Yesterday’s Heroes: Fifty years since John Conteh and Chris Finnegan clashed in a North vs. South classic

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LAST period marked 50 years since I purchased my archetypal transcript of Boxing News, and I person bought it ever since. The beforehand screen featured a photograph of Ralph Charles that marked his authoritative retirement, and different of Danny McAlinden, past the British heavyweight champion, celebrating his instrumentality from an limb wounded suffered whilst grooming successful Kingston, Jamaica.  He was matched against an unheralded American, Morrie Jackson, and that contention was to beryllium disastrous for the Irishman, arsenic galore volition remember. BN besides mourned the passing of Ace Hudkins, a top-class US scrapper from the 1920s and 30s who fought them each astatine galore weights. The existent talking constituent astatine the clip though, was the upcoming ‘superfight’ betwixt Chris Finnegan, the 1968 Olympic middleweight golden medalist, and 21-year-old John Conteh, the rising prima of British boxing.

The 2 men were matched to combat for Finnegan’s British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight titles and Conteh’s European rubric astatine the Empire Pool, Wembley, connected May 22, 1973. For boxing purists this was a contention to savour, 1 that had everything. North versus South, promising youngster versus proven champion and boxer versus puncher.

As a 15-year-old instrumentality and precise caller to the game, I was astir beside myself with anticipation astatine the thought of this contest. I had caller memories of watching George Foreman demolishing Joe Frazier, and Ken Norton causing a immense upset with his points triumph implicit Muhammad Ali, but this was the archetypal clip I had taken a keen involvement successful a home match-up and I deliberation that the combat inactive stands the trial of clip arsenic 1 of the large post-war match-ups betwixt British boxers. It is, successful my opinion, close up determination with Benn-Eubank and Froch-Groves.

I utilized to constitute regularly to an aged antheral named Arthur Rudkin, present agelong dead, who regularly had his letters published successful BN, and Arthur promised maine that helium would nonstop maine a programme for the contention arsenic helium was travelling from Nottinghamshire to Wembley to witnesser it. He kept his promise, and it arrived successful the station the pursuing week. Remarkably, it outgo lone 15p – those were the days! Fight programmes are seldom produced astatine each these days and that is simply a shame, for they marque marvellous mementoes.

BN had primitively announced the bout successful precocious March and, arsenic it progressive 2 terrific fighters astatine a precise high-level, it excited everyone wrong the game. In the preview for the bout BN stated that “Conteh’s powerfulness should sway it, but Finnegan volition combat to the limit.” This prediction was bang-on, for it was a tremendous contention that went the afloat 15 rounds with the enactment ebbing and flowing arsenic archetypal one, and past the other, held sway. Graham Houston, BN exertion astatine the time, reported that “Conteh and Finnegan provided 1 of the top light-heavyweight battles successful years astatine the Empire Pool. Conteh won beyond uncertainty aft 15 memorable rounds, but Finnegan stayed with him to the end, and arsenic predicted, forced Conteh to dredge up his last reserves of stamina and courage. Conteh showed classy shifts and punch-picking that reminded immoderate ringsiders of [Ray] Robinson and [Jose] Napoles.”  High praise indeed.

Conteh, of course, went connected to triumph the WBC rubric backmost erstwhile lone 2 satellite belts were available, and helium defended it against immoderate people men. But earlier doing truthful helium had to punch his mode past Chris Finnegan again, arsenic the rematch was a natural. This clip John won much decisively, beating Chris by sixth-round stoppage astatine the Royal Albert Hall, astir precisely a twelvemonth later.

Finnegan retired the pursuing twelvemonth aft winning the Lonsdale Belt outright and what a combatant helium was. He lone truly lacked a large punch arsenic helium had everything else, guts, skill, determination, and stamina. John is precise overmuch inactive with america as, I americium pleased to say, is my commemorative programme.

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