Ask most people in the world to name you a boxer and they’ll tell you Mohammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano, Floyd Mayweather Jr. All of these boxers have two things in common: not only are they boxing legends, but they’re American. Yet it was the Brits who made boxing what it is today.
Who are some of the best British boxers in the post war period, then? Some of them certainly matched their American counterparts.
Sir Henry Cooper
He may never have been World Champion, but Sir Henry Cooper is still held in high regard by the British public. Known as the man to knockdown Mohammad Ali – although he didn’t knock him out – the British favorite had one of the best left hooks to have graced the ring. He may have become heavyweight champion if he hadn’t been prone to cutting above his left eye.
Until stepping up a weight class to meet Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2007, Ricky Hatton’s record read 43 wins, 0 losses. He held the now defunct WBU light welterweight title from 2001 until he gave it up in 2007. Very well regarded in the UK, Hatton never had the chance to show his arm against the best of the rest of the world until late in his career, and after his first loss at light welterweight, against Manny Pacquiao, he retired.
Off the back of his knockout of George Groves in front of the biggest boxing crowd seen in the UK (80,000 at Wembley Stadium), Carl Froch is looking for one last fight, this time in Las Vegas. If he doesn’t get it, he will retire as undisputed super-middleweight champion of the world. With a 33-2 record, Froch may be best remembered for the punch that floored Groves in that rematch.
“Prince” Naseem Hamed is one of the greatest unfulfilled talents in any sport. His record of 31 KOs from 36 wins and 1 loss speaks for itself, but it was his potential for so much more that made him stand out. Promoter Frank Warren said: “I think at one stage he was the most exciting fighter that I’d ever been involved with. At one stage, in the early part of his career, he could have gone on to become one of the great fighters. But that disappeared when he didn’t fight as regularly as he should have done, when he was cutting corners on his training. It just didn’t work out for him from that point on.”
In fact, his loss to Marco Antonio Barrera came about because Hamed turned up to his training camp 35 pounds overweight. He struggled to make the weight and hadn’t spent enough time training for the fight, a common scene. He took only one more fight before retiring aged 28.
It’s hard to pick the best British boxer from the late 80’s and early 90’s as Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Michael Watson tore up the middleweight divisions. Yet everything changed when Eubank and Watson met in a rematch in 1991. Eubank floored Watson, who hit his head and collapsed.
Watson was put in a coma for 40 days and had 6 brain operations and more than 6 years in a wheelchair. Yet this fighter regained the ability to speak and even completed the London Marathon in 2003. While his greatest achievements may be post boxing, Watson deserves all the plaudits for what he has succeeded in against all the odds.
Probably one of the greatest heavyweights of the modern era, Lewis had 41 wins, 2 losses and a draw in his professional career, bowing out after a TKO against future undisputed heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko. Lewis can boast wins over Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, Frank Bruno, Oliver McCall, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, as well as Klitschko.
Lewis’ retirement also coincided with a decline in the quality of the heavyweight division, according to pundits. The Klitschko brothers have dominated since then, with titles also held by the massive – and massively slow – Valuev and cruiserweight come heavy David Haye. Lewis has said he would make a comeback to fight Klitschko for $100m, something that seems unlikely.
Joe Calzaghe is the longest serving super middleweight champion in history, having defended his WBO title 21 times over a 10 year period. The Welshman retired undefeated in 2008 after defeating Roy Jones Jr in a light heavyweight fight in Madison Square Gardens.
He won that title by defeating Chris Eubank in a unanimous decision in 1997 and only relinquished the title so he could fight in two superfights at light heavyweight against Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. Unsurprisingly, Calzaghe won both of these fights and retired as the 3rd best boxer in the world over any weight.
As the super middleweight belts he relinquished were not fought for before he took Bernard Hopkins’ light heavyweight title, Calzaghe became the longest serving world champion in boxing history. It’s therefore fair he’s ranked amongst the best ever champions, never mind British champions.
So there we have it. British boxing has had a lot more to offer than just inventing the sport. While Tyson Fury may not have found his way onto the list, should he come up against Klitschko and win, who knows for the future.