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Boxing: Respected ref Harry Gibbs dies at age of 79

HARRY GIBBS, one of Britain's most famous referees, has died on holiday in Spain at the age of 79.

In a career which spanned more than 30 years, Gibbs is best remembered for awarding Joe Bugner a points verdict over Henry Cooper at Wembley Arena in their controversial heavyweight title fight in 1971. Cooper refused to speak to him for more than 20 years until they finally made up.

Gibbs, who was awarded the OBE for his services to sport and his work for charity, refereed over 40 world title fights across the globe involving greats such as Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston and Sugar Ray Robinson.

Larry O'Connell, another of Britain's leading referees, told of the comfort he gained from his mentor after his controversial judging of the first Lennox Lewis versus Evander Holyfield world title fight.

O'Connell, who was pilloried in some quarters after scoring the fight a draw, said: "Harry was one of the first to phone me and tell me that as long as I was honest that was all that mattered.

"I looked up to Harry and he encouraged me when I first started. He was never critical, always constructive. He gave respect and got it. Harry was extremely British and I just hope he saw Lennox Lewis become undisputed champion on Saturday night - that would have made him proud."

John Morris, the outgoing British Boxing Board of Control general secretary, said: "We have lost a wonderful man, a great referee and a fine friend."

Meanwhile Mike Tyson, the former undisputed heavyweight champion, will return to the ring on Saturday, 15 January, in either the United Kingdom or Germany. Tyson's opponent for the contest has yet to be named.