Steve Bunce on Boxing: Punchy spoilers preferable to shameful charlatans of yore


There is no science or set of rules attached to the sport of heavyweight boxing and becoming a rich champion is as random as a raffle.

David Price found out the hard way last weekend against Tony Thompson that careful matchmaking, being a star and standing 6ft 8in tall are not enough to walk into fame and glory. A decade ago the seemingly invincible Klitschko brothers both found out the Price way that all the advantages are helpless against a bit of old-fashioned punching power. They came back stronger and better.

Thankfully, there are also no outrageous illegal deals in the modern sport of boxing that exclude certain fighters from getting what they deserve. The business might operate in a murky twilight of confused morals but it is not criminally corrupt. It was a very different landscape in the Fifties and even the early Sixties, when a dozen or more terrific heavyweights either missed out on a championship fight or were granted an audience with the champion too late.

It was into the middle of this confused and prejudiced world that Sonny Liston fought his way from nowhere to the title, a journey he completed after an outrageous series of hard, hard fights; Liston, a little bit like Jack Johnson 50 years earlier, met all the hard men, the avoided bangers and the easy-to-ignore sluggers.

It is too simplistic to adopt the "it was harder in my day" approach to analysing boxing, but it was most definitely harder before about 1970 for fighters to get a fair crack at world championships. The exclusion of most black fighters before then was outrageous and a more detailed look at the scrap heap of the forgotten would make disturbing bedtime reading. There are some fighters who were potentially great still being discovered 50 and 60 years after being avoided and left to rot by a boxing business that was crooked and evil.

Liston had his established connections with various criminals, shadow men who operated his career, but he was still thrown in with fearsome fighters like Nino Valdes, Zora Folley, Cleveland Williams and Eddie Machen before he was finally given a world title fight against Floyd Patterson in 1962. Patterson had avoided most dangers, feasting on men like Pete Rademacher, Tom McNeeley, Brian London and a ruined fighter called Tommy Jackson. Liston waited about three years for his shot; he was in an invisible line with Machen, Folley, Williams and Valdes. It was a disgraceful period in sport and I would rather the often false mannequins of today's business than a return to the shame.

Liston ruined Patterson in two title fights, one each in 1962 and 1963, and was then manoeuvred into a fight against a kid called Cassius Clay. That fight took place on 25 February 1964 and ended with Liston sitting out after five torrid rounds. The day after victory, Cassius Clay announced in a press conference that he had become Cassius X. The Muhammad Ali bit followed. The new champion won the title in his 20th fight and even he was not in any hurry to fight the dangerous old men of the division. He beat Liston in a rematch 15 months later, then blasted a broken Patterson.

Ali, it has to be said, inherited a safety-first approach from Patterson and took care of a brave Canadian called George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, London and a German called Karl Mildenberger before fighting two from the list of four great ignored heavyweights. Ali beat Williams, who had been shot by the police, was 33 and was having his 72nd fight, and then Folley, who was ancient at 35 and having his 86th fight. It was better than it had been, but it was hardly a golden period.

It is certainly easier to get to a title now but, as Pricey found out on Saturday night, it can still go horribly wrong.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
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