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Great Britain’s upset club

Great Britain's Anthony Joshua
Al Bello/Getty Images
Galahad and Harper are the latest fighters from Great Britain to lose in big upsets. Steve Bunce on the upset club

KID GALAHAD, Duke McKenzie, Terri Harper and Lennox Lewis are all part of a small club of British fighters who lost their world belts in shocks.
There are not as many members of the club as you imagine.

Nigel Benn beat Gerald McClellan and the following year was beaten on a split by Sugarboy Malinga, who had previously lost nine times. Malinga was a better fighter than his nine defeats suggest, but it remains a big shock. It was close, a split, but Sugarboy deserved it.

Lloyd Honeyghan was cut and beaten on points after seven rounds at Wembley by Jorge Vaca in 1997. It was tight up until that point, Honeyghan was bad that night, but when his cuts healed, he tore through Vaca in three rounds less than six months later.

The desert heat and sun finished Barry McGuigan off one afternoon in 1986; it was Las Vegas, the sun was high, McGuigan was ruined by the heat and the massive underdog, Steve Cruz, who worked outdoors in Texas. Cruz could function in the sauna heat in that ring, McGuigan could barely breathe. Cruz won, McGuigan was left with a broken heart. It was a different type of shock.

In New York in 2019, Andy Ruiz delivered a shock when he survived a knockdown to then drop and stop Anthony Joshua. The loss against Oleksandr Usyk was against the thinking of bookies, but not such a great shock. Usyk is not Ruiz, Vaca, Cruz or Malinga. He is a lot better than those fighters.

However, I would still consider Kiko Martínez, in his fight with Galahad, as more of an outsider than Ruiz in his first fight with Joshua. Perhaps that is just me. And Harper, was there anybody who thought that she could be knocked cold like she was by Alycia Baumgardner? At best, perhaps, the inactivity would have been a factor in a hard 10-round fight and a possible loss on points for Harper. In the silent and public inquest, there will inevitably be a question about weight. There always is.

Sure, I know Kiko can bang and that Harper has been out with her injured hand, but Galahad and Harper as a stoppage and badly-hurt double? That is a wild bet, a genuine shock double.

Galahad had to lose an extra pound at the weigh-in, but the fight was cruising the way that everybody expected; Kiko’s finest days have been spread thin recently and the Spaniard is something of a cult figure. His record before Galahad is a wonderful thing to read. So, was Galahad looking at future fights? Was the last pound the fateful pound? We can all be wise on Sunday morning when we look back on the chaos and debris from a night of shocks.

When a shock happens, it is always nice when no excuses are offered. Joshua got beat, it was that simple. Honeyghan can blame the cut, McGuigan the heat, but they are not excuses, they are facts. Benn was simply coming to the end of a truly brilliant career that night against Malinga.

Harper and Galahad will, hopefully, not find blame anywhere other than in the two right hands that separated them from their senses and their belts. Well, I hope so.

And then there was Lennox in Africa. The pressure was on Lennox in Carnival City and not on Hasim Rahman. In round five, Rahman, who was close to collapse, landed and down went Lennox Lewis. He got up but the heavyweight title was gone. There followed a forensic search for a reason; it was a long trail of incidents, claims and denials. A private detective was hired, honest. Asked before the fight, if Lennox had adjusted to the altitude in South Africa and if it the rumours of him struggling on runs was true, Manny Steward had shrugged and said: “Lennox is an enigma to all of us. We all wait to see what he does when he gets in the ring.” We all watched that fight finish through our fingers.

The bottom line is simple: A heavyweight hit another heavyweight on the chin and at the moment of impact both were struggling to get enough air in their lungs.

Lennox never cried and less than six months later he regained the title and knocked out Rahman in Las Vegas. “That was sweet, I loved the Mandalay Bay, that was my hotel,” he said. And he was right. That was how you avenge a shock loss.

A few years earlier, Lennox had lost to and then beaten Oliver McCall. The loss was a shock, but Lennox was green at that time. The defeat to Rahman was the real shock, the revenge was the justice.

One night in 1992 at the Royal Albert Hall, an unknown and untested Puerto Rican called Daniel Del Valle knocked out Duke McKenzie in just 119 seconds to win the WBO bantamweight title. Del Valle was unbeaten in 12, with only three low-key wins over men with a winning record. He was a decent little fighter, but McKenzie was class and had beaten Gaby Canizales and César Soto in two recent fights. I have always considered this a real shock. McKenzie won a super-bantamweight title five months later – not a bad return.

Most promoters realise they have made a mistake with their boxer when it is far too late. The final punches have landed or the final bell has sounded. However, Mickey Duff, one night at Wembley in 1976, realised during the introductions that the shock was on. In the ring, John H. Stracey, draped in the Union flag, was defending his welterweight title for the second time in a fight against California’s Carlos Palomino. In his two previous fights, Stracey had stopped José Nápoles and the favoured, Hedgemon Lewis.

“I knew Palomino’s people well, had done business with them for a long time and they were too confident,” said Duff. “It was not their style.”

And then the legend, Jackie McCoy, who was in Palomino’s corner, moved closer to Duff in the ring and whispered in his ear: “We never came for the money.” Duff knew then, minutes before the first bell. Stracey was stopped in round 12 of a shock. Well, not according to McCoy.

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