Steve Bunce on Boxing: Frank Maloney, the duck-and-dive prince, will be missed from Battersea to New York

He decided to walk away from the sport last week after 40 years of involvement at every possible level and he left behind two British champions and a handful of young fighters

If you have ever spent five minutes in the essayist Damon Runyon's company wandering the dives, gyms and flops that kept the business of boxing booming in a golden age that was not that clever, then you will understand the shortage of characters in the modern business.

There was once an oasis for lunatics in south London on the Old Kent Road, where two rival pubs, The Henry Cooper and the Thomas A'Beckett, formed the backbone of British boxing for a few decades. Men came and went and watched Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvin Hagler and thousands of other fighters skip and slip across the stained floors.

I first walked through the Beckett doors as a kid of 12 hoping to catch a glimpse of John Conteh, but my information was dud and I watched a selection of forgotten local heroes like Johnny Clark, Ray Fallone and men for hire as sparring partners like Panther Cyril. The Beckett was virtually on its own as the last remaining solid professional boxing gym in London by about 1980.

The ring was shrouded in smoke and men in suits did watch the sparring in silence with a light ale in their hand. In the ring young fighters desperate to impress traded vicious punches hoping that their flair would be noticed and the spotters would report back to the sport's big men. It was Runyon time just off the Elephant and Castle and the gyms were a last retreat for spivs.

The men with the light ales were genuinely called The Dog, The Scarf and The Growler and they all had real jobs either driving a taxi, selling The Standard or holding up armoured cars. A word from the wise was the difference between turning professional with Paddy Byrne and no television, or turning with Terry Lawless and possibly getting television; the sparring was a meat market sale and rivalry fierce. A spear was once thrown at and remained in the door at the Cooper after a dispute.

Frank Maloney was part of that world and came to be the Guv'nor of the outposts, even as one pub closed and the other faded and eventually shut its doors for good. Maloney was a local boy, a young amateur boxer who then started to look after a boxing club called Trinity ABC, where he was the competition secretary, which means he was the matchmaker. The Beckett and the Cooper became his living rooms.

Maloney decided to walk away from the sport last week after 40 years of involvement at every possible level and he left behind two British champions and a handful of young fighters. Two weeks ago, at the funeral of Maloney's friend and highly regarded manager, trainer and matchmaker Dean Powell, it was clear that little Frank had fallen out of love with the sport. "I walk in a gym and I don't get the buzz. It's not the same," he said.

Maloney started off at the lowest level, grubbing a living from small shows and signing up fighters that he liked, most of whom would struggle to become champion of Peckham or the second-best lightweight in Lambeth. He trained fighters, he matched fighters, he managed, he promoted and all the time he was in and out of the boxing pubs. He often had his enigmatic brother Eugene at his side; a figure of considerable menace at times, who often vanishes for years and surfaces as keen as ever to gamble at ringside.

In 1988 Maloney took a call from a photographer he knew who was at a fight in Atlantic City, and it led to him becoming the manager of Seoul gold medal winner Lennox Lewis, who was struggling to get a deal in America. Maloney, the Beckett urchin and duck-and-dive prince, was transformed and took every one of the proper boxing media on a magnificent journey that lasted about 15 years.

In 1993 he was dubbed The Mental Midget by Don King's PR man, Mike Marley, and the same man has called for Maloney's trademark Union flag suit to now be given a place at the Boxing Hall of Fame in New York. "I love little Frank, he is a real boxing man," said King.

Maloney ended his days in boxing with current British heavyweight champion David Price still on his books, and apparently big Pricey was shocked when Maloney told him he was walking away. Maloney loved a heavyweight and promoted Nikolai Valuev, who would become "The Beast from the East" and world champion, at Battersea Town Hall and also Sugar Raj Kumah, a Delhi policeman, who was terrible and quickly packed off back to India. "I got out of the Valuev business a bit sharpish because every week more big, mean-looking Russians would tell me that they owned him," said Maloney. "I never called him Sugar Raj, that was you," Maloney reminded me when I reminded him of Sugar's York Hall debut.

Maloney will be missed and with the early death of Powell, who moved to London from Dudley in 1988 and lived on the floor at the Beckett, the sport has lost two men that could have wandered up and down any boxing Broadway next to Runyon's Harry the Horse, Sorrowful or Frankie Ferocious. They will both be missed.

Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam