Kevin Finnegan: Champion middleweight boxer
Wednesday 29 October 2008
Kevin Finnegan belongs to the last days of the dark ages in British boxing when titles changed hands behind closed doors at men-only private sporting clubs in the West End of London. He fought at a time when being the best in Britain and Europe was no guarantee that a world title fight would follow. He won the British middleweight title on three occasions between 1974 and 1979 and held the European belt, but he never challenged for a world title.
In 1970, Finnegan followed his older brother, Chris, who had won the Olympic middleweight gold medal in Mexico in 1968, into the professional business. They each fought as amateurs, but Kevin had been banned for 18 months for climbing into the ring to dispute a loss suffered by his brother, whom he always referred to as Christopher. "It was never easy living in his shadow but that doesn't mean I resent his success at all," said Kevin. The respect the two brothers had for each other was suspended for their regular and often brutal sparring sessions at Freddie Hill's legendary Lavender Hill gym in south London.
"I knew from the first punch in a fight if I would win and I also knew that if I was going to lose, then Christopher would be in trouble because we had been having some real wars in the gyms," said Kevin.
He is best remembered for his trio of fights with Alan Minter, who would later win the undisputed middleweight title of the world. Finnegan lost all three, which were for the British title, on points. "He became like a brother to me because we spent so much time together," said Minter. The pair both enjoyed their drink and they both had ugly battles with the bottle once they had retired.
When the Finnegan brothers had finished training they would go to the pub below the gym and have a Guinness or three. Hill, their eccentric but brilliant coach, propped up the bar with them, but his methods worked and both brothers adored him.
Throughout his boxing career, Finnegan painted and the gym was littered with his work. When he was fighting for British and European titles he spoke of his desire to paint full time when he had made enough money. He was not the only quality fighter from a golden age in British boxing to fall short of his financial ambitions.
Opinion is divided over the best win of Finnegan's career. Oddly, he is perhaps best remembered for his back-to-back defeats to the great American Marvin Hagler in 1978. Finnegan was stopped on his feet but bleeding from a variety of facial wounds in both fights and Hagler still insists that Finnegan was the toughest man he ever fought.
Finnegan's win in Paris over the French idol Jean Claude Bouttier for the European title in 1974 is one of his best, and his faultless 15-round win against Tony Sibson to take the British title for the third time in 1979 is the other outstanding fight. He quit the ring in 1980 when he lost his European title, having won 35 of his 47 fights.
In retirement he bought a farm and painted for a while but his riotous lifestyle caught up with him. His marriage to Marilyn collapsed and he ended up in Spain running a bar. "I boozed my way through £250,000 in five years in Marbella," Finnegan said. "I got through a grand a week and had a great time but unfortunately I don't remember half of it."
In recent years, Finnegan lived in Hillingdon, Middlesex, but led an increasingly reclusive life. Neighbours alerted the police when he had not been seen for a few days and he was found dead. "He was a better fighter than me, smoother with more skills and a nicer man," said his brother Chris.
Kevin Finnegan, boxer: born 18 April 1948; married; died Hillingdon, Middlesex 23 October 2008.
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