Steve Bunce on Boxing: Chisora the latest in a long line of British underdogs


During the last 60 years 14 British boxers have fought for a recognised and accepted version of the world heavyweight title against a variety of legendary and anonymous world champions at locations all over the world.

On Saturday Dereck "Del Boy" Chisora will become No 15 when he fights Vitali Klitschko for the WBC heavyweight title in Munich. Klitschko is one of the better fighters our plucky challengers have met, and Chisora starts as one of the biggest British underdogs in a heavyweight title fight. It has to be said the competition is fierce for the title of "biggest British underdog".

In 1955 Don Cockell, a former British light-heavyweight champion with a glandular problem, travelled by boat to San Francisco to take a fearsome beating from Rocky Marciano. The fight officially ended in round nine, but that is only a statistic because poor Don's cause was lost before he joined the ship.

In the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, Brian London and Richard Dunn were equally exposed in painful nights against Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali. Henry Cooper was also ruined in his championship fight with Ali in 1966; there is a strong case that Cooper should have fought either Patterson or Sonny Liston for the title a few years earlier. Dunn, London and Cooper were all exceptional outsiders and, even with the passage of time, growing nostalgia and a funeral, it is hard to escape the depth of their missions. I would argue that Dunn against Ali in Munich in 1976 was just marginally less of a fight than London against Ali in 1966. It's close, because both were bloody bits of business.

It is possible that Joe Bugner had no chance when he met Ali over 15 rounds in Kuala Lumpur in 1975 but I would disagree. Bugner was brave, bold and young, and Ali could have bad nights, but in the end Bugner failed to grasp the opportunity and lost on points. Bugner remains the best British heavyweight never to win a world title, and it was his misfortune that he shared primes with the holy triumvirate of Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier.

It gets messy once the Eighties start. The sport has seen the reign of the multiple champions under the useful tag of Lost Generation, then Mike Tyson's years, some glory with Lennox Lewis and for a decade a run of Eastern bloc fighters. Ali's heyday is now as remote as silent movies.

The Brits, well, they just kept coming. Frank Bruno tried and tried and tried before winning at his fourth attempt. An unknown fighter from London, who was raised in Nigeria, called Henry Akinwande, won a version, which he defended against a hardman from Brighton called Scott Welch. Herbie Hide won and lost a couple of times for the WBO belt, a behemoth from Bedford called Matt Skelton lost against somebody called Ruslan Chagaev, Danny Williams was dropped about seven times and stopped by Vitali. Skelton and Williams were really up against it.

In 2009 David Haye gave away 12 inches in height, six stone in weight to beat Nikolai Valuev. He beat another British boxer, Audley Harrison, in a defence that divided opinion. Haye against Harrison was big and clinical and calculating and not a fight to celebrate. Haye lost next time out over 12 repetitive rounds against Vitali's kid brother, Wladimir, but not before a war of words made the fight a big deal.

"I will not let him [Wladimir] get comfortable – why would I let him relax and jab me stupid? What, am I mad?" said David Haye last year, a month before he let Wladimir get very comfortable, relax and jab him stupid. Haye, like so many fighters after losing to a Klitschko, has still not solved the riddle.

And that leaves Del Boy, British challenger No 15 and a genuine maverick. Saturday's fight, which will be live on BoxNation, looks like a classic example of the plucky Brit in way over his head. "I never do what I'm supposed to do and I'm not going to start now," Chisora said yesterday. A win would be the biggest shock in British boxing history and for some crazy reason I can't write Chisora off.