Ken Jones on Boxing: Far too many world champions and too few worthy of true recognition

Is there anyone out there who can name, straight off, the British boxers presently in possession of world titles? Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton and er... See what I mean. Even for dedicated fight fans it's a tough question. Stuck at six, I called a friend. He got to 11. "That it?" I asked. "Not sure," he replied.

You could ask the question at tonight's annual dinner of the Boxing Writers Club and end up wondering whether you've walked into the wrong party. Once, you knew when a fighter had made it big because applause broke out in anticipation of his name. Now there are so many champions of sorts that people nudge their neighbours and ask: "Who is this guy?"

Old-timers of great repute look at the moderns, shrug, shake their heads and say: "They're getting more money, God bless 'em, but in our day most of them would have struggled to get beyond eight-rounders."

To give you some idea of how things have changed, when the Boxing Writers dinner was held 30 years ago we had only one world champion, Ken Buchanan of Scotland, who held the World Boxing Association lightweight title. There was nothing phoney about Buchanan's status. He had taken the 9st 9lb championship from Ismael Laguna in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and made two successful defences in the United States. Although defeated soon afterwards by Roberto Duran he was – and still is – reckoned to be the best fighting man to represent Great Britain since the Second World War.

I mention this not to disparage today's crop but to help put things in perspective. There were a number of fledgling professionals around that night three decades ago, some more advanced in their careers than others.

Joe Bugner, a better heavyweight than he is given credit for, was soon to stop Jürgen Blin for the European title and would go on to face Muhammad Ali (twice) and Joe Frazier, finishing on his feet in all three contests. The award of Best Young Boxer went that night to John H Stracey, an up-and-comer from London's East End. Three years later, Stracey astonished most everyone bar his manager, Terry Lawless, and the matchmaker, Mickey Duff, by taking the undisputed welterweight championship from Jose Napoles in Mexico City.

Of others present, the 1968 Olympic gold medallist, Chris Finnegan, was coming up to a typically heroic if unsuccessful attempt to take the light-heavyweight championship from Bob Foster at Wembley Arena, where he was knocked out in the 13th round. John Conteh had a big career up ahead. Eighteen months after the 1972 dinner, he outpointed Finnegan for the British and Commonwealth titles. Less the a year later, Conteh outpointed Jorge Ahumada, of Argentina, to win the World Boxing Council light-heavyweight title.

Other promising figures included Chris Finnegan's talented brother Kevin, who would twice face Marvin Hagler, and the future undisputed middleweight champion, Alan Minter. The gifted Welsh featherweight Howard Winstone had retired four years earlier after briefly holding a version of the title in a career that included three heart-stopping contests against one of the great nine-stone champions, Vicente Saldivar, of Mexico.

Thirty-two years on, what have we got? If the flag under which he fights has always seemed to be one of convenience, Lewis is the most successful British fighter of all time. Where he ranks in the history of heavyweight boxing remains, however, a matter for debate. Nobody has yet come along to seriously threaten Calzaghe's reign as the World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight champion but the jury is still out. Despite the enthusiasm of his many supporters in Manchester, something similar can be said about Hatton. Two years on from Sydney, the gold-medallist Audley Harrison looks nothing more than a figment of his own and the BBC's imagination.

Alex Arthur had my vote as this year's Best Young Boxer, but the task gets harder. The result of fewer attendances at ringside or because I am guilty of unfair comparison? Few things in modern boxing irritated Eddie Futch more than than the availability of cheap titles. "Sugar Ray Robinson had 73 fights before he became a champion [at welterweight]," he said one night in Las Vegas. "By then there was nothing left for him to learn. These days, kids are fighting for titles after 15 contests. What do they know?"

One of the great trainers, a man of wise and independent virtue, Futch died last year, aged almost 90. Unfortunately, he never made it to our dinner. Could have told all those young guys – writers and fighters – a thing or two.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific