As boxing fans we are well-used to the brightest lights, the swankiest venues, the greatest performers and the hottest Corona Girls. Raised on a diet of hype, accustomed to superhuman performance and bitterly resentful of anything, anything at all that seems second-rate we are, to a promoter, a monumental pain in the ass. Indeed, were it not for the fact that we have, over time, demonstrated a sustained capacity to cough up eye-watering sums of cash then I seriously doubt that they would have much to do with us tbh.
Away from the MGM, far removed from Wembley or York Hall and a whole world away from MSG there is another world, a world that few boxing fans go to and which some would decry as not proper boxing at all. I speak, of course, not of the Amateurs, that well-trained, finely-honed and professionally-run arm of the sport that has produced a litany of successful pros, but rather of the shadow world of unlicensed boxers in unlicensed fights, sometimes at unlicensed premises too. This is very much a world that exists, but one that is as secretive and protective as the criminal underworld that often frequent it. Omerta has a very real value in this world, and one forgets that at one’s peril.
Here in the UK there are attempts to regulate, to bring under control and to sanitise this rather disreputable arm of the sport of boxing or fisticuffs. We have an organisation called the Independent Boxing Association which is run by Alan Mortlock, an ex-bouncer and kick-boxer himself who has a proven record of making money from other men fighting. I don’t know much about Mr Mortlock or his organisation but I do have some experience of his predecessors… the men who were fighting and promoting in the late 70’s and through the 80’s.
Roy "Pretty Boy" Shaw, Lenny "The Guvnor" McLean, Cliff "Iron man" Field, "Big Bad" Johnny Waldron and Bartley "The King of the Gypsies" Gorman… how’s that for a cast list? These are names that may not mean much to your average fan, and the truth is that (with the possible exception of Roy Shaw) there isn’t a particularly cultivated and impressive boxer amongst them. These men were fighters, not boxers and were just as happy if not more so for the action to take place "on the cobbles". Gorman's wiki entry notes that " he fought down a mineshaft, in a quarry, at horse fairs, on campsites, in bars and clubs and in the street". Now... historical records for these fights are understandably sketchy given the illegal nature of much of what took place, but that may or may not have just been one long scrap in different venues. Nothing would surprise me about Gorman, whose fearsome reputation went before him far, far beyond horse-trading circles.
Hard" is such a small word and it barely describes men such as these. Out of condition? Most likely. Playing by the rules? Most unlikely. Nasty horrible brutal bastard would be a term of praise for these guys (see grainy youtube footage for details) and the "careers" of these men are about as well-documented on Wiki as it’s going to get. I have nothing of substance to add. I’ve spoken with a couple of them and seen them all fight with the exception of Gorman and they scared the shit out of me!
There is, however, no doubt that a good pro would school any of them, and even Roy Shaw admitted to that in 1977 after he beat the American pro Ron Stander, a decent pro who had fought Smokin’ Joe five years previously and whose broken rib was the only thing that saved Roy (a pumped up middleweight?) from, in his own words, "getting mullered"
So what do these men have to do with Boxing as we see it today? Are they not a throwback to the days when violence in the ring was most likely an extension of violence outside? Surely the close connections between these violent men and their criminal associates are a thing of the past and wholly unrelated to the squeaky-clean sport of today?
Maybe, maybe not, but I know one thing for sure… the third fight between Roy Shaw and Lenny McLean was put on at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, a venue that has a long history of providing lusty fare to the denizens of N. London and its environs. The usual roll call of villainy (N. London had its own "crime families" to match the Kray Twins earlier exploits) was on hand as The Guvnor battered an old and unfit Roy in one round and the whole thing was the very first fight promoted by Lenny’s cousin, a certain Frank Warren who, along with a young hustler called Ambrose Mendy (later to be the manager of Nigel Benn) was determined to break the lucrative lock that Mickey Duff and Jarvis Astaire had on British Professional boxing. Cold wars are nothing new, it seems.
Small world, innit?
Recognise The Guvnor yet, all you Lock, Stock fans?