Lee Groves

Ten notable U.S. vs. U.K. welterweight title fights

September 27, 1986 – Lloyd Honeyghan TKO 6 Donald Curry, Caesars Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey

After blowing away WBC champion McCrory in two rounds to unify the belts, Curry was being hailed as boxing’s newest superstar. Though McCrory was known as the “Ice Man,” it was the “Lone Star Cobra” who executed his blueprint with cool, surgical precision. A monstrous hook floored McCrory in picturesque fashion midway through the second and a final right to the jaw left him flat moments later. Seldom had a unification fight ended so emphatically and the performance left writers and fans in awe. Soon, magazines were declaring Curry the natural successor to pound-for-pound king Marvelous Marvin Hagler and some scribes were brave enough to declare that Curry would beat the middleweight champion in a head-to-shaven head encounter.

Curry’s master plan didn’t include an immediate jump to 160. Instead, he wanted to make a few more defenses at 147, then win a crown at junior middleweight. Step one saw Curry struggle a bit – both with the scale and with mandatory challenger Eduardo Rodriguez – before registering a second round stoppage – while step two involved fighting a more difficult number-one aspirant in Lloyd Honeyghan.

Though Honeyghan was undefeated through his first 27 fights with 17 KOs, he was virtually unknown in U.S. circles. Those who sought out his record found he had several good wins, including a 10-round points win over Harold Brazier, a three-round KO over future WBC and IBF junior middleweight champion Gianfranco Rosi and a ninth round stoppage of former 147-pound title challenger Roger Stafford. He also was the possessor of the continental triple crown – the British, Commonwealth and European welterweight titles. An eighth round TKO over then-number one challenger Horace Shufford earned Honeyghan – a Jamaica native turned naturalized Brit – the crack at Curry.

Despite his résumé, the betting community showed no interest in the bout. How big of a favorite was Curry? Curry was such a prohibitive choice that no legitimate bets were made on the fight.

“It’s what we call an ‘out-bet,’” Las Vegas odds maker Lem Banker told the Los Angeles Times, “which means it was figured as such a mismatch, there wouldn’t be much betting interest, so there was no line.”

Had they known what was going on in Curry’s camp, the wise guys would have reconsidered that stance.

Like before the Rodriguez fight, Curry tortured himself to squeeze his 5-foot-10½-inch frame down to 147. After shedding 11½ pounds in the final 10 days, he scaled 146½ but the effects of making weight were obvious to all; his face was drawn and his physique lacked the tone that was so evident in the McCrory fight. Honeyghan also weighed 146½ but he had the look of a man ready to obliterate anything in his way. And unfortunately for Curry, he was the one person in the world who stood in Honeyghan’s way.

Wearing purple sequined trunks that reflected his enormous self-belief, Honeyghan asserted immediate command over the lethargic champion and won the opening round with ease.

“OK, fine,” many fans were thinking. “Anyone can have an off round and Honeyghan is just working off some nervous energy. When that wears off, we’ll find out the real story.”

Indeed they would. It just wasn’t the story they were expecting.

Honeyghan created a powerful imprint in round two as a right lead over the top rocked Curry to his core. The challenger raged forth in search of the early knockout and he did his best to get it by smashing Curry’s head and body with a ceaseless storm of punches. Blood began seeping from Curry’s mouth and he had the look of a man who was fighting off an avalanche. To the shock of virtually everyone, including ITV’s Reg Gutteridge, Curry’s seemingly untouchable championship reign was in mortal danger of ending in most explosive fashion.

Curry tried to wake up the echoes in round three and for a while, he managed well enough. But by round’s end, Honeyghan put an end to Curry’s hopes with another withering attack, an attack that signaled this “Ragamuffin Man” was not going away anytime soon – unless, of course, he ended up scoring the knockout he so dearly wanted.

Honeyghan did his best to get it in the fifth as several more right hands tore through Curry’s weakened defense. What had seemed improbable less than 30 minutes earlier now appeared inevitable.

Sniffing a victory for the ages, Honeyghan started round six by tearing into his prey with frightening intensity. In fact, his overly aggressive approach resulted in an accidental head clash that opened a nasty gash over Curry’s left eye that eventually would require 20 stitches. The severity was such that referee Octavio Meyran stopped the action and inspected the cut before letting the fight continue.

But it wouldn’t continue long. Between rounds six and seven, ringside physician Paul Williams declared that the fight could not go on. The stunning sight of Meyran waving off the fight ignited a wild celebration in the new champion’s corner. Honeyghan, overcome with emotion, screamed to the heavens and landed a neat one-two to the Showtime cameraman’s lens. Honeyghan’s sensational upset appropriately was compared to Turpin’s 1951 shocker over Robinson. Honeyghan, however, inflicted far more physical damage to his foe. An addition to the cavernous cut and the bleeding lip, Curry also suffered a broken nose. His spirit might have been broken even earlier.

“Tonight, in the first round, I knew I wasn’t myself,” Curry said. “In the third and fourth rounds, I tried to knock him out because I knew my legs would never make it. When he cut me and the blood flowed into my eyes, I knew the fight was over.”

At the time of the stoppage, Honeyghan was ahead by three points on one card and two points on the other two. But while the loss permanently extinguished Curry’s hopes for historic supremacy, the victory sparked a new set of dreams for his conqueror.

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