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The 50 greatest British fights: 20 – 11

greatest British fights
Miles Templeton continues his countdown of the 50 greatest British fights

20. JOE BROWN (USA) V DAVE CHARNLEY
APRIL 18, 1961. EARLS COURT. WORLD LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)
This bout is remembered for the verdict given to the American when virtually everyone in the hall, including BN, though that Charnley had won it. Despite that, it was a bout of the highest quality with Dave doing most of the forcing and taking the fight to the American, who stayed primarily on his back-foot, avoiding trouble with superb defensive skills. “The Dartford Destroyer” finished the bout with a cut left eye, a bunged-up right eye and blood seeping from a split nose. Brown, who carried the heavier punch, used it infrequently and he took no chances, using footwork and defence to stay out of trouble, picking off the Englishman with an accurate jab. The British referee, Tommy Little, gave the verdict to Brown and then needed a police escort to get him clear of the ring.

BN said: “Brown gave a classic display of defensive boxing in the traditional English style.  Some of his counter-punching was out of this world.  But Charnley forced matters practically all the way and he threw everything he had into the final round.  Charnley’s corner men were getting ready to hoist their hero as the new champion of the world, but the referee walked over to Brown”.

Joe Brown Dave Charnley greatest British fights

19. JOSH TAYLOR (EDINBURGH) V REGIS PROGRAIS (USA)
OCTOBER 26, 2019. O2 ARENA, NORTH GREENWICH. WBA AND IBF SUPER-LIGHTWEIGHT TITLES (12 ROUNDS)

Not only was this a terrific contest, it was also fought out in a wonderfully sporting way by two men who had total respect for one another. Both men ended the contest looking like they had been in a train wreck, Prograis with a broken nose and Taylor with his eyelid split wide open. They had given everything they had and, with virtually every round being close and possible to score either way, it was no wonder that at the end of the contest opinion was divided. The contest was a marvellous mixture of pure boxing skills and hard-punching ferocity. Prograis tried to fend off the ever-prowling Taylor with his jab and, when the opportunity arose, he scored with some hard shots himself. Taylor was the stronger man, and the bigger one, and he won the bout by a whisker after a pulsating final round.

BN said: “It was a brutal fight and at the end of it all, when they at last stopped punching each other with all their might, the two warriors embraced.  As advertisements for the sport of boxing go, it’s hard to think of a better one than this.”

18. GUS LESNEVICH (USA) V FREDDIE MILLS (BOURNEMOUTH)
MAY 14, 1946. HARRINGAY ARENA. WORLD LIGHT-HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

For those that say that today’s fighters are better than anyone who went before, take a look at this contest. The fighters of yesteryear were competing in what can sometimes seem a completely different sport. Put simply, this contest could not happen today. The referee permitted the boxers to suffer punishment that would not be tolerated in a modern ring and by a modern official. Quite how Mills recovered from the first two rounds is a mystery to me, but he did, and he stormed back to have the American in all kinds of trouble and to dominate the contest for a period.  When he finally ran out of steam, in the 10th round, he had fought his heart out, and that was what the much-loved Freddie was renowned for. After a long and brutal war, this was just the sort of scrap that the fight-starved British fans wanted to see.

BN said: “This fight will be talked of for years to come. Those who saw it can consider themselves honoured because it must stand out as one showing gameness from both boxers of a type not often seen. Gus Lesnevich was the winner of one of the most thrilling, sensational contests ever staged in Britain.”

17. BILLY WALKER (WEST HAM) V JOHNNY PRESCOTT (BIRMINGHAM)
SEPTEMBER 10, 1963. EMPIRE POOL, WEMBLEY. HEAVYWEIGHT CONTEST (10 ROUNDS)

At the time, these two were the hottest young prospects in British heavyweight boxing and there was no shortage of ‘needle’ between them. The contest ended with great controversy when Prescott was rescued while under severe pressure in the final round. The “Blonde Bomber” considerably outweighed his Midlands rival and he had Prescott on the canvas early in the opening few seconds. It looked like a routine win was on the cards, but Johnny had other ideas and he fired back with some big shots of his own. Boxing mainly on the retreat, Prescott fought back with venom whenever he was pressured, and this was frequently. By the sixth round Billy was becoming frustrated and, with a cut eye, he became ever more desperate to land the big one. The harder he fought, the more determined was Johnny in resisting him and it became a real humdinger. As Johnny tired, Billy finally nailed him with a combination and upon rising, he was rescued.

BN said: “The contest had lived up to all expectations. It was packed with action from the first round, when brawny Walker who held nearly a stone advantage over his opponent, smashed Prescott to the canvas, until the last, when the referee made his dramatic decision.”

16. HENRY COOPER (BELLINGHAM) V JOE ERSKINE (CARDIFF)
NOVEMBER 17, 1959. EARLS COURT. BRITISH HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

Our ‘Enery’ was not short on punching power, or on killer instinct, the only thing he lacked was bulk, and with that he could have been a world-beater. This fight was an early example of how he could finish someone when he had them at his mercy, for he finished it with ruthless precision. Until the 12th round, the two had put on a classic. It was their third meeting and with Erskine the victor on both previous occasions, Cooper needed to win, and to win well. As usual, Cooper suffered from cuts around the eyes, but this served only to spur him on. He caught Erskine with a savage left hook right on the bell to end the fifth and then gradually took more control. Erskine bravely traded but was shipping more and more punishment and Henry finally ended it in the 10th, scoring three knockdowns.

BN said: “One of the best heavyweight fights for years, it was packed with exciting incidents from the first round to those last dramatic seconds when the wily Welshman, whose tactical genius was causing concern to the Cooper camp, ran into a hurricane of left hooks that scattered his wits and left him a helpless target.”

15. BENNY LYNCH (GLASGOW) V PETER KANE (GOLBORNE)
OCTOBER 13, 1937. SHAWFIELD PARK, GLASGOW. WORLD AND BRITISH FLYWEIGHT TITLES (15 ROUNDS)

Kane had won 48 contests in a row coming into this contest and he was only 19 years old. He had proven himself to be the best challenger, but the step-up proved too much for him, with Lynch delivering his greatest ever performance. This contest was the perfect match-up between two men at the top of their form and fighting each other at the right time. Lynch put his man down early in the first round and then dictated the pace throughout with Kane sticking around as a most obstinate and persistent challenger. The class of Lynch was clear by the ninth, when he had a healthy lead, and in the twelfth when Kane was tired and groggy. Kane’s guts alone dragged him out for the fateful 13th, to receive the knockout, and 40,000 Scottish fans wildly celebrated.

BN said: “With probably the most magnificent display of box-fighting ever served up by any British champion, Benny Lynch retained all three titles against the challenge of Peter Kane. Lynch was brilliant and magnetic in victory. Kane was wonderful in defeat. Lynch gave him a boxing lesson on occasion and a slow lacing with the cold case-hardened certainty of a man who was at the top of his craft.”

14. RICKY HATTON (MANCHESTER) V KOSTYA TSZYU (AUSTRALIA)
JUNE 4, 2005. MEN ARENA, MANCHESTER. IBF SUPER-LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

BN likened this contest to the 1966 World Cup Final and many other great British sporting occasions, such was the magnitude of what the ever-popular Ricky Hatton achieved against an opponent of genuine class. Hatton was one of very few boxers, Freddie Mills, Henry Cooper and Frank Bruno amongst them, who transcended their sport to become a national treasure. This was the fight that made him. He withstood every one of the hard-hitting Russia-born Australian’s best shots, he stood up to him, setting his own rhythm to dictate the bout from the off. He wore his man down with an unceasing sense of purpose and determination. Tszyu was a great champion and he played his part in this epic but, ultimately, he had no answer to Hatton’s speed, strength and fitness.

BN said: “To beat Kostya Tszyu is a momentous achievement in itself. To make the great Australian quit at the end of the 11th, as Ricky Hatton did before 22,000 loud, passionate and rapturous supporters at the MEN Arena in the early hours of the morning, defied belief unless you were there to see it. It was a victory of World Cup proportions that will go down in sporting folklore.”

John Gichigi/Getty Images

13. ALAN RUDKIN (LIVERPOOL) V JOHNNY CLARK (WALWORTH)
JANUARY 25, 1972. ROYAL ALBERT HALL. BRITISH AND COMMONWEALTH BANTAMWEIGHT TITLES (15 ROUNDS)

Alan Rudkin appears for the second time within the top 50 in this classic. He does so because he was a wonderful ring technician who was also exciting to watch. Johnny Clark was the same, and these two men provided 15 world-class rounds of extremely punishing action, replete with dazzling skills throughout, that was fought at a pace that only the great champions could match. This contest was so good because of the way in which it swung back and forth and, with it being on a knife-edge virtually to the end, was finally settled after some blistering action in the ‘championship rounds’. It was Rudkin who raised the pace and cut and rocked his man when the chips were down, to take a very close decision. Clark, with his hurtful body-punching, fully played his part in a wonderful contest.

BN said: “When you talk about great modern fights this one will rank among the best on everyone’s list. Champ Rudkin, 30, and 24-year-old challenger Clark provided a punishing, skilled battle that will never be forgotten by those who saw it. Although Clark boxed superbly, it was the champion’s sheer craftmanship that proved decisive.”

12. MICHAEL KATSIDIS (AUSTRALIA) V GRAHAM EARL (LUTON)
FEBRUARY 17, 2007.  WEMBLEY ARENA. WBO INTERIM LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

Six weeks into 2007 and BN were already calling this bout the Fight of the Year. The vacant title being vied for might have been a spurious one, but the way in which the two men fought for it was magnificent. The bout will always be remembered for the way in which Earl, despite having been dropped three times in the first two rounds and looking a well-beaten man, came up with a huge right hander to drop the Aussie and almost knock him out. Earl’s trainer had already thrown in the towel to rescue his man from the severe punishment he had been receiving and, with the referee Mickey Vann ignoring it and allowing the Luton man to continue, it was then that Graham landed his devastating punch. Katsidis somehow got up and the two men then spent the next three rounds swapping huge blows. Katsisidis then took control and finally stopped the extremely brave Earl in the fifth.  

BN said: “No more brutal or compelling fight will be seen this year than Michael Katsidis’ five round victory over Graham Earl in a scheduled 12-rounder that both thrilled and disturbed the Wembley Arena crowd.”

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

11.  MARK KAYLOR (WEST HAM) V ERROL CHRISTIE (COVENTRY)
NOVEMBER 5, 1985. WEMBLEY ARENA. BRITISH MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE FINAL ELIMINATOR (12 ROUNDS)

Set against the backdrop of some extremely unpleasant overtones during the build-up and at the weigh-in, there were genuine concerns that the ‘feeling’ between the two could explode within the ring and then again amongst their fans at ringside. The bout was fought with savage intensity and at the end Kaylor, the victor, went across to pay tribute to the man who had given him such a hard fight. This broke the tension and thankfully we now remember this occasion primarily for the fight itself, and what a fight it was. Both men looked thoroughly beaten at times, both men were floored, and both men fought with grit, courage and tenacity. Christie had done everything he could to win the bout but it wasn’t quite enough, and it was Kaylor who rode out the storm the better of the two, finally triumphing after eight rounds by knocking out his brave rival with a flurry of punches. 

BN said: “Sheer fighting heart and a stubborn refusal to admit defeat carried Mark Kaylor to the finest victory of his career as her survived two knockdowns to kayo Errol Christie in their savagely-contested final eliminator. It was a stunning climax to a battle of quite breath-taking ferocity.”

Allsport Uk /Allsport

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