Issue Opinion Premium

The 10 greatest fights in British boxing history

British boxing history
Miles Templeton presents the final countdown of the 50 greatest fights in British boxing history

10. ANTHONY JOSHUA (WATFORD) V WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO (UKRAINE)
APRIL 29, 2017. WEMBLEY STADIUM. IBF & WBA HEAVYWEIGHT TITLES (12 ROUNDS)

This was the undoubtedly the biggest event in British boxing history. An undefeated British world heavyweight titlist against the standout champion of the previous decade, a packed Wembley Stadium, and two big punching, equally matched men. The fight delivered, and more. Klitschko was knocked down in the fifth but then got up to take charge. He scrambled Joshua’s senses in the next with a big right hand and the bout looked to be over with Joshua flat on his back. Somehow the Englishman got up, proving that he could take a punch and that he had guts. The two traded blows for five more tense rounds and then, finally, Joshua caught the ex-champ with a booming uppercut and, after two knockdowns in the 11th, the Ukrainian was rescued. It was an epic event and a great contest.  

BN said: “Thanks to superhuman effort from two warriors who refused to lose, the heavyweight division was born again. The relentless hype gave way to a war that more than justified everything that came before. A war which, if it had been scripted, would never have made it to the screen so ridiculous were the twists and turns. It reminded everyone why we fell in love with boxing.”

British boxing history
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

9. ERIC BOON (CHATTERIS) V ARTHUR DANAHAR (BETHNAL GREEN)
FEBRUARY 23, 1939.  HARRINGAY ARENA.  BRITISH LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

Boon, the “Fen Tiger,” was 19 years old and making the first defence of the title he had won in a thrilling encounter with Dave Crowley some two months before. Danahar was not much older himself, was undefeated and, unlike Boon, had been a top amateur. Like Dave Green and John H Stracey, 38 years later, the two men came from Chatteris and Bethnal Green. This was a superfight in every way and every fight fan in Britain wanted to see it. Boon was a hard-hitting and exciting whirlwind, just like Green, and he took the fight to Danahar immediately. Arthur attempted to stave him off by slick boxing but after being floored five times in the later rounds, Danahar was finally rescued in the 14th, thoroughly beaten but unbowed. 

BN said: “Let it be said that this was an epic battle, in which a couple of young Britishers fought round after round with such skill and determination that the memory of it will remain fresh in the memory of those that witnessed it for many a long day. One can never hope to see a more thrilling or sporting exposition of box-fighting in any country.”

8. MICHAEL GOMEZ (MANCHESTER) V ALEX ARTHUR (EDINBURGH)
OCTOBER 25, 2003. MEADOWBANK SPORTS CENTRE, EDINBURGH. BRITISH SUPER-FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

This was an astonishing fight. It is one of six in the top 10 that was fought just for the British title.  There is something straightforward, honest and uncomplicated about British title fights. The values, the tradition and the belt for which they are contested consistently brings out the best in both champion and challenger. In front of a very partisan crowd Gomez started confidently and rocked the Scotsman within the first minute. Arthur then boxed his way back into the contest before being tagged again in the third and then being put under sustained pressure. It was Gomez’s turn to be caught with a solid shot in the fifth as Arthur roared back and then, when it looked as if he might have punched himself out, Gomez produced a huge left hook that floored the Scotsman, and after two further knockdowns the referee rescued Arthur. He had gone down with all guns blazing.

BN said: “It was one of those fights that stirred the soul. Gomez and Arthur reminded me that there is still something to be treasured in this battered old game, namely the astonishing spirit of the participants. The Lonsdale Belt remains a prize for which men will give their all.”

John Gichigi/Getty Images

7. NIGEL BENN (ILFORD) V GERALD MCLELLAN (USA)
FEBRUARY 25, 1995. DOCKLANDS ARENA, MILLWALL. WBC SUPER-MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

This is the most exciting fight I have ever seen and many would say the same. McClellan’s subsequent injuries have defined this bout, understandably so, but what happened during the 10 amazing rounds of titanic warfare should never be forgotten either. Nigel Benn barely survived the first round in which he was dumped upon the ring apron in the opening exchanges. With a little help from ringsiders, he got to his feet but ended the round looking like he had already fought 12. He then rocked the American in the second, and so it went on, with Benn upping the pace and forcing his way into the fight and the American looking for the payoff punch. After being floored again in the eighth Benn once again stunned his man when under severe pressure. Nigel finally gained control and stopped his man in the 10th. Had it not been for the fact that McClellan’s health was wrecked by the fight, this might have made Number One.

BN said: “When the definitive history of the British ring is written, pride of place in the list of the all-time best fights will surely be accorded to Nigel Benn’s epic defeat of Gerald McLellan.”

John Gichigi/ALLSPORT

6. COLIN POWERS (PADDINGTON) V CLINTON MCKENZIE (CROYDON)
FEBRUARY 6, 1979. WEMBLEY CONFERENCE CENTRE. BRITISH LIGHT-WELTERWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

The best fights are usually those when, at the sound of the final bell, it is impossible to know who is going to get the verdict; when a case can be made for either man, and they both deserve to win. This is one of those, and the two men gave it everything they had for 15 long hard rounds. Harry Gibbs refereed the bout and he issued virtually no instructions throughout the fight as it was contested cleanly, fairly, with the rules being properly followed at all times, yet it was fought at exceptional pace and with fury. At the end of the 13th round the crowd was so loud in its applause for both men that the noise was described as deafening. There was only one round between them at the end, and Powers took the decision to regain his title. For McKenzie, it was defeat with honour.  

BN said: “Colin Powers gave a display of almost unbelievable courage to regain the British light-welterweight title from Clinton McKenzie in one of the finest championship fights seen in this country for many years. In short it was a tribute to championship boxing. It had everything.”

Clinton McKenzie British boxing history

5. GEORGE FEENEY (HARTLEPOOL) V RAY CATTOUSE (BALHAM)
OCTOBER 12, 1982. ROYAL ALBERT HALL. BRITISH LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

Another classic British title contest in the final years of the 15-rounders, and another in which Harry Gibbs was the referee. This time Harry did not need his scorecard as George finally wore down the incredibly brave Cattouse to stop his man in the 14th round. Before that, the two had engaged in a battle of unending intensity in which the champion, Cattouse, was kept under constant pressure by the accuracy, brilliance and variety of Feeney’s punches. BN stated that in losing the title Cattouse earned more glory than most fighters do in a career. At times, Gibbs looked to stop the contest only to hold back as Ray lifted himself for yet another last-ditch assault when looking completely beaten.  What a way to lose the title, and what a struggle Feeney had to go through to win it.

BN said: “George Feeney wrenched the British lightweight crown from the head of brave Ray Cattouse in the 14th round of what was the best home title fight in years. Feeney controlled an epic battle from the start with stinging, straight punches and only raw courage, pride and instinct kept Cattouse on his feet from the 12th.”

4. JAMIE MOORE (SALFORD) V MATTHEW MACKLIN (BIRMINGHAM)
SEPTEMBER 29, 2006. G H CARNALL SPORTS CENTRE, MANCHESTER. BRITISH LIGHT-MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

I know a lot of younger fans who say that this is the best fight that they have ever seen, and it is easy to understand why. Another British title contest produced a sensational fight in which the champion, Moore, outlasted the unbelievably spirited challenge of Macklin after 10 rounds of ferocious action.  Moore was the first to commend Macklin’s courage after the contest and he did so while his opponent was being carried off to hospital after having given every last ounce of himself in an attempt to win a Lonsdale belt. The BN reporter stated that this was a contest that would enable those who witnessed it to remember it with awe for the rest of their lives. There has only ever been one better British title fight.

BN said: “In one of the best fights anyone could wish to see, challenger Macklin took us to the realms of fantasy with a staggering display of aggression and guts, but it was not to be as Moore pulled through in a domestic classic. Surely neither could have realised the depths to which they would take each other in a fight that lives with the most compelling I have witnessed.”

3. VICENTE SALVIDAR (MEXICO) V HOWARD WINSTONE (MERTHYR)
JUNE 15, 1967. NINIAN PARK, CARDIFF. WORLD FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

For those that have been following these charts, it should now be obvious that I favour stylish boxing ability just as much as I do the blood-and-thunder, all action stuff, and they don’t come more stylish than Howard Winstone. For me, along with Ken Buchanan, he was the most elegant British boxer since the war. This was Winstone’s second attempt to beat Salvidar for the world title and most of those present thought he was a winner at the end of 15 rounds of exceptional boxing from both men. Winstone’s boxing was always brilliant and yet he was under the constant threat throughout of being knocked out by the harder-punching Mexican. Howard did everything he could to win, carrying the fight to the champion for most of the contest, but he did not have the punch to trouble the champion: Saldivar’s lightning-fast counter-attacking was always impressive and ultimately decisive in the eyes of those that truly mattered.

BN said: “A great many of Winstone’s supporters were of the opinion that he did not lose this one, for the announcement of the verdict signalled an outburst of booing. The contest was one of the greatest featherweight bouts seen in these islands for years and years.”

2. ALAN MINTER (CRAWLEY) V KEVIN FINNEGAN (IVER)
SEPTEMBER 14, 1976. ROYAL ALBERT HALL. BRITISH MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

These two were made for each other and they had three cracking fights between 1975 and 1977, any one of which could have appeared within these lists. This one, their second, stands out. Not just within their trilogy, but as the best British title bout that there has ever been. What made it even more special was that there was a 50/50 split amongst the crowd and the press as to who the winner should be. The decision went to Minter by the narrowest possible margin. The former Olympian had taken a convincing lead over Finnegan during the first two-thirds of the contest and looked to have established mastery over his challenger. Finnegan, despite an awful cut, roared back into the fight from the 10th and was completely dominant by the end. Like Nigel Benn, however, Minter had an insatiable will to win and this is what finally got him through as he hung on desperately until the final bell.

BN said: “Britain’s greatest middleweight title fight in years ended with Minter still champion at the end of fifteen thrilling rounds. Many in the audience will be prepared to argue that ex-champion Finnegan really was the winner.”

British boxing history

1.  CHRIS EUBANK (BRIGHTON) V NIGEL BENN (ILFORD)
NOVEMBER 18, 1990. NATIONAL EXHIBITION CENTRE, BIRMINGHAM. WBO WORLD MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

Has there ever been a better rivalry in British boxing than what existed between these two? They were like Ovett and Coe or Borg and McEnroe, completely contrasting in styles and with no love lost between them, yet, made for each other when in competition. Nigel Benn is arguably the most exciting British fighter there has ever been and four of his contests appear in the Top 50. Chris Eubank was a fearsome competitor and an incredible fighter when he was up against it, and he finally triumphed after nine rounds of the kind of action that makes boxing the most compelling of all sports. The two fighters could not have given more of themselves in this, the greatest of fights. Go and watch it again.

BN said: “How do you begin to put a price on the pain, effort and commitment the pair traded?  How much should you pay a man to bare his soul?  Because that is what Benn and Eubank did, in the most thrilling contest I have ever watched in a British ring. I don’t think I have ever seen two men with a more intense will to win.”

Read the 50 greatest fights in British boxing history: 20-11 HERE

Read 30-21 HERE

Read 40-31 HERE

Read 50-41 HERE

Boxing news – Newsletter

Current Issue