After turning 80 at the weekend, IBHOF inductee and boxing journalism royalty Graham Houston reflects on a lifetime in the fight game with memories of Muhammad Ali, Carlos Monzon, Salvador Sanchez, Floyd Mayweather and more.
Here’s something you might not know about me. I don’t celebrate birthdays. I don’t even keep track of how old I am. (As the 1950s Western-movie actor Peter Brown once told an interviewer who asked for his age: “I refuse to acknowledge it.”)
But I have been around a long time. A lot of years writing about boxing, being around the sport, watching it. How many years?
Well, here’s an idea how long. My first published article was in the US publication Boxing Illustrated in February 1961. So, if I’m celebrating a milestone in 2022, how about 60 years (give or take a year) as a boxing writer?
That first published article was actually an entry to a writing competition. The BI editor invited readers to send their analysis of “Fights We’d Like to See”. The best entries would have their articles published and receive a year’s free subscription to the magazine. I was one of the winners.
These were the five fights:
- Sonny Liston vs Floyd Patterson
- Joey Giardello vs Gustav Schol
- Archie Moore vs Harold Johnson (a championship-fight rematch between the two that never happened)
- Gene Fullmer vs Paul Pender
- Ingemar Johansson vs Henry Cooper (rematch)
The only one of those fights that actually took place was Liston vs Patterson. Liston of course won on a first-round KO and repeated that result in a rematch. My pick? “I look for Patterson to be battered to his knees by the 13th round.” Well, 12 rounds out, but at least Liston by KO was the right pick. And the betting odds were pretty close for that first meeting, believe it or not. “Although the final odds were reported as 7½ to 5 Liston, the fact was that in Chicago, where much of the last-minute action took place, there was so much bet on Liston that the odds soared to 2 to 1,” Sports Illustrated reported.
The BI people must have seen promise in me because they awarded me a press card denoting I was an official writer for the publication. And I was on my way.
I parlayed the BI press card into a writing gig with a newspaper called the South London Advertiser. This allowed me to get press passes to all the London fights, apart from Harry Levene promotions at Wembley Pool (as it was then known). Accreditations for Levene shows were handled by the Wembley press officer, who simply refused press-pass requests from local newspapers. But Jack Solomons, the other major London promoter back then, always looked after the local press.
And I was now very much up and running as an accredited boxing reporter.
So, many years, so many fights. Memorable moments? Favourite moments? Too many to list. But here are a few.
June 18, 1964:
Poland’s Olympic light-heavy silver medallist Zbigniew Pietrzykowski (he lost to the then-Cassius Clay in Rome) showed his class and power when stopping Scotland’s brave John Fisher in the second round of an all-southpaw match-up that was part of a Britain vs Europe amateur tournament at the Royal Albert Hall. As I recall, a big left hand sent Fisher crashing to the canvas. Pietrzykowski was possibly greatest amateur boxer I saw in person.
November 3, 1964:
Peter Cheevers, a former amateur champion and classic stand-up boxer from South London, was considered a future British lightweight champion — but he was stunningly swept away in 45 seconds by the more seasoned Joe Tetteh, born in Ghana but based in north London, at the famous old Shoreditch Town Hall. Cheevers fought back tears in the dressing room afterwards. He never boxed again.
April 15, 1965:
One of the greatest amateur bouts I ever saw and which went largely unseen on the day (no live TV coverage) came in the London championships at the Royal Albert Hall. It was the light-middleweight semi-final between South-East Division champion Mark Rowe and North-East London champion Jimmy Tibbs. In those days the semi-finals and finals took place on the same day. Rowe vs Tibbs boxed in the semi-finals, early in the afternoon, before a smallish crowd. Tibbs boxed beautifully, scoring points with the jab, but Rowe’s blows were heavier. I thought Tibbs was slightly ahead after two rounds but Rowe had a huge third round, with Tibbs severely swollen under the left eye. Rowe got the decision, deservedly. I still have the image of my mind of the gutsy but battered Tibbs telling Rowe: “Good fight” as the final bell sounded.
July 2, 1973:
Joe Frazier came in as a substitute to meet Joe Bugner in a 12-round bout at Earls Court in London (Danny McAlinden, originally due to defend the British heavyweight title against Bugner, was pulled out after getting stopped in the third round of what was supposed to be a warm-up bout against unregarded American Morris Jackson). The Frazier fight was Bugner’s finest hour. He came back from a knockdown to buckle Frazier’s legs with a big right hand in the 10th round. Frazier got a well-earned decision after 12 rounds but finished with a swollen eye.
May 24, 1976:
One of the two times I saw Muhammad Ali box in the flesh was when he stopped British champion Richard Dunn in the fifth round in Munich. The fear in the British fight fraternity was that Yorkshire southpaw Dunn would be humiliated. But Dunn gave it a good go. I was seated near Dunn’s corner and can still vividly remember his manager George Biddles encouraging him to keep going, using emotional words. “I’m proud of you, son!” Biddles yelled at a fading but still willing Dunn between rounds.
July 30, 1977:
At the Stade Louis II in Monaco for what turned out to be Carlos Monzon’s last fight, a unanimous 15-round decision over the Colombian Rodrigo Valdes. In the first fight between the two, a year earlier, Monzon pulled out the victory with a strong finish, knocking down Valdes in the 14th round. (I was ringside for that one, too.) This time around it was Valdes who scored a knockdown, in the second round, and Monzon was cut on the bridge of the nose. But the great middleweight champion from Argentina gradually took control with his long jabs and right hands to secure a close but unanimous decision over the fiercely aggressive Valdes.
Aug. 21, 1981:
Salvador Sanchez stopping Wilfredo Gomez in the eighth round was the first of more than 100 on-site fights in Las Vegas. The late, great featherweight champion Sanchez was defending his title against 122lbs champion Gomez, of Puerto Rico, at Caesars Palace. Duelling musicians set the tone in the pre-fight pageantry, with a Mexican mariachi band drowning out the Puerto Rican salsa rhythms. In the fight itself, a courageous Gomez came back strongly from a first-round knockdown and made this a close, thrilling contest before, eyes bruised and swollen, he was dropped again and halted in round eight.
Oct. 3, 1998:
Floyd Mayweather, then a rising star but somewhat unproven at top level, gave one of his greatest performances when he stopped Genaro Hernandez in eight rounds at the Las Vegas Hilton to become 130lbs champion. We knew that night we were seeing a special talent in Mayweather. He was facing a much more experienced champion in “Chicanito”, but Mayweather dominated the fight with hand speed, reflexes and timing. Floyd Mayweather Sr told me before the fight: “My son will dominate this fight. It won’t even be close.” He was right.
June 17, 2000:
Shane Mosley rose to the occasion when he won a split 12-round decision over Oscar De La Hoya in what was probably the finest welterweight fight I ever saw. Venue was the Staples Center, Los Angeles. This was high-level boxing, nip and tuck, each man having his moments. After 11 rounds the fight was on the table but Sugar Shane dug down, let the punches fly and swept the last round on the judges’ cards to pull out the hard-fought victory.
March 1, 2003:
Bulked up to a muscled 193lbs, light-heavy champion Roy Jones Jr showed he had lost none of his speed or athleticism at the heavier weight when outclassing John Ruiz to become heavyweight champion at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It was a masterful showing against a bigger, stronger opponent. I would even go so far as to say that, on this night, Jones was well nigh unbeatable.
June 6/7, 2014:
Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (observer category) at Canastota, New York. I’d never made an acceptance speech before. How to handle it? I was once told it was better to leave people wanting more than having them looking at their watches. Joe Calzaghe, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad were great fighters waiting to be inducted. I kept it short and sweet, thanking everyone and assuring the gathering that I was well aware who the real stars were.
Main image: Graham Houston (centre) meets and greets former world middleweight champion Rodrigo Valdes (right) in Monte Carlo. Valdes’ sparring partner Ali Perez is pictured left. Photo: Graham Houston Collection.
Secondary image: A young Graham Houston bangs out his boxing copy on a Remington Quiet Riter typewriter, picture taken circa 1964. Photo: Graham Houston Collection.