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The 50 Greatest British fights: 40 – 31

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

40. JOE CALZAGHE (CARDIFF) v MIKKEL KESSLER (DENMARK)
NOVEMBER 13, 2007.  MILLENNIUM STADIUM, CARDIFF. WBC AND WBA SUPER-MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

This was the night that Joe Calzaghe really stamped his authority on the super-middleweight scene and became a multiple crown-holder. Both he and Kessler were undefeated, and both men had a viable claim to be the world’s number one man at 168lbs. In a bout high on skill, the Welshman won comfortably on all three cards, although Kessler played his part, boxing with high quality throughout. There were 50,000 people present in the arena and it was beamed live to a US TV audience. With little in it during the first half of the contest, Joe stepped up the pace considerably from round seven, leaving Kessler struggling to find a way to respond. Although the Dane still had his moments and troubled the Welshman more than once, it was Joe that finally won the technical battle between the two and he finished the bout unscathed. Kessler, on the other hand, had considerable damage to both eyes.  

BN said: “It was a fascinating and entertaining contest focused more on skills than thrills. It was over the second half of the match that Calzaghe established his superiority, when his engine kicked into another gear. Kessler simply couldn’t contain or nail him.”

39. CARL FROCH (NOTTINGHAM) v GEORGE GROVES (HAMMERSMITH).
NOVEMBER 23, 2013.   MEN ARENA, MANCHESTER. IBF SUPER-MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

This contest, the first of two great fights that the two contested over a six-month period, is mainly remembered for its controversial ending. In my view, the stoppage was a very good one, and the bout itself was sensational. Groves meant business from the off and he smashed the Nottingham fighter to the canvas at the end of the first round with a booming right-hander. The two then traded shots for most of the ensuing eight rounds, with venom and spite predominating. Froch eventually started to dominate proceedings in the ninth round and after a vicious flurry of shots the bout was stopped, much to the disgust of the hard man from Hammersmith, who with his excellent skills and immense bravery, at least succeeded in winning over what had been an extremely hostile crowd.   An epic rematch was to follow.

BN said: “Froch retained his crown with a ninth-round stoppage that could be debated long into the night. It was an extraordinary end to one of the most ferociously contested title fights to take place on British soil. Despite the magnitude of this event a fight stopped too soon remains the lesser evil compared to one left too long”.

38. DILLIAN WHYTE (BRIXTON) V DERECK CHISORA (FINCHLEY). 
DECEMBER 10, 2016.  ARENA, MANCHESTER. HEAVYWEIGHT CONTEST (12 ROUNDS)

Whyte, seven years younger, was still on the way up, and Chisora was fighting to stay relevant. It was no surprise to have seen shenanigans during the build-up, with Del Boy hurling furniture about the place, and when the action turned to the ring it remained violent and brutal. Chisora’s power frequently had Whyte in trouble and when having to take big shots himself Dereck’s response was to shake his head and encourage the Brixton man to engage in a tear-up. The action never relented and after 12 rounds of give and take between the two, Whyte took it on a split decision.

BN said: “The exhibition was eye-wateringly awe-inspiring, one that reminded everyone why boxing – when on form – is the greatest sport in the world, and the undisputed king when it comes to thrills and spills.  Anyone unaware that boxers are indeed a different breed should sit down and watch that bout. After weeks of letting the sport down, Chisora and Whyte did it proud.”

37. NIGEL BENN (ILFORD) V ANTHONY LOGAN (JAMAICA)
OCTOBER 26, 1988.  ROYAL ALBERT HALL. COMMONWEALTH MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

This contest only lasted two rounds and is the shortest of any in the top 50, but what a contest it was. It provided an early indication of Benn’s extraordinary ability to come back to win after looking hopelessly beaten and showed us all just what an exciting and entertaining fighter that he was. Logan was no mug either and he could hit. Quite how hard he could hit became evident after only one round when Benn, after attempting to blast his man out quickly, ran out of steam and was knocked down for the first time in his career by a short right hand. He was all over the place in the second, with Logan pressing for a stoppage, when suddenly, out of nowhere, Benn found the dramatic finisher.

BN said: “It has to go down as one of the most dramatic turnarounds ever seen in a British ring, with the normally dominating Benn on the receiving end of heavy punishment for the first time in his professional career before the spectacular one-punch ending.  It was surely the most exciting fight of the year, and one that made a nonsense of the television companies not to broadcast it.”

36. ROCKY KELLY (TOOTING) V KOSTAS PETROU (BIRMINGHAM)
APRIL 13, 1985.  DOLPHIN CENTRE, DARLINGTON.  VACANT BRITISH WELTERWEIGHT TITLE (12 ROUNDS)

A forgotten contest from the days when the Leisure Centre reigned supreme for bouts at this level. Rocky Kelly was almost a legendary figure at the time due to the way in which he approached every contest, and Petrou, an unfashionable fighter, gave the Tooting lad every opportunity to demonstrate his all-out aggression. The second, fourth and sixth rounds were outstanding as Kelly tried to overwhelm his man but Petrou stood up to everything and came back with more. When it finally looked as if the Birmingham fighter was getting on top then Kelly surged again, finding the strength from who knows where. After receiving a nasty cut, Kelly was eventually stopped in the ninth round, having given everything, leaving Petrou the worthy winner.   

BN said: “If ever the cliché about it being a shame there has to be a loser is true, then this fight is that occasion.  Both men fought with the sort of courage and fierce determination that left one breathless as they took it in turns to get on top, fade and then rally, all at a ferocious pace. It was a magnificent performance from both men and the sort of fight that comes along very rarely.”

35. JIM DRISCOLL (CARDIFF) V FREDDIE WELSH (PONTYPRIDD)
DECEMBER 20, 1910.  AMERICAN SKATING RINK, CARDIFF. LIGHTWEIGHT CONTEST (20 ROUNDS)

Welsh and Driscoll were both Welshmen and there was no love lost between them. Driscoll had a reputation as a classic boxer, with an excellent left-jab being his principal weapon. Welsh had been born in Pontypridd but had moved to the United States as a young man and it was there that he learnt his trade. It was expected that Driscoll would try to box his way to victory but such was the enmity between the two that he quickly got drawn into a ruckus and the two exchanged heavy blows and fouls galore with the rules of the game quickly forgotten. Welsh’s infighting particularly irked Driscoll and he lashed out in retaliation as his temper became worse. In the 10th round he snapped and butted Welsh before pushing him across the ring. This was enough for the referee and Driscoll was thrown out leaving the question of supremacy between the two, which had so fascinated the boxing world, unanswered.

BN said: “A disastrous ending to the most exciting fight of the year. It was early apparent that this was a genuine needle contest. A wild, vicious, disappointing, disastrous duel, leaving us in no better position to judge the relative merits of the two men.”

34. SPIDER WEBB (USA) v TERRY DOWNES (PADDINGTON)
DECEMBER 9, 1958.  EMPIRE POOL, WEMBLEY. MIDDLEWEIGHT CONTEST (8 ROUNDS)

Spider Webb’s manager was Carl Nelson, and he had been a Chicago cop during the Capone era and also a bodyguard for Joe Louis. He knew a fight when he saw one, and after the eight hard rounds that his man had spent in the Wembley ring against Terry Downes he stated that it was the hardest fight he had ever been involved with. Downes, a future world middleweight champion and, at the time, the British champion, was decked within the first minute of the fight and then spent the remainder of the bout trying to avoid a similar fate. The two of them slammed into each other for the full twenty-four minutes of incredible action. At the end, the referee raised Webb’s arm and the American thus retained his world number four ranking. It was Terry’s first defeat but one that he learned a great deal from.

BN said: “You can heap accolades on the fiery young head of Terry Downes after his sensational, almost frightening eight rounds of trench warfare with Spider Webb.  Downes lost the verdict but he won the admiration of every man, woman and child of the ten thousand fans that packed Wembley.”

33. JOHN H STRACEY (BETHNAL GREEN) V DAVE BOY GREEN (CHATTERIS)
MARCH 29, 1977.  EMPIRE POOL, WEMBLEY.  WBC WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP (12 ROUNDS).

The boxing press stirred up a real fervour for this contest, the young upstart against the proven champion, the hard-hitting tearaway against the hard-hitting boxer, and for the second time in forty years a man from Chatteris, a small Cambridgeshire town, against a man from the beating heart of boxing, Bethnal Green. The winner was to be matched with Carlos Palomino, who had recently dethroned Stracey for the title, and both men fought themselves to a standstill to earn the right.  In the first round Stracey’s eye started to swell and this, ultimately, proved his undoing. In the intermittent eleven rounds he tried everything to tame the ferocious onslaughts launched by the Fen Tiger. He almost succeeded, his ramrod jab rarely leaving Green’s face and his solid countering causing all manner of problems, but Dave was on great form on this night and within about a minute of the final bell the contest was eventually stopped to protect Stracey, and his eye, from further punishment.

BN said: “The 10,600 crowd saw a fight they are unlikely to forget. It lived up to every expectation. The bout had raw drama, hard punching and unbridled, uncompromising action from start to finish.”

32. HARRY MIZLER (STEPNEY) V GUSTAVE HUMERY (FRANCE)
OCTOBER 2, 1935.  ROYAL ALBERT HALL. LIGHTWEIGHT CONTEST (10 ROUNDS)

This contest is remarkable for the way in which Mizler, a former British lightweight champion recently dethroned by Jack Kid Berg, came back from complete defeat against Humery, an ex-champion of France. In one of the most incredible turnarounds in British boxing history Mizler swung things his way with one right-hander in the eighth round. Prior to this the Stepney fighter had been on the receiving end of a merciless and continual beating. He had been sent to the canvas on six occasions, each time for a lengthy count, and according to the BN reporter, nine out of ten referees would have stopped proceedings in favour of the Frenchman and most corners would have thrown in the towel.  Mizler, who had been a British representative at the 1932 Olympics, and was a tried and tested professional, somehow managed to stay in the fight before finding the perfect punch with which to end it.  

Mizler v Humery 1

BN said: “At the end of the seventh Mizler was so weak that he could barely stand. The eighth proved the almost incredible finish. Mizler somehow found his final reserves of strength and put all he had into a right cross to the jaw. This turned the fight in the other direction completely.”

31. ALAN RICHARDSON (FITZWILLIAM) V LES PICKETT (MERTHYR)
OCTOBER 3, 1977.  AFAN LIDO, ABERAVON. BRITISH FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE (15 ROUNDS)

These two unsung heroes of the 1970s scene provided a classic encounter that will not have been forgotten by anyone who saw it. Both were hard men and fearsome competitors and for 15 rounds they stood face to face, Richardson trying to keep his man at bay with skilful boxing, his jab never out of Les’s face, and Pickett doggedly coming forward looking to throw clusters and combinations in the hope of landing a big one. For the first 10 rounds Alan survived by the skin of his teeth and had a healthy lead, but throughout the last five he came under increasing pressure as Pickett swarmed forward, taking control of the bout, and landing with every punch in the book. At the final bell there was only one round in it, with Richardson the winner on Pickett’s home soil.

BN said: “Richardson had boxed superbly in the first half of the fight, and Pickett’s storming finish was not quite enough to make up the difference, but what a magnificent effort he made. In a year which has already given us epics, this was a battle to rank with the best. It was a memorable championship which I felt privileged to watch.”

Read part one, 50 to 41, HERE

Read part three here

Read part four here

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