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Heavyweight Battles of Britain

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Ben Dirs | 09:38 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010

When David Haye and Audley Harrison meet in Manchester on Saturday, it will be only the third time in history two Brits have fought for a world heavyweight crown.

Haye, the WBA title-holder, is a big favourite against the former Olympic champion and while many are intrigued by the match-up - the MEN Arena is a 20,000 sell-out - there are some purists who believe it is a pale imitation of all-British match-ups of yesteryear.

BBC Sport looks at five heavyweight 'Battles of Britain' that Haye-Harrison might struggle to live up to.

Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno, Cardiff Arms Park, 1 October 1993

It is easy to forget the build-up to this fight was an ill-tempered affair, so laconic could Lewis appear at times and so affable seemed Bruno. Bruno laid his trump card when he questioned the Britishness of his rival, who had moved to Canada as a child. But Lewis had a joker up his sleeve, mocking Bruno for "dressing up in girls' clothing" during his stint as a pantomime dame.

The fight at Cardiff Arms Park, for the WBC crown Lewis held, was the first all-British heavyweight world title fight in history and attracted 26,000 fans, most of them pulling for Bruno, who was challenging for a world title for the third time.

Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis

Bruno (left) rocked Lewis in round three - but it was a familiar story when he was tagged

Bruno made a strong start, wobbling Lewis with a huge overhand right in round three, and was well ahead on one judge's scorecard and level on two after six rounds.

But Lewis landed with a looping left hook in the seventh, stiffening Bruno, who was stopped 72 seconds into the round. Lewis went on to become arguably the last great heavyweight world champion, while Bruno did eventually realise his world title dream when he beat Oliver McCall in 1995.

Frank Bruno v Joe Bugner, White Hart Lane, London, 24 October 1987

Perhaps mindful he was never going to win any popularity contests back in Blighty, having 'robbed' a national institution in Henry Cooper in 1971, and still bitter at his treatment at the hands of the boxing writers he called "morons", 'Aussie Joe' returned from his adoptive country in 1987 to take on Britain's new heavyweight darling.

Bugner may have been 37 but the bout was not as lacking in credibility as it may seem in hindsight - Bugner had beaten top American heavyweights James Tillis, David Bey and Greg Page in his previous three fights.

However, Cooper gained vicarious revenge through the hulking form of Bruno, who battered Bugner into submission inside eight rounds at White Hart Lane.

Bruno went on to win a heavyweight world title at the fourth attempt but, remarkably, retired three years before Bugner, who won the Australian heavyweight title in 1995 after a nine year lay-off and had his last fight in 1999.

Henry Cooper v Joe Bugner, Wembley, London, 16 March 1971

Cooper had been British champion for almost 11 years when he met Bugner for what was meant to be a farewell address to his adoring public. Unfortunately for Cooper, a couple of party poopers crashed the knees-up.

Cooper later claimed he was so decrepit before the bout that he was unable even to comb his hair with his fabled left hand, while Bugner had only recently turned 21. Still, few thought the Hungarian-born upstart would have the smarts to compete.

Henry Cooper and Joe Bugner

Cooper (left) was a national institution by the time he met young upstart Bugner in 1971

Enter referee Harry Gibbs, who, after 15 rounds of combat, confounded everyone else at Wembley and millions watching on TV by raising Bugner's hand. "He's given it to Bugner! And I find that amazing," said BBC commentator Harry Carpenter, as boos rang out around the arena.

Bugner later admitted the result was "one of the most hurtful and painful" he could have had. "I didn't really win, they [the British media] chased me out of England because I beat a legend," he said. A sad way to treat a man who would go the distance with Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali - twice.

Brian London v Dick Richardson, Coney Beach Arena, Porthcawl, 29 August 1960

It seemed that whenever Dick Richardson fought there was mayhem. Henry Cooper remembered the Welshman was fond of "putting the nut in", while Richardson caused a riot in winning the vacant European crown in Dortmund when he flattened his German opponent while the referee was administering a standing count.

The Coney Beach Arena in Porthcawl - described as "a dump" by Cooper - was the scene of some of Richardson's wildest fights, including his contest against American Mike DeJohn in 1960, when the home favourite was disqualified for a blatant head-butt and much bottle and chair-throwing ensued.

London, on the comeback trail following a defeat at the hands of world champion Floyd Patterson the previous year, was Richardson's next special guest. He, too, was treated to that distinctive Porthcawl touch.

London was forced to retire in the eighth round after sustaining serious cuts, which he blamed on Richardson's repeated butts. A furious London then proceeded to punch Richardson's trainer Johnny Lewis to the canvas, triggering a Wild West 'all-off' that would thereafter be remembered as 'The Brawl in Porthcawl'.

Brian London v Henry Cooper, Earls Court, London, 12 January 1959

Back when even respectable old ladies from Pinner knew who the heavyweight champion of Great Britain was, fights for the British title were big beer - and when Our 'Enery was involved, they tended to be even bigger.

Cooper, just starting out in the trade, had disposed of Blackpool's London in one round in 1956, and a beefed-up London was intent on revenge in the rematch, with the British and Empire belts at stake.

After 15 rounds, the two fighters "looked as if they had been hitting each other with meat axes", according to one boxing correspondent. At the final bell, London could barely stand but it was Cooper, his face masked in blood, who got the decision.

By the time the two adversaries met again in 1964, Cooper was on his way to becoming a national institution, having very nearly beaten a certain Cassius Clay the previous year. Cooper triumphed once again after 15 more brutal rounds.

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  • Comment number 1.

    It sounds a fight from the talk, take away the need for ticket sales /tv revenue and I expect to see Harrison advertising Slumberland from all positions.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well Ben it depends what people are looking for. The impression I get is that people either want to pay 15 quid to see Audley beaten up and humiliated or else see David Haye get embarrased for taking the fight in the first place. I think the last thing people expect is a competitive fight. Its either a complete beatdown or an absolute hail mary.

    The reality is Audley is a proven failure on world level. He is old and coming off shoulder surgery. He has lost to domestic level opposition. Before prizefighter his record in the last several years is 5-4 (and thats not against strong opposition. If Haye loses this it doesnt really prove that Audley was a great in disguise all this time. We know he isnt and has never even given a glimpse of belonging on world level in the ro ranks. If Haye loses I would view it as far more as a situation whereby Haye has been overrated badly far more than Audley finally realising his potential and "destiny".

    Whilst Im pretty disappointed in Haye for taking this fight, I am still hoping he will win and make good on his promises to deliver some big fights. If Audley wins, well we most likey get another rematch between two guys whos stock will be pretty low and who would be a million miles from being the genuine World Heavyweight Champions. Fingers crossed Haye doesnt do anything stupid and we can finally have a unification fight next year.

  • Comment number 3.

    APOLOGIES! Sorry to everyone who has tried to comment on this blog today, we've had some technical problems (that are far too boring to expand on and totally beyond my comprehension anyway) - but hopefully you can all pile in now!

  • Comment number 4.

    I can't believe how many people have been taken in by the Fraudley band wagon. Have any of the people predicting a Harrison victory ever actually seen him fight?

    As usually he's thoroughly convincing in interviews and press conferences but as soon as he steps in the ring, he'll freeze like he always does. I've seen dozens of Audley fights and in each one he looks like a man afraid of being punched - not a particularly good state of mind for a boxer!

    Before you splash out your had earned cash,i'd warn against being taken in by the hype. Haye may or my not be the real deal (i'm hoping he is) but i know for sure that Audley isn't.

  • Comment number 5.

    Boxing fans are a weird lot. The more we trash a fight the more it creates hype. On paper it is a poor match-up, but it has generated more talk and columns than any other fight in the UK this year. So from a promoters point of view it is a good match to make.
    It is strange that really good fights, like Lopez vs Marquez last weekend hardly generated any words before or after. But nice guys like Lopez and Marquez don't generate 'wars of words' before or after a fight, so they don't get columns written about them. That is no disrespect to Ben Dirs-another good review article BTW, but this blog will probably generate more views and comments than any other.

  • Comment number 6.

    As has been said, anyone taken in by the pre-fight hype on this has got to be astonishingly naive. Harrison has always talked a good fight. Haye has always talked a good fight. The difference is that one of the has nearly always delivered on his promises, and certainly has done in respect of results. That isn't Fraudley and this fight will merely cement his reputation amongst real boxing fans as a completely heartless boxer when the moment comes. Cue the big punch from Haye, cue the canvas bouncing moments later and Harrison not getting up. Inside 3 rounds, and that is being nice to Fraudley.

  • Comment number 7.

    The Haye v Harrison fight might not be among the classics that Ben has mentioned, but it should be a damn sight better than the snooze fest of Akinwande v Welch....quite possibly the worst title fight involving any Britsh fighter, let alone two of them. I can see Haye winning via KO in the middle rounds.....but only after getting off the canvas from an overhand left from Harrison.

  • Comment number 8.

    Manos_de_Piedra - I'm pretty sure I've heard David Haye's promoter say that there's a re-match in the contract anyway. I'm sure someone with superior knowledge than me can clear this up for certain though, maybe Ben in fact!!

  • Comment number 9.

    lukenuckley - Harrison said there was a rematch clause on the radio on Sunday, and while Haye didn't deny it, he also stated categorically that he wouldn't be fighting Harrison again. Contracts, clauses, whatever, in boxing they're not worth the paper they're written on.

  • Comment number 10.

    9. At 10:55pm on 08 Nov 2010, Ben Dirs - BBC Sport wrote

    I assume if Haye finds himself KOed in the last round ala Sprott he will have no problems with having a rematch.

    The rematch clause will only come into effect if Haye loses so that he has a chance to recover his title.

  • Comment number 11.

    Ben - good blog as ever and I (and a few mates) will (however much it upsets the purists!) have a perverse interest in this fight - for its entertainment as much as its demonstration of sporting excellence.

    Just a thought on the structure - perhaps easier to read and understand the chain of events if in chronological order, rather than most recent first?! But, always good to learn more...

  • Comment number 12.

    Ben, I read your blog with interest and agree fully with you and a couple of guys on here, I don't believe that this fight has the calibre to live up to the previous heavyweight classics but it has more interest from a personality perspective
    I personally think that Haye is in a different league both in speed and age and will put AH on his backside inside 5, however I find them both extremely irritating but for the good of the sport and the heavyweight division please let my prediction come true.
    Ben, can I be so bold as to ask a prediction from you?

  • Comment number 13.

    Bruno was challenging for the world title for a third time against Lennox, not his second.

    Also Ben what are you counting as the second heavyweight title fight between two Brits? Akinwande v Welch? or Lewis v Akinwande?.. The first one was WBO and meant nothing then, nor does it now to be fair.

  • Comment number 14.

    It is inconceivable that Audley will win this one. I just hope and pray Haye doesn't show boat too much and end up on the canvas. Harrison talks a big game. He always has. Nothing has changed from back when to now. And all the running around with axes etc will mean diddly when Haye is coming at him. Harrison has a punchers chance : we all know that. But thats it. He's too slow and too scared to stand a chance against someone noted for his strength, hand speed and agression. Anyone who doubts Haye's intent only needs to watch him dispose of Enzo. Youtube has the details. Harrison will freeze and get knocked out.

  • Comment number 15.

    Quick_Single - Funny you should say that about the structure because I actually switched it round at the last minute, thought Bruno-Lewis would resonate more with the readers. Good point though.

    huntspur - I think you might be right - can't see it going more than five...

    dazzauk - Good spot, it's changed now. The second all-British fight was Lewis-Akinwande, 1997 I believe. I know some publications and websites will be calling this the second, mainly because Akinwande was sometimes considered to be Nigerian, but the fact is he was a two-time ABA and former European champion.

  • Comment number 16.

    Lewis - Akinwande was dire, it's kind of hard to make that the 2nd rather than Haye v Harrison, but the fact is Akinwande was born in London. For sure in terms of peoples interest then Haye v Harrison is 2nd.

  • Comment number 17.

    Ben, is there any possibility that the following quote can be removed from the link to the Boxing 606 page:

    "When was the last time Haye faced an aggressive counterpuncher with a reach advantage?"

    I'm fairly certain it was posted in jest and it reflects badly on us all. I suspect that more than one unsuspecting casual observer will make a fool of themselves in the pub this weekend by repeating the same question.

    It's worth noting that the offending poster was responsible for the suggestion that Jamie Moore could beat Sugar Ray Robinson. I can only hope that was in jest also.

  • Comment number 18.


    I think the original post was in good spirit. If people fall for it then more fool them! It's an interesting enough thread. It certainly doesn't reflect badly on anyone else.

  • Comment number 19.

    Auds has got to be finished. Why is he so defensive? He doesnt even try to jab. He tries to avoid getting hit without any counter. The most boring heavy there has ever been and the most overhyped

    Perhaps he won olympic gold as its only a few rounds. He must have a stamina problem or something. He's no Ali or lewis but he thinks he is.

    Hope Haye has a go at Wladimir Klitschko next fight. I think he has a chance to take him. There is no doubting Haye's skills. He has great speed and technique. Wlad is a good fighter, but he's a bit boring. His big bro, even though he's near 40 now is a different proposition. He's a real hard case with serious power who knows how to use his skills

    Haye could beat Wlad if he holds back but Vitali is very wily and I think he could beat Haye even in his career twilight

  • Comment number 20.

    Battle of Britain it sadly wasn't.

    A couple of interesting points arise though.

    Firstly, hats off to Hayemaker Promotions and Barry Hearn for some world-class promoting.

    Samuel Coleridge suggested that by putting "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the public would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.

    Well, that's exactly what they managed to do, the skilful use of Lennox Lewis to give the fight some credibility, a particularly good move. Persuading the public to forget Harrison's boxing record and believe this could ever be a contest is worthy of high praise indeed.

    Second, why did Haye find it necessary to goud the money paying fans after the fight??

    "I put a lot of money on the third round and lot of my friends and family did. I didn't want to let them down by doing him too early"

    Why come out and say that after thousands have just watched you make no effort in Round 1, some effort in Round 2 then turn on the fire in Round 3?

    I'm not for a moment suggesting this is fixing (Only the NOTW could prove that and they won't be allowed near it (sic) )

    But to tell the fans - 'I wasn't really trying in the early rounds' is an absolute insult.

    Sport needs to be real and 100% for fans to actually care!


  • Comment number 21.

    Last night's boxing match was not a classic boxing match by a long way.
    In the first two round, there was not even a significant punch from either of them, they showed too much respect to each other.

    Then when Haye did a big punch to Harrison in the 3rd round, Harrison had no answer and Haye defends his WBA!

    Overall its was a highly anticipated boxing match and it just did not live up to its high expectations and is probably the most boring boxing match ever for the first two rounds for the WBA.


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