Monday, March 4

The Joy of Six: all-British heavyweight boxing rivalries | Boxing

1) Lewis v. Bruno (1993)

This was the first time two British boxers contested a version of the world heavyweight title, but the buildup turned ugly with a two-word insult: “Uncle Tom”. Lennox Lewis denied using the slur but Frank Bruno insisted it came from inside Lewis’s camp and it increased the bad blood between the aloof WBC champion and national treasure Big Frank.

The fight took place in the early hours of the morning, outdoors at a rainswept Cardiff Arms Park and as Lewis struggled to get going, Bruno bossed the early exchanges, rocking Lewis with a right hand. The heavy-handed champion finally caught Bruno with a big left hook in the seventh round and his follow-up except inevitably led to a brave, bloodied Bruno being stopped at his feet by him. Lewis went on to prove himself the best heavyweight of his era but Bruno actually got his hands on the WBC title two years later, beating Oliver McCall at a jubilant Wembley. “I’m not an Uncle Tom,” a tearful Bruno sobbed post-fight. “I love my people. I’m not a sellout.”

2) Haye v. Chisora ​​(2012)

A rivalry that started with a near-glassing in Germany and ended with a fight held at Upton Park, but licensed by the Luxembourg Boxing Federation. When David Haye interrupted the post-fight press conference after Vitali Klitschko had outpointed Dereck (now Derek) Chisora ​​in Munich, it was to try and goad the older Klitschko brother into fighting him. The volatile Chisora ​​was unamused by the hijack and confronted the intruder, resulting in Haye chinning his fellow Londoner with a right hand, which happened to contain a glass bottle.

David Haye (right) punches Dereck Chisora ​​while holding a bottle after the heavyweight bout between Vitali Klitschko and Chisora ​​in Munich. Photo: Reuters

After the melee that followed, Haye hot-footed it out of Germany before the authorities could catch him, while Chisora ​​was arrested but released. Inevitably, the fight was on but as neither man had a British Boxing Board of Control license, promoter Frank Warren looked to Luxembourg. Cheekily marketed as “Licensed to Thrill”, Haye did what Klitschko had been unable to do and stopped Chisora ​​in the fifth round. Years later, in a twist straight out of a Rocky film, the retired Haye would end up as Chisora’s manager for a spell.

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3) Bugner v Cooper (1971)

“I wish I’d never ruddy fought Henry Cooper,” Joe Bugner said years later. “I won but I lost everything.” It’s true that the British public never forgave the brash, Hungary-born Bugner for controversially defeating “Our ‘Enry” in the Londoner’s final fight. The bout for the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles went the full 15 rounds and the sole arbiter, referee Harry Gibbs, scored it to Bugner by a mere quarter of a point.

The Wembley crowd booed. Cooper was bitterly disappointed, while commentator Harry Carpenter lamented: “How in the world can you take away the man’s three titles like that?” The 37-year-old Cooper had planned to retire whatever the result, but the response to the decision was close to a national scandal and Bugner bore the brunt of it. Sir Henry would later become the only British boxer to be knighted, while Bugner challenged for the world heavyweight title in 1975. He lost, just as Cooper had, to Muhammad Ali. Which is about the only thing these two men had in common.

4) Joshua v. Whyte (2015)

Anthony Joshua having Stormzy perform “Shut Up” during his ring entrance before facing Dillian Whyte at London’s Otwo Arena was probably not a coincidence. Whyte was the victor when the two met as amateurs in 2009 but it was Joshua who went on to Olympic success and superstardom. Before the pair met as professionals, Whyte needled AJ over his clean-cut image of him, saying: “I do n’t like the guy because he’s fake… he’s a bit of a scumbag, to be honest.”

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Anthony Joshua celebrates after finishing Dillian Whyte with an uppercut in 2015
Anthony Joshua celebrates after finishing Dillian Whyte with an uppercut in 2015. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images/Reuters

There was nothing fake about the blows which hurt Whyte in the first round, nor the after-the-bell action which sparked a ring invasion and a multi-man melee. Whyte turned the tide by staggering his foe with a left hook in round two and the action continued until the seventh round – new territory for both fighters – when Joshua hurt Whyte again and then finished him with a titanic uppercut. Joshua won a version of the world title in his next fight, stopping the hapless American Charles Martin, but Whyte used his new-found fame to build a lucrative heavyweight career.

5) Harrison v Williams (2005, 2006)

In truth, the shine was long gone from Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison when he fought Danny Williams at London’s ExCeL in 2005. Four years of timid matchmaking and tedious performances had got him to 19-0 but had alienated the public. Williams, who had beaten the rusty remains of “Iron” Mike Tyson in 2004, accused Harrison of being a “celebrity boxer” who lacked bottle, adding: “when Audley loses, he will dwindle away”.

The fight was a drab affair, suddenly lit up by a clobbering Williams right hand in round 10, which sent Harrison down and caused the promoter Frank Warren to punch the air. Harrison got up but lost a split decision, his world title ambitions in tatters. But he did not quite slink away as predicted. Instead, he stopped an out-of-shape Williams in three rounds a year later and eventually fought David Haye for the WBA world title in a contest (we use the word loosely) which is best forgotten. Williams, sadly, continues to fight in countries that will allow him to at the age of 48, his prime years from him to distant memory.

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6) Fury v. McDermott (2009, 2010)

It’s a strange quirk of Tyson Fury’s rollercoaster career that the boxer with the best claim to have beaten him in his first 32 professional fights is not Wladimir Klitschko, nor even Deontay Wilder. Instead it is the unassuming figure of Essex’s John McDermott, whose decision loss to a 21-year-old Fury was labeled “diabolical” and “a robbery of the highway variety” by the Guardian in 2009.

Tyson Fury is caught by a heavy right hand from John McDermott, in a fight Fury won controversially.
Tyson Fury is caught by a heavy right hand from John McDermott, in a fight Fury won controversially. Photograph: Gavin Ellis/TGSPhoto/Shutterstock

Fury had called his roly-poly rival “McMuffin” in the buildup, but almost every observer had McDermott outworking the touted prospect over 10 rounds in their English heavyweight title fight. The uproar caused the British Boxing Board of Control to order a rematch and Fury later admitted his lucky escape from him made him start to knuckle down in training. He has stopped McDermott in nine rounds and Fury has scaled remarkable heights since. The man who could not avoid Big Bad John’s overhand right has gone on to box rings around the elite heavyweights of his era.

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