THE seventh annual British Ex-Boxers Hall of Fame took place on Sunday (September 17) inside a packed conventional hall at the Thistle Hotel at Heathrow.
It would be unfair to single out any inductee, each was both deserving and gracious, but Michael Watson, the former Commonwealth middleweight champion left damaged by the sport following his 1991 loss to Chris Eubank, shone the brightest.
“You are a hero to us all, one who gave everything to boxing during your career,” Matt Christie, the BN editor, said while introducing the 57-year-old. “Even better than that, you continue to give everything to boxing.”
Watson became a household name, almost overnight, when he upset Nigel Benn in six rounds in 1989. A subsequent shot at Mike McCallum ended in brave defeat before two fateful fights with Eubank. He lost the first on a contentious points decision before being stopped in the last round of a dramatic sequel.
He endured more than a year of intensive care and rehabilitation during which time he was told he would never walk again. In 2003 he completed the London Marathon after walking in the morning and afternoon for six consecutive days.
Watson is a passionate advocate of Ringside Charitable Trust and frequently goes out of his way to support a charity that continues to be ignored by the industry’s key powerbrokers, those who continue to profit from a sport that was changed for the better as a consequence of Watson’s injuries.
“I will never forget this,” Watson said, moments after an impressive display of shadowboxing. “To be here and accept this award is very special. It means just as much to me as the day I stood in front of the Queen in 2004 [to receive MBE].”
Watson, who later cheered when the great Dennie Mancini was posthumously inducted into the Manager category, was joined in the Modern Era category by Jimmy Batten, Herol Graham, Johnny Nelson and George Groves. Each were present.
“Well, this is incredible considering I was crap,” Nelson joked. “I was rubbish. I lost my first three amateur fights and then my first three professional fights.” He would later pay tribute to his trainer and mentor, Brendan Ingle.
Groves was quick to thank his amateur coaches while Graham drew laughter when he said, “About time. I’ve been waiting for this for ages.”
Johnny Greaves, the charismatic journeyman who retired in 2013 after his 100th fight, was inducted into the 100 Plus Club category. “People look at my record, see I’ve lost 96 times and think I can’t fight,” Greaves told BN. “But people in boxing knew what I was about. I’ve been through a lot in my life, I suffered from depression when I was younger and then along came boxing. It saved my life. I’ll never forget seeing my name in Boxing News for the first time. Wow, that was some moment.”
Peter Fury and a remarkably trim Billy Nelson, who guided Ricky Burns out of obscurity towards multiple sanctioning body titles, were both inducted into the Professional Trainer category. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the achievements and loyalty of the fighters I’ve been lucky enough to train,” said Fury, who was presented with his award by his son, Hughie Fury. Nelson later classily signed off by wishing Hughie well in his upcoming bout with Michael Hunter.
The inimitable Gerry Storey MBE could not attend due to poor health but he was nonetheless inducted into the Amateur Trainer category alongside Billy Schwer Snr, who, in one of the highlights of the day, was introduced in typically rousing fashion by his son, Billy Schwer.
Tommy Gilmour MBE became the sixth promoter to be inducted since the Hall of Fame began in 2015. He followed Barry Hearn, Frank Warren, Eddie Hearn, Jack Solomons and Mick Hennessy. The great Jock McAvoy was remembered as his granddaughter spoke fondly ahead of his induction into the Pioneer category.
There were five inductees in the Lifetime Services to Boxing category: Alan Parr, Barry Penny, Simon Euan-Smith, Matt Christie and Bob Williams. Veteran scribe Parr, the secretary of Leicester EBA, was in sprightly form and Penny, the saviour of Croydon EBA, defied bad health to take to the stage. Boxing News’ own Euan-Smith’s induction was timely, coming just after he celebrated 50 years on the beat.
“I’ll be 73 in a few days,” said Euan-Smith. “So it’s unlikely I’ll be covering boxing for another 50 years. But I intend to be covering boxing, and supporting boxing and the EBA movement, for as long as I can – because it truly is a wonderful sport.”
BN’s Christie paid tribute to the boxers during his induction speech. “Compared to them, and without them, I am nothing,” he said. “But to be alongside them, in the Hall of Fame, is the greatest honour of my life.”
Bob Williams was without question the busiest of all inductees. The former professional and current leading referee is also the Chairman of Home Counties EBA, who played host to this years’ event. Alongside Kymberly Taylor, Chas Taylor and Mo Prior, he worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the day went smoothly. He was also the MC, expertly overseeing every auction and induction, bar his own.
On stage he spoke of the impossible job he has as a referee in the limelight and afterwards, behind the scenes, he revealed he would be returning to his day job as a firefighter on Monday morning. Williams is every inch a Hall of Famer.
Dave Harris, the Founder and Chairman of the Hall of Fame, was in attendance and in fine voice as he spoke about Ringside Charitable Trust and their crusade for attention.
The 2023 ceremony will be hosted by Vince Campbell’s Leeds EBA.