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Johnny Bumphus, 1960-2020

Johnny Bumphus
Paul Wheeler on the passing of an ex-WBA super-lightweight titlist, Johnny Bumphus

FORMER WBA super-lightweight champion Johnny Bumphus passed away on February 3 after suffering cardiac arrest. He was 59 years old.

A native of Tacoma, Washington, “Bump City” Bumphus also spent time living in Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked for the Nashville Sheriff’s Department. The skilled 6ft southpaw enjoyed an extensive and successful amateur career prior to turning pro in November 1980. He had qualified to compete for the USA at that year’s Moscow Olympics, but never got the chance to take part due to his country’s boycotting of the Games. America was one of over 60 nations that chose to withdraw in protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the previous year.

Guided by the Hall of Fame duo of trainer George Benton and manager Lou Duva, Bumphus entered into his challenge for the vacant WBA 140lb belt in January 1984 boasting 21 victories and zero losses. Tough, seasoned Argentine Lorenzo Garcia sent him to the canvas in the fourth, but Bumphus did enough over 15 rounds to claim a unanimous verdict and the title. In securing the strap, he became the first world champion out of Duva’s Main Events promotional stable.

Just over four months after capturing the championship, Bumphus made his opening defence against the unfancied Texan Gene Hatcher. Ahead on all three scorecards going into the 11th session, disaster struck for Bumphus when Hatcher pulled off an unlikely stoppage win in one of the biggest upsets of the year. Bumphus vehemently disputed the referee’s call, resulting in a wild post-fight fracas ensuing between the boxers’ respective teams.

A move up to welterweight was next for Bumphus, who rattled off seven straight successes from August 1984 to May 1986, concluding with a six-round technical decision over countryman Marlon Starling, who would go on to obtain two versions of the world welter crown.

The defeat of Starling set Bumphus up for a crack at Lloyd Honeyghan’s WBC and IBF 147lb titles in February 1987. Fighting on the unbeaten Londoner’s home turf, Bumphus was halted in two rounds (Honeyghan infamously rushed from his stool before the bell sounded to start the second session). Despite being only 26 years old, this would turn out to be the American’s final ring appearance.

Following his retirement, Bumphus battled addictions to cocaine and crack cocaine, which led to spells in rehab. In the mid-90s, at the insistence of Duva, he began training some of the fighters on the Main Events roster.

A memorial service for Bumphus will be held in Tacoma this Friday (February 14).

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