Wednesday, 21 November 2012

1986: Lloyd Honeyghan v Don Curry

The triumph of the underdog is such a key component of sport, after all if the favourite won every single time then where would the fun be in that? Of course if you're on the receiving end of such an upset (the words Walsall, York and Wrexham immediately spring to mind) then you fail to see the romance of the occasion, but to everyone else, the sight of a sporting David toppling Goliath brings a warm feeling to the heart. And if the underdog in question happens to be an English boxer (born in Jamaica) travelling to America, to fight an undefeated and undisputed champion, then the sense of elation felt at such a victory leaves a smile on your face for years to come. Step forward Lloyd Honeyghan.

Honeyghan had undeniably earned his right for a tilt at the world welterweight titles on the line on September 27, 1986 in Atlantic City. The European, British and Commonwealth champion had gained a perfect 27-0 record in his five years as a professional. After splitting with manager Terry Lawless in 1985, Honeyghan had joined the Mickey Duff camp, and working under Scotsman Bobby Neill (who had coached Alan Minter to world middleweight glory), he worked his way through the welterweight division. Ranked number one by the WBC going into his date with destiny, the only reason that Honeyghan was so unfancied had more to do with his opponent rather than anything that Honeyghan had done previously in his career.

Don Curry was the first undisputed welterweight champion since Sugar Ray Leonard, the WBC, WBA and IBF title holder, and his 25-0 record included 20 wins by knockout. Such was his impressive record, that many considered him the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world at the time, some experts even predicting that with an extra seven pounds on his weight that Curry could defeat middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. Honeyghan was unphased however, speaking confidently in the week leading up to the bout: "Whatever happens I'm not going to waste this chance. Tell them back home I'm not going to blow it...I'm training like crazy...and I really think I can take him." Whether this was pre-fight bravado or not was questionable, but one comment made by Honeyghan was prophetic. Curry had been struggling all week to make the weight for the fight, and Honeyghan knew this: "His weight could be his downfall. We know he's been having problems. If he comes in weak I'll have Curry cold for supper." Curry's post-fight quotes would certainly back up Honeyghan's assertions.

If Curry was concerned about his weight before the fight then he hid it well. His scornful dismissal of Honeyghan's chances indicated that he was talking a good fight beforehand: "Honeyghan is taking a hell of a gamble fighting me. He should have just sat it out until I give up the title to fight as a light-middleweight." The bookies agreed, as Ron Wills, writing in the Daily Mirror, pointed out: "Even in this gambling seaside resort there's no bookie willing to give you even 10-1 on for a Curry victory." Colin Jones, the last British man to fight Curry was even more scathing than the champion himself: "He (Honeyghan) doesn't know what class in the ring is - yet. But he will against Curry - it will be like a Fourth Division club playing in the World Cup." If you believed the hype - and there wasn't much of it in America (according to Ivor Key in the Daily Express the fight was "going out on a cable TV network, which reaches about only enough people to fill a phonebox") - then Honeyghan was a lamb to the slaughter, as Curry would inevitably crush yet another challenger aside. The ability of sport to occasionally leave egg on the faces of the so called experts is one of the things that brings us sports fans back for more.

Honeyghan entered the ring and started the fight in an extremely confident manner, displaying the kind of self-belief needed to be able to dance around the ring in the purple sequined shorts he sported for the bout. Immediately it was apparent that Honeyghan was looking sharp, and Curry in comparison looked slightly lethargic. As the bell sounded for the end of the opening round, it was a case of so far so good for the challenger. And then came the first real signs that this could be a night to remember.

Honeyghan on the offensive

In round two, a right hand over the top from Honeyghan visibly rocked Curry, the champion's knees buckling from the impact. Reg Gutteridge, commentating on ITV, pondered whether Curry had been shaken up like this since his amateur days, as Honeyghan continued to pursue the American around the ring, not letting him settle for a minute. With blood appearing from Curry's mouth, the second round had indisputably gone the way of Honeyghan, and Curry needed to react fast.

Curry did in fact respond well in the third, taking what ultimately turned out to be his only round of the contest. Even so, Honeyghan did finish the round well and in Jim Watt's words looked like the hunter, and Curry the hunted. The fourth round was even, with Curry looking a little more positive, but Honeyghan not backing off or reducing his workrate from earlier rounds. A third of the way through the scheduled fight, Honeyghan couldn't have wished for a better start to the fight.

Round five, as in round two, saw more great right hands rock Curry, prompting Gutteridge to predict that we were about to witness the "upset of the century or certainly close to it." As more blood seeped from Curry's mouth, the unthinkable was starting to become a reality, as the Cobra (Curry's nickname) was looking clueless and relieved to have made it through to the end of the three minutes. Honeyghan was all over Curry like a cheap suit, and as remarkable as this was, it now seemed it would take something equally as dramatic for Curry to get back into the fight.

Fortunately Honeyghan didn't give Curry a sniff in the sixth, building on his dominance in the previous rounds, swarming over the champion with controlled intensity. Honeyghan's aggression led to an accidental clash of heads, resulting in a nasty cut under Curry's left eye. Such was the severity of the cut that referee Octavio Meyran took a look at the wound mid-round, before allowing the fight to continue. As the round concluded, Curry walked back to his corner, shaking his head at the position and condition that he found himself in. As the very British cries of "here we go" resonated through the arena, ringside doctor Paul Williams headed for Curry's corner. It soon became clear that the fight could not continue. Honeyghan had done it.

Although Honeyghan had been confident pre-fight, his reaction at discovering that he was the new champion of the world highlighted just how amazing an achievement this was. As the cameras cut away from Curry's corner, we witnessed an ecstatic Honeyghan laid flat out on the canvas, screaming to the rooftops in delight. He then continued to display his obvious and understandable joy, as Duff tried, with some success, to calm his man down. The greatest boxing shock, probably since Randy Turpin had defeated Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951, left the American audience and commentators stunned. "THE MAN WHO SHOOK THE BOXING WORLD," blared the Daily Mirror headline on the Monday morning after the fight, and they weren't exaggerating.

Curry was battered and bruised physically and mentally. The cut that stopped the fight needed twenty stitches, he required a further one in his lip, and his nose had been fractured in his eighteen minutes of pain suffered at the hands of Honeyghan. In his post-fight press conference, Curry eluded to the weight issues that Honeyghan had raised earlier on in the week. Totally contradicting himself Curry stated: "No excuses but it was the weight that beat me," adding "I was at least 16lb heavier a few weeks before the fight and taking off the weight weakened me so much I couldn't get my combinations going." Looking back on the fight, it does seem that there is a grain of truth relating to Curry's weight struggles, although to focus on this, and indeed the accidental headbutt that eventually finished the fight, would be taking an awful amount of credit away from Honeyghan.

Such was the impressive fight fought by Honeyghan, that at the time the bout ended, he was three rounds ahead on one scorecard and two up on the other two. Ron Wills accurately portrayed just how superb Honeyghan had been, indicating that Curry "...was reduced to little more than a mobile punch-bag after just six rounds of furious punching from Honeyghan," before assessing that this was "...the most amazing victory in British boxing history." High praise indeed, and richly deserved.

Honeyghan was now sitting on top of the world, and was transformed overnight to a national hero. Before the dust had even settled, we were privileged to read twenty things that we didn't know about our new champion in the Daily Mirror: He became hooked on boxing after watching Muhammed Ali when he was 11; He joined a South London boxing club aged 12; He never drinks spirits but sometimes treats himself to a glass of white wine; He drives a BMW 323; He spends £1.90 a week on football pools; Benny Hill and Eastenders are his favourite TV programmes; His favourite actress is Raquel Welch. These were just some of the pearls of wisdom we learnt about Honeyghan in the week after the fight. The Daily Express also informed us that Lloyd had won £20,000 backing himself at 6/1, under the headline "MONEYGHAN". It makes you wonder if Lloyd continued his £1.90 weekly pools expenditure post-Curry?

It would have been easy for Honeyghan to be swept away in his own hype after the Curry shock, but in fairness he was talking a sensible game: "Now my target is to get out of boxing at the age of 29 with enough money to live on". Sadly, this didn't materialise. Although he successfully defended his titles three times, and regained his WBC belt from Jorge Vaca - Vaca had won their previous bout, ahead on the judges scorecards after the fight had been stopped due to a cut to the Mexican - his loss to Marlon Starling in 1989 signalled the beginning of the end of Honeyghan as a welterweight. He moved up to the light-middleweight division in 1991, still capable enough to win the Commonwealth title, but by the time Adrian Dodson beat him in 1995, Honeyghan had decided enough was enough, aged 34.

Curry never fought again as a welterweight, moving up to the light-middleweight division and winning the WBC title in 1988. However, his reign was ended by Rene Jacquot in 1989, in the Upset of the Year according to Ring Magazine, to go alongside the same award for his 1986 bout with Honeyghan. Referee Meyran would also complete his own personal double, refereeing the barely believable Buster Douglas victory over Mike Tyson in 1990. Boxing is thankfully a sport that gives us an upset from time to time. And we all know there is nothing like a good upset in sport. Just ask Lloyd Honeyghan.


  1. I remember there being very little hype over this fight, in contrast to say, Bruno vs Bugner or Barry McGuigan's title fights or indeed those of say, Colin Jones or Alan Minter earlier in the decade. IIRC the highlights were bunged out by ITV on a Sunday afternoon, intended to be shoehorned in between the snooker highlights. It didnt quite turn out like that and in light of the result, the snooker actually took up about 3 minutes of an (approximately) hour long programme. Ken Owers, a first year snooker pro playing on TV for the first time was shown playing one shot which he missed. He never appeared on TV again...