ERROL CHRISTIE, who has died following a battle with lung cancer, should be remembered as one of the finest amateurs this country has ever produced. Yet he always struggled with such vast potential as a professional.
Born in Leicester, Christie was brought up in the Coventry area. He started boxing at the age of eight, and quickly had people taking notice. He won a staggering nine Junior ABA titles, and as young as 15 he was being compared by this paper with another Midlander – former world middleweight champion Randolph Turpin.
“A STAR IS BORN” was Boxing News’ front page headline following 17-year-old Errol’s win over Cameron Lithgow in the 1981 ABA light-middleweight final – sensationally beating former champion Earl Henderson and Olympic rep Joey Frost along the way. The next year he became European Under-19 champion. He turned pro late in 1982 with manager Burt McCarthy, as a full middleweight – and, though expectations inevitably were high, Christie looked well capable of meeting them. He won his first 13, 12 inside the distance, appearing in the Midlands and London and (twice) the USA.
It was a huge shock when Belgian Jose Seys floored and halted Errol in 47 seconds at Shoreditch in September 1984. Excuses were made – Errol had come out too casually, he’d been caught cold, and he was a middleweight against a light-heavy (though Seys was stopped in subsequent visits to Britain, by middleweight Herol Graham as well as light-heavy Dennis Andries). Errol went on to win his next seven – bringing him to an enthralling showdown with West Ham’s Mark Kaylor, in a final eliminator for the British title.
Promoter Mike Barrett paid an astonishing £82,500 to stage this eliminator, which had fans and media speculating for weeks. The BN preview described it as “a crossroads fight for both men,” opining that “Defeat for Christie would mean that thereafter he would be regarded as just another false alarm, as a dazzling amateur prospect who was tested and found wanting in the tougher professional game.”
Sadly, a racist element became involved – and the two protagonists had a public brawl in a London street. On the night (November 5, appropriately) the fighting was confined to the ring.
And, unlike some hyped-up battles, this one delivered. It was an enthralling bout that saw both on the floor – and Kaylor finally prevailed in the eighth round. But Christie was far from disgraced. As an aside, the bill also featured a European title bout, with Londoner Jim McDonnell tackling Spain’s Jose Luis Vicho for the vacant featherweight belt. But Kaylor v Christie hogged the headlines, and the column inches (including in BN) – and when the BBC showed the fights the next night, they showed Kaylor v Christie in full, and just the end of the European bout (McDonnell knocked out Vicho in the fourth). Proof that it’s fighters, not titles, that make fights.
You couldn’t write Christie off after a showing like that, and he won his next four – including a dazzling 10-round points victory over former world title challenger Sean Mannion at London’s Alexandra Pavilion. Christie was far from being just a puncher, and Mannion was credited with a share of just two rounds. Now the talk was of a mouth-watering challenge to British and Commonwealth champion Tony Sibson – another hard-hitting Midlander.
But just five weeks after the Mannion triumph, Christie took on unheralded American Charles Boston, in the same ring – and Boston stopped him in eight rounds, scoring knockdowns in the first and third, and twice in the eighth. Errol showed heart, and even had his rival down in the sixth – but this was a truly disastrous loss. The Sibson bout never happened – in fact, Christie never boxed for any title as a pro – and the ensuing 14 bouts would produce eight wins, five losses and a draw. Commonwealth middleweight champion Michael Watson and future super-middleweight champion James Cook both stopped him – and his last bout, in March 1993, saw him beaten in two rounds by Trevor Ambrose, who had lost his last six and would lose his next three.
Christie’s final tally read 32 wins, eight losses and a draw. Twenty-six of the wins came inside the distance, but so did all but one of the defeats – Errol had the punch, but not the chin.
After hanging up his gloves, Christie was involved in training white-collar boxers, and also worked as a market trader. In 2010 he published his acclaimed autobiography, No Place to Hide, co-written with journalist Tony McMahon. In it Christie spoke frankly about the problems of racism in boxing, and in Britain generally.
Errol was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015 – and now it has claimed him at just 54. On his boxing career, he’ll inevitably be remembered for not getting as far as expected. But at times the journey was exciting, enthralling and exhilarating.