WHEN I started the countdown of the top 50 British fights, I mentioned that it had been a close call selecting between the 1936 John Henry Lewis-Len Harvey contest and that between Chris Finnegan and Bob Foster in 1972. As Chris does not feature anywhere in my top 50 list, and as he was a very brave warrior who always gave his all, I would like to pay tribute to his performance in this bout.
Like his brother Kevin, he is no longer with us, but 50 years ago he was a very exciting prospect. He had won, somewhat unexpectedly, the middleweight gold medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics and, with this being the first UK boxing gold for 12 years, the whole country was talking about him. He was an unknown and unemployed hod-carrier before he went to the Games, and an MBE within months of returning.
By the time he met Foster for the world light-heavyweight title, Chris had won the British, Commonwealth and European titles. This was the general route back then; to be considered worthy of fighting an American champion, one needed to have won all three of these titles before a challenge could be taken seriously.
The title bout was promoted by a British promoter, Harry Levene, and the bout took place at the Empire Pool, Wembley. Foster was one of the best champions at this weight for many years and, at six feet and three inches, he had a significant physical advantage over his challenger. Bob had won 11 championships contests in a row at his weight, but his run of victories had been interrupted when he overstepped himself by taking on Joe Frazier for the world heavyweight title in November 1970.
Rather like John Henry
Lewis before him, who had lost to Joe Louis in a single round, Foster soon
found that the step up was far too much, no matter how good a light-heavyweight
champion he was. Frazier demolished Foster in two rounds to easily retain his
title. By the time Bob arrived in the UK in late September of 1972, he had won
seven on the trot, with a four-round thumping of Mike Quarry being a particular
highlight. Few gave Chris much of a chance but BN, while stating that
“one slip could be fatal against Foster,” did acknowledge that he had a chance
in stating “the British champion has a few things going for him in a fight that
could be a lot more interesting than some seem to think.”
This proved to be the case.
As was so typical of Chris, he tried to take the initiative and he jabbed, moved and kept his much-vaunted opponent under great pressure. His great weakness was that he lacked destructive power and no matter how many times he scored to the body or outpunched his rival in close-quarter exchanges, there was always the feeling that one punch from Foster could end everything, and in the 10th round, Foster nailed him with a big right-hander. Finnegan was up at ‘eight’ and somehow survived the round.
This incident could have caused Chris to accept the fact that he was not going to win and to keep out of trouble for the remainder of the contest, to at least be able to say that he had lasted the distance against a great champion. But that wasn’t the way he did things. Instead, he went all out for the win, indulging in vicious hand-to-hand combat before he was finally knocked out in the 14th round having given everything. What a magnificent challenge he put up.