IN my last article I dropped a clanger by stating that no British heavyweight champion managed to last the distance with Ingemar Johansson. I have been reminded that Brian London not only went the full 12 with the Swede in 1963, but he decked the ex-world heavyweight champion with the last punch of the contest.
Brian fought between 1955 and 1970 and he didn’t duck anybody. He had excellent victories over some of the leading heavyweights of the period and I think his 1967 win over Zora Folley was the best of them. Folley had fought Muhammad Ali for the world title earlier that year and was beaten in seven rounds in one of the great man’s best performances. Zora was the favourite when he met London at Liverpool Stadium on November 13, 1967. Well-known to British fans, Zora was having his fourth bout on these shores, having met Henry Cooper twice and Joe Bygraves on his three previous visits.
Brian took his opportunity well, dominating Folley throughout the 10 rounds and finishing the contest looking far fitter and fresher than the American. The Blackpool man won easily and the large crowd, who loved Brian, stood and cheered him at the final bell. The referee, Harry Gibbs, only gave Folley a single round and although Brian could not connect with one of his devastating right-handers, he boxed his way to victory.
Johansson certainly felt the power of Brian’s right hand. The Swede has never been regarded as one of the better heavyweight champions, yet the only man to beat him was Floyd Patterson, who did it twice. However, with Johansson winning their first clash, he managed to beat every man he fought against.
When he faced London in Stockholm, Ingemar was expected to win without too much difficulty. He was the European champion and was highly positioned in the world ratings. London was coming into the fight off the back of three good victories against middle-ranking Americans – Howard King, Von Clay and Tom McNeeley. At the time, all the talk in the boxing press related to the forthcoming contest between Cassius Clay and Henry Cooper. The week before Brian’s trip to Sweden, “The Louisville Lip” had signed forms to meet Cooper, and British fight fans were agog at the thought of seeing the world’s most exciting young heavyweight in a UK ring.
There was no such ballyhoo for poor Brian, and most observers thought he would be on the end of a routine loss. On paper, that is what happened, but after the two men had fought out an uneventful 11 rounds, with Johannsson edging most of them, Brian landed his haymaker. Fortunately for Ingo, the final bell rang before he could get to his feet, and he was still on the canvas when the contest was ended by the referee, Andrew Smythe. The official stated afterwards that had Ingo arisen in time then he would have immediately stopped the bout as he was clearly out on his feet. London came within a few seconds of what would have been the best win of his career. BN stated: “If London had only taken the fight to his man in the early stages when Ingo posed and threatened without actually accomplishing anything, the Britisher could have won.” Johansson never fought again.
I used to see Brian jogging and power-walking around the streets near to his Blackpool home, and I once saw him hitting the bag in his garage as I walked past his house. He was well into his sixties at the time. I hope this little tribute to the big man puts right my recent error.