Alan Rudkin: Boxer hailed as the best British fighter never to win a world title

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The Independent Online

He was often beautiful to watch inside the ring and when he finally retired people started to refer to Alan Rudkin as the best British boxer never to win a world title.

Rudkin was part of the Liverpool scene in the Sixties when the Beatles were setting the agenda for the rest of Britain and the world to follow. Rudkin had the haircut and he had the lure of a pugilist that the fabulous fight-city still celebrates to this day. Liverpool is a city, like Belfast, where being a boxer is still hard currency.

As an amateur at the Golden Gloves club Rudkin failed three times to win the national title, but he did manage to box for England. He was part of the legendary team that beat the US 10-0 at Wembley's Empire Hall in November 1961.

It was when he turned professional in 1962 that Rudkin started to develop into an exquisite and masterful little boxer. He seldom weighed more than 118 pounds and stopped or knocked out only 15 of the 42 men that he beat. Rudkin was a pure boxer, a forgotten craftsman.

In a busy 1965 he won the British and Commonwealth titles, defeated European champion Ben Ali and agreed terms to travel to Tokyo and meet Fighting Harada for the bantamweight world title. Harada was an idol at home and had beaten the brilliant Brazilian Eder Jofre to win the title. Rudkin was described from ringside in Japan as looking like an "importunate urchin" from the pages of Charles Dickens by the Evening Standard's George Whiting. Rudkin lost on points after 15 rounds. It was his first world title loss.

After Tokyo Rudkin won and lost the British and Commonwealth titles, dropped a 15-round decision to Ali for the European title in Barcelona and in 1969 travelled to Melbourne to meet the outstanding Lionel Rose, the man who had beaten Harada, for the world title. Rose was an Aboriginal, a man uneasy with his fame, and one of the old lags at ringside quipped that "15,000 Australians, one Scouser and one Aboriginal" were at the Melbourne fight.

Once again the decision went against Rudkin after 15 torrid rounds, but this time an injustice had taken place and Rudkin had clearly won. It was his second world title loss.

Rudkin returned to Britain and won a British title fight. At about the same time in Los Angeles the outstanding little Mexican Ruben Olivares knocked out Rose. Rudkin packed his bags again and in December 1969 fought Olivares for the world title. The crowd was hostile that night at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles and before Rudkin left the dressing room he was told by his armed minder not to worry about the fans: "They'll have to shoot me first." It was an ugly night and Rudkin was dropped three times and stopped in the second round. It was his third world title loss against a great fighter and his third on foreign soil. Boxing people know the facts and that is why Rudkin has that special position in the hearts and minds of so many from the fight game.

He fought six more times after Olivares, in four more title fights, before retiring after retaining his British and Commonwealth bantamweight titles in 1972 in a classic against the south Londoner, Johnny Clark. He won 42 fights and lost eight but figures often disguise facts in the boxing ring.

In retirement Rudkin ran three pubs in Liverpool. His spell at the "big house", as The Vines was known, has firmly become part of Liverpool's boxing and drinking folklore.

The pub was eventually taken back by the brewery and there was one cruel twist left. In typical Scouse fashion nobody tells the story better than Rudkin, the man who suffered most. There existed in the cellar a couple of old paintings that Rudkin had taken off the wall to make space for his boxing pictures. They were, by all accounts, dreadful. When he moved to the next pub in Speke he put them back up on the wall instead of in the removal van. A month later the pair of oil paintings went for £250,000 each at auction. "I missed out again!" Rudkin added whenever he told the story.

Rudkin was found on the street not far from his favourite pub at 3am. He was rushed to hospital and died 24 hours later.

Alan Rudkin, boxer and publican: born 28 November 1941; MBE 1980; married Cathy (divorced; two sons and one daughter); died Liverpool 22 September 2010.

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