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John L. Gardner: British White Hope

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One of the greatest wasted hopes of British heavyweight boxing, especially in the 70's and early 80's, John L Gardner seemed to have (for a while at least) what it takes to be a world champion. He was a hard puncher and had enough boxing skills to compete at the highest level, however-his chin was suspect, which was first exposed when he was annihilated in one round by Ibar Arrington, then relatively unknown. Although he defeated some good fighters, Gardner fell short of getting a world title shot after losing his most important fights, especially against Michael Dokes. At just under 6 feet, he was short for a heavyweight but he was powerfully built and his punching power, speed and aggressive style compensated for that. 

John Lewis Gardner was born 19 March 1953 in Hackney, London, and grew up in poverty. As amateur, he won the Northwest London heavy championship in 1973, before turning pro on 2 October same year. He compiled a record of 24-0 with 19 knockouts, among others stopping Neville Meade by TKO6 and Bjørn Rudi by TKO3. On 27 September 1977, he fought the American contender Dale "Ibar" Arrington, who like Gardner was not a big heavyweight but could hit hard. Gardner was expected to win against the little-known Arrington, but got caught with the perfect right hand and was knocked out after 2 minutes and 20 seconds, at Empire Pool, Wembley. He rebounded by winning the British Southern Area title in his next fight on 6 December against Denton Ruddock, stopping him by TKO8. On 24 October next year, he fought against Billy Aird, a tough fighter without power, for the vacant British and Commonwealth titles and won by corner retirement after 5 rounds. The titles were vacated by Joe Bugner. He made his first defence of the titles on 26 June 1979, stopping Paul Sykes by TKO6.

On 4 December that year, he fought Jimmy Young in a non-title fight at Wembley. Young was famed for his slickness and boxing IQ, but the fight was a close one, still Young got the decision after 10 rounds from the referee and the sole judge: 98 1/2 to 97 1/2. On 22 April next year, Gardner made his greatest achievement by winning the vacant European title against the bigger Rudy Gauwe of Belgium, forcing him to retire on his stool after 9 rounds, at Royal Albert Hall. He would then score his two best wins, first in a European title defence against Lorenzo Zanon, whom he stopped by KO5 and then against Ossie Ocasio, whom he knocked out in 6 rounds. These wins got him a fight against Michael Dokes, back then 20-0-1 and considered a top candidate for the world title championship. Gardner had to go to Detroit to fight the very fast and taller Dokes, on 12 June 1981 at the Joe Louis Arena. He was knocked out in 4 rounds and thus failed to get himself into contention for the world title shot. 

He was absent from the ring for a year before returning on 22 September 1983 and beating the journeyman Ricky James by RTD6. After winning by disqualification in his next fight against Lou Benson jr, on 2 November that year he fought the hard-hitting Noel Quarless and was stopped by TKO2 in an upset. That would be his final fight and he was 30 years old when he retired. He won 35 fights, scored 29 ko's, and lost 4, getting stopped 3 times. After retirement he opened a pub in Gateshead, Tyneside, but had to close after getting stabbed 14 times in a knife attack. He later worked selling mailing equipment. He still lives in Hackney today. 

John L. Gardner was just one story of how things go when you are close to reaching the top, but you fall while climbing that last bit and never recover. He simply lacked something, that little extra, it seems. His son Ross Lewis Gardner was also a pro boxer at light heavyweight, but only had one fight in 2009, which he won on points. Gardner was a fan favorite and still accomplished quite a lot for a British and white heavyweight in an era where black fighters soundly dominated the heavyweight scene. He also had an exhibition bout against Muhammad Ali in 1981, after wanting to fight Ali while Ali was still a champion. 


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--- Boz, don't hold me to this, but I think JL started as a cobbles fighter, reputed to be a first rate bully in the community he occupied. 

Liked his liquor, but couldn't hold it responsibly to end up homeless, near unrecognizable. 

Maybe Rob could correct me on these fuzzy details. I'm not trying to demean the fella, but yeah, at one point in UK he Big Stuff!!!


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Had forgotten the name til I saw Boz's post.

Seems he's had an eventful life and has a book out.

From a newspaper in 2018:

The incident took place one Halloween night after the ex-boxer, who had two children, had previously refused to serve a drug dealer and the man didn’t take the decision well.

Gardner and his wife Michele “tried to shut him out, but he kept coming back”.

Then on Halloween, the attacker came into the pub wearing a ski mask and armed with an eight-inch knife.

Describing the horrific ordeal, Gardner said: “He thrust the blade into my chest and I felt a warm trickle run down my stomach. He stabbed me in the abdomen and I went down. He was manic, screaming, jabbing the knife in my neck.

“He was butchering me, slicing me up. I was hitting him on the top of the head, but the blade came down again and again and again.

“Blood was squirting out of me. My intestines were sticking out like cauliflower. I was screaming out.”

His wife then came and tried to stop the attack. She was slashed four times before the masked man ran off.

The emergency services arrived and the couple were taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital where medics fought to save his life. The nurses called him “The Wonder Boy” after his miraculous survival.

He said: “Fourteen stabs to the major organs and I’m still breathing. I was finally allowed out with nothing more than a dose of painkillers and a friendly wave goodbye.

“Rehabilitation was slow and painful. I was left with a massive scar running from one side of my stomach to the other where they’d opened me up and put the stitches in.


John L Gardner.jpg

Edited by WelshDevilRob
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