For 93 years our heavyweights were subjected to ridicule in the United States for failing to provide a world champion
THERE was a time when British fighters had as much chance of winning the world heavyweight title as a holidaymaker has of enjoying a fun fortnight in North Korea.
No doubt that information will come as a surprise to the majority of the record-breaking 90,000 crowd who will be roaring Anthony Joshua to victory against Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley on Saturday night.
Because over the last quarter of a century fans have celebrated the triumphs of eight of our men who have held versions of the world championship.
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Among them are superstars Lennox Lewis, Frank Bruno, David Haye and now Joshua.
But for 93 years our heavyweights were subjected to merciless ridicule and humiliation in the United States for failing to provide a world champion.
From the moment Bob ‘Ruby Robert’ Fitzsimmons, lost his crown to James J Jeffries, in 1899 in New York, it took almost a century before Lennox lifted the gloom of constant defeat.
In those miserable intervening years when America held an iron grip on the division 11 of our finest tried to emulate Cornish-born Fitzsimmons.
With the exception of Tommy Farr and Joe Bugner, they were either knocked out or stopped inside the distance.
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It gave American sports-writers all the ammunition they needed to mock and sneer at the state of British boxing.
They constantly dismissed British contenders and called them “Horizontal heavyweights”.
And they also took delight in accusing them of having chins made out of extremely fragile bone china.
To rub salt into those wounding words Hollywood scriptwriter Dorothy Parker, famous for her wit and cruel put-downs, said: “If all the British heavyweights were laid end-to-end we wouldn’t be surprised”.
Phil Scott, briefly British champion between the two World Wars, who had several fights in the States, was mainly responsible for starting much of the derision and scorn.
His favourite ploy was to fall to the canvas, clutching his crotch claiming he had been hit low.
He found those dubious tactics worked well as no less than seven of his opponents ended up being disqualified.
This led to the American media nicknaming him “Phainting Phil Scott”. His manager Jimmy Johnston declared: “Philip has earned more money lying down than most fighters have standing up”.
It must be said Welshman Tommy Farr, was one of the few who earned respect across the Atlantic, for the heroic 15-round battle he gave the great Joe Louis, then in his prime, before losing a points decision in Yankee Stadium, New York, in 1937.
And Don Cockell was grudgingly admired for bravely standing up to being brutalised by Rocky Marciano for nine rounds in San Francisco in 1955.
It is Lennox Lewis we have to thank for changing the image of British heavyweights by becoming the undisputed champion.
Joshua has a golden opportunity to follow him and if he can overcome Klitschko, he could unify the titles and dominate his rivals for years.
The result will depend on Josh’s power and youth being more potent than 41-year-old Klitschko’s superior ringcraft and greater experience.
There is a warning to Joshua in 19th century American philosopher, Ralph Emerson’s remark: “The years teach much which the days never know.”
Yet I feel Klitschko’s age and his 18-month absence from hostilities will prove too much of a burden. But Josh had better get the job done by the eighth round — or he could be Britain’s latest horizontal heavyweight.