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Bunce Diary: An overlooked British title classic | Boxing News

IT WAS all about Burton’s Neville Brown in 1998 when he travelled to Bristol for an easy defence of his British middleweight title. He was the last fighter from Burton-on-Trent to make the boxing news.

Brown was trying to equal Len Harvey’s ancient record of six British middleweight defences in his fight with local idol, Glenn Catley. Six defences is an incredible number to even consider in our modern business – it was impressive in the ancient game.

Harvey set the record in 1932 and it includes the ‘colour bar’ defence against Len Johnson; the Board refused to sanction the fight. Also, consider this: Harvey lost the British middleweight title in 1933 and then won the British light-heavyweight and the heavyweight version later that same year. Before Marvel comics we had men like Len Harvey.  Before the Rocky movies, we had men like Fabio Wardley and Frazer Clarke.

I know men like Harvey could have 146 fights during a 22-year career, but both Brown and Catley had scars from their life in the ring. When they met, I think the pair had been in a total of 58 fights where there had been a combined total of 59 knockdowns. They had been in the wars in their recent fights; Brown had lost two of his previous three and been on the canvas five times. Catley had been stopped in his previous fight. The fight looked unlikely to go the distance; it was a classic Nineties British title scrap.

Both boxers had seasoned and maverick trainers in their corner; Brown had Brendan Ingle and Catley had Chris Sanigar, and both men could shape and make a fight. Ingle had been the brains behind Brown’s punch-perfect win for the title against Frank Grant and Sanigar would lift Catley on the night. Sanigar would play a crucial role in a few other massive Catley nights, which seemed unlikely before the Brown fight.

It was a genuine fight of the year contender. It was packed with excitement, determination, desire and infringements. It was a dirty fight, make no mistake. Catley against Brown was the type of fight that only happens now when there are no cameras and squeamish witnesses. Well, that’s the theory, but nobody told Wardley and Clarke.

At the end of eight rounds, Ingle kept Brown on his stool and called over Mickey Vann, the referee, to let him know that the fight was finished. Brown had an ugly swelling hiding his left eye and he had lost the vision in the eye. “You need two eyes in a boxing ring,” said Ingle. Brown looked beaten.

Vann was a rugged referee, dapper, svelte, a former ballroom dancer, but he believed in letting the boxers do their thing. However, after a couple of words with Catley earlier in the fight, he pulled him over at the start of the eighth round and told him that he risked being disqualified if he continued using his head, elbows and shoulders. Brown had not said a single word, not one complaint.

Brown stuck to his plan, held the centre and tried to counter, but Catley was inspired and guided by the capacity crowd in his hometown. Brown was bruised and losing when the bell sounded to end round eight. It was a great fight and, I’m not proud of saying this, the physicality made it memorable. That is a polite way of saying that the infringements added to the raw attraction.

“Boxing is meant to be a gentleman’s sport,” said Brown, as eloquent as ever in defeat. “I have never butted another boxer. The butts were not accidental and I’m angry to lose this way, but I wish Glenn all the best.” Meanwhile, Ingle told me that he planned to lodge an official complaint with the Board and request a rematch. The dressing room that night was not a happy place.

“There are rules and regulations in this sport. Neville never said a word, but I will on his behalf,” said Ingle.

In the other dressing room on the night, Catley seemed genuinely bemused when he was accused of being a dirty fighter. Sanigar laughed off the accusations. “Perhaps I was getting a bit excited with my head,” Catley offered. Sanigar, who is genuinely crafted from something indestructible, forgave him the butts. “It happens, it’s a hard business,” Sanigar insisted. Incidentally, Sanigar was in Bar Sport in Cannock working in the corner a week or so ago. As I said, a different breed.

In his next fight, Catley came in at late notice and came close to beating Richie Woodhall for the WBC super-middleweight title; he never defended the British title, but he did win that WBC title in 2000. Catley is always forgotten when people list the British world champions at super-middleweight. He deserves a bit better.

Brown is one of the most overlooked fighters of the Nineties. He had four more fights before leaving the sport after a loss in his beloved Burton. He delivered genuine championship nights of drama and glory and heartbreak just down the road in Swadlincote, and it is unlikely that will ever be repeated. They were mad nights; he defended the British title and then fought Hacine Cherifi for the European title. It was just one of those fights, in one of those venues and with one of those outcomes that makes you smile. Brown dropped Cherifi in the first and the third but was stopped in the sixth. Inside the Green Bank Leisure Centre, it was sweltering that night – I had never seen a bar like it. They love a beer in Swadlincote. And, in Burton they make good beer, and they breed them tough. Very tough.

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