I HAVE recently been researching the record of Vince Hawkins of Eastleigh. Vince became the British middleweight champion in 1946 but is now largely forgotten. Eastleigh has only ever produced a handful of boxers, but in Vince and Jan Magdziarz, who twice beat Alan Minter on cuts, the town has two middleweights it can be proud of.
Hawkins has one of the longest unbeaten records from debut in the history of the British ring. Nowadays it is quite normal for a fighter to have a long unbeaten run largely because it takes a long time for today’s prospects to step up and fight someone of their own class. They are fed a long diet of journeymen with losing records and only the very best, having stepped up, maintain their undefeated record.
When Vince was boxing, during the Second World War, things were very different. It was normal to match lads of similar abilities right from the start of their career and even the very best champions had many defeats on their record before they reached the top. This is how they learnt their trade, a loss often teaching them far more than a handful of wins would have done. It would be much better for the sport, in my view, if things happened like this today.
Hawkins had his first professional contest in January 1940 at the Sportsdrome in nearby Southampton. He outpointed Spike Robson over six rounds in a slam-bang affair. It was a full 12 months before he boxed again, this time at Reading, and then throughout the next two years Vince continued to put together a long list of wins in the towns and cities of the South East, in places such as Watford, Basingstoke and Abingdon. By 1943 he was sufficiently in demand to be picked to box in the North and he had wins at Belle Vue, Manchester and at the Liverpool Stadium. In the following year he established himself as one of the best men in the country, and he was matched with Dave McCleave of Battersea in a British title eliminator and for the Southern Area title. This was Vince’s 51st contest and he had won all fifty before it, 30 of them inside the distance. McCleave went the same way, being stopped in five.
Hawkins then won 10 more, giving him a 61-bout winning streak. I think that only Jimmy Wilde has a longer run of wins from debut, but as many of Jimmy’s early contests are shrouded in mystery, it is possible that there may have been some early defeats that went unrecorded. When Vince was boxing, virtually every boxing tournament was reported in at least one newspaper, and as each of his contests can therefore be verified, his record is there to be shot at and I wonder if any other future British fighter can exceed this total.
Vince’s long run was eventually snapped by that wily old campaigner, Ernie Roderick, when the two men met for the British title in May 1945. The war had recently ended and the British public, for so long starved of sporting entertainment, turned out in force for professional boxing and the sport underwent a considerable boom throughout the late 1940s. This coincided perfectly with Vince’s career and he was a popular fighter, being able to box and punch, and stand toe-to-toe with anyone when necessary. In 1946 he defeated Roderick in a return at the Royal Albert Hall and so, after six years in the game, he became the British champion. By the time he defended it again in 1948, he had been beaten on four further occasions, and two of these were against the Turpin brothers, Dick and Randolph, and as the colour bar had recently been abolished by the Board of Control, Dick was then matched against Hawkins for Vince’s title. Vince was beaten fair and square, Turpin became the first black man to win the British title after the rule change, and Vince faded into obscurity. He had six more bouts, winning only two of them, but he should be remembered for what he achieved at the beginning of his career, 61 straight victories, which will take some beating.