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?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk