Brian London: Heavyweight boxing champion known as “The Blackpool Rock”
As the youngest son of legendary British and Commonwealth boxing champion Jack London, perhaps it was inevitable that Brian London, who died at the age of 87, would follow both his father and older brother into the game. professional combat. After achieving success as an amateur, over a 15-year professional roller coaster career, “The Blackpool Rock”, as he was known, remained a headline contender. However, while more than capable of challenging all the big names of the era, some of his performances might just as well disappoint as they excite. Mimicking his father’s success in winning the British heavyweight title, he was also the first British boxer to twice challenge the world heavyweight crown.
Brian Sydney Harper was the younger of two boys, born into a famous boxing family in West Hartlepool. Like his father and brother, he also later adopted the surname of the great American author Jack London, who covered the sport for numerous boxing magazines. Shortly after leaving his native northeast to settle permanently on the Fylde Coast in Lancashire, he began his boxing apprenticeship at the Blackpool Boys’ Club. After briefly working as a rocker, spelling out “BLACKPOOL” amid stick-shaped boiled sugar confectionery, his athletic skills were honed during national service in the Royal Air Force. Along with the 1954 Inter Services Boxing Championship, he also won the RAF, ISBA and ABA titles. That same year, he also defeated Canadian champion Gerry Buchanan to win heavyweight gold at the Vancouver Empire Games.
Turning pro in March 1955, in his first bout, his explosive punching power knocked out Dennis Lockton in one round. Fighting once a month, mostly in provincial halls, other early casualties included Dinny Powell and Irish champion Paddy Slavin, while Robert Eugene became the first to take him from a distance. In just under 12 months, this beautifully shaped, rough, hard, deadly 6ft 14 rock of a fighter has managed to make its way through the heavyweight rankings. Immediately recognizable by his lantern jawbone, he was now starting to build a growing fan base and garner media interest. However, a brutal introduction to the cold reality of professional gaming took place at Earls Court in May 1956, when Henry Cooper knocked him out in a surprising first round loss.
Regrouping quickly, London then knocked out George Naufahu in four rounds, edged out Kitione Lave and Howie Turner, both in 10 rounds, and, in a televised fight in Birmingham, impressed by knocking out Frenchman Robert Duquesne in the first round. He also got his first glimpse of the vagaries of continental judgment when he lost a hotly contested 10-round decision to German European champion Henry Neuhaus in Dortmund. At the moment, however, main promoter Jack Solomons, aware that he had a real box office draw in London, held a challenge contest for the British and Empire heavyweight title between London and Welshman Joe Erskine, at White City in June 1958. London knocked him out in the eighth round.
While holding the title for six months, London scored a fine victory over American Willie Pastrano before being edged out in his first title defense, beaten a second time by Cooper. Denied by the British Boxing Board of Control to fight Floyd Patterson for the world title in Indianapolis three months later, London still took the lead, losing in the 11th round. By accepting a fight based on the scholarship being offered, it wouldn’t be the last time London found itself the victim of haphazard management that too often did little to improve its career. A wiser and more experienced corner team would also have been an advantage when going up in class. Following the fight with Patterson, London was fined £ 1,000 and banned for six months.
Problems erupted again in August 1960 when at Coney Beach, Porthcawl, London attempted to capture the European title from local hero Dick Richardson. This open-air competition, attended by 38,000 spectators, turned out to be a great disappointment. As London racked up the points, in the eighth round of a somewhat sordid contest, Richardson’s header opened an old cut in London’s eye. With his corner unable to stem the bleeding, referee Andrew Smythe duly stopped the fight in favor of Richardson. Totally exasperated, the London family rushed into the ring en masse to face the opposing camp. A free thoroughbred for all nicknamed “The Brawl in Porthcawl”, duly followed. Sentenced to an additional £ 1,000 fine, this time London was banned for three months.
Of his 58 professional competitions, three in particular drew stinging criticism as the press and supporters questioned his tactical sense, general approach and overall motivation. The first was that 1959 fight with Patterson. The second was his meeting two years later with the very talented but surprisingly underrated American Eddie Machen, when his corner threw in the towel after just five rounds. London has always maintained that Machen was one of the best boxers he has ever fought. However, it is his challenge for the world heavyweight title with Muhammad Ali at Earls Court in August 1966 that is arguably his most forgettable. Knocked out in three rounds, such a dismal surrender certainly had a lasting effect on his standing with the boxing public.
He also took part in many more memorable contests. The likes of Ingemar Johansson, Zora Folley and Pastrano were among those that brought out the best in him. His fight with Billy Walker in March 1965 also remains a fascinating encounter, the power and ambition of the Londoner confronting the greater experience of the northerner. Having survived an early attack, London’s unrefined but reasonably solid basic technique allowed him to break through Walker’s defenses and win on points. The American Folley he topped, beat and beat in November 1967. Sadly, he was never at the races when, in May 1970, a lively young Joe Bugner hammered him to a five-round loss at Wembley’s Empire Pool. This turned out to be his last fight; retiring that year, he won 37, made one and lost twenty of his contests.
Having seen with his own eyes the many hardships caused by his father’s financial lavishness, London wisely invested the earnings of his ring. Although he never dabbled in alcohol, for many years he owned a very popular and popular Blackpool nightclub, the 007 Club. In January 1971, the place made headlines as London hosted West Ham footballers Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves, Clyde Best and Brian Dear. Feeling certain that their FA Cup third round match with Blackpool would fall victim to the freezing weather, the quartet sought out some late-night entertainment and duly found it. Unfortunately for them, the field was deemed playable and the match proceeded; when the Hammers went on to lose 4-0, with Moore and Greaves in the starting lineup, angry fans joined the press in calling for the foursome to be sacked.
As for London itself, he has remained a popular and accessible figure in the resort, regularly circling Stanley Park on his daily run or playing golf on the course in front of his luxury home. Today, the boxing mantle has passed to his grandson, Jack, who shows early promises.
Marrying Veronica Cliff in 1958, they divorced in 1980. He is survived by two sons and a daughter.
Brian London, boxer, born June 19, 1934, died June 23, 2021