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When Kirkland Laing fought Colin Jones

Kirkland Laing
Forty years on, we recall a memorable first meeting between two of British boxing’s leading lights of the 1980s, Kirkland Laing and Colin Jones

LLOYD HONEYGHAN, Kirkland Laing and Colin Jones were Britain’s top welterweights of the 1980s. All three won a Lonsdale Belt outright, and Honeyghan captured the world crown by beating Donald Curry in six rounds in 1986, in a huge upset in Atlantic City. Back in early 1980, though, Honeyghan was still an amateur and Laing and Jones – both unbeaten as pros – were Britain’s brightest 147lb prospects. So when they were matched for April 1 at Wembley Conference Centre, fight fans across Britain were rapt.

In facing Jones, Laing was making his first defence of the British welterweight title he’d taken from Henry Rhiney a year earlier. Dubbed “The Gifted One”, the Nottingham-based Jamaican had been blessed with sublime natural talent, but his promise was undermined by a wayward lifestyle. As Boxing News noted in its preview: “[Laing] has caused [his trainer] Terry Lawless as much torment as the rest of his stable put together.” After winning the ABA featherweight crown at 17 in 1972, Laing turned pro in 1975. At the time of his 1980 fight with Jones, Kirkland, age 25 and managed by Mickey Duff, was 18-0-1.

Jones, meanwhile, had turned over less than three years previously after carrying off the ABA welter crown in 1976 and 1977. He had won all 13 of his paid bouts. The Welshman, from Gorseinon in Swansea, was part of the Eddie Thomas stable. Although he could not match Laing for skill and speed, he carried a formidable dig – 23 of his 26 career wins would come inside time. Colin, aged 21, had earned his title shot by stopping Birmingham’s experienced Joey Mack in 10 at Caerphilly the previous October.

“It is a difficult fight to predict. Both have superb qualities. Both have glaring flaws,” wrote BN. Yet our writer was willing to make a very precise prediction, saying: “It seems most likely that Jones will walk through Laing’s better shots and prove too strong for him, gaining victory around the 10th.”

From the start, the fight assumed a predictable pattern, with Laing using the ring’s full perimeter to jab and move. He covered an astonishing amount of ground in the first few rounds, but would occasionally stand and let rip with dazzling combinations. These did not trouble Jones, who tirelessly marched forward behind a high guard, throwing few punches. Despite occasional successes for the Welsh challenger, by the ninth the champion had built an unassailable lead. But then it happened, with startling suddenness – a crashing right from Jones and a brutal follow-up flurry prompted referee Roland Dakin to step in to rescue a groggy Laing. “It was one of the most dramatic turn-abouts I’ve seen,” wrote BN editor Harry Mullan, “and yet it was not totally unexpected.”

“Laing was as good as I thought he’d be,” said Jones. “He was very fast, and I couldn’t get to him at all for five or six rounds. But I could see his work rate going down and I knew he couldn’t last.” 

The pair met again a year later with an identical result – a ninth-round stoppage win for Colin, this time wrought by a single clinically placed left hook. Despite his exceptional talent, Laing never reached world title level, although he did astonish the fight world by outscoring Roberto Duran in Detroit in 1982, a victory that hints at “The Gifted One’s” unrealised potential. Kirkland carried on long past his prime. A 1994 stoppage loss to Glenn Catley finally convinced him to call it a day, aged 40. Jones, by contrast, would make three losing bids for world honours, the last when stopped by Don Curry at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre in 1985. After that he retired, aged just 25.

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