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The Off-Season: A brief history of British underdogs travelling overseas in August

Eddie Avoth celebrating his victory against John 'Young' McCormack in 1969. (C. Maher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
British underdogs jetting off to bizarre locations in August is nothing new, writes Steve Bunce

WE ARE off to Saudi Arabia during a month when the old boxing game would close in Britain.

There was a time when boxing shutdown in the summer and in 1970, there was not one professional show in Britain in August. The following year there was just one show and only three fights on that show. It was the dark season, make no mistake.

The only way to get a living was to travel overseas searching for a payday, hoping for a fair shake and trying to get back in one piece. There was not very much chance of ever winning a decision in Europe at any level. It is doubtful many British fighters got on a plane with any dreams of returning with a win. An exotic trip to South Africa or Australia was a lost cause and setting up the fight must have been an epic adventure.

In the summer of 1970, Eddie Avoth went to California to fight Mike Quarry, brother of Jerry, and lost on points over ten rounds. Quarry was unbeaten in 21 fights at the time and was just a boy of 19, a danger kid. The fight was a risk for Avoth because of his world ranking. There was even talk of a world title fight against Bob Foster at the Liverpool stadium. That vanished with defeat. Avoth was the British light-heavyweight champion at the time and the world a tiny boxing business. A fight like that now would top any bill, anywhere and on any channel in Britain.

“I had to go, the fight was offered and I always needed the money,” said Avoth. I saw him at the Joe Cordina win the other week in Cardiff – he is still dapper.

Avoth and Quarry was a hard fight, close; Quarry won 13 more times and got a world title fight against Foster; it ended in the fourth round. Poor Mike fought another 45 times after Foster and finally quit in 1982. He was in a bad way when he died in 2006, at just 55. The game had damaged him beyond repair of body or mind.

Avoth was back on the road a few weeks later and won the Commonwealth title in Melbourne. He put his passport away and finished the sequence behind closed doors at the Grosvenor House in Park Lane when he lost his titles to Chris Finnegan. Another gem that vanished behind the cigar smoke and murmurs of the elite. It was anonymous and might as well have taken place on a reef in Tahiti.

A few weeks after Avoth’s adventures in California, it was Finnegan’s turn to travel to Copenhagen in August to fight the Danish idol and heart-throb, Tom Bogs. Now, Bogs was a fighting god in Denmark. And Finnegan, like Avoth, needed the money.

Bogs was the European middleweight champion; he had lost just once in 55 fights and he was fighting in his neighbourhood of the great Danish city. Finnegan had the gold from 1968 in Mexico City and had lost once on cuts in his 14 fights. Finnegan had gone ten easy rounds once; Bogs had gone ten rounds over 20 times and had twice gone the full championship distance of 15 rounds. I’ve been told that an attempt to get the Danish idol’s father to referee was thankfully stopped! I’m struggling to find a harsher set of facts and figures for any British fighter on the road. Perhaps, Bunny Johnson behind iron bars when he fought James Scott inside Rahway State prison in 1979. “It was a nasty place, I was in no hurry to go back and he was not a very nice man,” Johnson once told me.

As I said, Chris needed the money.

Anyway, you knew there would be a twist to this little summer tale. Finnegan was brilliant on the night and fighting at a weight that was simply too draining for him. Taking the fight was a big, big risk for Finnegan; a bad beating would have set his progress back. Bogs was also under pressure as he closed in on an inevitable world title fight and admitted that he took Finnegan too lightly.

In the end, Finnegan went the full fifteen round distance; he broke Bogs’ nose, cut him above both eyes and chased the Danish rascal all over the ring. He had no chance of getting the referee’s decision when the final bell sounded. At the end, the referee, Herbert Tomser, delivered one of the greatest scorecards in boxing history: Tomser had it four rounds to Bogs, none to Finnegan and eleven even! Take that, my son.

Bogs would later fight Carlos Monzon for the world title and Finnegan would have an epic 14-rounds with Foster one night at Wembley. Foster against Finnegan is one of the truly remarkable fights in our history.

In the August of 1970, just eleven British professionals secured fights in different places across the globe; Finnegan, in his quest in Copenhagen, was far from the biggest outsider.

West Ham’s Johnny Kramer fought for the 68th and last time when he travelled to Sydney and lost to Tony Mundine on cuts; Mundine was class. And, in Johannesburg, future British welterweight champion, Bobby Arhtur, was done in six by Spider Kelly. It was a hard passage to make a few quid during the summer freeze on shows. I’m guessing there were a few perks.

There needs to be a special mention of East Ham’s Chris Jobson for two fights in two different countries in August of 1970. He beat Feta Fighting Fifita in Syndey, whose name is better than his record, and then two weeks later, on Finnegan’s undercard, he got a draw against previously unbeaten Christian Larsen. A draw in Denmark in 1970 – I think we all know what happened there.

British boxers would return to South Africa and Australia the following year, chasing a few quid where the sun sets a little deeper and the money flows even in the dry month of August. This August, it’s the same thing in many ways with a big outsider going on the road.

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