When looking back on British heavyweights of the 80s it’s difficult to find a happy ending, writes Steve Bunce
TREVOR HUGHROY CURRIE was part of Britain’s very own generation of lost heavyweight champions from the Eighties.
There was the original fabled gang of fighting brothers, dubbed the Lost Generation by Tim Witherspoon; they reigned as heavyweight champions for about ten years, were violent, tragic and talented fighters at the same time.
The British version skipped the prison stays, assaults and crack cocaine, but they still have a story to tell. And not all the stories have a happy ending and few of the fights were memorable for the right reasons.
Four of the six champions from the decade are now dead, their fights seldom mentioned; they came after Joe Bugner, after Henry Cooper and before Lennox Lewis. Frank Bruno, remember, never fought for the British title.
Perhaps David Pearce, the Rocky of Newport, is the saddest of the tales of the dead British heavyweight champions. He was forced to quit the sport far, far too early and died at just 41 in 2000.
In 1983 Pearce knocked out Neville Meade [pictured at the top of the page] in Cardiff in the last British title fight scheduled over 15 rounds. Meade had knocked out Gordon Ferris two years earlier to win the title and it was his first defence. Meade died aged 61 in 2010, fought alcoholism and had lived rough on the streets – a British heavyweight champion in a box and a doorway.
In 1984 Pearce failed a brain scan, his career was over. He had fought for the European title in France earlier in the year against Lucien Rodriguez. There was some confusion before the fight and Pearce spent a night sleeping on a park bench. The fight was ugly and Rodriguez was twice heavily dropped in round eight; Rodriguez was over for 13 and 17 seconds respectively and the fight should have been stopped. Instead, the Frenchman won on points. A year earlier Rodriguez had gone the full 12 in a world title loss to Larry Holmes. Trust me, Pearce was some fighter.
However, in the summer of 1984 he was a broken fighter. He fought once more, six-years later and under the medical radar in America; there were also offers of fights against Leon Spinks and Buster Douglas, dubious pay days in that hinterland of boxing anarchy that banned fighters end up wandering through. A few years later Gary Mason would walk the same dangerous path, blinded by hope and punches, chasing something that doctors had cruelly denied him.
Pearce died, isolated and sick with epilepsy and the boxing demons. His hearse needed a police escort when he was buried. He was adored and now has a statue in Newport.
There is unlikely to be a statue in Catford, south London, for Currie and that is a pity. “He could really fight, he deserves to not be forgotten,” Derek Williams told me the day after Currie’s death. Sweet D beat Currie in a Commonwealth and European title fight in 1989. It was Currie’s last fight.
Currie was all over the decade, fought in four British title fights, three times as a challenger. One night in September 1985 he won the title at Alexandra Pavilion in a bad, bad fight against Funso Banjo, who was never much of a mover. Big Banjo risked being evicted that night for not trying and Currie was busy enough to deserve the win. It was a heavy affair to watch, typical of the time, and some of the criticism from the national and trade press would lead to a ban today. It was savage.
“I was not in boxing for love – I was in boxing for money, it’s that simple,” Currie said before his British title fight. Banjo was the man-mountain – he moved slightly faster – and he carried the expectation. It was a burden for the big lad. Currie made some cash, but there was more out there. Bruno was big, big news at that time, would win the European title a few weeks later and Currie could dream. He was wasting his time, Big Frank was not interested.
A few months later, Currie lost the British heavyweight title to Horace Notice at the Palace Lido on the Isle of Man. Notice was unbeaten in just nine fights at the time and is perhaps the most enigmatic of the champions from the Eighties. He made three British title defences, all by stoppage and was forced to quit with retina damage in 1988, finishing with 16 wins and no losses. He had agreed, when he was made to quit with damage to both eyes, a career-high 50,000 quid European title fight. Instead, he was with Derek Williams in May 1990 when a riot started in the 12th round of the Jean Chanet and Williams European title fight in Paris; Williams lost, was blinded by a substance smeared on Chanet’s body and in the ruck Notice was hit over the head with a chair. He got nothing for that European fight – that is a sob story, that is just cruel.
Notice’s last fight was a defence at York Hall against Currie, this time the Catford man was finished in ten rounds. Currie always had fans – they had clashed with Banjo’s boys when they fought – and they came out for one final British title fight at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1989. Notice was gone, his gym-mate Mason was in and he stopped Currie. It was nearly the end for Hughroy.
Mason finished the decade by knocking out Jess Harding in two rounds for the title, then lost the British crown to Lennox Lewis in 1991; Mason suffered an eye injury in that fight and was banned from boxing in Britain. He finished up in 1994 winning twice in America; he then vanished, drove a taxi, wore a security jumper and dreamed of what he lost. Lewis was the only man to beat him in 38 fights.
One early, freezing morning in January 2011 Mason, riding a bike, was hit by a van. He died at just 48. The heavyweights he knew and fought from the Eighties filled the church, Lewis up the front and the other survivors standing and sitting. It was an unforgiving requiem for a heavyweight and a decade. I delivered a eulogy that broke my heart.
Meade, Pearce, Mason and now Currie, all dead, all too young and all ignored for too long. Notice’s career finished too early – it was a hard, brutal time and there was absolutely no mercy for British heavyweights in the Eighties. They are our very own Lost Generation.