ON September 27 1986 Lloyd Honeyghan sealed his place among the very best of British by delivering one of the most impressive and important wins in history from a Brit fighter on the road.
His opponent was Donald Curry, the huge favourite with an unblemished 25-0 record – which was valued by the bookmakers at a much higher stock than Honeyghan’s own perfect 27-0 record. At stake were Curry’s WBC, WBA and IBF welterweight titles, but perhaps more importantly, the winner would be the undoubted, undisputed champion.
Curry had destroyed the likes of Milton McCrory, defeated the brilliant Marlon Starling, and was rightly regarded as one of the finest in boxing. Plans to match the American with Marvin Hagler were being discussed and he appeared destined for true greatness.
From the first bell Honeyghan looked confident, throwing more than the traditionally economical Curry, although the single shots in return were an early warning of the American’s power – only four of his opponents had so far managed to hear the final bell.
Curry looked to lead off the jab, perhaps too tentatively at first, whereas the challenger was more eager to let his hands go, unloading an impressive combination to end the first stanza. Early in the second Honeyghan shocked the crowd at Atlantic City’s Caesars Palace by landing a big straight right that buckled the champion, whose knee almost touched the canvas as he absorbed the blow. Honeyghan wrestled and threw Curry around the ring in a desperate search for an incredible early stoppage, but Curry managed to weather the storm. After a manic few seconds the equilibrium of the fight restored, with Curry throwing, and occasionally landing, eye-catching shots, but Honeyghan producing the finer boxing and inflicting more damage. Undoubtedly weight drained, ring rust may also have been a problem for Curry, who had only fought four rounds in the last year, but he had never been hit as hard or as frequent in his career – his head frequently snapping back with accurate one-twos.
The action intensified in the dying moments of the third round, Curry landed a right, his best punch of the fight, which seemed to momentarily hurt Honeyghan. However, the travelling fighter responded with clubbing left hooks of his own and the two traded big shots until the bell. In the fifth Lloyd landed another sharp overhand right which wobbled Curry and sent him on the back foot for the remainder of the round. In serious trouble, Curry manoeuvred around the ring but could not avoid more perfectly timed rights. With plenty of time left on the clock Honeyghan was able to pick his shots, with his victim in his crosshairs. As the two met in the centre of the ring, Curry’s head was rocked from side to side by a vicious series of left and right hooks. The punishment continued in the sixth; on the biggest night of his life and moments away from the defining win of his career, Honeyghan was showing incredible composure to find his range behind the jab and equipping the right punch. A clash of heads opened a nasty cut over Curry’s left eye, only encouraging Honeyghan to press forward. In the last ten seconds Honeyghan landed a huge combination that went unanswered and visibly hurt Curry, sending the champion back to his corner shaking his head. Curry did not return, retiring from the fight whilst swarmed by corner men and doctors inspecting the cut. A jubilant Honeyghan collapsed to the floor as the new undisputed welterweight champion of the world.
Honeyghan may have benefited from the problems Curry reportedly had making the 147-pound welterweight limit. ”He looked emaciated,” said Bob Arum, who promoted the bout. ”He had no zip, no nothing.”
Unquestionably the upset of the year, the fight will be remembered as one of the best performances ever by a British fighter and one of the greatest shocks in history. From start to finish Honeyghan dominated the fight, showing little respect for the champion. The achievement was made even more remarkable by the fact that it was his first word title fight and he was up against a fighter regarded as one of the pound for pound best, second only to Marvin Hagler. Any Brit fortunate to have watched the fight that night in 1986 will surely still remember it to this day.