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Terry Downes-The Unsung British Middleweight

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Terry Downes has had quite a career and his achievements speak for themselves; a world middleweight champion, only one of 3 Brits in 50 years to achieve this, defeated guys like Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Giardello, Paul Pender, Don Fullmer and Phil Moyer-all that in just 7 years as a pro. Downes was an aggressive, all-out brawler who possessed enough punching power and was tough as nails, earning him the nickname "Paddington Express". 

As his nickname alludes, Downes was born in Paddington which lies smack down in the middle of London, 9 May 1936. His father was a mechanic and his mother worked in a department store. Young Terry started boxing for the amateur club Fisher ABC. In 1952, he moved with his family to USA to live with his sister Sylvia, a trapeze artist who had lost an arm in a traffic accident. There he started boxing for the YMCA and was recruited by the Marines after winning fights against several of their boxers. He served there between 1954 and 1956. The 5'9 Downes won several amateur trophies for the Marines. After being ruled ineligible for the US Olympic team on residence grounds, he returned to London and started boxing professionally from there in 1957. In only his third fight, he fought against Dick Tiger and naturally, he got a beating and had to retire after 5 rounds. However, he impressed with his toughness after getting dropped three times in the first two rounds and still making it to round 5 and was only stopped because of a cut eye. He then won 6 fights, 3 by TKO, before losing again to the vastly more experienced Les Allen, this time by PTS8. He would experience his third loss to Freddie Cross due to several cuts around the eye and had to give up the fight after 6 rounds. 

His luck then got better and he won 5 more fights before winning the vacant British middle title by stopping the 46-3 Phil Edwards by TKO13. It was at the Harringay Arena on 30 September 1958 and the start of great things for Downes. However, he again got unlucky first against Spider Webb and lost by TKO8 due to a cut, before again losing by TKO5 to Michel Diouf of Senegal. On 15 September 1959, he fought John McCormack for the Commonwealth title and in a defense of his British title, but lost by a disqualification in 8. On 3 November however, they had a rematch and this time Downes stopped McCormack by TKO8 to become the Commonwealth champion as well. After defending his British title against Phil Edwards by RTD12, he was given a major fight against Joey Giardello, 11 October 1960 at Wembley. Everyone expected the clever and experienced Giardello to give him a boxing lesson, but Downes produced his finest performance ever and displayed boxing skills like never before, as well as his trademark aggressive style, to defeat Giardello by UD10. He immediately called out the champion of the world, Paul Pender, and got his wish granted when he gave him a crack at the world title. 

Downes had to come to Boston where Pender was from to fight for it, on 14 January 1961. Although the older and more experienced Pender dropped him in the first round and opened two nasty cuts on his face in the fourth, Downes showed his worth by rocking Pender in the fifth with a right and a left to the jaw and then drove him to the ropes with a flurry. However, the fight had to be stopped because of the cuts, early into round 7. Because of his bravery and performance, Pender agreed to give him a rematch and even came to Wembley to fight, 11 July that same year. This time, Downes managed to get the better of Pender and the champion had to retire after 9 rounds due to cuts over both eyes. Thus, Downes had brought the world middle title back to UK 10 years after Randy Turpin had lost it. However, the triumph wouldn't last too long-a third match between him and Pender happened on 7 April 1962, again in Boston. This time, the fight went the 15 scheduled rounds and in the end, Pender was proclaimed the winner with the scores 144-143, 145-143 and 146-141. It points to the likeness of a rather close bout. 

Later that year, Downes came back with a 10-round decision win over the aging Sugar Ray Robinson and he later said:"I didn't beat Sugar Ray, I beat his ghost." He also defeated the very solid contender Don Fullmer right before that, also by a 10-round decision. In 1963, he became a light heavyweight and defeated Phil Moyer by TKO9, on cuts. He also stopped Jimmy Beecham, Rudolf Nehring and Al Pusateri, showing his power had improved even. He finally got a world title shot against Willie Pastrano and fought him in Manchester for the undisputed title on 30 November 1964. In an atypical display for Pastrano, Downes was ahead after 10 rounds and dominating, when Pastrano landed a barrage that dropped Downes twice in round 11. The referee counted to three the second time and then stopped it, to the protests of many. After this somewhat controversial loss, Downes retired, only aged 28. His record is 35 wins with 28 ko's and 9 losses, 6 by ko. 

He became an actor after retirement, most famously appearing in Roman Polanski's 1967 "The Fearless Vampire Killers". He mostly played thugs, villains and bodyguards. In 1961, after becoming the world champ, he was given the Sports Writers Association Sportsman of the Year Award and was also awarded The British Empire Medal in 2012, for his sporting achievements and charity work. Terry Downes died on 6 October 2017, aged 81.


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Downes was one of those rare boxers with genuine business acumen. He invested his ring earnings in a chain of betting shops. Also came up with one of my favourite boxing quotes. When asked after he'd been beaten by Dick Tiger who he wanted to fight next he replied "the fucker who made this fight"!

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On 5/12/2023 at 11:10 PM, robprosser said:

Downes was one of those rare boxers with genuine business acumen. He invested his ring earnings in a chain of betting shops. Also came up with one of my favourite boxing quotes. When asked after he'd been beaten by Dick Tiger who he wanted to fight next he replied "the fucker who made this fight"!

🤣 ROFLMAO! Yeah, that fight def came too soon and even at his best, prime vs prime, Tiger def wins.

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