MURDER IN THE FIRST

Credit: Lawrence Lustig

John Wharton

‘You don’t get paid overtime in boxing’ is an oft repeated phrase from a boxer, usually said after they have disposed of an opponent in double-quick time. First round knockouts are the Holy Grail for a fighter. A stoppage victory on their record, less energy expended and far less pain endured.

Last week, Callum Smith squared off against fellow Liverpudlian Rocky Fielding for the vacant British Super-Middleweight title. The bout was expected to be a tough night for both men, who had put their unbeaten records on the line. As it was, the fight lasted two minutes and forty five seconds, by which time ‘Mundo’ had floored his opponent three times to claim the belt his elder brother Paul had vacated last year.

The 12 stone division is one of the newer weight classes in Britain and, surprisingly, this was only the second time a first round knockout had been scored in the division since its inaugural title fight in 1989. As portentous omens go, Smith finds himself in good stead, as the first, and previously the only, man to stop an opponent in the opening stanza was British boxing legend Carl Froch.

The British title has been contested 1,224 times in over one hundred years across the 14 weight classes recognised by the BBBoC. Surprisingly, first round knockouts have only been scored 35 times in the long history of the British title. That’s an astonishingly low 2.86% of fights.

Many of British boxing’s legendary names are missing from this exclusive club. Fighters such as Henry Cooper, Lennox Lewis, Frank Bruno, Joe Calzaghe, Nigel Benn and John Conteh are all high quality names who failed to score a first round knockout in Lonsdale Belt fights.

Prior to Smith’s devastating stoppage victory, the last time a British title fight ended in a first round stoppage was a fight also in Liverpool, as Ellesmere Port’s Paul Butler stopped Scouser John Donnelly with a vicious body shot to claim the vacant Super-Flyweight strap.

The stats make interesting reading and throw up some quirky facts. The Light-Heavyweight division saw a first round knockout in its inaugural fight, as Dennis Haugh knocked out Sid Ellis in one round in 1913, but then there was a wait of 64 years for another one, when Bunny Johnson knocked out Tim Wood in 1977.

The Super-Bantamweight division is another of the more recent additions for the Lord Lonsdale Challenge Belt. First contested in 1994, it had a tragic start as the first bout for the belt was the ill-fated fight between Richie Wenton and Bradley Stone. Champions like Michael Brodie, Michael Alldis, Scott Quigg and Kid Galahad have all failed to score a first round stoppage victory, and the Super-Bantamweight division is the only division in the British game without a first round title stoppage.

The ten stone weight category has seen some of the country’s top fighters win belts in the division, yet it has seen only three first round knockouts in its illustrious history. Renowned names such as Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, John. H. Stracey and Lloyd Honeyghan all won the famous Welterweight belt but none managed to stop an opponent in the opening stanza.

Of all the British fighters who went on to win a world title at the weight, only Kell Brook, who stopped Kevin McIntyre in 2008, has an opening round knockout to his name.

Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno were both big hitters in the heavyweight division and both held the Lonsdale Belt.

Neither, however, managed to score a first round stoppage, whilst names like David Price, Matt Skelton, Neville Meade, Joe Bugner and ‘Bombardier’ Billy Wells are the only men to flatten their opponent inside a round.

The 126lb division has been one of the most successful divisions for British fighters, with nine Brits holding versions of the world title throughout the years. Legendary fighters of the calibre of Welsh wizard Howard Winstone, Barry McGuigan and current IBF kingpin Lee Selby all wore the famous red, white, and blue belt, but none managed to end a bout inside three minutes.

Astonishingly, in a history that fetches back as far as 1906, there has been only one bout to end in the first and that was way back in 1917, when Charlie Hardcastle stopped Alf Wye. The Featherweight king is Cromer’s Ryan Walsh, who recently defeated Samir Mouneimne to win the belt, Could he be the man to end the long wait in the division?

So there we have it, 1224 fights and 35 first round knockouts. We’ve seen a division without a first round knockout to its name and one whose last opening round blowout was during the Great War. Callum Smith’s recent victory was the first one for over three years. The stats show that occasionally first round blowouts are like London buses, you wait three years for one and then two pop up together!

Between now and the end of the year we will be seeing Nick Blackwell face Jack Arnfield for the Middleweight crown, whilst Jazza Dickens will defend his Super-Bantamweight crown against Martin Ward. Could this be the fight that breaks the 122lb duck? On November 21st, Northern Irish prospect Ryan Burnett squares off with Jason Booth for the vacant Bantamweight crown, whilst at the same venue Tyrone Nurse and Chris Jenkins will rematch at Light-Welterweight. Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte will contest the vacant Heavyweight title at the O2 on December 12th and many will feel that this is the best chance of seeing another first round knockout. In the final Lonsdale Belt bout of 2015, Liam Williams and Kris Carslaw will contest the Light-Middleweight crown vacated by now WBO champion Liam Smith.

Will we see first round knockout number thirty six before the end of 2015? Gentlemen, the gauntlet has been thrown.

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