Bruce Woodcock, British heavyweight hope, 1940s - Sleep came as it must come to all British heavyweights, midway in the fifth round: ‘Red’ Smith, US s.
- There was a period in boxing, amazingly it was nearly 100 years, when Britain failed to produce a single world heavyweight champion. Not since June 9th 1899, when Cornishman Bob Fitzsimmons lost his crown, to November 13th 1992 when the WBC declared Lennox Lewis king, did we succeed.
The intervening years saw 15 British heavyweights attempt to lift the richest title in sport, but sadly it is a story of a few hard-luck heroics and mostly jeers, and a few tears.
During this period of heartaches for our big men, the American press labelled us as the land of the horizontal heavyweights, and it’s no wonder, because right from the start of our quest for the world heavyweight crown, our hapless challengers were laid out on the deck. In fact from December 1907 the first four were knocked out by the same man within four months, the then reigning world champion Tommy Burns from Canada.
Of the 11 remaining challengers only two lasted until the final bell rang. The first being Welshman Tommy Farr, who not only lasted the full 15 rounds against the all-time great Joe Louis in New York in 1937, but took the Brown Bomber on head-to-head and contested every round, to the astonishment of the Americans who more or less ruled the world heavyweight division during the last century.
In the context of more recent triumphs by a few British heavies, it may be odd to suggest that the former miner and fairground fighter’s losing performance was the best by a British heavyweight in the last century. But the quality of the fight, and his opponent, surely justifies the claim.
The only other British heavyweight to last the distance during the long stretch of failures was Joe Bugner who, in Kuala Lumpur in 1975, ‘got on his bicycle’ as they say, and kept well out of the way of Muhammad Ali for 15 rounds. Ali won on points by a mile and the British press gave Bugner a lot of stick for his defensive tactics. However, after such a long wait, along came a super-sized British-born heavyweight in the shape of Lennox Lewis who, over a period of ten years, broke the American dominance of the heavyweight division and beat every American heavyweight challenger they put against him, until retiring from the ring after battering the current world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko until his face was ripped open on 21st June 2003. He left the game as the undisputed world heavyweight champion, taking his leave with a ring record of 41 wins, having ko’d 32 of his opponents, and easily avenging both of the defeats he suffered.
Since then, the heavyweight division has been monopolised by the super-heavies from the East, but many of the recent heavyweight title belt holders would have struggled to find work as sparring partners in the era of Ali, Foreman, Frazier and Larry Holmes.
With no big American heavyweight on the horizon with the talents of any of those four, Britain’s David Haye has captured the imagination of boxing followers in the United States as well as the UK. “Trust me”, said Haye recently, “I’ll be the best British heavyweight since Lennox Lewis”. Let’s hope so, for then the wasteland, otherwise known as the heavyweight division, may have found its redeemer, if the 29 year-old charismatic Londoner can become the new Lewis.
The explosive British star has promised to shake up heavyweight boxing and blast his way to the undisputed heavyweight crown.
However, you could say that he has a mountain to climb in his first attempt in challenging for one of the four major belts in Germany on 7th November, for he tackles the mighty Russian Nikolay Valuev who at seven feet two inches and 22 stone, is almost a foot taller and some six stone heavier than the former undisputed world cruiserweight champion. They say in boxing that in nine times out of ten, a good ‘big-un’ will beat a good ‘little-un’ but it’s not really about the weight and being big, it’s all about the size of the fighter inside you and Haye has shown on numerous occasions that he’s got a fighter’s heart. After leaving the cruiserweight division as world champion, Haye is looking to follow Evander Holyfield’s lead and prove that great heavyweights can be built from cruiserweight frames.
Some people make a big issue of Nikolay Valuev being slow, but if he was so bad he would have been exposed years ago. The 35 year-old may have walloped a few no-hopers on his way up the ladder, but hasn’t every other title holder? The fact is that he has only been beaten once in 52 professional heavyweight fights and the loss was to the former world amateur champion Rusian Chagaev, who exposed Valuev with his speed and lateral movements and causing damage with his sharp bursts of accurate punches.
Nikolay Valuev proved himself good enough to call himself a world heavyweight back in 2006 when outpointing WBA champ John Ruiz from the US. Defending his title a few months later Valuev stopped the American, Monte Barrett in the 11th round. David Haye took just five rounds to K.O. Barrett in November last year.
The Russian’s WBA belt is the first stepping stone in The Haymaker’s quest for heavyweight glory. Haye has the power, speed, mental strength and the ability and stature to be a genuine threat in the heavyweight division.
If Haye employs similar tactics as Chagaev he could make the Russian giant look ponderous. He’ll be asking for trouble if he stands in front of Valuev. I hope to see Haye using his jab and moving around his opponent, circling quickly to his right to limit the slower Goliath’s use of his big right-handers.
There’s a saying that, “First impressions are always lasting”. So let’s hope that when the gigantic Valuev steps over the top rope for his entrance into the ring, then looks down at Haye with a hard stare, that the Londoner doesn’t freeze, for it might just turn out to be the most ferocious thing The Beast from the East will be able to do all night.
I can’t see Haye knocking the big man out because he has a granite chin, but I can see him winning on points, providing he keeps his own chin out of range of the champion’s right hand punches.
The next steps for David Haye, if successful in this fight, will be to take on the Klitschko brothers Vitali and Wladimir who, between them hold the other three world heavyweight title belts. Let’s hope the stepladders don’t collapse before he gets there!By George Reed
This article appears in the print edition 602 of Island Connections