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The gamble that paid off with Hogan Kid Bassey

Hogan Kid Bassey
Miles Templeton on how Hogan Kid Bassey repaid George Biddles

GEORGE BIDDLES of Leicester lived and breathed the game in a 50-year career as a boxing manager and promoter. Commencing with a small stable of undercard fighters in the mid-1920s, George had little to show for his hard work some 30 years later. He had managed to guide Pat Butler to the British welterweight title in 1934 but George was far better known for managing the likes of George Marsden and Len Wickwar, the two men who hold the record for the most contests in a career in this country. After the war he continued in this way with Ric Sanders, Jeff Tite and Roy Davies, all of whom had many contests, winning most of them. There seemed little chance that George could ever produce a world champion, but then along came Hogan Kid Bassey. This Nigerian came to the UK in 1952 and boxed out of Liverpool for manager, and ex-fighter, Peter Banasko. He had lost only two of his 24 contests in his native country and had picked up the Nigerian flyweight and bantamweight titles along the way. Over the next four years Bassey took part in 47 contests for manager Banasko and he had his greatest success when winning the Empire featherweight title, beating Billy Spider Kelly in Belfast in 1955.

At the end of 1956 Bassey split with Banasko and George Biddles bought out his contract for £600. This was a huge gamble for Biddles and he needed a quick return on his investment. He started to build up interest in the Nigerian, with his usual flair for ballyhoo, before matching him with Jean Sneyers in Belgium in a contest described as being an unofficial world title eliminator. When Hogan was stopped in the fourth round with a cut forehead it seemed that Biddles might have made a big mistake. The annual ratings published by the Ring Magazine at the end of 1956 still showed Bassey at number four in the world at featherweight, behind champion Sandy Saddler, Cherif Hamia and Miguel Berrios, and so all was not yet lost.

Then Saddler was injured in a car accident and the world title was declared vacant. Bassey was included in series of official eliminators to find the new champion. Unfortunately, the Empire championship committee then ordered Bassey to defend his title against Percy Lewis of Trinidad.

Biddles was uneasy about this, suspecting that a poor performance could jeopardise Bassey’s place in these eliminators, but Bassey insisted that the fight go ahead. Although he managed to beat Lewis, victory only came after a hard struggle. The path was now clear for the eliminating contest with Miguel Berrios, and this took place in Washington DC in April 1957 with the Nigerian skating to an easy, unanimous points win.
Biddles then realised his lifelong ambition when he took Bassey to Paris to meet Cherif Hamia for the vacant world featherweight title. Trainer Charlie Fox of St Helens, a good little scrapper in his time, prepared Bassey to perfection with high-class sparring partners, Sammy Odell and Teddy Peckham.

The party arrived early in Paris to properly get used to the conditions over there and this was a wise decision on Biddles’ part, for Bassey pounded the Frenchman to defeat in 10 one-sided rounds to become the first UK-based world champion since Randolph Turpin six years previously. BN reported that ‘Hamia was beaten into a shambling, helpless hulk in a 10nth [sic] round of concentrated fire-power and fury which gave referee Rene Schemann just two alternatives – either to halt the bout or allow the 26-year-old French Algerian to be driven through the canvas.’

And so, George Biddles had his first world champion and his gamble had paid off. Bassey eventually lost his title to the ill-fated Davey Moore in 1959 and George never managed another world champion, although he did guide Richard Dunn to a title contest with Muhammad Ali in 1976.

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