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Boxing; British Olympians who challenged and conquered the world

PUBLISHED: 12:00 06 April 2020

John H Stracey sends Amercian Hedgemon Lewis through the ropes in their world welterweight title clash at Wembley

John H Stracey sends Amercian Hedgemon Lewis through the ropes in their world welterweight title clash at Wembley

PA Archive/PA Images

Some years ago around the boxing scene I used to often hear this view, if you win an ABA title, you have a good chance of having a successful professional career.

Henry Cooper knocks down Cassius Clay during the fourth round of their 1963 contest at Wembley StadiumHenry Cooper knocks down Cassius Clay during the fourth round of their 1963 contest at Wembley Stadium

Some may well still hold such a view and, similarly, it was viewed that if you won an Olympic medal, not necessarily a golden one, you were also likely to have a good chance of a successful paid career.

Opinions and different viewpoints remain the lifeblood of boxing, there is no right or wrong view on such matters. But it seems reasonable to suggest that if someone has had a good amateur career, they stand, at least, a chance of making some waves in the paid game; but it is by no means a certainty.

Never a bad thing I think to win something in any walk of life and the boxing ring should be no exception. What happens thereafter, is for the individual and their support mechanism to seek to implement.

Take a look at some of our former Olympians who won Olympic medals, not golden ones, and some who did not win a medal of any description but went on to win or at least challenge for world professional titles.

Britain's Maurice Hope celebrates after defeating Rocky MattioliBritain's Maurice Hope celebrates after defeating Rocky Mattioli

I have covered their Olympic exploits, but intentionally for this piece have not listed their professional achievements, other than their world title shots.

I have included the various titles they have boxed for which have been described by their various governing bodies as their main world titles and, latterly, I have made mention of Silver Belt contests too.

I apologise in advance if any confusion is showing, but it is no easy task to include various world title attempts relating to a variety of governing bodies. I also apologise if any boxer who should have been included has been missed out, no discourtesy is intended here whatsoever.

Starting in 1952 in Helsinki, GB had Welsh flyweight Dai Dower and Henry Cooper competing at light-heavyweight.

Alan Minter wearing the Lonsdale belt after regaining the British middleweight championshipAlan Minter wearing the Lonsdale belt after regaining the British middleweight championship

Dower fought great Argentine flyweight Pascual Perez for the latter’s world title and lost inside the first round in Buenos Aires in 1957.

Perez was a formidable champion, reigning from 1954-1960, and is still considered by many today to be one of the greatest flyweight world champions of all time. He was Olympic champion at flyweight in London in 1948.

Cooper boxed Muhammad Ali for his world heavyweight crown at the old Highbury Stadium in 1966, being stopped on cuts in the sixth round. Both Dower and Cooper had won ABA Senior titles. Dower won his first two Olympic contests before losing on points to the Soviet Union’s Anatoli Bulakov. Cooper had a bye in his opening Olympic experience, then he lost on points to another boxer from the Soviet Union, Anatoly Perov.

As for Mexico City in 1968, we have a Team GB non-medallist who went on to challenge for and win a professional world title.

World flyweight champion Charlie Magri in actionWorld flyweight champion Charlie Magri in action

Lightweight John Stracey won his opening bout on points over Canadian Marvin Arneson, only to lose in the next round on points to America’s eventual gold medalist, Ronnie Harris.

Stracey was also an ABA champion and the former Repton amateur favourite made a triumphant return to Mexico City in December 1975 when he stopped the ageing Cuban maestro Jose Napoles to claim the latter’s WBC world welterweight crown in six rounds.

Stracey made one successful title defence against America’s Hedgemon Lewis and then along came Mexican/American Carlos Palomino, a very underrated fighter to take his world crown with a victory in the 12th round in June 1976.

Palomino made a number of successful title defences before being eventually dethroned by Wilfred Benitez in January 1979. Benitez from Puerto Rico is boxing’s youngest ever world champion, having won the WBA light-welterweight crown at the tender age of 17 in 1976.

Thumbs up from new British featherweight champion Pat Cowdell after he outpointed defending champion Dave Needham in a 15-round title fight at the Royal Albert HallThumbs up from new British featherweight champion Pat Cowdell after he outpointed defending champion Dave Needham in a 15-round title fight at the Royal Albert Hall

Moving on to Munich in 1972, two GB boxers from these Games were eventually to become world champions in their own right.

Maurice Hope and Alan Minter both ruled the world as professionals, with Minter having far more success than Hope in the Munich Games.

Boxing at welterweight, Hope won his opening bout, then had a walkover and in the quarter final was outscored by Hungary’s eventual silver medalist Janos Kajdi.

Hope won the WBC world light-middleweight title in March 1979, stopping Italian Rocky Mattioli in nine rounds and defended it three times before he eventually lost his world title to Puerto Rican legend Wilfred Benitez in May 1981.

Welshman Colin Jones, centre right, smiling in defeat after WBA world welterweight champion Don Curry retained his title and then placed the crown on Jones's head in a friendly gesture.Welshman Colin Jones, centre right, smiling in defeat after WBA world welterweight champion Don Curry retained his title and then placed the crown on Jones's head in a friendly gesture.

He did not win a Senior ABA crown, but he certainly blossomed in his paid career and was always strong and competitive, losing only to the best with and without the vest.

Minter, meanwhile, won an ABA title and in Munich advanced with three victories to the semi-finals, assuring him of at least a bronze medal.

He met the host nation’s Dieter Kottsych and was the victim of a 3-2 in the West German’s favour, but won the WBC and WBA world middleweight belts when beating Vito Antuofermo in March 1980. He defended his titles against the Italian, only to lose inside three rounds to America’s Marvin Hagler at Wembley Arena in September 1980.

Montreal in 1976 provided the platform for eventual world title tilts for the following: Charlie Magri, Pat Cowdell and Welshman Colin Jones.

Richie Woodhall celebrates beating Italy's Vincenzo Nardiello at the Newcastle Arena after their WBC World Super-Middleweight title fightRichie Woodhall celebrates beating Italy's Vincenzo Nardiello at the Newcastle Arena after their WBC World Super-Middleweight title fight

Flyweight Magri, who won four Senior ABA crowns, had a walkover in his Olympic debut, then he was knocked out in the third round of his contest against the host country’s Ian Clyde, to end his Olympic dreams.

In March 1983, he challenged the Dominican Republic’s Eleoncio Mercedes for the WBC world flyweight crown and won it when Mercedes was stopped on cuts in the seventh round.

Six months later he lost the crown in his first title defence when he fell victim to cuts in the sixth round leaving the lightly regarded and relatively unknown Frank Cedeno from the Philippines as the new world champion.

Magri had a further title shot in February 1985 when he boxed Sot Chitalada from Thailand for the WBC world flyweight belt, but his last title shot ended in defeat in five rounds.

Robin Reid celebrates with the WBF super-middleweight belt after defeating Argentina's Jorge SclarandiRobin Reid celebrates with the WBF super-middleweight belt after defeating Argentina's Jorge Sclarandi

Midlander Cowdell won a bantamweight bronze medal, winning three bouts on points, before meeting North Korean (PRK) Gu Yong-Ju and losing on points to the eventual Olympic champion. The North Korean thus becoming his country’s first gold medalist in the Olympic ring.

Cowdell won four Senior ABA crowns and was a great stylist and ring craftsman who had two shots at world honours. As with the Olympic champion, he did not have easy tasks in those two contests.

He lost a split decision for the WBC world featherweight crown to Salvador Sanchez from Mexico in December 1981 and was knocked out in the first round by Ghanaian legend Azumah Nelson in October 1985. Cowdell was indeed unfortunate to have to box two of the best featherweights in the modern era.

Welsh welterweight Jones did not have a particularly good Games as he won his first bout then met eventual bronze medalist Victor Zilberman of Romania and lost on points but he won two Senior ABA crowns and had a fine professional career, in which he boxed three times for world titles.

IBF featherweight champion Paul IngleIBF featherweight champion Paul Ingle

He drew his first attempt at the vacant WBC world welterweight crown with American Milton McCrory in March 1983, then lost on points to him in August of the same year.

In January 1985 he was stopped on cuts in four rounds by another American boxing legend, Don Curry, when the WBA and IBF world welterweight belts were on the line.

In 1984, Scottish flyweight Pat Clinton boxed in the Games in Los Angeles and won his opening bout, then was knocked out in two rounds by eventual silver medalist Redzep Redzepovski, from the then Yugoslavia.

Clinton had two Senior ABA crowns on his amateur CV and in the paid ranks he won the WBO world flyweight crown in March 1992, taking a split decision over Mexico’s reigning champion Isidro Perez.

Great Britain's David Burke (left) reels backwards from a punch from Germany's Falk Huste during their featherweight bout at the Atlanta OlympicsGreat Britain's David Burke (left) reels backwards from a punch from Germany's Falk Huste during their featherweight bout at the Atlanta Olympics

He made one successful defence and then was stopped in eight rounds by South African legend “Baby Jake” Matlala in May 1993.

The Seoul Olympics in 1988 saw Richie Woodhall win a fine bronze medal in the light-middleweight division, after a bye and three 5-0 wins set up a meeting with one of America’s finest, Roy Jones Jnr, who went on to lose the final to South Korea’s Pak Si-Hun in controversial fashion.

Woodhall was a fine representative for his country, although oddly enough he did not win a Senior ABA crown.

In the paid ranks, he did very well indeed, winning the WBC world super-middleweight title in March 1998 by clearly outpointing South Africa’s Thulani Malinga.

Great Britain's Amir Khan with his silver medal after losing to Cuba's Mario Kindelan in the lightweight final at the 2004 Olympics in AthensGreat Britain's Amir Khan with his silver medal after losing to Cuba's Mario Kindelan in the lightweight final at the 2004 Olympics in Athens

An earlier attempt on American Keith Holmes’s WBC middleweight crown in October 1996 had failed, with Woodhall being stopped in the 12th round.

But after defeating Malinga, Woodhall made two successful title defences, until Germany’s Markus Beyer outpointed him in October 1999 to take his crown. A final world title shot followed when Woodhall challenged the legendary Welshman Joe Calzaghe for the latter’s WBO super-middleweight belt but was stopped in the 10th round.

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Woodhall was a fine amateur and a composite professional with great dignity and sportsmanship and was, and still is, someone young pretenders can and ought to look up to today.

Amir Khan celebrates victory at the MEN ArenaAmir Khan celebrates victory at the MEN Arena

Also in Seoul, heavyweight Henry Akinwande lost a tight decision 3-2 to Arnold Vanderlyde of the Netherlands, the eventual bronze medalist, but he did win two Senior ABA championships.

And in the professional ring he won the vacant WBO world heavyweight crown in June 1996, when he knocked out American Jeremy Williams in three rounds.

Akinwande made two successful title defences before in July 1997 he challenged Lennox Lewis for his WBC world heavyweight title and was disqualified in round five for repeated holding.

Robin Reid, with his film star looks and quick hands and feet, strutted his stuff in Barcelona in 1992 to win bronze in the light-middleweight division.

Great Britain's Billy Joe Saunders (red) in action against Turkey's Adem Kilicci during their welterweight bout at the 2008 Beijing OlympicsGreat Britain's Billy Joe Saunders (red) in action against Turkey's Adem Kilicci during their welterweight bout at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

These were the first Games where boxers had first to qualify, before swapping blows in the Olympic rings, and Reid won three bouts in Spain, one by knockout and two on points, to meet Turkish-born Orhan Delibas, representing the Netherlands, in the semi-final.

Reid lost 8-3 to Delibas, who lost the final to Cuba’s Juan Carlos Lemus, and did not win a Senior ABA title, but he had a massive 16 world title contests.

Some may say, somewhat unkindly and inappropriately, that he lost the most important shots at the most prestigious world crowns but I do not subscribe to this view.

He was a very good Olympian, a bronze medalist and a very good world champion in the paid stakes, where he held three different world championship belts at various times in his career, including initially the WBC version of the super-middleweight title.

Billy Joe Saunders celebrates winning the WBO world middleweight title at Manchester ArenaBilly Joe Saunders celebrates winning the WBO world middleweight title at Manchester Arena

Reid won his first world crown and the WBC belt by stopping Italy’s Vincenzo Nardiello in seven rounds in October 1997 and made three successful defences of this belt, before losing it on points in December 1997 to South Africa’s Thulani Malinga.

Two further world title losses followed, as Calzaghe won a split decision when defending his WBO world super-middleweight crown, although some still think Reid had done quite enough to win. Then followed a unanimous points loss at the fists of Italy’s Silvio Branco for the WBU super-middleweight belt.

Reid’s luck changed in December 2000 when he defeated Salford’s Mike Gormley inside a round for the vacant WBF super-middleweight championship, which he defended successfully five times.

In December 2003 he lost unanimously on points to Germany’s Sven Ottke who held the IBF and WBA super-middleweight crowns. But Reid was not done for in world title terms as in June 2004 he unanimously outpointed Brian Magee to take the latter’s IBO super-middleweight title.

Reid’s last world title hurrah came in August 2005 when he challenged American Jeff Lacy for his IBF super-middleweight belt, with his own IBO crown also on the line.

But Reid retired in seven rounds and so the curtain came down on a fine world championship campaign, of 11 victories and five defeats. Not a bad ratio of success in anyone’s book.

Also in action in Barcelona was welterweight Adrian Dodson, who had competed for Guyana as Adrian Carew in Seoul.

Carew had won an ABA Senior title and in Barcelona he won his first contest, then lost a very tight decision 6-5 to Romania’s former 1989 World Amateur welterweight champion Francisc Vastag.

Dodson’s first three shots at world titles all ended in defeat and all inside the distance.

The first was at Ronald “Winky” Wright’s WBO light-middleweight title in December 1997, which ended in six rounds. Two further stoppage losses followed against South African Mpush Makambi, first for the vacant IBO middleweight title and then in a first defence by the South African, with Dodson losing in 11 and eight rounds respectively.

However, Dodson’s world title luck changed in March 2001 when he knocked out Paul Jones to win the vacant IBO super–middleweight belt, only to lose his title barely a month later when he was stopped in five rounds by Argentina’s Ramon Arturo Britez, putting paid to any further world title shots.

Two other Team GB members were in action in Barcelona and featured in world title matches: flyweight Paul Ingle and Scottish featherweight Brian Carr.

Carr, an ABA Senior champion, lost in his opening Games contest on points to Spain’s eventual silver medalist Faustino Reyes and was then stopped in 10 rounds by South African Cassius Baloyi when challenging for his WBU world featherweight title.

Ingle, a top class amateur flyweight, won two Senior ABA crowns and won his first contest in Barcelona before meeting eventual gold medalist Choi Choi-Su from North Korea and losing 13-12.

Ingle had four world title shots, winning two and losing two, starting against Sheffield’s great Naseem Hamed, when he lost in 11 rounds when challenging for the WBO world featherweight crown in April 1999.

In November 1999 he dethroned IBF World featherweight champion Manuel Medina of Mexico with a unanimous points decision and in April 2000 he added the IBO world featherweight crown when he stopped America’s Junior Jones in 11 rounds.

Tragedy was to strike in his next and last battle, though, when he was stopped in 11 rounds in December 2000 by South African Mbulelo Botile.

Ingle left the ring that night on a stretcher and spent several long weeks in hospital in intensive care. Happily, over time, he has recovered well, which is indeed a blessing.

Featherweight David Burke lost his opening contest in Atlanta in 1996 to see his Games end and he did not win a Senior ABA crown either. However, he did win the WBU (1995-2004 original version) world lightweight title in December 2002 when he gained a split decision over defending champion Colin Dunne.

This was Burke’s one and only shot at a version of a world crown and he won it.

Athens 2004 saw Bolton’s Amir Khan win a fabulous silver medal in the lightweight division, after just falling short 30-22 in the final against legendary Cuban Mario Kindelan.

Khan boxed four times to secure his final berth, winning two contests by stoppage and two on points and is our youngest ever Olympic medalist at the age of 17.

It’s no wonder he didn’t win a Senior ABA crown and he is also one of our youngest world champions, winning the WBA light-welterweight title aged 22.

Khan won his first world title in July 2009 when he unanimously outpointed Andriy Kotelnik from the Ukraine to land the WBA light-welterweight crown.

He made four successful defences of his title and then defeated America’s Zab Judah for the WBA and IBF light-welterweight titles. In December 2011 he lost a very hotly disputed split decision to America’s Lamont Peterson, with both these titles at stake. But when Peterson tested positive for synthetic testosterone, he was stripped of his WBA title and Khan was re-instated as champion.

Next time out in July 2012, Khan was halted in four rounds by American Danny Garcia, when the WBA and WBC belts were up for grabs. But Khan bounced back five months later when he forced Carlos Molina of USA to retire after 10 rounds for the Interim WBC Silver light-welterweight title.

After the Molina bout, Khan took a “catchweight“ contest at 143lbs against Mexican Julio Diaz and took a unanimous 12-round points verdict. His winning title streak continued for another three contests against American opposition, all of which, were won by unanimous decision.

Luis Collazo was bested for the Vacant WBC Silver and WBA International welterweight titles, while Devon Alexander and Chris Algieri failed in attempts at Khan’s WBC Silver welterweight title.

In May 2016, Khan stepped up to middleweight to challenge tough Mexican Saul Alvarez for the WBC, The Ring and lineal middleweight titles and was knocked out in six rounds.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics saw lightweight Frankie Gavin and welterweight Billy Joe Saunders in the mix.

Saunders won his first bout, then lost on points to Cuban Carlos Banteux, the eventual silver medalist, and did not win a Senior ABA title. But he remains undefeated in the paid ranks and in December 2015 he took a majority decision over Ireland’s Andy Lee to capture the Irishman’s WBO world middleweight crown.

He held this title until 2018 and since May 2019 has held the WBO super-middleweight belt. He is also the first boxer from the Travelling Community to hold world titles in two different weights.

Gavin had a less happy Games, as he failed to make the weight at lightweight and was ruled out of the Olympic competition.

He had a great amateur record, as well as being an ABA champion, and became the first English boxer to win a World Amateur title when taking the lightweight crown in Chicago in 2007.

He challenged Sheffield’s Kell Brook for the latter’s IBF world welterweight belt in May 2015 and was stopped in six rounds.

Who will be next in this Olympic category, only time will tell, but it is likely they will have as interesting a ring story to tell.


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