REGULAR readers of this column will have noticed that I take a particular interest in professional boxers who had a good amateur career, particularly if it was during the 1960s and 1970s. They will also have spotted my interest in some of the forgotten fighters of the past, men who had a good pro career but who have now slipped off the radar. If the fighter also links to a more modern theme, then all the better, and this week’s subject ticks all three boxes.
There are many people within the game who hold fond regard for Dean Francis of Basingstoke, a top-flight fighter who won a clutch of titles during a 20-year career and a man who was a firm fan-favourite. Dean died from cancer, tragically young, back in 2014. Dean’s father, Trevor, is not quite so well-remembered, but he was one of the toughest men around during the 1970s and he crossed gloves with many world-class scrappers here in England, in Australia and across Europe.
Trevor – who came along a few years before his namesake became the first one-million pound footballer at Nottingham Forest – was one of a number of very handy black fighters at that time who found it hard to gain access to the elite shows then held at the Royal Albert Hall and at Wembley Arena. Some of these men, notably Des Morrison, Pat Thomas and Henry Rhiney, went on to win titles. Others, including Roy Commosioung, Joe Oke and Joe Jackson were journeymen of the highest quality who filled the bills and the small halls and sporting clubs that made up the backbone of the sport during that period. Trevor fell between these two levels. He did box, unsuccessfully, for a British title and he won many more contests than he lost, but he fell just short of championship standard.
Trevor won the ABA welterweight title in 1972 by defeating Dave Davies of Bangor in a contest described by BN as “the most exciting of the evening”. Davies was bidding for his third straight ABA title, but the judges gave it to the Basingstoke fighter by split decision after a skilful contest. The two men met again the following year, as professionals, when the Welshman edged out Francis in an eight rounder at the Hilton Hotel, Mayfair. Seven weeks later Francis reversed the decision at the same venue. By this time Francis was only five months into a professional career and was already rated just outside the top 10 in the country.
Trevor fought many great fighters. He twice fought Rocky Mattioli, the Italian-Australian who became a WBC belt-holder, losing out in both Brisbane and in Italy. He frustrated the hell out of the recently-crowned British middleweight champion, Alan Minter, in a 10-rounder in 1976, before Minter’s superior firepower finally wore him down. He held the aforementioned Henry Rhiney to two eight-round draws in 1975 and did the same to Wolverhampton-based scouser Larry Paul the year before. Larry was a real handful in the ring, and he could punch, but Trevor exposed some of his frailties on what was Paul’s London debut after he had racked up 13 straight in the provinces. It was this type of performance that marked Francis out as a pro’s pro. He was good enough, and he could be relied upon, to give any fighter, especially the aspiring champions, a proper work out.
In 1976 Trevor was matched against Jeff Gale of Leeds in a final eliminator for the British welterweight title at the World Sporting Club in Mayfair. Despite giving it his best shot the young Yorkshireman was stopped in the ninth round with BN noting that it was “the superior strength and ring maturity” of Francis that made the difference. When he fought for the title, against Pat Thomas of Swansea, at the Hilton Hotel six months later he was outpointed, and his chance had gone.
Dean Francis was an excellent fighter who will be remembered by many readers. For my money, so was his Dad.