Life and times of Bethnal Green boxer John H Stracey

John H Stracey

John H Stracey was one of the east end's greatest legendary amateur and professional boxers. - Credit: Mike Brooke

John Henry Stracey is one of the best boxers the east end has ever produced.

An exciting fighter; fearless with bags of courage and lots of talent, Stracey ended his career with 45 victories (37 inside the distance), five losses with a lone draw. 

Born on September 22 1950, Stracey grew up in a Bethnal Green suffering the after effects of the Nazi assault from World War II.

His decision to become a fighter came as little surprise, nor did his rise to become one of the east end's greatest amateur and professional champions.

Stracey had a wonderful amateur boxing pedigree - winning a National ABA Schools title, two National Junior ABA crowns as well as an NABC (National Boys’ Clubs) Championship.

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Those successful formative days saw him box for four east London outfits, including the infamous Repton ABC.

While at Repton - his hometown club - Stracey represented Great Britain in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.

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He won his opening lightweight bout against Canada’s Marvin Arneson, before being outpointed by eventual-gold medallist American southpaw Ronnie 'Mazel' Harris.

A year later, he won the Senior ABA light-welterweight title for Repton, beating Torbay’s Jimmy Banks at Wembley.

Stracey left the amateur ranks having won the majority of his 100-plus bouts.

Bethnal Green's York Hall hosted his professional debut - a victory against Ghana’s Santos Martins - on September 17 1969.

Stracey proceeded to fly up the paid professional ladder, winning his first sixteen outings before drawing against American Frankie Lewis at the Royal Albert Hall on October 5 1971.

A further six victories came before his first loss, a defeat to Canada's Marshall Butler on April 25 1972.

Stracey bounced back with three victories, before losing controversially to Coventry’s Bobby Arthur October 31 1972.

The boxer was disqualified for 'hitting on the break', meaning couldn't clinch the British welterweight title.

Five victories came before a rematch against Arthur on June 5 1973; this time Stracey did become the British welterweight champion after a fourth round knockout.

Three straight wins was followed by Stracey's third loss - courtesy of a cut eye stoppage - to American Cuby Jackson on March 26 1974.

Stracey then became European welterweight champion after seeing off France’s Roger Menetrey on May 27 of the same year, before successfully defending that title by beating Switzerland’s Max Hebeisen on April 29 1975.

December 6 1975 saw the east-ender conquer the world by stopping legendary WBC world champion Jose Napoles.

In six rounds at the main bullring in Mexico City, John H was crowned the world welterweight champion after securing one of the most historic victories abroad by a British fighter.

Triumphing in the city where Stracey's Olympic hopes were sadly dashed seven years before made it all the sweeter. 

On March 20 1976, an emotionally-charged Stacey successfully defended his crown by halting perennial world title challenger, American Hedgemon Lewis. 

Stracey lost his next defence, succumbing after 12 rounds to Mexican Carlos Palomino on June 22 1976.

Perhaps Palomino had caught John H at the right time, just as the Bethnal Green man did with Jose Napoles.

Stracey had two more fights before the curtain came down on his ring career.

On March 29 1977, he lost to Chatteris' 'Fen Tiger' Dave 'Boy' Green after ten tough rounds at Wembley, before triumphing over Frenchman Georges Warusfel at the Michael Sobell Sports Centre in Islington 14 months later.

Stracey retired with an admirable record and a loyal, adoring east end following.

A career mainly on the London scene, Stracey was frequently be found at Royal Albert Hall, Wembley, and his 'own manor' - the York Hall.

He also boxed successfully in France, Mexico and the US.

I was certainly privileged to be around when he had his say, not least as he lived in my adopted town - Billericay - for some years.

Like like a number of his British contemporaries, Stracey's reign at the top of the world welterweight ladder was brief, an indicator of the efforts expended just to get there.

After retiring the boxer became a publican in Briston, Norfolk, whilst also carving out a successful - and continuing - career as an after-dinner speaker and cabaret artist.

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