By Alan Hubbard
By Alan Hubbard
As I was saying here a couple of weeks ago when reminiscing about the 50th anniversary of Ali-Frazier 1, a rare pleasure of getting old is, assuming you still have all your marbles, taking a stroll down Memory Lane.
Especially for an incorrigible fight fan like me who has witnessed so many great moments and appreciated a multitude of phenomenal fighters in the sport over the past 65 years or so. What a thrill it has been to follow the careers of a whole legion of great Brits from novice pro through to world champion.
They range from back in 1961 when Scotland’s young will-o’-the-wisp flyweight, wee Walter McGowan first stepped into the ring professionally through to heavyweight Tyson Fury.
A couple of stories about both; McGowan’s trainer and dad, Thomas used the name Joe Gans, under which he had fought and was always known by that moniker. He was so utterly
dedicated to boxing and developing the progress of his son that whilst away in Scotland he thought to write back to his better half, saying only:
“My dear wife, everything is going well, Young Walter is looking fantastic in training and the weather is good. Yours in sport, Joe Gans”.
I first met Fury at Team GB’s Sheffield headquarters when he was just 19. The then GB coach, Terry Edwards, whom I knew well, called me over to where this fresh-faced gloved Goliath was pummelling the heavy bag. “I want you to meet a future heavyweight champion of the world,” he said.
How prophetic he was. Fury was engaging, polite, even calling me Mr as we shook hands. He’s called me a few other things since, but that’s another story! Suffice to say that I am now among his greatest admirers since his reincarnation as a reformed character and a bloody good fighter whom I believe (as does the other Tyson, Iron Mike) will summarily deal with and defeat Anthony Joshua later this year to become the undisputed world heavyweight kingpin.
In the half century or so since McGowan’s world flyweight title win and Fury’s astonishing conquests of Wladimir Klitschko and
Deontay Wilder, I have seen a whole galaxy of greatness among British fighters who have gone on to wear a world crown; so many it would fill the rest of this column to list them here.
I single out a few of those with whom I either became pals or well or admired their talent. Not all of them will be familiar to younger fans, but here goes: John H Strachey (a rare away victory over Jose Napoles in Mexico City), Charlie Magri, Howard Winstone, Maurice Hope, Alan Minter, Barry McGuigan, Jim Watt, Terry Downes, Lloyd Honeyghan, and of course more recently Frank Bruno, Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton (what a fabulous night that was when he raised the roof of the Manchester Arena by overcoming Kosatya Tzyu), Amir Khan (whom I first saw as a 15-year-old schoolboy amateur in Barnsley and marked Frank Warren‘s card about him), Naseem Hamed, Carl Froch, David Haye, George Groves, Billy Joe Saunders, James DeGale, Josh Warrington, Anthony Joshua. Oh, so many. Though there were those who never quite made it but should’ve done, especially my former bantamweight flatmate Alan Rudkin and that true British bulldog, ,southpaw, lightweight Dave Charnley, robbed of a world title against Joe (‘Old Bones’) Brown at Wembley on the slenderest of margins by British referee Tommy Little.
Talking of slender margins, out of this veritable platoon of pugilistic giants it is hard to argue who was Britain’s best ever world champion. But for me the outstanding quartet are Calzaghe, Conteh, Buchanan and Hamed. I’d give the nod to unbeaten retiree Cazaghe (46-0). but only just.
Of course Frank promoted so many of the more recent champs but the one of which he is most proud of developing is Naz.
His disappointment, like mine, is that the prancing Prince with anaesthetic in each hand lost the plot eventually, convincing himself he was the Sinatra of sock and mistakenly tried to do things his way. Otherwise he might well have become the greatest featherweight boxing has ever known.
My greatest fistic pleasure now is observing the progress of boxing’s new, burgeoning intake of youngsters, so many of them signing up for the Queensberry regiment where they know their talent will be carefully nurtured, properly paraded and that they are not simply recruited to supplement the big guns.
Frank’s youth squad surely makes him the biggest impresario of young talent since Hughie Greene on Opportunity Knocks!
The ongoing pandemic seems to have brought more kids into amateur boxing where they can occupy body and mind. And of course the best of them will always gravitate towards the pro ranks.
I am intrigued to see just how many of these Queensberry cadets, the novice pros of today, will emulate the McGowans, Straceys Contehs, Hattons and Khans of yesteryear. Quite a few I think.
Frank rightly hopes and believes that all have an equal chance of making it to the very top and so in fairness prefers not to put the spotlight on any one of them.
But, without prejudice as they say, I have had picked a couple of fistfuls of Franks finest. Starlets very much on the ascendancy.
Let’s begin with the new British middleweight champion Denzel Bentley, who may be 26, but that is a prime age for any modern fighter. After just 15 fights he still can be regarded as a newbie and I recall giving him a lift back to his Battersea home from the annual Boxing Writers’ Club dinner. He was friendly, chatty and quite cocky – although in a confident but not obnoxious manner. I marked him down then as a future champ. He will be back on a Queensberry closed doors show next month defending his British title against unbeaten Felix Cash, also for the Commonwealth belt.
Another Queensberry man with terrific potential is bantamweight banger Dennis ‘The Menace’ McCann, who has had only a handful of fights but good judges reckon could be the new Naz.
Among others who are catching the eye – as well as the chins and noses of their opponents – are lightweight Sam Noakes (I really like him), heavyweight David Adeleye, lightweight Mark Chamberlain, super welters Hamzah Sheeraz and George Davey, and featherweight Louie Lynn. Plus two really outstanding prospects, now firmly establishing themselves as fans’ favourites, classy bantam Brad Foster and
slick super middle Willy Hutchinson, both in action over this weekend. So many, so good.
Unfortunately the current restriction on the number of shows means that work is limited. It a headache for all promoters to keep the boys busy and frustrating for those kids itching to get into the ring instead of just the gym.
Which makes this weekend’s BT televised back – to- backers, continuing tonight on BT Sport 1, brilliant not only for the viewers but the young fighters as it gives them an welcome extra opportunity for exposure.
Tonight, the headliner is a belter of match for the British and Commonwealth super middleweight titles between elite youngster Willy Hutchinson and the rugged – and a little intimidating – Lennox Clarke. A bruiser from Brum.
We also get to see Louie Lynn bid to add a title – the WBC International Silver belt – to his resume at featherweight, with big Nathan Gorman continuing his welcome return to the heavyweight reckoning.
Hall of Famer Frank Warren is clearly looking to the future and not stuck in the past.
SO SAD TO report the death from cancer at 81 of Alma Ingle, wife of the late Brendan and as much a boxing icon in her own right as her late husband.
The always hospitable, always helpful Alma was steeped in the sport, producing trainer sons Dominic and John but also assisting guru Brendan in times when boxing was far more male dominated than In these more enlightened days.
Not only did she hold a promoter’s licence but 50 years ago she qualified as an amateur boxing judge – one of only three in the entire country at the time.
A passion for boxing was obviously inspired by Brendan at their world-renowned Wincobank gym in Sheffield where she was “mother“ to the likes of Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson, Herol Graham and Kell Brook, and actual mother of five, among whom her eldest daughter Bridget qualified as a doctor. RIP, first lady of boxing.