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Pride of Merseyside: John Conteh story


BoztheMadman
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John Conteh was and is the greatest British light heavyweight boxer and one of the few world champions from Britain in the 70's. He was known as a very durable and tough brawler who also possessed good boxing skills, speed and a solid punch. He is rightfully considered one of the best boxers Britain has produced. He was born on May 27th 1951 in Kirkby, Liverpool and raised on its tough streets. Like another fellow English world champion Randy Turpin, he was a product of mixed race parentage. At the age of 10 he walked into a boxing gym in Kirkby and was hooked forever. In 1970 he took the British amateur middleweight title and in 1971 the light heavyweight version. He turned professional in October 1971, at the age of 20. He was trained by George Francis, who also trained Frank Bruno, Bunny Sterling and Cornelius Boza Edwards. He won his first twelve fights, eleven by knockout, before running into Eddie Duncan, whom he lost to by quarter of a point in a 10 round fight. He won six more fights, registering five more knockouts, before he took on the reigning European champion, Rudiger Schmidtke of Germany, in March 1973 and defeated him by TKO 12. He then defended the European title against the Commonwealth and British champion Chris Finnegan with a 15 round decision in May. In March 1974 he defeated the former European middleweight champion, Tom Bogs of Denmark, by TKO 7. He rematched Finnegan again in May but the fight was stopped after 6 rounds due to cuts and Conteh remained champion.

 

And then finally, on October 1 1974, came the big moment: Conteh took on Argentinian brawler Jorge Ahumada for the vacant WBC title. Ahumada had previously fought to a draw with Bob Foster before Foster retired. It was a bruising battle and Ahumada shook Conteh with a vicious right to the chin in the eight round but Conteh rallied back in the last third of the fight to grab a victory with the score of 147-142. Conteh showed great bravery by mounting a comeback despite getting a bad swelling under his right eye. Conteh became a celebrity, not least due to his love of partying and women and was a constant hot topic in the tabloids. In March 1975 he made his first defense by stopping the American Lonnie Bennett by TKO 5, after Bennett got badly cut. He then had a non-title fight against Willie Taylor in America where he broke his hand in the third round and became worried about wether his hands were being tied right. He parted ways with his management and trainer Francis after that and signed with Don King. There were talks of him fighting Muhammad Ali but that never materialised because Ali persuaded him he was too small to fight as a heavyweight and should stay at light heavyweight. In October 1976, after not having fought for a year, he made his second defense of the title against the Mexican-American brawler Yaqui Lopez. In a very close and tough fight, Conteh got the nod but many felt it could have also gone the other way, despite the scores being not that close. He would make his last succesfull defense against Len Hutchins in early 1977 by TKO 3.

 

After the Hutchins fight, Conteh was due to defend against Miguel Cuello but pulled out two days before the fight with his management giving a hand injury as the reason but Conteh has since admitted it was all down to money, contracts and TV rights. Cuello then won the vacant title against Jesse Burnett before losing it by knockout to Yugoslav/Croatian Mate Parlov. Conteh now got the chance to reclaim his old title and travelled to Belgrade to fight Parlov. Parlov came out the winner in a controversial unanimous decision in front of 40,000 fans at the Red Star Football Stadium, but Conteh was convinced he had done enough, "I thought I had won that fight, but I knew I wouldn't get the decision in front of his home crowd." After that, he first knocked out the Dominican Leonardo Rodgers in the seventh round in front of home fans in Wembley before he faced off against Jesse Burnett. In a dramatic eight round fight, Conteh was down twice but managed to get a draw. It was a sign that his excessive partying had started to affect his career. After beating journeyman Ivy Brown on points, he again got a shot at his old title against the man who beat the man who beat Mate Parlov-Matthew Saad Muhammad. The fight took place on August 18 1979 and after 15 hard fought rounds, Muhammad was declared the winner but a rematch was ordered because Muhammad's corner were using illegal substances to treat eye damage caused by Conteh's accurate punches. In the rematch 7 months later, Conteh did well in the first 3 rounds but was caught in the 4th and went down five times before the fight was stopped.

 

After that he fought one more fight where he stopped journeyman James Dixon in five rounds. Not long after the fight, a routine brain scan had found a slight stain on the stem of Conteh's brain. It kept John out for a year before a second scan came back clear. By this time it was late 1981 and Conteh decided to hang up his gloves at the age of 30, with an impressive 34-4-1 record, 24 wins by ko, and seven world title fights behind him.

 

During his boxing career, John was a regular on the BBC's premier sporting show Superstars, a show were an array of British sporting legends compete in various sporting events and even became the shows overall champion in 1974. Conteh later appeared on Eamonn Holmes program Sporting Legends where he said that his lifestyle had led him to alcoholism and an assault charge but that he had now been dry for nine years. Conteh also made a starring appearance in a TV show called Boon in 1989, playing a washed up boxer, as well as a film called Tank Malling from that same year. His last appearance was in 2011, in the tv show Justice, where he again played a washed up boxer who becomes a trainer and mentor of a teenage boy.

 

John Conteh was a perfect example of a fighter who had it all but whose career was cut short both by managerial issues and his excessive partying and wild lifestyle.

 

Sources: World Sports News and Internet Movie Database

Edited by BoztheMadman
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