IBHOF inductee Graham Houston remembers former world title challenger Brian London, a part of Britain’s ‘Large 4’ heavyweights of the Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, who handed away final week.
Brian London, who handed away final week on the age of 87, was the final surviving member of Britain’s Large 4 heavyweights of the Fifties and Nineteen Sixties. Henry Cooper, Joe Erskine, Dick Richardson and London fought one another in a round-robin collection of bouts that acquired large protection within the British newspapers of the time.
I bear in mind London being what in Britain we’d name a “good on-top fighter”. That’s to say, London, except utterly overmatched, was powerful to beat when he was having his personal means in a battle however couldn’t be relied upon if issues began going towards him.
“London tends to be nervous and may falter beneath stress,” The Instances famous when previewing London’s all-British showdown with Billy Walker. But London had been recognized to shock his sternest critics with “flashes of talent and exhausting, correct punching”. And that was London. He had his dangerous nights but additionally some excellent ones.
London held the British and Empire (now Commonwealth) heavyweight titles and was twice concerned in world title bouts. He was lively when boxing was very totally different to what’s as we speak. Boxing fanatics could be there for the entire invoice, not simply to see the principle occasion or to help one boxer. Every day by day and night newspaper had its personal boxing author.
When London was matched with the expert American heavyweight contender, Eddie Machen, it appeared that the group was there as a lot to witness Machen’s artistry as to cheer for an unlikely British victory. Machen outclassed London, who was retired by his nook after 5 rounds.
As an beginner, London was British (ABA) champion and captured the gold medal on the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Video games — because the occasion was then referred to as — in Vancouver. He boxed beneath the household identify of Brian Harper as an beginner however turned Brian London as knowledgeable. His father, referred to as Jack London, was British heavyweight champion within the Forties.
Brian was recognized to be a tough and rugged competitor, whilst an beginner. From reminiscence, I consider there have been indignant scenes in Milan because of the, let’s consider, uncompromising techniques London employed towards the Italian heavyweight Giacomo Bozzano, who received the bout on factors.
London suffered his first professional defeat when fellow up-and-comer Henry Cooper stopped him within the first spherical at London’s Empress Corridor in 1956. Evidently Cooper damage London with a left hook and saved hammering away, left hook after left hook, with London defenceless on the ropes, till the referee intervened.
Cooper was to defeat London twice extra, each bouts for the British heavyweight title.
London’s reign as champion was temporary, simply seven months. He received the title with a knockout victory over Cardiff’s Joe Erskine at London’s White Metropolis Stadium in June 1958, and Cooper took the title from him with a bloody 15-round factors victory at Earls Court docket Area in January 1959.
London was on the receiving finish of jolting left jabs for spherical after spherical within the battle with Cooper, who was just too expert for him. London was so bemused by the left-hand pounding that he raised Cooper’s arm on the finish of the 14th spherical, pondering that the battle was over. However there was nonetheless one other spherical to go. The third battle noticed Cooper retain the title with a cushty and reasonably unexciting factors victory in Manchester in February 1964.
I nicely bear in mind the Earls Court docket title battle and even now can recall London briefly trying like turning the tables across the tenth spherical when his superior weight and bodily power gave the impression to be telling on the extra slender Cooper. However Cooper regrouped, obtained the left jab working once more, and after that it was only a matter of whether or not London would make it to the ultimate bell.
The Manchester title battle 5 years later was televised on a delayed same-night foundation (truly 12:01 a.m.) by the business TV channel ITA. I lived in London and deliberate to attend a promotion on the Nationwide Sporting Membership in London’s Piccadilly earlier than returning to my modest lodging within the Earls Court docket “bed-sitter” belt to observe the Cooper vs London battle with the consequence unknown. That concept was dashed when the Nationwide Sporting Membership MC introduced simply as I used to be leaving the membership’s press gallery: “Cooper received on factors!”
So the “as reside” a part of the night was ruined though in fact it was clear from very early that there was solely going to be one winner.
London’s knockout win over Joe Erskine was a type of fights the place fortunes modified dramatically. Erskine, a reliable craftsman, was outboxing London within the early rounds solely to endure a minimize over the attention in, I consider the, sixth spherical. I assumed on the time that London’s head did the harm. However, no matter, Erskine fell aside and London overwhelmed him with a clubbing onslaught.
The British writers referred to London’s “bulldozer” fashion, and his most well-liked technique was to crowd ahead and pump out punches. However London was able to producing shows of sound, textbook boxing. I do not forget that when London met the “Tongan Terror” Kitione Lave, a heavy hitter with an all-out slugging fashion, the writers predicted a conflict that was unlikely to go the space. However London flipped the script and employed a boxing, jabbing, counter-punching fashion to which Lave had no reply.
London’s profession had extra incident and controversy than most. As an example, he defied the British Boxing Board of Management by travelling to the States to tackle heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in 1959. The Board felt the battle wasn’t in the very best pursuits of British boxing and London was instructed to not proceed. When London went forward he was fined £1,000 (diminished to £500 on attraction).
Patterson, utilizing the bout as a warm-up earlier than defending the title towards Ingemar Johansson, outclassed London earlier than knocking him out within the eleventh spherical. However no less than London hung in there and took his lumps that night time in Indianapolis. This wasn’t the case when he met Muhammad Ali for the title at Earls Court docket Area in August 1966. London collapsed to the canvas within the third spherical after Ali launched a flurry of punches, none of which appeared terribly exhausting. London later admitted that he knew he stood no likelihood and easily determined to not get damage.
When London misplaced to Dick Richardson in a European title battle outdoor in Porthcawl, Wales, in August 1960 the 2 camps engaged in a post-fight brawl within the ring. London, who retired in his nook after eight rounds because of a minimize over the attention, was adamant that Richardson had intentionally butted him. Dad Jack London and Brian’s brother (one other Jack London), who boxed professionally as a light-heavyweight, have been concerned within the scuffle.
Extra controversy got here when the Birmingham heavyweight Johnny Prescott was adjudged to have outpointed London in a 10-round bout at Liverpool Stadium in 1964 that was televised reside by the BBC, a uncommon deal with for battle followers in these days. London appeared to have outfought, outpunched and mainly bullied the smaller Prescott in nearly each spherical. Such was the outcry over the decision that, as I bear in mind, the referee and sole arbiter, Wally Thom, a former British welterweight champion, was demoted from Star class refereeing standing. He handed in his licence as a protest.
I all the time think about London’s victory over Willie Pastrano of their rematch at London’s Harringay Area in September 1958 to have been his best efficiency. The battle was stopped within the fifth spherical because of Pastrano being minimize over the attention however the larger, stronger London was driving the classier American boxer throughout the ring and easily overpowering him. Pastrano later moved down in weight to develop into light-heavyweight champion.
Some won’t ever consider this, however when London was lively the grievance in British boxing was that referees too usually gave the visiting boxer the advantage of the doubt in an in depth contest (this was at a time when the referee was the only real choose). Such was the case within the first bout between London and Pastrano at Harringay Area in February 1958. Pastrano obtained the nod from referee Invoice Williams but it surely was extremely controversial.
London obtained hit by a low blow throughout the bout and he doubled up and appeared about to go down. Referee Williams saved the battle going by mainly holding up London with one arm whereas giving Pastrano a prolonged warning about holding his punches up. There was no five-minute day trip in these days. If a boxer went down from a low blow and was unable (or in some circumstances unwilling) to proceed the competition, the referee actually had no alternative however to disqualify the opposite boxer.
Referee Williams’ fast pondering averted a doable fiasco. Williams gave London time to collect himself and on the similar time wasn’t confronted with the dilemma of probably having to DQ the American boxer. That, to me, was some of the underrated items of refereeing in boxing historical past, considerably misplaced within the dissent over the choice in Pastrano’s favour.
If London was maybe unfortunate to not get the choice towards Pastrano of their first assembly he was undoubtedly out of luck in his battle with former heavyweight champion Ingemar Johansson in Stockholm in April 1963. Behind on factors, London floored Johansson within the waning seconds of the twelfth and closing spherical. The previous champion groggily obtained up in time to beat the rely and was saved by the bell. It regarded as if yet one more clear punch from London would have ended issues. London was absolutely simply seconds away from a sensational upset and, if the bout had been a 15-rounder, it’s unlikely that the Swedish boxer would have survived the ultimate three rounds.
There have been so many large fights in London’s 15-year, 58-bout profession. He blasted out well-regarded American heavyweight Roger Rischer with three knockdowns in 50 seconds, a battle wherein London merely charged at his opponent and by no means stopped punching. London knocked out one other US heavyweight, Howard King, in a battle held in a torrential downpour in Blackpool, with the 2 males boxing in naked ft to keep away from slipping on the rain-slicked canvas.
London outpointed former contender Zora Folley, simply eight months after Folley’s seventh-round defeat towards Muhammad Ali. Different wins have been over two of Floyd Patterson’s title-fight opponents, Tom McNeeley, who London outpointed, and the Olympic gold medallist Pete Rademacher (knocked out within the seventh). London misplaced on factors however gave it a great go towards the proficient Thad Spencer, who was to function within the WBA elimination collection two years later. Former high contender Nino Valdes, now light, had his final battle towards London, who retired with a minimize over the attention.
The loss to Valdes was considered one of London’s extra disappointing fights, however there have been many good ones, together with a 10-round pasting of “Golden Boy” Billy Walker in an enormous all-British battle at Wembley Pool in March 1965. This battle noticed London at his finest towards a less-experienced boxer he felt certain he might beat.
“Walker, with solely 18 bouts behind him, tried desperately exhausting all through. However he was regularly at sea towards the prodding left to the pinnacle of London and typically dazzled, in addition to dazed, by the mixture punches which London unleashed when he was caught towards the ropes or in a nook,” The Instances reported.
I used to be there when London had his final battle, retiring after 5 rounds towards the a lot youthful, brisker Joe Bugner at Wembley Pool in Might 1970. London was a month away from turning 36, he had been knocked out in his final two fights, and I consider he was simply there for one closing payday. He left boxing with a document of 37-20-1 (26 KOs).
By no means one for extravagances (a boxing author famous seeing him travelling on a crowded Tube prepare instantly after a tough battle at a London area), London taken care of his cash and opened an evening membership referred to as the 007 in Blackpool. He was snug in retirement.
It’s a disgrace that, to many, London can be finest remembered for the three-round flop towards Muhammad Ali. London fought reliable, world-class American heavyweights and he was brave within the Earls Court docket battle with Henry Cooper.
You by no means fairly knew what you’ll get with Brian London, however he was one of many larger-than-life personalities of British boxing and, whereas he was by no means an elite heavyweight on the world stage, there isn’t any doubt in my thoughts that he was a much better fighter than the Ali affair indicated.
Principal picture: Alamy/PA photos.