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John Lovesey
August 15, 1966
Brian London talked a better fight than he gave, and Cassius Clay, for a change, gave a better fight than he talked. The bout did prove the champion can punch, no matter what the Blackpool Bulldog said
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August 15, 1966

If Cassius Can't Punch, Then London Isn't Down

Brian London talked a better fight than he gave, and Cassius Clay, for a change, gave a better fight than he talked. The bout did prove the champion can punch, no matter what the Blackpool Bulldog said

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For a man whose head had just been used as a punching bag, Brian London had an odd way of describing Cassius Clay. "He isn't a puncher," said London. "He just hit me so many times I didn't know where I was." This way please for the champ's next opponent, and mind those combinations.

London's wife, Veronica, a chirpy, buxom blonde, held a somewhat different view of the heavyweight champion's power right from the start. A boxing fan, she not only thinks Clay is a great fighter but said as much before the bout. "I don't mind if he beats my husband," she told a reporter, "as long as he leaves me a little bit."

Lancashire, where they invented a dish called hotpot, and Blackpool, London's home town and the county's rambunctious seaside resort where they boast about the number of colored lights in the streets, are used to such forth-rightness. Assess your chances, natives believe, and come out with it, blunt like. No pussyfooting around the facts.

The facts of the second defense of his world title in England in little over two months by Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay (MACC, as one British sports-writer dubbed him, harking back to Harold Macmillan, who was known snidely as Supermac) were, to quote London, "unique." They added up, judging by prefight predictions, to the neatest grab since England's celebrated train robbery: London's take was estimated at $112,000.

THE GREAT LONDON GOLD RUSH, read a headline over a newspaper article the morning of the fight, and one who skipped on to news about the cricket test match between the West Indies and England or the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica could be forgiven for mistaking the story as just another account in the life of the Blackpool Bulldog, who has never made a secret of his affection for money. The newspaper, as it turned out, was reporting that the price of gold had swept to its highest peak in years on the City bullion market.

Despite a physiognomy that touches on a pugilistic extreme—London's face could hardly be more concave if he lay down on his back and told a man with a jack hammer to go to work on him—he has always claimed a disenchantment with fighting. His father, who ended up as a nightclub bouncer, was the first postwar British heavyweight champion. Virtually forced into following in his parent's footsteps, London started to box professionally in 1955. With an odd, gluttonous appetite for soft, fizzy drinks and a knack for finding trouble, he became the bad boy of the British ring. Regularly he ran afoul of the British Boxing Board of Control and once, letting his wretched temper get the upper hand, he started laying about the head of an opponent's trainer. On another occasion he rendered unconscious a fan who had planned to commiserate with him by butting the man in the face.

To curb his weight, London cut down on his soft drink intake. This seemed to bring about a character transformation, which, if it did nothing to improve London as a fighter, did lead to public statements endearing him to the hearts of Women's Christian Temperance Union members. "I have never drunk a pint of ale," he said recently, "smoked a cigarette, gambled or touched any woman in my life except Veronica. And I met her when she was 15."

London came to his fight with Clay with 48 contests behind him and disadvantages in age (32 to Clay's 24), speed and reach (7 inches less), to name just a few. On the rosy side, which is the kindest way of putting it, London could claim that, though he had been beaten 13 times, only one man had ever put him on the canvas. This worthy was Floyd Patterson, whom London fought in 1959 in a match which he took without the BBBC's permission, in consequence of which he was later suspended and fined. The Patterson fight, coupled with the Clay meeting, gave London an unusual distinction. His challenges for the world title were seven years apart. The results of both drove a knowing student of the noble art in Blighty to conclude, "There are not likely to be any other British aspirants in the foreseeable future."

As recently as May of this year Brian London lost on points to Thad Spencer. Among other notable achievements he could count three defeats at the hands of his country's champion, Henry Cooper, who took the British heavyweight title from him seven years ago. Twice a bloody victim of Clay, Cooper was prompted to remark that if London won his fight at the Earls Court Arena in the British capital, then he would become the world champion, too.

As politely unimpressed by London's lack of finesse as Cooper was the former world light-heavyweight champion, France's Georges Carpentier, who could only describe a workout he witnessed as amusant. But London was impressive in another important way. He provided most of the prefight shenanigans. " London built this fight," Clay himself acknowledged in his dressing room afterward. "I have to respect him for his boldness."

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