WRANGLES over the particulars of a fight – the venue, purses, who enters the ring first and last – are part of big-time boxing, but seldom do they apply to domestic non-title fights. Back in November 1968, however, the respective managers of the participants in a bout set for a Wembley undercard were at loggerheads over one detail: the fight’s scheduled distance.
Scotland’s John McCluskey, the reigning British flyweight titlist, was to take on the unbeaten bantamweight prospect Johnny Clark at 8st 6lbs (118lbs). The bout was billed as an eight-rounder. But McCluskey’s handlers did not want their champion to fight less than 10 scheduled rounds, presumably feeling that a longer distance might give him an edge over the less experienced Clark, who had never gone beyond seven rounds. Clark’s manager, Dennie Mancini, however, would not hear of him facing McCluskey over 10. Eventually, they found a compromise. They would meet over nine rounds.
Clark, who fought out of Walworth in south London, was the bookies’ favourite. A hard-hitting box-fighter, he’d stopped six opponents to become 1966 ABA bantamweight titlist, and since turning over had won 16 and drawn one of 17 bouts, with 14 wins inside time. The 21-year-old was Britain’s most promising bantam prospect. The smaller, 24-year-old McCluskey, on the other hand, had already suffered two reverses to Italy’s European flyweight boss Fernando Atzori. Boxing News picked Clark to win, declaring: “He looks better each time out and must be a future champion.”