Boxing


Donald Curry's Bad Night on the Boardwalk

By James Foster - As far as most pundits were concerned, Donald 'Cobra' Curry was the best pound for pound boxer on the planet. The quiet, unassuming young man was the undisputed welterweight champion of the world and the natural heir to the great Sugar Ray Leonard. Curry's unification fight with rival champion Milton McCrory had swiftly ended any debate over who the best welterweight was. McCrory, a lanky six-footer known as the 'Iceman', hailed from the Kronk gym just like the legendary Thomas Hearns but any illusions about him being the new 'Hitman' were brutally ended by Curry inside two rounds. A perfect left-hook from the slender Curry collapsed McCrory in the second and although he somehow clambered to his feet, the Cobra swiftly brought matters to an end with a single right-hand. There was something chilling about the calculated economy of Curry's boxing. He demoralised opponents with a close quarter counter-punching style, rarely got hit and was astonishingly accurate with his own punches. It was a risky way to fight but Donald Curry made it look like the easiest thing in the world. Boxing was already anticipating the day when Curry would rise in weight and challenge Marvin Hagler for the middleweight championship in the richest fight in history. It looked like a match that could only be made in heaven..

Curry was born in 1961 in Texas. In an amateur career that endured for more than 400 fights he lost only six. He turned pro in 1980 with a second round kayo of Jaun Ramirez and by the end of 1982 had beaten fighters with some name recognition like Bruce Finch, Curtis Ramsey and the talented Marlon Starling. He won the WBA title in 1983 by outpointing Jun Sok-Hwang and his victims in title defences of his belt soon included Italian prospect Nino LaRocca, Roger Stafford and the hard-hitting Welshman Colin Jones. Jones had scared the life out of McCrory in two close bouts but the Cobra's pinpoint punching opened a fight ending gash on the bridge of the British slugger's nose after just three rounds. Curry looked unbeatable at times and it seemed he could only get better.

Lloyd Honeyghan was born in Jamaica in 1960. A product of the Fisher Amateur Boxing Club, the transplanted Londoner won an NABC title in 1978 and represented England in the unpaid ranks. He turned pro in 1980 and after managerial problems his career would be shaped by the shrewd Mickey Duff. Honeyghan became British champion in 1983 with a points victory over Cliff Gilpin and that same year outpointed the savvy Harold Brazier. Honeyghan's third round crunching of Italian Gianfranco Rosi in Perugia to win the European title in 1985 only came to be regarded as the mightily impressive performance it was retrospectively when Rosi later enjoyed considerable success as an exceptionally awkward and hard to beat world champion at junior middleweight. The productive year also included a ninth round stoppage of US fringe contender Roger Stafford and an eight round battering of his talented British rival Sylvester Mittee, a fight that made Honeyghan the British, Commonwealth and European champion. The fight, held at the Alexandria Pavilion, London, was sparked by pre-fight boasts and taunts but it turned into a one-sided contest when Mittee recieved two counts and suffered heavy damage to his mouth and right eye.

Though unknown out of British boxing circles, Honeyghan was gradually acquiring a reputation as a highly talented boxer. Outside the ring, the Londoner was a brash, abrasive character with an infectious laugh and no small degree of eccentricity. He became mandatory challenger to Curry by stopping American Horace Shufford in eight rounds in a WBC elimination bout held at Wembley Arena in May 1986. While Honeyghan reflected on his road to a title shot with some satisfaction and looked forward to to his opportunity, the British press did not devote too much space to either him or his forthcoming challenge. Still reeling from the recent defeats of Barry McGuigan and Frank Bruno - to a 9/1 underdog and a portly Tim Witherspoon respectively - the last thing British boxing wanted to do was become too emotionally invested with the next British hope. Especially as this hope was someone they'd barely heard of and a 6/1 underdog in store for a painful beating under the flashing fists of the 'Lone Star Cobra'.

The 26-year-old Honeyghan had suffered in the past from disputes with managers and trainers but felt it was all coming into place now and a far cry from the days when he'd fought at small shows for 100. His close rapport with his Scottish trainer Bobby Neil, who he dubbed 'The Professor', was another comfort. Honeyghan was a dangerous puncher with good movement. He was classier and more versatile than the stereotypical British boxer but sometimes left his hands too low when looking for the big punch. To him Curry wasn't so scary. Maybe he'd want it more. The conjecture surrounding Curry centered around his weight and how much longer he would or could campaign at 147 pounds. Six weeks before his bout with Honeyghan, Curry reportedly still had to lose 20 pounds. Concerns were alleviated by the fact that he would be fighting a British challenger no one had heard of. His future was mapped out far beyond Lloyd Honeyghan and it was inconceivable that anything could go wrong.

Atlantic City, 1986

Honeyghan, wearing a glittering purple robe that would not have shamed Hector Camacho and matching trunks, glared at Curry through the National Anthems. Curry was his usual unemotional self although he looked rather drawn. At the bell, the champion, in red trunks, adopted his usual stand-up style and had a good look at Honeyghan. No eye-catching punches were landed early on as they felt each out warily but Honeyghan's respect for Curry did not last for very long. He began to throw right-crosses and scored with a couple of left-uppercuts to edge the opener. It was an encouraging start but while Honeyghan had shown he wasn't overawed few could have foreseen what would soon unfold.

Early in the second, Honeyghan drew the first murmurs of surprise from the crowd when he staggered Curry with a stinging right-hand, the champion forced to hold as the challenger tried to shake him off and resume his offensive. When they were separated, Honeyghan continued to dominate, outjabbing Curry and throwing more right-handers, the champion's legs looking alarmingly shaky and blood appearing around his lips. The growing disbelief of the crowd was briefly stemmed in the third though when Curry appeared more composed and stiffened Honeyghan's legs with a big right-hander. Back in his corner, Honeyghan was told by Mickey Duff that he must surely be in great shape to take a punch like that. It was his fight if he wanted it now. The fourth was a slower round, punctuated by jabs, but Curry's work was enough for him to shade it. Few could have predicted the dramatic turn the contest was soon to take.

In the fifth, Honeyghan went back on the offensive and the champion was soon on wobbly legs again. Unbelievable as it must have seemed at the time, it looked as if Curry was growing increasingly incapable of keeping the confident challenger at bay. He got on his bicycle with the 6/1 underdog in hot pursuit trying to shorten the gap. Yet another snapping right-hand had the champion looking unsteady and spitting blood through his gumshield. A clash of heads opened a cut over Curry's left-eye early in the sixth. The referee called a halt to take a closer look but decided the champion should be permitted to continue. Honeyghan ripped in a pair of uppercuts at the bloodied, dispirited, weary champion and continued his frenetic assault with a jarring left-right combo before the bell. Curry walked back to his corner shaking his head sadly where his cuts were deemed too severe for him to continue. By shocking sixth round TKO, Lloyd Honeyghan was the new undisputed welterweight champion of the world. It was the most astonishing result for a British boxer since Randy Turpin had outpointed Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951.

Honeyghan, who had left Britain in relative obscurity, returned to find himself the talk of the back pages. The Daily Mirror ran a front cover entitled 'King of the World' and he was given a homecoming parade that included an honour from the Mayor of Southwark. Excited youngsters followed Honeyghan around the Elephant and Castle neighbourhood where he lived as he took a stroll with his WBC belt. As the tabloids turned their attention to Honeyghan's colourful romantic escapades, he continued his boxing career with a second round demolition of a faded Johnny Bumphus and a points win over the crafty Maurice Blocker in a tough scrap. American brawler Gene Hatcher lasted just 40 seconds with Honeyghan in a bout held in Spain and the British boxer was now a regular fixture on subjective pound for pound lists. However, a flat Honeyghan suffered a technical decision loss to the ordinary Mexican Jorge Vaca and while he battered Vaca in three rounds to regain his title in a rematch he was never the same fighter again, increasingly fragile hands and a diminished intensity both apparent.

His days at the very top were ended he received a nine round pounding in 1989 at the hands of the excellent Marlon Starling. Honeyghan suffered a trapped nerve that made his face grow to grotesque proportions and he fought much of the bout in intense pain. His final fling at the top flight saw him show no punch resistance whatsoever in a tame challenge to WBA champion Mark Breland. Honeyghan's career was still one he could look back on with some satisfaction. He'd been a two time world champion and won difficult fights away from home. His volatile, up and down, sometimes spectacular time at the top though would always be framed by that night on the boardwalk when, with autumn in the air, he provided one of the most shocking upsets anyone in boxing could remember.

Donald Curry blamed the Honeyghan loss on weight problems and returned to boxing no longer a welterweight but a 154 pounder with an eye on the middleweights. Gradually, he semed to put the loss behind him and show signs of the old Cobra. In 1987 Curry displayed flashes of brilliance against Mike McCallum in their title bout and buckled the formidable West Indian's knees with a trademark right-hand. But in the fifth McCallum stunned the watching audience when he put Curry out for the count with a single left-hook. It was the end of pound for pound aspirations and any hope Curry could could get back to where he'd once been. He was still good enough to win - and faded enough to lose - a portion of the junior middleweight title a couple of times but what once had been so easy was now a constant struggle. Although he was still a beautiful boxer to watch at times, Curry never truly managed to recover from the Honeyghan defeat and return to his unbeaten form. His prime years occurred prior to 1986 when the young Lone Star Cobra was a deadly, artful puzzle that no welterweight could solve and Marvin Hagler awaited...

james18472@yahoo.co.uk

Article posted on 21.02.2010



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