BRITISH boxing’s absurd ‘colour bar’ cast an ugly shadow over the domestic scene for almost 40 years. This archaic rule, which effectively barred black and mixed-race boxers from British title fights, was confined to history in 1948 when Dick Turpin, son of a Guyanese father and a white English mother, outpointed Vince Hawkins to become king of the middles.
In the early 1970s, another racial barrier of sorts was being knocked down. In 1968, the BBBofC had passed a rule allowing immigrants to box for British titles if they had lived in the country for at least 10 years. This paved the way for Jamaica-born Bunny Sterling to become the first immigrant British titlist when he stopped Mark Rowe on cuts in 1970. Five years later another Jamaican immigrant, Bunny Johnson, became the first black British heavyweight champion when he demolished Danny McAlinden. Between these two milestones was another landmark fight. It happened this week in 1973.
On November 27 that year, Joe Tetteh, who was born in Ghana, and Jamaica-born Des Morrison took part in the first British title fight contested by two immigrant boxers. It was also the inaugural battle for the light-welterweight crown (today super-lightweight). The 140lb division had been introduced in Britain as junior-welterweight in 1967 but was scrapped in 1969, only to be relaunched as light-welter four years later. The match between Tetteh and Morrison provided an intriguing showcase for the new weight class. Here were two quality operators at opposite ends of their careers – one a seasoned veteran, the other a promising young prospect.
Tetteh had been a pro since 1957, fighting solely in Africa before coming to Britain in the early 1960s. By the time he met Morrison he’d fought 75 times (45-25-5) in 12 different countries. Former world titlist John H. Stracey, who sparred with Joe at Canning Town’s Royal Oak gym, credited the Ghanaian with teaching him many tricks of the trade. “He was so clever,” recalled John. “At times he would stop me and tell me I wasn’t doing this or that. They were good lessons.”
Tetteh, an ex-Commonwealth champion, was supposed to be 31 in 1973, but BN’s coverage of the fight suggests he was actually 35. For him this was undoubtedly the last roll of the dice. Morrison (21-2-2), by contrast, would have seen the fight as a likely launch pad to bigger and better things. At 23, the Bedford-based Jamaican had only been a pro for three years. He was, however, an excellent boxer.
Tetteh entered the ring at Shoreditch Town Hall wearing Ghanaian tribal garments to the accompaniment of drum beats, which gave the occasion a special ambience. From bell to bell Joe attacked while Morrison elected to jab and move. The fight was a thriller that went the full 15 rounds, but scoring it was a highly subjective matter. Some onlookers favoured Tetteh’s relentless aggression, others Morrison’s stylish work. When referee James Brimmell raised Morrison’s hand at the end of this tough encounter, much of the crowd booed. The sporting press were widely split: BN’s Graham Houston felt Tetteh deserved the decision, as did Reg Gutteridge of the Evening News, who thought Tetteh had “won beyond reasonable doubt”; but for The Sun’s Colin Hart, Morrison was a worthy if narrow winner.
Morrison lost the crown in his first defence, falling in 11 rounds to Pat McCormack four months later. Des continued for another eight years and challenged unsuccessfully three more times for light-welterweight honours.
For Tetteh it was the end of the road. He had three more bouts (all defeats) before retiring in 1974, after a KO loss to lightweight legend Ken Buchanan.