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Frank Bruno-True Brit

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Before Lennox Lewis, there was Frank Bruno. The first true heavyweight hope from Britain since Joe Bugner, Bruno was an underachiever who only achieved his greatest goal at the end of his career. Having failed thrice at taking the big title, against Witherspoon, Tyson and Lewis, he was 34 when he finally did it against Oliver McCall. He previously also won the European title but interestingly never fought for the British or Commonwealth title. Standing 6'3 and with an 82-inch reach, he was of magnificent physique and stood out with his very muscular and defined body in a time when boxers were not so muscular. This however sometimes took a toll on his stamina and two of his first losses were due to him gassing late and getting stopped. He had exceptional power, attested in his 38 knockouts of 40 victories, and also boxed well. He didn't go all out like Tyson but he could brawl also. This is the story about the great underachiever of British heavyweights, Frank Bruno, the True Brit.


Born Franklin Roy Bruno on 16 November 1961 in Hammersmith, young Frank grew up in Wandsworth with five siblings. His father was Dominican and his mother Jamaican. He started boxing and in 1980 won the ABA heavyweight championships. His amateur record is 20-1. He embarked on a professional career on 17 March 1982, aged 20. He won his first 21 fights, all by knockout, including a TKO 3 over solid journeyman Scott LeDoux, before running into James "Bonecrusher" Smith; it was 13 May 1984 at Wembley and Bruno was the better man until he started gassing in the late rounds and in the tenth he was trapped against the ropes and hit with a barrage of punches until a left and a right put him down. He didn't make the count and so lost for the first time by knockout. "I'm not crying or making excuses-he beat me. But don't worry, I'll be back. Every great fighter, including Joe Frazier and even Muhammad Ali, were stopped in their time", he said later. He did bounce back and stopped former European champion Lucien Rodriguez in one round next year. On 1 October he faced Swedish Anders Eklund, who held the European title now, and knocked him out early in round 4 after hurting him badly in the third. He soon vacated the title as he was only interested in the world one. On 4 March '86 he fought against South African former WBA champion Gerrie Coetzee and stopped him in 1 minute 50 seconds after decking him twice. Coetzee would retire for a long time after that. He then received his first world title shot against WBA champ "Terrible" Tim Witherspoon, 19 July that year at Wembley. Witherspoon had defeated the slick Tony Tubbs for the title earlier that year but he came in looking overweight and out of shape, scaling 234 1/2, 6 1/2 more than Bruno who looked much more muscular but trim. There were 40,000 in attendance. The fight was not so exciting and the two fought evenly at a slow pace, exchanging carefully. Witherspoon's face was in worse shape than Bruno's when the 11th round sounded, with his left eye swollen while Bruno had small cut over his left eye but didn't seem bothered with it. Bruno landed a three-punch series to the head and Witherspoon responded with an overhand right which sent Bruno reeling to his corner. He then crashed home four rights to the head which sent Bruno down, for the second time in his career. His corner threw in the towel and so ended that attempt at glory, with 3 seconds left in round 11. Bruno got 1 million for the fight while the champion curiously got 900 K.


He came back with a cut stoppage against James "Quick" Tillis in 5 rounds and then on 24 October '87 he had a classic domestic showdown against the 11-years older Joe Bugner on Wembley. Bugner offered brave resistance but was ultimately chanceless against the younger and stronger lion. Bugner retired in his corner after the 8th round. He then received the biggest fight of his life against Mike Tyson, for all the three major belts. He had to go outside England for the first time, to Las Vegas where they fought 25 February '89 at the Hilton Center. The fight was originally scheduled for 3 September but Tyson had a lawsuit against his manager and they settled the case out of court eventually. It was then rescheduled for October but Tyson injured his hand in training. Tyson was a 7 1/2 to 1 favorite and sent Bruno down early in the first round after first hurting him with a short right hand. Bruno bounced back at the end of the round and shook Tyson with a right hand. In the second, Tyson hurt him with several hard shots at the end of the round but Bruno weathered the storm against the ropes. With his height and reach he managed to tie up Tyson and keep him at bay-until the fifth round. By the third round, Bruno had become rather timid and seemed more interested in surviving than attacking and fighting. He kept jabbing passively to keep Tyson away while Tyson lounged at him constantly but missed a lot. In the fifth, Tyson went in for the kill and hurt Bruno with a right hand midway thru before unleashing a furious attack which sent Bruno reeling to the ropes and holding on. Bruno managed to land an uppercut but was seriously hurt now and was driven to the ropes where he was hit by two devastating overhand rights before Richard Steele stepped in and waved it off, with 7 seconds left. After the fight, Tyson said the punch that wobbled him was harder than the one Tony Tucker wobbled him with.


After this second big disappointment, Big Brit retired, aged only 27. The retirement didn't last however and he came back in November 1991, knocking out John Emmen in 1 round in his comeback fight at the Royal Albert Hall. He also knocked out another former Tyson-opponent Jose Ribalta in 2 rounds, then stopped the tough South African Pierre Coetzer by TKO 8 and finally Carl "The Truth" Williams, another former Tyson-victim, by TKO 10. He then signed to fight in the biggest domestic heavyweight showdown in ages, against his nemesis Lennox Lewis. The two had no love lost for eachother and Lewis was now the new favorite of the British crowd, after winning the WBC title against Tony Tucker. The two faced off on 1 October '93 at National Stadium in Cardiff. Lewis, though taller by 2 inches, weighed in at 9 pounds lighter than Bruno. Bruno stared at him with animosity as the referee gave them instructions. He was clearly better than Lewis in the first 6 rounds, even though the two American judges somehow had it even at the time, but the third had Bruno ahead by 59-55, which was reasonable since he was outjabbing and outboxing Lewis soundly, also landing combinations all the time. Lewis kept lounging in but missing with his slow overhand rights. In the seventh however, Bruno got ahead of himself and ran right into a left hook set up by Lewis which wobbled him. Lewis then proceeded to hit and hold and the referee stopped the fight shortly to warn Lewis against this. Bruno however was unable to recover and after another barrage the fight was stopped. Bruno didn't retire after this devastating defeat however. He was determined to win a world title before retiring. After stopping Jesse Ferguson and Rodolfo Marin in one round and knocking out journeyman Mike Evans in 2, he landed a fight against the new WBC champion, who had knocked out Lewis in 2 rounds-Oliver "Atomic Bull" McCall. On 2 September '95 at Wembley, Bruno finally realised his dream when he convincingly beat the static and passive McCall, constantly attacking and landing punches but McCall's incredible chin soaked them all up. McCall hurt him in the 12th round but was unable to finish him off and so finally, after 13 years as a pro, Frank Bruno could call himself a world champion!


This joy and success would be short-lived as Bruno went on to fight his old nemesis Mike Tyson in his very first defense, on 16 March '96 at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Bruno was very confident before the fight and claimed he would knock Tyson out of the ring and into Don King's lap. He also looked in splendid shape at 247 pounds while Tyson scaled 220. However, once the fight began, it was clear that the 34-yearold Bruno was no match for the 29-yearold Tyson, who was having his third fight after returning from prison. Again it was a barrage of blows that put Bruno out of the fight in 3 rounds, with him sitting on the ropes. It was a disappointment to the 5,000 English fans that were present in Las Vegas but at least he now knew it was time to call it quits and hang them up. He retired with a record of 40 wins, 38 of them by ko as mentioned, and 5 losses. A career marked by more disappointments than triumphs but still, a more loved fighter hardly existed on the Islands, and only Henry Cooper could compare in popularity. Unfortunately, not too long after his retirement, Bruno slid into Cocaine abuse and started having psychological problems. In 2003, he was hospitalised and diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Just before that, he was trying to get his boxing license back when Audley Harrison expressed interest in fighting him, to the disapproval of many in the boxing establishment. He has since recovered and in 2010 he appeared together with Lennox Lewis walking into the ring before the fight between David Haye and Audley Harrison. He has been a color commentator and guested various tv programs. He was awarded the title of Most Excellent Order of the British Empire also. He fought with True Brit written on his trunks, hence the title of the article.

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