AT the Annual General Meeting of the British Boxing Board of Control on May 24, 1967, it was decided to introduce two new weight classes to British professional boxing.
For the preceding 58 years there had only ever been eight weight classes, each of which had a Lonsdale Belt and a British title as its ultimate prize. It had long been recognised, however, that there were many professionals whose fighting weight fell between two classes.
The gap between lightweight and welterweight, for instance, was 12 pounds, and many men were both too heavy for the lightweight class and too small for the welters. The same was true for men whose fighting weight was around 11 stone. At the AGM it was stated that the purpose of the two additional classes was to provide “two more title bouts as attractions, while those boxers at in-between weights will not need to go out of their natural poundages to fight for titles.”
The new classes chosen were at 9st 4lbs and at 10st, and they were named junior-lightweight and junior-welterweight. Boxing News questioned the need for the former, stating that “there are now three weights within nine pounds, whereas there is a gap of 13 pounds between welter and middle.” The scepticism was well-founded as the introduction of these classes, at that particular time, when there were so few active professionals in the game, proved to be a failure. The junior-welterweight division had some historical romance associated with it for British fight fans, as Jack Kid Berg, one of our greatest ever world champions, had won his title at that weight back in 1930, and although the division was not recognised in Britain at the time, he became a national hero by virtue of this success.
When BN published the first ratings for the new classes in January 1968 only five men were listed at junior-lightweight. These were Jimmy Anderson, Brian Cartwright, Jimmy Revie, George O’Neill and Hugh Baxter. At junior-welterweight only seven men were listed, with Vic Andreetti and Des Rea at the top. Over the course of the next two years, three British champions were christened at the two weights. Jimmy Anderson won the junior-lightweight title on 20 February 1968 when he stopped Jimmy Revie in nine rounds at the Royal Albert Hall. Anderson then defended his title against Brian Cartwright, who he outpointed over 15, and against Colin Lake, who he stopped in seven, thereby winning a Lonsdale belt outright. There were two champions at junior-welter with Des Rea outpointing Vic Andreetti on 27 February 1968 and then Andreetti winning their return almost exactly one year later, again on points. Andreetti then defended his title by knocking Rea out in four in October 1969.
By 1970 the total number of junior-lightweight boxers ranked by BN had dropped to one, Anderson, and those at the heavier weight to four. It was self-evident that the new classes were a complete failure. They had not attracted significant numbers of professionals to compete and had done little to benefit the promoters, as the championships lacked the great traditions and romance of the eight ‘normal’ weights. At the Board AGM in 1970, the two divisions were quietly discarded.
Three years later, a more successful introduction of the light-welterweight and light-middleweight divisions took place, and these are still competed for today, albeit under different names. There are now 15 weight classes recognised by the Board and with over 1,000 active professionals there are plenty of men willing to fight for them and plenty of good contests to be made. It is a shame that Anderson, Rea and Andreetti are largely forgotten now, as are the titles that they fought for. The commitment and determination they showed to win these titles is no different to that shown by all champions, past and present, at all weights.