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The 50 Greatest British Fights: 30 – 21

Greatest British fights
Part three of Miles Templeton's countdown of the 50 greatest fights in British boxing history

30. LEN HARVEY (STOKE CLIMSLAND) V JOCK McAVOY (ROCHDALE)
JULY 10, 1939.  WHITE CITY. BRITISH AND C’WEALTH LIGHT-HEAVYWEIGHT TITLES (15 ROUNDS)

These two fought before the largest crowd in British ring history at the stadium built for the 1908 Olympics. It was reported there were 100,000 inside the stadium and a further 50,000 outside, unable to get in. The BBB of C recognised the contest as being for the world title, but no other governing bodies agreed with them. This was the fourth and final meeting between the pair and Harvey, the boxer, lived up to form when he mastered McAvoy, the fighter, with intelligent boxing and skilful tactics. The two were made for each other because of their contrasting styles and Harvey, in winning three of their bouts, proved himself to be the better man, but there was never very much between them.

BN said: “Harvey’s display was worthy of the highest traditions of the noble art as it is practised in this country. He picked his punches with fine precision and comported himself as one of the finest ring-generals of all time. The fight will live long in the memory of those who were fortunate enough to be at the White City in scenes more in the nature of a Cup Final day at Wembley.”

29. GEORGE BOWES (HESLEDEN) V FRANKIE TAYLOR (LANCASTER)
NOVEMBER 16, 1964.  ROYAL ALBERT HALL.  FEATHERWEIGHT CONTEST (10 ROUNDS)

The two had met the month previously, with Bowes winning by disqualification after Taylor had been thrown out for persistent use of the head. Frankie was the number one contender at the time and so a return was quickly made. In the first fight Taylor had been the aggressor but was frustrated by Bowes’ slick counterpunching, and he started fast again in this one. A Taylor attack in the third round was astonishing, both for its ferocity and for the way in which Bowes rode it out and then turned the tables with a punishing attack of his own. Taylor had built up a sizeable lead after four rounds and, with youth on his side, he looked to be coasting to victory. Bowes had other ideas and he stormed back in the fifth, and the two men continued their seesaw until the end, when the referee could not separate them and called it a draw.

BN said: “Taylor started like a whirlwind and he kept up the pressure until the halfway mark, but then the greater experience of Bowes saw him stage a fine comeback to dominate the latter half of the contest. The third was one of the best all-action rounds seen for some time. The pace was fantastic.”

George Bowes

28. JACK GARDNER (MARKET HARBOROUGH) V JOHNNY WILLIAMS (RUGBY)
JULY 17, 1950. GRANBY HALLS, LEICESTER.  BRITISH HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE FINAL ELIMINATOR (12 ROUNDS)

This contest was sensational and the hardened Leicester fight fans, who had seen every heavyweight of note in Britain over the previous 20 years, had seen nothing like it. It was expected that Williams would prevail, but the Rugby man was surprised by the way that his less experienced rival took the initiative, as Gardner, boxing off an excellent jab, interspersed this approach with frequent hard-punching attacks. In response, Williams constantly looked to land a knockout punch and he kept Gardner under pressure throughout with both men sustaining significant facial damage. In round nine Williams nearly pulled things around, his savage attack rocking Gardner back on his heels and leaving the Harborough man quite helpless. Gardner weathered the storm and took the decision at the end of 12 pulsating rounds. After the verdict had been announced Williams collapsed from utter exhaustion and shock, and he was out for fifteen minutes. Both men went to hospital.

BN said: “The contest, abounding in thrills, had a dramatic ending, Williams collapsing after the verdict had gone to Gardner. It was a sensational climax to an extraordinary fight. The contest will certainly go down as the bloodiest and hardest seen here for years”.

27. KEVIN FINNEGAN (IVER) V FRANKIE LUCAS (CROYDON)
MAY 31, 1977. ROYAL ALBERT HALL. VACANT BRITISH MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

The eve of the Derby show held annually at the Royal Albert Hall, and occasionally at Wembley, produced many great scraps, but few were anything like as good as this one. Harry Gibbs called a halt to a brutal contest after 11 rounds with Lucas’ right eye badly gashed. As Finnegan’s eye was also closed this was a great relief to the Iver warrior, who was undoubtedly in the lead at the time. The pace of the fight was relentless, as most of Kevin’s bouts were. Lucas, in only his 10th professional contest, played his part and he was tremendous in the second and third rounds, whacking Finnegan at will. Slowly, however, Finnegan asserted himself with well-placed counters and carefully picked punches. The two of them traded throughout the middle rounds as the contest, like all the great ones, swung back and forward.

BN said: “It was tough, and it was bloody, but Kevin Finnegan’s courage and craftmanship saw him through in one of the most punishing domestic fights in years. Lucas [below] can come again, but this was a fight Finnegan just had to win.  It was surely one of the most popular sentimental victories for British boxing in a long time.”

26. FIDEL BASSA (COLOMBIA) V DAVE McAULEY (LARNE)
APRIL 25, 1987. KINGS HALL, BELFAST.  WBA FLYWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

McAuley, contesting his first world championship contest, got off to an appalling start, being dumped within half a minute and then sustaining a cut before the opening round had ended. McAuley came back from this disaster to give the Colombian the fight of his life and had the contest been over 12 rounds, as were WBC title contests at that time, he would surely have won. He bounced the champion off the canvas in the third round and then twice in the ninth before finally running out of steam in the 13th when, utterly exhausted but ahead on all of the cards, he was trapped on the ropes, taking big shots, and was then dropped and stopped just as the towel came in. It was an incredibly brave performance and, after learning much from this encounter, greater things were to come for the popular Irishman.

BN said: “McAuley came as close to a championship as any challenger could, flooring Bassa three times officially and twice more which were not classed as knockdowns and coming within one punch of the title in the ninth. Bassa lasted the ferocious pace rather better and came on strongly to retain his crown.”

25. MICHAEL AYERS (TOOTING) V COLIN DUNNE (LIVERPOOL AND HOLLOWAY)
NOVEMBER 20, 1996. WEMBLEY CONFERENCE CENTRE.  BRITISH LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

The Dunne camp were furious when Dave Parris signalled the end of this punishing bout during the ninth round with their man labouring under a persistent, and one-way, barrage of punches. Prior to this Dunne had fought his heart out and given the champion plenty of cause for alarm. He did not allow Ayers to fight the way the champion wanted to, luring him into violent exchanges and fighting with great confidence. It was give-and-take for five fierce rounds before Ayers started to assume a degree of control. Despite this, Dunne kept up a merciless pace and was still very much in the fight. At the end of the seventh, Ayers put his man down with a crunching body shot and this was the start of the end. By the ninth, the challenger had given his all and Parris rescued him, to fight another day.  

BN said: “Ayers dims Dynamo after magnificent scrap. Ayers and Dunne staged a rousing battle for nine rounds until the Holloway-based Scouser was rescued. Dunne can punch and he can box. In fact, he can do just about anything, but Ayers was his match and more.”

Michael Ayers Greatest British fights

24. DAVE CHARNLEY (DARTFORD) V KENNY LANE (USA)
JUNE 2, 1964. EMPIRE POOL, WEMBLEY.  LIGHTWEIGHT CONTEST (10 ROUNDS)

This was billed as a final eliminator for the world lightweight title, then held by Carlos Ortiz. Ortiz once said of Lane that “no-one was as difficult to figure out, the guy was unbelievably clever.” Lane was a very stiff test for the Dartford Destroyer, but it was a test that Charnley passed with flying colours. For the full 10 rounds the boxing was of the highest order, and with Lane’s punching being fast and accurate, and that of Charnley being hard and full of variety, the exchanges between the two never relented and rarely did either man take a step back. After eight rounds they were level and it was then that Dave crucially took the initiative, hurting the American badly in the ninth and keeping up the relentless pressure in the last to take the decision after 30 minutes of high-class and non-stop action.

BN said: “Lane fought desperately to keep his high ranking and the result was that we were treated to a classic encounter. Charnley was the aggressor all through, but Lane, a superb counter puncher, enjoyed several spells of superiority that made the crowd gasp. But the deciding factor in this battle of super southpaws was Charnley’s heavier punch.”

23. MICHAEL WATSON (ISLINGTON) V NIGEL BENN (ILFORD)
MAY 21, 1989. FINSBURY PARK. COMMONWEALTH MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

Michael Watson was a magnificent fighter who could have achieved so much, but for the tragedy that befell him in 1991, and this fight showed that clearly. He took on the hottest property in British boxing and destroyed him in a tremendous contest. We all know just how Benn came back from this defeat to become the most exciting UK fighter in years, but this contest was a real, and much-needed, wake-up call for him at the time. Watson, the underdog, covered up and took everything that Benn threw at him, especially in the brutal fourth round, and then he came back to knock his man out with a flurry of punches in the sixth. Watson had truly arrived as a world-class fighter.

BN said: “Perfect tactics and a high degree of skill prove a winning formula for cool, composed challenger. Michael Watson produced a display of classical boxing skill and tactical perfection to rip the Commonwealth middleweight title from Nigel Benn with a thrilling sixth-round knockout victory at the Supertent. According to my ringside neighbour, Neil Allen of the Evening Standard the fourth was the most dramatic round he had seen in a British ring for 30 years.”

22. WALTER McGOWAN (BURNBANK) V ALAN RUDKIN (LIVERPOOL)
SEPTEMBER 6, 1966. EMPIRE POOL, WEMBLEY. BRITISH AND COMMONWEALTH BANTAMWEIGHT TITLES (15 ROUNDS)

McGowan was the reigning world flyweight champion and he stepped up a weight to take on Rudkin, the Liverpudlian with the Beatle haircut, and one of the most talented British bantamweights in ring history, in an intriguing affair. Both men were out-and-out boxers, although Rudkin, the naturally bigger man, had the edge in power. McGowan had beaten Rudkin twice as an amateur and so Alan was looking for revenge. The contest went the full distance with Rudkin clearly winning the first half and McGowan the second. Showing a complete disregard for McGowan’s power, Rudkin weighed in confidently from the off and it looked as if Walter had badly miscalculated by taking the fight.  From the ninth round onwards, everything changed and the supremely fit, and very speedy, McGowan took control and started to dish out hurtful shots of his own. The crowd roared them on throughout the final round and the decision went to the Scot by the narrowest of margins.

BN said: “In the finest battle between ‘little men’ for years, McGowan became a multi-champion when he relieved Rudkin of his titles with a photo-finish points verdict after 15 fast and furious rounds.”

21. CLINTON McKENZIE (CROYDON) V DES MORRISON (BEDFORD)
JANUARY 6, 1981. YORK HALL, BETHNAL GREEN. BRITISH LIGHT-WELTERWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

Both these men were involved in more than their fair share of epics, and Board secretary Robert Smith still considers Morrison’s 1973 victory over Joe Tetteh to be the best fight he has seen. On this occasion McKenzie, who had recently had a war of his own against Colin Powers in an incredible contest, was trying to win the Lonsdale belt outright. He succeeded, but what a struggle it was. The two of them just stood there and traded lethal punches for the best part of three-quarters of an hour before Morrison finally wilted in the 14th round, unable to give any more, and was rescued after being knocked down. There is a two-minute clip on YouTube of the eighth-round exchanges, with Morrison being knocked down after the bell that no-one could hear. Go and watch it.

BN said: “It was a championship that will live long in the memories of those present; a contest containing the sways in fortune that characterise an epic clash. The eighth round was, without doubt, the most dramatic three minutes I have witnessed in a title clash. It was a bloody war of attrition. McKenzie possesses a true champion’s courage and surely no-one deserves a Lonsdale belt more.”

Read part four here

Read part two here

Read part one here

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