Chris Finnegan: Olympic boxing gold medallist who became European champion

Chris Finnegan had his first professional fight behind closed doors at an exclusive Mayfair club seven weeks after winning the Olympic middleweight gold medal at the Mexico City games. Finnegan was Britain's first Olympic boxing gold medallist for 12 years and after his victory in late October 1968 against the brilliant Soviet Aleksey Kisselev there was a gap of 32 years before Audley Harrison won a gold in Sydney.

Harrison signed a multi-million deal with the BBC, fought in front of 8,000 at Wembley and was watched by six million people on television when he had his first fight. "Good luck to the fighters now," Finnegan said last year. "I don't begrudge 'em a penny. I just wish that we had all been looked after a bit better."

In 1968 before the Olympic Games, Finnegan was working on building sites as a bricklayer and was not even the British amateur middleweight champion when selected for the games. He was a veteran of the European championships held in Rome in 1967 and he had boxed against Denmark, Romania, Scotland and Ireland. He joked before the start of the Olympic tournament in Mexico that he had done his altitude training at the top of a 35-rung ladder. He beat four men in 11 days to reach the final against Kisselev, and after an agonisingly long delay at the end of the contest he was awarded a majority decision of 3-2. "I'm not just a silly old bricklayer now," he exclaimed when he was interviewed.

He turned professional as a light heavyweight and within two years fought and lost over 15 rounds for the European title against the Danish idol Tom Bogs in Copenhagen. It was Finnegan's first defeat in 15 fights but in January 1971 he won the British and Commonwealth versions with a 15th-round stoppage of Eddie Avoth. His two fights with the stocky and bald German Conny Velensek for the European light-heavyweight title ended in a controversial draw the first time they met in Germany, and an easy win for Finnegan when they fought in 1972 in Nottingham. Velensek wore a wig throughout the week of the fights and only removed the toupee when he climbed through the ropes.

"I looked at him the first time and I swear I didn't recognise him without the syrup!" Finnegan said. "I thought they had switched opponents on me."

In September 1972 Finnegan entered the ring at Wembley as the British, Commonwealth and European champion to challenge the world champion Bob Foster, a sheriff from America. It was a fantastic fight and Foster is still considered one of the best light-heavyweights in history. It ended in round 14 when Finnegan was dropped for the full count. The Ring magazine, at the time hugely influential, named it their fight of 1972. The magazine had named Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier as their 1971 fight of the year and in 1973 selected Frazier against George Foreman.

"When Bob hit me it was like being hit with a scaffold pole with a glove on the end of it, and I know a bit about scaffold poles," said Finnegan, who amazingly was back in the ring in a 15-round fight seven weeks later. However, he lost his European title and in many ways it was the start of the end of his career.

In 1973 Finnegan had the first of his two epic struggles with John Conteh when he lost on points. He was stopped on cuts in a bitter and acrimonious rematch the following year. Conteh still maintains that Finnegan was the toughest man he ever met and in retirement they both helped each other drink to worrying excess.

Finnegan won and lost the British title in 1975 in fights against Johnny Frankham but he was forced to quit the ring the same year when he suffered a detached retina. Ali donated a pair of signed gloves to Finnegan's benefit night.

Last October, as Finnegan was drinking and laughing at the British Boxing Writers' annual dinner, his younger brother Kevin, who was also a British champion, died alone and lonely in his Hillingdon flat. Finnegan never really recovered from the death of his younger brother and in the middle of February he was admitted to Hillingdon hospital with pneumonia. He was 64 when he died there.



Christopher Martin Finnegan, boxer: born 5 June 1944; married; MBE 1969; died Hillingdon, Middlesex 2 March 2009.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone