
After his long wait, Magri finally had his big chance. He was the betting underdog, the feeling was the opportunity had come too late, home turf was secured but the champion came to London expecting to leave still the flyweight champion of the world. Mercedes was confident, many felt he had every reason to be.
Lawless invited the comedian Freddie Starr to his dressing room to ease the pre-fight nerves. It worked.
Magri was inspired, Mercedes was tough, on another night the Londoner might have folded. On the night that mattered, Magri found what he needed. The champion was badly cut by an accidental clash of heads, but the body shots from the challenger were doing real damage. The cut over his left eye ended the reign of Mercedes, but Magri would have won regardless. It was always going to be his night.
Eamonn Andrews and his big red book came calling, Magri had the title and the fame. But it didn’t last long.
Frank Cedeno was the supposed routine first defence of his world title. In boxing, nothing is ever as it seems. Magri struggled to make weight, he was diagnosed with a ‘blind boil’ in his right ear. Magri shouldn’t have fought, a doctor removed the boil and prescribed antibiotics to kill any infection. Magri felt weak and groggy. Cedeno stopped Magri in 6 rounds. Titles are often lost behind closed doors. Decisions taken for the wrong reasons. The fighters often pay the price.
At 27, Magri headed to the twilight years of his career, there were false dawns but the inevitable sad nights are ones of predictability. It always ends this way.
Magri won the European title again, crossed the great promotional divide and challenged for the world title one last time.
Frank Warren, the new rival to the Lawless/Duff/Barrett cartel, offered Magri a fight with the new WBC champion Sot Chitalada. Warren paid Magri decent money, more than what he got when he challenged Mercedes. Working with the enemy soured the relationship with Terry Lawless. In many ways, the end was near.
Chitalada was too much for Magri, the former champion made a decent start, but his challenge ended in 4 rounds.
In 1986 Duke McKenzie was the British champion, the new kid on the block, Magri now in a position where boxing tradition says the ‘old’ fighter now has to pass the torch and move on. Magri was unhappy, the old hunger and desire had gone. The whispers of retirement were all around him, the relationship with Lawless was fragile. Magri was the fighter with the name, McKenzie wanted it on his record.
Magri was brave, he gave it everything, but his career ended in the 5th round. Lawless post-fight told Magri:
“Right Charlie, you’re going to have to just get off your arse and work for a living.” Those words hurt more than any punch could.
Magri was just 29, he felt abandoned by the man who he had put his trust and faith in. Sentiment rarely has a place in boxing. Lawless was never forgiven, they never spoke again.
When the dust had settled, Warren offered Magri a way back in, but after returning to training he quickly realised his time had gone. A sensible decision.
Retirement was hard, he trained fighters, he did bits of demolition work, he tried the pub game, he held a cleaning job for 9 years, but nothing seemed to work or last.
Magri got divorced, had money troubles, boxing is the hardest game they say. Life after it, is often even tougher. A good fighter who deserved better in many ways.