IBHOF inductee Graham Houston remembers the career of former British heavyweight champion Danny McAlinden who passed away earlier this week.
He wasn’t a fancy boxer and he was far from world class, but former British heavyweight champion Danny McAlinden, who passed away on March 8 at the age of 73, provided biff-bang action in the 1970s.
Dangerous Danny, as he was known, was born in Newry, Northern Ireland, but moved to Coventry in the English midlands with his parents. He became the first Irish boxer to win the British heavyweight title when he knocked out Jack Bodell in the second round on June 27, 1972.
It was the shining moment in a colourful, hit-or-be-hit career.
“He could be tagged with alarming ease,” Patrick Myler wrote of McAlinden in his book The Fighting Irish. And that he could. McAlinden was an all-out slugger. He won by KO 28 times in 31 wins and failed to go the distance in eight of his 12 losses.
I was ringside for many of McAlinden’s fights, including the night when he clobbered Bodell into defeat in two rounds outdoors at Villa Park in Birmingham on a chilly, damp evening to become British and Commonwealth champion.
As I remember it, co-promoters Jack Solomons and Alex Griffiths almost called off the show due to the threat of rain. Solomons was angry that, on the night of his promotion, ITV was showing a full recording of the Roberto Duran vs Ken Buchanan lightweight championship fight that took place at Madison Square Garden the night before. Solomons felt the British Boxing Board shouldn’t have allowed this as the Duran vs Buchanan TV showing would, he felt, have a negative impact on ticket sales for McAlinden vs Bodell. The Board’s view was that it couldn’t very well dictate what a broadcaster decided to show, especially as the lightweight title fight was taking place in the US.
At the time, McAlinden’s KO win over Bodell seemed like a breath of fresh air for British heavyweight boxing. McAlinden came out slugging and Bodell, who had been knocked out by Jerry Quarry and Jose Urtain in his last two fights, couldn’t hold him off. “One of the most sensational fights we’ve seen for years,” TV commentator Harry Carpenter exclaimed in the BBC’s delayed broadcast.
Bodell, with his stand-up, awkward, southpaw style, couldn’t seem to get out of the way of punches as McAlinden hurled overhand rights and wild left hooks. Bodell was clubbed and battered to the canvas three times in the second round, the second time getting belaboured through the ropes.
Looking at the fight now, on YouTube, it seems awfully crude stuff, but it was a joyous moment for McAlinden as his supporters clambered into the ring and hoisted him on their shoulders.
I was editing the weekly Boxing News at the time and the publishers ran a “Great heavyweight fights” contest in which the winner was promised the gloves worn by the McAlinden vs Bodell winner. When I entered McAlinden’s crowded dressing room after the fight the new champ told his cronies: “Quick, hide the gloves.” Promoter Griffiths told me: “Don’t worry, you’ll get your gloves.” A parcel containing a set of red boxing gloves duly arrived in the mail at the magazine’s offices. Were they the actual gloves worn by McAlinden that night? Who’s to know?
McAlinden, having made history by being the first Irishman to win the British heavyweight title, lost it in his first defence to Jamaican-born Bunny Johnson, of Birmingham, who became the first black British heavyweight champion when he knocked McAlinden out in the ninth round at the World Sporting Club, situated in the Grosvenor House hotel on elegant Park Lane in London, on January 13, 1975.
Small for a heavyweight even by 1970s standards, McAlinden did his best to crowd opponents and roll under punches but defence was never his strong point. He could hit, though, and he started his pro career in exciting fashion with three KO wins on the same night in July 1960 to win a heavyweight novices competition at the World Sporting Club. One of his wins that night was on a first-round KO over Richard Dunn, who was having his second pro fight. They were to meet again six years later when Dunn, who had won the British title once held by McAlinden, knocked him out in the second round.
A high point for McAlinden was a six-round decision win over Muhammad Ali’s brother, Rahman Ali, at Madison Square Garden on the 1971 undercard of Ali’s epic fight with Joe Frazier. He fought a draw with Ray Patterson, Floyd’s younger brother, although it was a debatable decision.
You never knew quite what you were going to get with McAlinden. He scored some big wins, including a 10-round points victory over the tall Welsh heavyweight Carl Gizzi, who at the time was, if I remember correctly, considered one of the top three or four heavyweights in Britain. McAlinden won that fight on earnest aggression. He was able to land right hands with surprising success against the superior stylist. “You never know where his punches are coming from,” Gizzi told me afterwards.
But perhaps McAlinden’s best win came when he knocked out the Canadian heavyweight Bill Drover in the fourth round at the World Sporting Club on September 13, 1971. Drover had fought a 10-round draw with Joe Bugner, the future British heavyweight champion and world title challenger, seven months earlier. But McAlinden knocked Drover down with a right hand early in the opening round, stayed on top of him and then dropped the Canadian fighter for the full count with a right hand after 26 seconds of the fourth round.
Although in over his head against the bigger and much more accomplished Baltimore heavyweight Larry Middleton, who stopped him in the eighth round, McAlinden came through in rip-roaring fashion against Jack Bodell three months later to set himself up for what would have been the biggest fight of his career, against Joe Bugner.
The match was made for July 2, 1973 at Earls Court Arena in London. But McAlinden suffered a shocking defeat in a supposed warm-up bout when unheralded Nebraska heavyweight Morris Jackson stopped him in the third round at the World Sporting Club. McAlinden was dropped in the second round and again in the third.
Reg Gutteridge of the London Evening News had been tasked with phoning boxing impresario Jarvis Astaire with the result directly after the fight ended. Knowing that the Bugner vs McAlinden fight, with which Astaire was involved, was now dead in the water, Reggie dialled Astaire’s number with some trepidation to convey the shocking news. I can still vividly remember Gutteridge’s words: “Jarvis, I am not fucking joking — McAlinden just got stopped in three rounds!”
The Earls Court show went ahead, with Bugner meeting Joe Frazier in the new main event.
As for McAlinden, his career continued with wins and losses. The KO defeats against Bunny Johnson and Richard Dunn, and a points defeat against US heavyweight Irish Pat Duncan, were his last big fights. After the two-round loss to Dunn, when he showed very little punch-resistance, it seemed that McAlinden was going through the motions although he did win the Northern Ireland heavyweight title. He retired in 1981 with a record of 31-12-2 (28 KOs).