Obituary: Dick Richardson

DICK RICHARDSON was a dashing, colourful heavyweight who brought a touch of theatre to the dour British boxing scene in the mid-1950s. The 6ft 3in, 200lb Welshman was one of a quartet of big men who raised hopes of a home-grown world heavyweight champion. The others were Joe Erskine, Brian London and Henry Cooper.

Richardson eventually held the European title from 1960 until 1962, but fell tantalisingly short of world class. Nevertheless, he played his part in some of the more attractive and controversial heavyweight battles of his time. His brawl at Porthcawl in August 1960 when he defended his European championship against London has a special place in boxing folklore, primarily because of the explosive scenes which followed it.

When London retired in his corner at the end of the eighth round, his father and brother, both named Jack, were incensed by the rough tactics Richardson had employed and climbed into the ring to protest. A full-scale brawl broke out, which ended with London being fined by the British Boxing Board of Control. Richardson, generally considered to have caused the cut which ended the fight by using his head, remained on his stool shielded by cornermen until the violence had subsided.

Richard Alexander Richardson was born in the Maesglas area of Newport in 1934. Next door lived one of the cleverest boxers of the early part of the century, Johnny Basham, who had been a British and European champion in two weight divisions. Apart from a few amateur bouts experienced by his father, boxing was not actually in Richardson's family. Certainly, his brothers Reg, Gordon and Terry did not box. Dick himself would have preferred rugby and was saddened when his father solemnly informed him he would make a better fighter.

He had half a dozen amateur bouts, then developed his interest after beginning his national service in 1953. He was a Royal Army Service Corps champion, although Brian London, then using his real name of Harper, beat him in the Inter-Services event.

After jobs as a plasterer and labourer in a steel-works, Dick turned professional with the fast-talking London manager Wally Lesley. He was trained by a Welshman, Johnny Lewis, in Blackfriars, in the City of London. When he arrived at the gym he had replaced the khaki of the British Army with the gaudy gladrags of the Teddy Boy: a jacket around his knees, tight trousers and "brothel-creeper" shoes. "It's all the rage," he apparently explained to the astonished old hands, who were more accustomed to swab- sticks and sponges.

Although he lost his professional debut to Henry Cooper's twin brother George, who boxed under the name Jim, he won a return in two rounds and attracted a fair amount of publicity as he bowled over a succession of opponents in 1955.

He married and lived in the Tulse Hill area of south London, combining boxing with a milk-round until his purses grew large enough for him to concentrate on fighting. By 1956, some were convinced he could lay to rest the tradition of the horizontal British heavyweight and beat the world champion of the time, Rocky Marciano. One writer even labelled him the "Maesglas Marciano", which was a touch extravagant.

When he returned to Cardiff to fight fellow-Welshman Joe Erskine in the Maindy Stadium in May 1956, the 10-round fight drew 35,000 fans and it was called the finest heavyweight contest ever staged in Wales. Richardson knocked Erskine down in round five but the master boxer from Tiger Bay climbed up and went on to win on points.

For a while, in spite of the efforts of the promoter Jack Solomons to move him forward, Richardson was frustrated. A match with the former world champion Ezzard Charles was a fiasco with the American disqualified for persistent holding in round two. The world-class Cuban Nino Valdes outpunched Richardson at Harringay Arena and forced his retirement after eight rounds. A 15-round slog for the Empire title against the Jamaican Joe Bygraves was ruled a draw, and he was given a boxing lesson by the brilliant American Willie Pastrano.

When he was matched with the erratic, temperamental, but hard- hitting Texan Cleveland Williams, the fight fell through on the day of the show because, Williams declared miserably, "God has told me not to fight." When he was beaten by both Henry Cooper and, in a rematch, Joe Erskine, it seemed that his career would come to nothing.

Yet in Dortmund in March 1960 he put himself into a higher-earning bracket when he won the European title with a 13th-round win over a popular German, Hans Kalbfell. His victory sparked a riot, which necessitated a police escort to the dressing room. Back home a disqualification defeat against an American, Mike DeJohn, in a non-title fight, upset the fans in Porthcawl, who demonstrated angrily, and that was followed by the astonishing brawl in the ring at the end of his fight with London.

A return to Germany to fight Kalbfell again was a bold move, but Richardson won on points. And a year later he enjoyed himself in Dortmund by knocking out Karl Mildenberger in two minutes 45 seconds. Mildenberger went on to fight Muhammad Ali for the world title several years later.

Richardson's European reign ended in front of 50,000 fans in an open- air stadium in Gothenburg when he was knocked out by Ingemar Johansson, and he retired after Henry Cooper beat him in the fifth round at Wembley in March 1963. He was still only 28, but had earned well, and lived comfortably in Surrey, where he ran a butcher's shop until 1997, when a back injury received in a car crash in Switzerland forced him to give up. He remained friends with his trainer, Johnny Lewis, right up to his death, from lung cancer.

Bob Mee

Richard Alexander Richardson, boxer: born Newport, Monmouth-shire 1 June 1934; married (one son, one daughter); died 14 July 1999.

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