FORMER leading small men Dave Smith and Davy Larmour were reunited last month at the Union Jack club near London’s Waterloo station 30 years after they swapped punches for 22 gruelling rounds in the bantamweight ranks.
Larmour, in his native Belfast, took a 10-round decision over Smith in 1979 but a 12-round rematch, this time on Smith’s South London manor, went the other way and landed the Eltham stylist a crack at the vacant British bantamweight title against John Feeney, a title made vacant by the tragic death of Johnny Owen.
It was Smith’s third crack at the British title, having lost gallantly to Owen (whom he wobbled) and to Charlie Magri (a weight down – he somehow lasted into the seventh against that freakish puncher).
He gave it another brave try until Feeney came good in the eighth round at York Hall, after which Dave decided to call it a day at 28.
Larmour also lost to Owen, Magri and Feeney (Magri in the amateurs) but made it to the British bantamweight title at the ripe old age of 33 with a revenge points win over Belfast rival and previously unbeaten Hugh Russell at the King’s Hall in 1983.
An emotional night, but his reign was cut short by that man Feeney, a defeat which also persuaded Davy to call it a day.
Feeney said his whole world changed after a 15-round defeat by tireless Owen a few years earlier. He said he had thought he was fit until he met Owen, who just never stopped punching. Smith and Larmour paid the price.
“He was a hard boy, Feeney,” said Smith, who now lives in Orpington and works nights for Network Rail/London Underground as a COSS (Charge of Site Safety) in the Wimbledon and Richmond areas checking the tracks and signals. He loves it. He is the boss.
Strong, fearless Ulsterman Larmour, trained by his half-brother Paddy Maguire, was cut-prone and bruised easy but he was beautifully built for a bantamweight (unless you were the opponent, then more frightening) and knew how to dish it out, particularly to the body.
Upright Smith was much more of a boxer, quick on the counter, a man blessed with ring intelligence and whose slender frame belied a core of steel.
Just as their pro careers intertwined, so their styles came together for two great fights. Both of them also enjoyed long and illustrious amateur careers.
Ultimately, Smith is probably best remembered for a controversial fight in South Africa against the world class Welile Nkosinkulu, who resorted to judo trips in front of a predominantly black crowd and got away with it.
“We’ll get killed if I win this one,” said Dave in his corner. “What do you mean ‘we’!” barked Vernon Sollas. “I’m the right colour.”
Sollas was a brilliant little black Scotsman infamous for blowing a brilliant fight against Les Pickett at the Royal Albert Hall in the dying seconds of a 10-rounder. He had been miles ahead but former BN colleague Martin Creasy said: “You could see, inch by inch, Pickett pegging it back.”
Something Sollas would rather forget. He had everything bar stamina.
Smith said of the South African fight that the result was actually reversed some time later but that it never shows in the record books. But he is not the bitter type.
He said he was in great shape for that fight and felt that was why Nkosinkulu resorted to such tactics.
Smith was first trained by Terry Spinks and later by Terry Toole, then enjoyed training the kids at Samuel Montagu ABC until boxing politics intervened. He ran pubs and helped Billy Aird during his promotional days training boxers.
Back to Larmour, who picked up gold at the Commonwealth Games in 1974 and also boxed in the Montreal Olympics two years later, losing to Leo Randolph, the eventual gold medallist.
As a pro, he came from behind to score a memorable stoppage over the gifted but fragile Dave George – who rightly told me to get lost after I stupidly tried to interview him after he had just lost a British eliminator with Ray Gilbody in Park Lane – and Larmour’s first encounter with southpaw Russell in 1982 at the Ulster Hall was such a bloodfest that referee Mike Jacobs found the police waiting for him when he went to collect his formerly blood-soaked shirt at the dry cleaners.
Davy’s belated upset title victory over Russell did make Smith ponder what might have been.
Now in their 60s, still as sharp as tacks, the two men got back in touch courtesy of facebook, with Larmour then making the trip.
“It was great to see him after all this time,” said Smith. “We had such a good time – you know, as a fighter you don’t really know them well [your opponents] because of the nature of the business, but we were laughing and joking and we blended so well.
“My family aim to go to Belfast to visit him next.”
By the way, Davy, who has retired, is pictured on his facebook page with Liam Neeson, who fought for the All-Ireland title against Gordon Ferrris, a future British heavyweight champion.
Neeson once said when you have walked to the ring to box, nothing, certainly not acting, is ever as scary.
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