Alan Hubbard

You could have knocked me down with a featherweight when I was called to the stage recently to receive, along with journalistic colleagues Colin Hart of The Sun and the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell, the prestigious Sir Henry Cooper Award for services to boxing.

The accolade came at the annual awards dinner of the British Boxing Board of Control at which Carl Frampton was named as Fighter of the Year.

We were described as the doyens of boxing writing. More like the Sunshine Boys, I suppose, all of us having covered the sport around the world for over half a century apiece.

It was an honour and privilege to receive the congratulations from former world champions John Conteh and Ricky Hatton and to share this award on what was a bittersweet night for boxing, and me personally. 

For earlier we had stood in silence in memory of the former boxer and referee Roy Francis who had died suddenly that morning.

Francis happened to be the first boxer I wrote about as a cub reporter on a local newspaper in south London. He was a leading amateur for Wandsworth ABC and I covered many of his bouts, especially those with Earlsfield rival Ron Garnett, which always drew packed crowds at Wandsworth Town Hall.

After a brief pro career he went on to become one of Britain’s finest and fairest Star Class referees, a no-nonsense official in the Harry Gibbs mould. He was also a sound ringside judge.

Roy was a boxing man through and through, but above all that a thoroughly nice man, who was always great company.

On a happier note there was a well-deserved Special Recognition award for another middleweight, the great Terry Downes, who at 80 is Britain’s oldest surviving world champion.

Some personal nostalgia here, too, for Terry’s winning fight with the Boston fireman Paul Pender in 1961 was the first World Championship I covered. And the return in Boston was my first visit to the United States.

Terry Downes, pictured in 1964, is Britain's oldest surviving boxing world champion  ©Getty Images
Terry Downes, pictured in 1964, is Britain's oldest surviving boxing world champion ©Getty Images

These days the once "Crashing, Bashing, Dashing" Paddington Express as he was known remains in fine voice, if not as mobile as he once was.

He was one of British boxing’s greatest characters and, like Colin, Jeff and myself, a relic of the days when newspapers had full-time boxing correspondents.

Alas, not any more, even though the sport is riding higher than ever.

I recall being in the dressing room at Shoreditch Town Hall when Terry, in only his third pro bout, provided us with a memorable quote after losing to another future world champion, Dick Tiger.

Downes had been told it would be an easy touch against the then unknown Liverpool-based Nigerian.

As we scribes gathered around Downes, who had been given a bit of a going-over, someone asked who he would like to fight next.

"The f******r who made that match," growled Terry.

Congratulations to Liam Williams, named as the year’s Best Young Boxer by the Boxing Writers’ Club.

The 24-year-old Welshman, undefeated in 16 bouts, who defends his British and Commonwealth titles against Ahmed Patterson at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on October 22 , is a worthy winner.

But we Club members who voted for him will be crossing our fingers that he fares rather better than our last two selections.

Kid Galahad subsequently failed a drugs test and was suspended and Mitchell Smith immediately lost his unbeaten record.

Williams will be presented with his award at the Club’s annual dinner at the Savoy Hotel on October 10 where new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, a great boxing enthusiast, will be principal speaker.

On a sadder note, the pause button has been pressed on the career of Tyson Fury. It has been widely documented that the world heavyweight champion is suffering from mental health issues and, that being the case, he must now be given the time, space and support to enable him to make a full recovery.

What is paramount though is that no fighter should ever enter the ring unless he is 100 per cent sound both mentally and physically, and clearly Tyson isn’t at the moment.

Tyson Fury needs time away from boxing  ©Getty Images
Tyson Fury needs time away from boxing ©Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, certain people in boxing have sought to publicly capitalise on his plight with somewhat indecent haste and have also been quick to spout predictions on his fighting future.

Matchroom appear intent on attempting to shoehorn the IBF champion Anthony Joshua into Tyson’s boots and are talking the talk about Wladimir Klitschko, who Tyson was due to meet in Manchester on October 29, potentially becoming his next opponent.

I can’t see this happening. 

Matching the Olympic and IBF world champion with Klitschko would fly in the face of all the regulations set down by the governing bodies, plus the fact that Klitschko is a different proposition to the relatively-soft touches that Joshua has been weaned on.

The Ukrainian may have been flummoxed by Fury’s unorthodoxy but he would surely find the still-maturing Joshua easier to work out.

Were Fury, who still has to answer drugs-taking allegations, to be relieved of his titles, each governing body has ranked contenders awaiting a shot at the top prize. It is not quite as straightforward as simply swapping Tyson for Joshua.

I suspect it is more a case of opportunistic posturing at play. Joshua, indeed, has got to start fighting people as a world champion, but there has not been an opponent named for him yet because the money on offer isn’t nearly enough.

The heavyweight scene is clearly in need of a reboot and we will see in the coming weeks how it all unfolds.

Like many others, I have had my issues with potty-mouthed Fury, who in the past has admitted he may have "a screw loose" but at the moment he is in need of sympathy, not another slagging-off.