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The lost treasures of 1970s boxing

Phil Martin boxing Tim Wood
Footage of fighters like Tim Wood and Phil Martin boxing in the 1970s is hard to come by, writes Miles Templeton

IN a recent article on Alan Richardson, I commented that he “is another of those champions from the 1970s that is in danger of being forgotten.” I do not know the exact reason why the 1970s, considered by so many to be a golden age, produced so many good scrappers that rarely get a mention today, but I suspect that it may be because so little of what they achieved in the ring is readily available on film.

The BBC and ITV destroyed much of their archive in the early 1980s. They appear to have preserved many of the top-of-the-bill contests that were broadcast on Sportsnight with David Coleman the day after the bouts, but the undercard fights that were shown on Grandstand the following Saturday have, I suspect, fallen victim to the great purge. It is therefore possible to watch Alan Minter vs Kevin Finnegan on YouTube, but you won’t find Mark Bliss vs Tommy Wright, almost certainly filmed and, no doubt, televised on Grandstand. I shudder to think how many scraps involving Jimmy Flint, such an exciting man to watch, have been destroyed, or for that matter, Jimmy Batten, Vernon Sollas and Gary Davidson.

These days, boxers are spoiled in the amount of footage that exists for their contests. It isn’t the same though, for the families of Tim Wood and Phil Martin, for instance. Sadly, neither of these fine fighters are still with us, for they both died young. They were not world-beaters but they both came through to the top of the British light-heavyweight division when it was crammed with very hard men, including Johnny Frankham, Johnny Wall, Phil Matthews, Pat McCann, Roy John and Rab Affleck. I can find no footage for the many bouts that took place between these fighters.

Tim Wood was born and bred in London but moved to the Midlands in his teens. He joined the Keystone ABC, based in Kettering, pretty much as soon as he arrived. After moving to Leicester’s Belgrave club, he became the ABA heavyweight champion in 1972 by hammering Les McGowan, of Speke, in one round. He then beat him again, two months later, in an Olympic trial, but was not selected for the GB Olympic team because, at little over 13 stone, it was felt that he was too light to take on the mighty Eastern Europeans and Americans, let alone the eventual gold medallist – the Cuban Teofilo Stevenson.

He went pro straightaway after this snub and after being unbeaten in nine he suffered three straight defeats, including a bad knockout at the hands of Eddie Neilson. This proves that the Olympic selectors had probably been correct, and Tim quickly reverted to light-heavyweight.

Phil Martin, who boxed John Conteh in the final of the 1971 East Lancashire Championships, had turned pro in late 1974 and had won 10 from 11 when he was matched with Wood to contest the British light-heavyweight title at the World Sporting Club, in Mayfair, in April 1976. The two were competing for the vacant title, held beforehand with such honour by Chris Finnegan.

At the time, Conteh was world champion at the weight and neither Wood, nor Martin, were anywhere near the class of either Finnegan or Conteh. Roy John, the number-one-ranked challenger, had been due to fight Martin for the vacant title but had pulled out with an eye injury and so Wood, who had been beaten by John in a title eliminator just five months before, was lucky to get the chance.

Wood grabbed the opportunity with both hands, outscoring the Manchester man over 15 hard rounds. Tim lost his crown early the following year after being flattened in a single round by Bunny Johnson. It is a shame that he is now largely forgotten. The memory of Martin remains crystal clear, however, following the fine work he did subsequently with the ‘Champs Camp’. But try finding some footage of him in the ring – it won’t be easy.

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