DANNY McAlinden, the former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion, passed away at the age of 73 on Monday (March 8). It was 50 years to the day since his victory over Muhammad Ali’s younger brother Rahaman on the undercard of The Greatest’s Fight of the Century against Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden.
“Dangerous Dan” boxed in an era when holding the British heavyweight title really meant something – the downside being that the belt-holder was compared to the world class Americans who abounded at the time.
McAlinden won his two crowns from Jack Bodell in 1972 and lost them to Bunny Johnson in 1975. All three were honest battlers.
Danny had his moments. Of his 31 professional wins, no fewer than 28 came inside the distance; he could always punch, if nothing else.
Yet his fondness for a brawl meant eight of his 12 losses came before the final bell. His final 31-12-2 ledger would have looked much better if not for a string of comebacks in the late 1970s/early 1980s when past his best.
Born in Newry, Northern Ireland, McAlinden was 15 when he moved to Coventry in the English Midlands. In 1967 he won the Irish amateur heavyweight title while representing Edgewick Trades, but two years later a promising ABA championships bid was derailed when the club withdrew him, claiming he had consistently failed to fulfil club show commitments over the last three seasons.
The following month (May 1969) he turned pro with Leamington manager George Middleton and big London promoter Jack Solomons acting as matchmaker. His professional debut saw him box three times on the same night to win a £1,000 heavyweight tournament at the World Sporting Club in London.
After 11 victories, he lost his unbeaten record when outpointed over eight rounds by huge (6ft 6ins, 17st) American Jack O’Halloran, later a Hollywood movie baddie. Boxing News said O’Halloran boxed a smart fight to contain the aggression of the 6ft McAlinden, who at only 14st would now be a cruiserweight.
A couple of desultory draws against Americans preceded his split decision six-rounds points win over the younger Ali, then 7-0, of which this publication reported: “It was a hard battle and both finished with blood-smeared faces.”
McAlinden’s form improved. The following month he survived swollen knuckles on his right hand to outpoint taller Carl Gizzi over 10 rounds. The former British title challenger said, “Danny’s awkward because he’s short and you never know where the punches are coming from.”
A June 1971 stoppage of veteran Roberto Davila was credited to three weeks training in Wales under Eddie Thomas, manager of world lightweight champion Ken Buchanan. Revealed McAlinden, “I have never felt fitter. All that running up Welsh hillsides in heavy boots has done wonders for me!”
For his September 1971 win over Bill Drover, Danny prepared at Grossingers training camp in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where his idol Rocky Marciano had trained. Admitted Danny, “I don’t like to take punches. For every three punches thrown at me I probably miss two. But you can’t miss all the raindrops even if you put up an umbrella.”
A Boxing News profile noted, “Brawling heavy Danny McAlinden does not believe overmuch in the niceties of the ring. His policy is simple. Hit or be hit.
“He is a vigorous belter who does not stand on ceremony. With Dan there is no time wasted on tip-tap preliminary sparring. He tries to make every punch a winner.”
But a big-paying showdown with golden boy Joe Bugner fell through when Jack Bodell upset him, and then Danny was shockingly stopped in eight by American Larry Middleton.
The challenge for Bodell’s British and Commonwealth titles defence went ahead in June 1972 and Solomons was confident about his man’s chances: “It won’t go more than two rounds. The fight will go just so long as it takes McAlinden to hang one on Bodell’s chin.”
Their battle, in the open air at Aston Villa’s Villa Park football ground, was short but not sweet – Harry Carpenter, commentating for BBC TV, said the wild action wouldn’t have been out of place on the cobbles.
McAlinden rocked Bodell several times in the first, prompting the champion to grab hold and take Danny down with him. When McAlinden floored Bodell three times for a knockout in round two, the ring was filled by the new champion’s celebrating fans.
That was as good as it got for McAlinden, who certainly didn’t enjoy the luck of the Irish.
In January 1973 he travelled to Jamaica to box on the Joe Frazier-George Foreman bill, but a slip onto concrete damaged his arm and his fight was called off.
Another chance at a Bugner showdown fell through when Joe took a Muhammad Ali bout in Las Vegas, then defeats to Americans Morris Jackson and Pat Duncan underlined McAlinden’s limitations at top class.
It wasn’t until January 1975 that he defended his British and Commonwealth belts, against Bunny Johnson, who ko’d him in nine. A bid later that year to regain his status against former victim Richard Dunn (who’d beaten Johnson) flopped when the Bradford southpaw knocked him out in 12 rounds.
It was his last significant title bout, but he kept fighting on and off until March 1981, when Denton Ruddock stopped him in five rounds. From ringside, BN Editor Harry Mullan said McAlinden, “looked at the end of the line. When the end came he simply had nothing to offer.”
Retirement meant Danny could be with his family and his adopted Coventry hometown. Back in the 1970s he’d said, “I’m not cut out for the big cities. I missed my wife and our two little girls. I love to come to London. I realise everything is down here. But I like my home life better.”
In 2010 McAlinden was back in the news when it was reported he was being treated for tongue cancer at St Bart’s Hospital in London. Our thoughts are with his family.