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Great British middleweights to miss out on world titles

PUBLISHED: 12:00 27 June 2020

Tony Sibson, of Leicester

Tony Sibson, of Leicester

PA Archive/PA Images

Britain has had some great world middleweight champions over the past 70 years or so, with the likes of Randoph Turpin, Terry Downes, Alan Minter, Chris Pyatt, Jason Matthews, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Billy Joe Saunders.

Sheffield's Herol Graham (left) and New York's Mike McCallum feel each other's punching power during the vacant WBA World Middleweight Championship fight at the Royal Albert HallSheffield's Herol Graham (left) and New York's Mike McCallum feel each other's punching power during the vacant WBA World Middleweight Championship fight at the Royal Albert Hall

Similarly, we have had some excellent challengers for world title honours who have just fallen short of this prize.

Here we take a look at some of their exploits, not including those having a shot at the “interim” belts or the more recently introduced “silver” belts, but with reference to the Diamond belt, an honorary championship reserved for those in historic fights.

Nor are those boxers, who having held the British title then moved up in weight division to attempt world honours in the super-middleweight or indeed the light-heavyweight division, included.

Such is the complexity these days in world title championships and the various belts on offer which require strict criteria to preserve the status of the world middleweight title and for those who boxed for them.

Great Britain's Howard Eastman (left) listens to the verdict after his 12-round points defeat to American William Joppy (right) after the WBA middleweight title fight at Mandalay Bay Hotel, Las VegasGreat Britain's Howard Eastman (left) listens to the verdict after his 12-round points defeat to American William Joppy (right) after the WBA middleweight title fight at Mandalay Bay Hotel, Las Vegas

However, attempts by British boxers primarily at the world middleweight title itself, even if attempts at other titles were linked to those specific challenges, are recorded.

Leicester’s Tony Sibson or “Sibbo” as his hordes of fans referred to him, had two attempts at the world crown against champions of the highest calibre.

In Worcester, Massachusetts on February 11, 1983, he met southpaw champion Marvin Hagler, who put on a master class to stop a brave Sibson in the sixth round.

The Leicester man was down twice before being rescued, as Hagler, who was on a 30-fight unbeaten roll, dominated the contest and retained his WBA and WBC belts.

Birmingham's Wayne Elcock celebrates his victory over  Manchester's Anthony Farnell to win the World WBU Middleweight title at the MEN Arena in ManchesterBirmingham's Wayne Elcock celebrates his victory over Manchester's Anthony Farnell to win the World WBU Middleweight title at the MEN Arena in Manchester

Fast forward almost three years to Sunday, February 7, 1986 and to Bingley Hall in Stafford for what was to prove to be Sibson’s ring swansong as he challenged America’s Frank Tate for his IBF crown.

Tate had won gold at light-middleweight at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics but Sibson gave a good account of himself until being knocked out late in the 10th round by a big right cross from the champion. Sibson retired from the ring later that evening.

Turning to the silky, classic skills of Nottingham’s Herol “Bomber“ Graham, who many thought would be a “stick on” for the world title.

It did not happen, though, as at London’s majestic Royal Albert Hall in May 1989, Graham met the Jamaican “Body Snatcher” Mike McCallum for the vacant WBA belt and lost a tight disputed split decision.

Matthew Macklin in action against Ruben Varon during the Middleweight Championship of Europe bout at Liverpool's Echo ArenaMatthew Macklin in action against Ruben Varon during the Middleweight Championship of Europe bout at Liverpool's Echo Arena

The scores were 115-114 and 117-115 for McCallum with one of 117-113 for Graham but had “Bomber” not been deducted points for low blows he would undoubtedly have left London that night as the world champion.

Both men were classy performers and Graham boxed so well and to be denied in that way very disappointing indeed.

In November 1990, Graham met big punching Julian Jackson from the US Virgin Islands for the vacant WBC belt in Benalmadena in Spain but having outboxed Jackson for three rounds and also at the start of the fourth, he got caught and knocked out by a very heavy right cross later in that round.

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Jackson was often recognised as one of the biggest punchers in boxing history and he brought his artillery into action to quell the skilful and fleet-footed Graham.

Sadly it was never to be for Graham, but he remains one of our most accomplished boxers of his era.

Guyanese-born Howard Eastman had some of his best fighting days while residing in Battersea and had two shots at middleweight world championship glory, sadly both were unsuccessful attempts.

He travelled to Las Vegas to box American William Joppy for the vacant WBA crown and did very well but lost a very close majority points decision (115-112, 114-112, 113-113).

Eastman was a very accomplished performer, but if his first title shot was a tough one, his second was that much harder as in February 2005 he met the great Bernard Hopkins in Los Angeles.

Hopkins outclassed the “Battersea Bomber” with scores of 119-110, 117-111 and 116-112 when the WBC, IBF and WBO middleweight titles along with the WBA super-middleweight belts were all on the line.

Next to try his world title luck was Birmingham’s Wayne Elcock, who travelled to Basel in December 2008 to take on Armenian-born, naturalised German Arthur Abraham for his IBF belt. Elcock was halted in five rounds.

Matthew Macklin, another ‘Brummie’, had two shots at the world middleweight championship, but sadly both efforts ended in defeat.

In March 2012 he appeared at the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City to take on tough Argentinian Sergio Martinez for his IBF belt.

Macklin, having been floored twice in the 11th round, was retired by his corner at the end of that round.

In June 2013, Macklin faced an even bigger task in Masahantucket, Connecticut in the shape of the fabulous, then undefeated Kazakh Gennadiy Golovkin, who was defending his WBA and IBO belts.

Golovkin triumphed in the third round, with a left hook to the body ending Macklin’s title aspirations.

St Helen’s fighter Martin Murray also had two shots at the middleweight crown as he travelled to Buenos Aires in April 2013 for a WBC title tilt at tough Argentinian Sergio Martinez and lost a unanimous points decision, with all three scores of 115-112 for the champion.

Murray performed well in defeat and then in May 2015 had the unenviable task of shaping up against the still unbeaten Golovkin in Monte Carlo, where he was finally stopped in the 11th round – the first time he had ever been halted in his paid career.

The titles contested then were the IBO belt, the WBC Interim middleweight crown and the WBC supermiddleweight belt – a rather strange combination of championship credentials to aim for, but just a step too far for the brave fighter that Murray was.

All of which demonstrates just how difficult it is to win a world middleweight championship.

Some of our gallant British champions came very close to doing so, for others the task was way too much and too hard for them, but they all had the distinction of boxing for the middleweight crown and the chance, however big or small, of achieving just that.

Often they came up against formidable foes, indeed some of the world’s best boxers in recent times in the shape of Hagler, McCallum, Hopkins and Golovkin, and the odds were heavily stacked against them. They gave their all as challengers and nobody could have asked or expected more from them.


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