FORMER world middleweight champion Terry Downes BEM passed away at the age of 81 on October 6, 2017.
The Londoner’s nickname was “Dashing, Bashing, Crashing” – and no one would ever sue Downes under the Trades Descriptions Act. With his aggressive hard-hitting style, the Paddington battler thrilled crowds in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
His rough and ready, blunt-talking Cockney persona also earned him followers at a time when television was just taking off. Two years in the US Marines had toughened him up and early setbacks – he lost to future two-weight world champ Dick Tiger in a 1957 prelim – merely delayed Downes’ rise to the top, which culminated in a trilogy with Paul Pender.
Terry lost the first encounter in Pender’s Boston backyard on cuts (seven rounds) in January 1961. But he would get revenge six months later in London.
“The Paddington Express” didn’t have it easy though, and even in the build-up to his famous victory his notorious nose – which he labelled “My bleedin’ hooter” – threatened to scupper his triumph.
“Just my luck,” Downes would explain many years later, “on the very last day of sparring, about four days before the fight, I cracked heads in a clinch with [sparring partner] Wally Swift and tore the skin off my nose!”
Downes put a patch on the injury and faced the press; “I told them I’d been given a special prescription to keep on my nose for a few days because it hardened the skin. It was some special jollop made up in Harvey Street at a pound an ounce, I told them…
“Luckily, come fight time, we managed to clean up the skin and powder the ol’ nose like a pansy.”
The hooter survived and Downes, with skill and an unbreakable will to win, snatched the title in nine rounds when Pender retired on his stool. Back in Boston, he would lose their final fight – and the championship – on points in April 1962.
Five months later at Wembley’s Empire Pool, he clashed with another former world champion, the fading Sugar Ray Robinson. Downes took the verdict after 10 rounds. Afterwards he said, “I didn’t beat Sugar Ray. I beat his ghost.”
Downes – an underrated fighter in his day – went very close to a world title at light-heavy, troubling Willie Pastrano in 1964 before suffering an 11th-round stoppage. The loss took his record to 35-9 (28).
Terry, a savvy operator, retired following that defeat at the age of just 28 to concentrate on his investments in high street betting shops.
“I never thought of making a comeback,” he told The Independent’s Alan Hubbard in 2011. “That was as good as I could do. When you’ve been on top of the mountain, the only way is down.”
In later years – when he also found time for a 25-year acting career – he could always be relied upon for an acerbic take on the latest boxing action.
Downes remained immensely popular figure in boxing circles, and in 2011 referee and former fighter Bob Williams – alongside several others – campaigned for Downes to be knighted following the 50-year anniversary of winning the world title. After some tremendous work by the campaign team, Downes was awarded the BEM the following year.
Brilliant trainer Howard Rainey said of Downes during the campaign:
“I spent some time with Terry Downes in the 80s, just one lovely man. He would help any worthy cause, and must have raised thousands for charity.
“I will always remember a weekend away with him in the Lakes, for charity. We were going up the M6 and we stopped at a services. As we were going for a drink we were stopped by a guy from the AA who said, ‘Terry Downes, you gave me a lot of pleasure watching you fight.’ To which Terry replied, ‘You have given me a lot of pleasure too, when I’ve been broken down on the motorway and been sat there in the p*****g rain waiting for you.’ The look on the AA guy’s face was a classic.”
The final paragraph of Downes’ 1989 autobiography – My Bleeding Business – perhaps says it best.
“I’ve lived the life I wanted, been blessed with a good family, done all the things I ever dreamed of, from birds to booze. I haven’t got a lot of money but I haven’t got to go out and get any. I’m too old to alter. Accept me as I am.”
Terry Downes, one of a kind, is already sorely missed.