By Gav Duthie: Eddie Hearn dubbed Saturday nights event Rule Britannia and for the most part thats exactly what happened. Not only did we get the wins that were expected we watched Lee Selby, Anthony Joshua and Kell Brook score somewhat surprising knockouts against durable and awkward opponents. Once again however the one mission that didn’t go according to plan was lead by agent Kevin Mitchell as he bravely fell short of dethroning WBC Lightweight champion Jorge Linares losing by 10th round TKO.
I have always felt Mitchell is good enough to win a world title. There are so many of them these days that boxers far inferior to Kevin have won one. At age 30 he may still have one final chance if he gets back in the ring quickly but time will tell. If it doesn’t happen Kevin is in excellent company in Britain as one of the greatest UK fighters never to win one, here’s an in depth look at him and some of the others.
5. Henry Cooper 40-14-1 (27)
In all honesty in this era Cooper had virtually no chance of winning a world title. He certainly played his part however in the greatest era in heavyweight boxing with champions like Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali. In these days there was only one champion and when you consider in the 60s and 70s guys like Eddie Machen, Cleveland Williams, Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers never won it there is no surprise that Cooper didn’t either. Nevertheless he is one of the most talented and popular Brits not to win one.
Ali said before there first fight in the UK “This bum means nothing to me, if he goes past 5 rounds I won’t return to the United States for 90 days”. Ali, then Cassius Clay was correct he won in 5 but it didn’t quite go they way it was supposed to. In round 4 Cooper landed a big left hook at the bell knocking Ali down and leaving him dazed and confused. Angelo Dundee admitted that he further tore an already split glove to give Clay time to recover between rounds. When he came out he was brutal in exposing a bad cut over Cooper’s eye until the fight was stopped by the referee.
Cooper’s one big win at elite level came against Zora Folley via 10 round decision although he lost a rematch in the second round. Ali had lots of respect for Cooper and again traveled to England to give him a rematch at Highbury stadium and his one and only chance to win a world title. Again the fight was stopped on cuts this time in the 6th round. Ex-champ Floyd Patterson then travelled over to stop Henry in 4 rounds in his final fight at world level.
Cooper won his next 7 fights taking the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles before losing and passing the baton on to Joe Bugner after a close 15 round decision defeat.
4. Kirkland ‘The Gifted One’ Laing 43-12-1 (24)
The Gifted One he was but he was unfortunately also The Troubled One. Laing was born in Jamaica but grew up in Nottingham where he still lives today in poverty. In 1982 he was 24-3 but had already won and lost the British title. He was considered a waste of talent. Rumors of drug use and an extreme lack of training discipline curbed any ambition he had. Enter Roberto Duran. ‘Hands of Stone’ Duran’s team chose Laing as a cannon fodder opponent in between super fights with Ray Leonard (loss) and the recently deceased Tony Ayala Jnr. Laing was no more than a warm up. Laing’s team, long term trainer Joe Ryan and manager Mickey Duff saw a change in Laing noting Duran was the only boxer he was ever scared of so he focused and stayed off the drugs.
Laing won the fight by 10 round split decision and was even close to forcing a stoppage in the final round. He ruined Duran’s chances of a match with Ayala Jnr but Laing never got the big fight himself. Laing reflects that the big fights never came but Duff saw it differently. His manager and trainer say he was again hard to get a hold of and back to his old ways. He eventually faced awkward middleweight Fred Hutchins a year later and was stopped late in the fight.
Laing went on to win the British title again and added the European but he never got a world title shot.
3. Kevin Mitchell 39-3 (29)
At age 30 last Saturday could have been his last chance. Unlike Cooper and Laing Mitchell lives in a time when there are so many more opportunities so it is surprising that he has never won any. I think Mitchell is an excellent combination of a solid boxer/puncher but can’t seem to jump the final hurdle. Mitchell has admitted to being an alcoholic in the past and he took his two defeats to Michael Katsidis and Ricky Burns badly. On both occasions he didn’t box for around a year but this time he needs to refocus and come back earlier.
The perplexing thing for me is that when he fights at B-Level i.e top 15-25 he looks a class apart. He has never struggled with decent fighters like Walter and Daniel Estrada, Breidis Prescott, John Murray and Marco Antonio Lopez. Yet he was dominated by Katsidis and Burns. Jorge Linares is probably the best he has fought and although his performance was better he couldn’t get over the line.
Will he have more luck with Mickey Bey, Darleys Perez, Richar Abril or contenders Terry Flanagan and Jose Zepeda or have we seen the last of Kevin Mitchell?
2. Michael Watson 25-4-1 (21)
With only 2 minutes to go of the final round Michael Watson was the victim in one of the worst boxing tragedies in the last 25 years. Whilst ahead on all 3 cards against Chris Eubank one punch turned the fight and Watson’s life upside down. Watson spent 40 days in a coma, undergoing 6 brain surgeries and suffered partial paralysis.
Watson never complains about his condition and always looks forward in life. He is an inspiration to many and a fantastic figure in the community, charitable and boxing organizations.
Michael had 3 world title shots in his career. After he knocked out the undefeated Nigel Benn (22-0) in 6 rounds he received a shot at boxing great Mike McCallum. He lost in the 11th round. He won his next 3 to earn his shot at Eubank for the WBO Super Middleweight title. The first fight he lost by controversial decision so a rematch was scheduled only 3 months later in September 1991. Both fighters had been dropped in the rematch before the final punch.
Obviously this was the end of Michael’s career but he has lead a fantastic life of service since and is one of the UK’s best never to win a title.
1. Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham 48-6 (28)
The original superstar of the Ingle stable and boxing in Sheffield. Graham was without a doubt Britain’s most talented never to win a title. ‘Bomber’ now age 55 has fallen on troubled times recently battling depression and he now works at Asda/Wall-Mart in one of their warehouses. Graham is a humble man saying the job gives him focus and something to get out of bed for but it is a long way from where he should have been.
Like Watson, Graham’s first title shot was against Mike McCallum the year previously in 1989. It was a close fight with Graham losing by split decision. After winning another couple of fights including bagging the British title he received another shot this time for the vacant WBC Middleweight title against Julian Jackson (40-1).
The fight took place in Spain of all places, Graham was the better boxer but Jackson is one of the greatest power punchers in history. ‘Bomber’ Graham toyed and out-boxed Jackson for the first 3 rounds but in the fourth whilst backing him up was knocked spark out with a counter right hand. He was out before he hit the floor and this ended his title hopes.
In 1992 he lost both his European (Kalambay LUD12) and British (Grant LTKO 9) titles and subsequently retired. After four years out he returned in November 1996 and after a couple of journeyman comeback wins he beat Chris Johnson (18-0) to win the WBC International title and defended it against the popular Vinny Pazienza (41-6).
This earned him a crack at a full title against IBF Super Middleweight champion Charles Brewer. The fight was reminiscent of Mitchell-Linares. Despite being on the canvas twice American Brewer rallied to stop Graham in the tenth round ending his title hopes and his career as a pro boxer.
Note: Due to lack footage and knowledge of fighters before my time they were omitted from contention in the list i.e. Len Harvey, Dave Charnley and Owen Moran.