Frank Bruno remains a national treasure and Matt Christie looks back at some key moments in his career
FRANK BRUNO was born on November 16, 1961. He grew up with five siblings in Wandsworth, where his parents had settled after moving from the Caribbean. Riddled by the temptations of petty crime, Bruno found solace in the gym, and from the age of 14 channelled his energies into his muscles.
BY 1980 Bruno had won the ABA heavyweight championship and compiled an amateur record of 20-1.
ON March 17, 1982 Bruno ditched the vested comfort of the amateur ranks and turned professional. His first opponent was Lupe Guerra at the Royal Albert Hall. Bruno won inside a round. Many called it a soft opener for the Londoner, but the Mexican was a popular choice for the talented. Over the next three years Guerra was stopped by up-and-coming Tony Tucker, a past it Jerry Quarry, and the comebacking Leon Spinks.
THE quality of Bruno’s opposition was criticised throughout his career. The first perceived test came in 1983, in his 15th bout, against fading fringe contender, Scott LeDoux. The Canadian had lost in seven rounds to Larry Holmes in a WBC title shot three years before, and did not fight again after Bruno hammered him in three. After the battering LeDoux – who had also faced the wrath of Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Greg Page, Gerrie Coetzee and Mike Weaver – declared Bruno’s punches the hardest he’d felt.
CRISIS almost struck in October 1983 against muscled American Floyd ‘Jumbo’ Cummings. The Chicago resident held an ageing Joe Frazier to a draw in 1981 but had failed to win – against good opposition – since. As the opening round came to a close, Bruno wobbled badly from a huge right hand and waddled to his corner like a beaten man. To his credit he turned the fight around, winning in the seventh, but his reaction to that early punch haunted him for the rest of his career.
IN May 1984 the power-punching Bruno lost for the first time, throwing away a massive points lead to James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith who halted the Briton in the final round. Bruno had dominated behind his brilliant jab for nine rounds but collapsed under an unexpected barrage in the 10th.
BRUNO’S second defeat came two years later. He had rebuilt following the Bonecrushing, beating Anders Eklund for the European title and former champion Gerrie Coetzee. But in July 1986 WBA champion Tim Witherspoon survived a spirited challenge before stopping Bruno in the 11th session. Again, Bruno displayed frailties under fire.
THE ripped Bruno was immensely popular by now and soon worked his way back into contention. In February 1989 he was matched against feared heavyweight leader, Mike Tyson. It started badly – he was down within 30 seconds – but he steadied himself and rocked the supposedly invincible man before the opening round concluded. But his challenge ultimately ended in failure as the young slayer overpowered Big Frank in five.
ANOTHER opportunity for world glory capitulated in 1993 when countryman and WBC boss Lennox Lewis recovered from a slow start, and overcame some exceptional boxing from his opponent, battered Bruno into seventh round defeat.
IF at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Bruno, to the joy of a nation, claimed a version of the world heavyweight title in 1995, beating Oliver McCall via nervy but thoroughly deserved 12-round decision at Wembley. Bruno was excellent, but his success was short-lived as Tyson ripped away the WBC title the following year in three rounds. It was the most one-sided defeat of his career, and after eye injuries were revealed in the aftermath, Frank retired. Away from the ring, Bruno struggled to cope as depression set in. The Englishman continues to battle his demons.