Boxing is one of the rare sports where its brutality is matched only by its showmanship. The top of the sport has seemingly forever been a circus act, with the referee the ringmaster and the two boxers performing death-defying acts.
But sometimes, fights cross the line of ceremony and showmanship and, for better or worse, descend into enmity and deep-seated hatred. Here are some of the best – or perhaps worst – of Britain’s offerings.
Carl Froch vs. George Groves
There was no love lost between these two going into their first fight. Froch said Groves wasn’t in his league, while Groves (who had previously defeated another rival, James DeGale) insisted ‘The Cobra’ had his time at the top. Despite suffering a first round knockdown, Froch recovered to win by technical knockout in the ninth round. But ‘The Saint’, backed up by a newfound swell of support, claimed the referring stepping had been premature. Ahead of their rematch, the trash talk went up a notch, laden with insults and threats. The feud was settled at a packed Wembley Stadium, where Froch delivered a career best knockout in the eighth.
Chris Eubank vs. Nigel Benn
This rivalry really stood up to the old adage that ‘styles make fights’. The two really were polar opposites. Benn, who served in the British Army during the Troubles, was considered an ultimate fighter who relished the sport. Meanwhile, Eubank paraded around a divisive arrogance, wore flashy suites (topped off with a monocle) and described boxing as a “mug’s game”. Benn had family ties to Barbados, Eubank to Jamaica. It was chalk meeting cheese. Eubank won their first fight in 1990 with a fourth round stoppage. Three years later, the rematch at Old Trafford saw 42,000 fans witness another memorable bout. Despite many feeling Benn dominated, it was controversially scored a split draw.
Henry Cooper vs. Joe Bugner
The hostility between these two happened right at the end of their 1971 fight. Cooper’s British, Commonwealth and European titles were on the line but the crowd favourite, now even more popular after two brave defeats to Muhammad Ali, saw them ripped away by the up and coming Bugner. The Hungarian-born heavyweight was awarded the victory by just a quarter of a point. The nation cried foul and Cooper retired, refusing to speak to Bugner and referee Harry Gibbs for years.
Lennox Lewis vs. Frank Bruno
Nationality and identity were the thorns that saw this 1993 fight burst into a bitter encounter. Billed as the ‘battle of British heavyweights’, Bruno called Lewis “not British” after winning Olympic gold for Canada and said the nation had no time for him. Lewis, born in West Ham, hit back. He described Bruno as an “Uncle Tom” and mocked his opponents’ panto appearances saying, “He makes a fool of himself, dressing up in girls’ clothing.” In the end, it was Lewis’ fists that did the talking, with a left hook and a flurry of punches resulting in a seventh-round knockout victory.
Mark Kaylor vs. Errol Christie
Kaylor sparked the feud after Christie accused him of whispering a racist remark in his ear at their pre-fight press conference. After being pulled apart in the ensuing brawl, they went at it again in the car park. Christie later received death threats. The contest took place on Bonfire Night in 1985 under a heavy police presence for fear of further violence. There were fireworks in the ring, with both boxers scoring knockdowns before Kaylor forced a stoppage in the eighth round. Thankfully, the two fighters showed respect to each other afterwards, but it remains one of the most infamous and ugly grudge matches in British boxing.