Never mind Eubank, Conteh was – and still is - simply the best

Never mind Eubank, Conteh was – and still is - simply the best


By Alan Hubbard

Is there a better example of a good life after boxing than John Conteh, the former world light-heavyweight champion who has retired from the ring to become a brilliant raconteur and tireless charity worker while retaining his Scouse charm and handsome looks – and, give a pound or two, the physique of his fighting heyday?

John Conteh

And still as nimble on his feet as ever, at 64, as he deftly demonstrated when energetically working the ring to conduct an auction at the London Hilton on Monday evening in aid of that wonderful charity Nordoff Robbins, which promotes the use of music as a therapy to help those with physical or mental challenges live a fuller, happier life.

It was a highly emotional, humbling night – and there was barely a dry eye in the house as among the movers and shakers of the sport, business and entertainment worlds present when watching the heartrending story of an 11-year-old autistic boy named Romano who cannot speak, co-ordinate or do any of the things that normal kids can but has learned how to sing- along, in his own fashion, to songs from the shows and the pop charts.

Conteh’s contribution, like that of Frank Warren who annually stages a night of boxing in aid of the charity (this time topped by Bradley Skeete’s successful defence of WBO European welterweight title) is one of valued personal support.

Warren was the first recipient of the Nordoff Robbins Boxing Icon Award and on Monday it deservedly went to Conteh.

Those of us of a certain vintage who recall what a tremendous fighter Conteh was back in the super-seventies are thrilled to see how he has kept his boxing after-life together.

These days he is among the most in-demand of after-dinner speakers, as accomplished with the mic as he was with his fists, is a strong family man, has won Superstars and is an eight-handicap golfer with his own Classic Series.

Yet life had rough beginnings in Kirkby and his life both inside the ring and out had its fair share of well-publicised controversies and setbacks. But he punched his way through the vicissitudes, successfully battling alcoholism.

Currently there are some 17 weight divisions with around a hundred fighters claiming titles than can be affixed like luggage labels on a package deal to Ibiza. Plus a myriad of sanctioning bodies and three ringside judges.

In John’s day there were just eleven divisions each represented by a single champion and only two governing authorities, the WBC and WBA. And they fought over 15 rounds with the referee (in Britain anyway) the sole arbiter.

And what a torrid, pulsating 15 rounds they were when the smooth, stylish Merseysider won the WBC light-heavyweight title against the Argentinean tough guy Jorge Ahumada at Wembley on October 1 1974, referee Harry Gibbs – surely the best there has ever been – holding his alarm aloft.

Conteh was 23 and his nine-year pro career, which was preceded by winning gold at the 1970 Commonwealth Games, embraced the British, Commonwealth, European and ultimately world championship, a title he defended three times.

Conteh, who could bang as well as box, mixed it with some of the best 175-pound warriors of his generation in a career that had more than its share of controversies inside and outside the ropes. He held the title until 1977 when he was stripped for not going through with a mandated defence.[

He subsequently lost a 15 rounds split decision to the Yugolslav Matte Parklov before a 40,000 crowd in Belgrade and further twice failed to regain his old crown 1979 and then again seven months later in 1980 – both against the American Matthew Saad Muhammad in Atlantic City.

Although Muhammad won both bouts his first victory was declared void because his cornermen used an illegal substance on a cut.

Conteh retired after winning one final fight – his 39th – against American James Dixon in home-town Liverpool in May 1980.

Never mind Chris Eubank. In my view Conteh, at his peak, was simply the   best British boxer I have seen. I rank him at the head of a superb bunch of five, together with lightweights Dave Charnley and Ken Buchanan, featherweight Naseem Hamed and super-middleweight Joe Calzaghe.

Ok, so there are arguments for others including Eubank, Nigel Benn, Howard Winstone, Ricky Hatton and Carl Froch but for me Conteh remains the outstanding British fighter of the post-war generation. And it is good to see him still in there punching.

Good old boys

Great to see, too, a couple of other boys of the older brigade looking spruce at the Nordoff Robbins bash.

Former world middleweight champion Alan Minter, who has overcome his own demons thanks to the guiding hand of ex-boxer son Ross (The Boss) appears in remarkably good nick, as does arguably the finest British boxer never to turn pro – the 1956 Olympic lightweight champion Dick McTaggart, who was celebrating his 80th birthday on the night.


Khan seeks a happy return

Amir Khan has had only one fight this year a relatively meaningless outing against Chris Algieri, and you have to question whether that is enough keep him sharp.

Khan v Algieri

Of course, he is waiting for Manny Pacquiao to make up his mind who and when he will fight next but according to Top Rank boss Bob Arum that seems unlikely to be Khan.

Uncle Bob says that while a Khan fight remains ‘on the table’ Pacquiao is still reviewing his options, which also include WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley and WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford, both promoted by Arum whom admits he would rather have Pacquiao choose a Top Rank fighter.

We hear Crawford is the current front runner for the Pacman’s promised valedictory show in May.

Bradley has already been in the ring with Pacquiao twice, winning a controversial 12 rounds split decision in 2012 and then losing by decision in their rematch last year.

“At this point it doesn’t matter who Manny picks,” Arum says. “Would I prefer it not to be Khan? Yes. But this is Manny’s last fight. I have a duty to him to present him all of the options, but I don’t think he will pick Khan.

“Khan was an option when we considered having this fight in April in the Middle East, so he was a guy on the table. Now the Middle East is not on the table, though Khan still is.”

Make of that what you will, but it does seem Amir is running out time and options, with two other prospective opponents, Danny Garcia (who holds a tko victory over him) and Robert Guerrero now due to fight each other in Los Angeles on January 23.

Amir will be 29 in a few days. Finding someone to fight soon certainly would make it a happier birthday.


Fighting Talk

Here, my life is very easy, solely about boxing; train, eat, sleep! The only downside is your damp weather. Right now, it’s a bit too chilly.

Vijender Singh, like the rest of us, yearns for an Indian summer.


Let’s put politics aside and have a great night for Manchester.

Anthony Crolla, newly-crowned WBA lightweight champion, indicates he is up for a domestic showdown with old school chum Terry Flanagan. But what will his promoter say about it?


Canelo Alvarez

Put the gloves on. I’ll fight him right now.

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez vows there’ll be no Mexican stand-off it when comes to a shoot-out with Gennady Golovkin.


You’ll see the dynamics that happen over the coming weeks and that this particular fight [with Mark De Mori] gets…It’ll be interesting to look at the numbers, viewing figures-wise, internet-wise, the internet reach, the television reach. They’re working on different stuff. A lot of futuristic stuff which I’ve never seen in boxing before, which will be announced in the coming weeks.

David Haye leaves us scratching our heads over his proposed comeback promoted in conjunction with a so-far unlicensed social media and marketing company.

Tomorrow: The Big Intervew with Tom Stalker – “Judge me but please get it right!”


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9 June 2023 | York Hall, Bethnal Green