EARLIER this month, father and son Lee and Anton Haskins boxed on the same bill in Bristol. I have been unable to find any other instance of this happening in over 100 years of British boxing history. The closest I can get to a similar feat involves a long-forgotten Belgian journeyman heavyweight, Prosper Beck. This man only ever won one contest in a 22-bout career that spanned nine years. Despite this poor record, Beck went in with three British champions and two European champions at the top weight. The reason he stands out is because he is the only fighter who boxed both a father and a son in a British ring, and he did so against the only father and son to have ever held the British heavyweight title.
Jack London was born in Hartlepool just before the first world war. He was a rough, tough brawler during the early part of his career but, as he started to develop some more orthodox ring skills, he moved gradually towards title contention. In 1944 he beat Freddie Mills, another noted slugger, in a 15-round brawl in Manchester to become the British heavyweight champion. His reign was short-lived as he was knocked out by Bruce Woodcock the following year. Jack plodded on for four more years and in June 1949, in his hometown, he boxed Beck in an eight-rounder at the Engineers Club.
Boxing News reported that old Jack was in far better shape than he had been in years and he stopped the Belgian in five rounds without particularly extending himself. Two bad stoppage defeats later that year put paid to Jack’s career and he bowed out at the age of 36.
Five years later his son, Brian, made his debut at Earls Court and he did so in great style, thumping Dennis Lockton to defeat in less than a round. Great things were expected of Brian as not only did he come from proven fighting stock, but he had also boxed at the highest level as an amateur. He won the 1954 ABA heavyweight title and he also took gold at the Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada, that same year. Within six months Brian had racked up eight wins and was rated at number six in the British heavyweight rankings. He was then matched against Beck in a 10-rounder at Belle Vue in Manchester – the very ring where his father had won the British title 11 years earlier. By this stage Beck was 16 bouts further into his own career since his meeting with Brian’s father, and he had lost 13 of those, drawing the other three. BN stated that “it is Beck’s amazing capacity for bringing out the best in his rivals that makes him so welcome in these Isles.” Prosper did not prosper at all in the contest, being flattened in 58 seconds. It was his final fight and he retired into obscurity.
Brian went on to have a very successful professional career. He twice boxed for the world heavyweight title, losing to Floyd Patterson in 1959 and to Muhammad Ali in 1966. His bout with Patterson, which took place in Indianapolis, was a frustrating one as London failed to impose himself at all and he seemed content to focus entirely on defence and try to survive for as long as he could. He was eventually knocked to the canvas in round 10 – the first time he had ever been floored – before he was sent down for the count in the 11th. His bout with Ali was also controversial as many considered it to be a mismatch. Poor Brian was totally outclassed in three rounds, thereby justifying the concerns of the critics.
Despite these losses Brian had an excellent career and he won the British and Empire heavyweight titles in 1958 by knocking out Joe Erskine. Henry Cooper dethroned him the following year, but Brian went on to share the ring with some truly great fighters, including Jerry Quarry, Willie Pastrano, Eddie Machen, Ingemar Johansson, Zora Folley, Thad Spencer and Joe Bugner. Prosper Beck is not as well remembered by today’s fight fans, but he does hold a special place in British boxing history.