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October 24 1987: Joe Bugner V Frank Bruno Captivate A Nation

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ON October 24, 1987, heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno knocked out Joe Bugner in Britain’s most hyped boxing match, held at White Hart Lane, London. Bruno took home £750,000, Bugner got £250,000.

Bruno was 25 years old. Bugner was 37 years old.

Bruno had enjoyed a rapid rise in boxing

From amateur champion…

 

Boxing - ABA Championships - Wembley (L-R) Rudi Pika and Frank Bruno flail away at each other Ref #: PA.681818  Date: 02/05/1980

Boxing – ABA Championships – Wembley
(L-R) Rudi Pika and Frank Bruno flail away at each other
Date: 02/05/1980

 

 

…to professional champion.

 

Great Britain's Frank Bruno putts American Scott LeDoux on the canvas during the fight. Frank Bruno went on to win the fight by way of Technical Knock Out in the 3rd round. Ref #: PA.11384128  Date: 03/05/1983

Great Britain’s Frank Bruno putts American Scott LeDoux on the canvas during the fight. Frank Bruno went on to win the fight by way of Technical Knock Out in the 3rd round.
Ref #: PA.11384128
Date: 03/05/1983

 

 

Britain's unbeaten heavyweight Frank Bruno (left) -- 19 wins inside the distance, attacks opponent Floyd "Jumbo" Cummings of America during tonight's 10-round contest at the Royal Albert Hall, London which the London man won in the 7th round. Ref #: PA.1649917  Date: 11/10/1983

Britain’s unbeaten heavyweight Frank Bruno (left) — 19 wins inside the distance, attacks opponent Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings of America during tonight’s 10-round contest at the Royal Albert Hall, London which the London man won in the 7th round.
Date: 11/10/1983

 

Boxing - Heavyweight Bout - Frank Bruno v Larry Frazier - Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, London Frank Bruno (l) and his cornerman Dennie Mancini (r) check on Larry Frazier (c) after the second round knockout that ended the fight Ref #: PA.751993  Date: 04/12/1985

Boxing – Heavyweight Bout – Frank Bruno v Larry Frazier – Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, London
Frank Bruno (l) and his cornerman Dennie Mancini (r) check on Larry Frazier (c) after the second round knockout that ended the fight
Date: 04/12/1985

 

That1980sSportsBlog sets the scene:

Bruno of course was the darling of British boxing in the eighties, although I probably wouldn’t use that word if I ever met him. Through his relationship with commentator Harry Carpenter, and his initial exploits in the ring, Bruno had enchanted the nation, bringing hope to boxing fans that finally we had found a great British heavyweight prospect, and also amusing us with his humour and nature outside the ring too.

 

 

Heavyweight boxer Frank Bruno, left, carrying BBC Sports commentator Harry Carpenter at the Royal Oak, Canning Town, London. Ref #: PA.8550976  Date: 22/05/1986

Heavyweight boxer Frank Bruno, left, carrying BBC Sports commentator Harry Carpenter at the Royal Oak, Canning Town, London.
Date: 22/05/1986.  “Know what I mean ‘Arry?”

 

After 21 straight wins between 1982-1984, Bruno came unstuck in the final round against James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith, but had recovered sufficiently to gain a crack at the WBA title against America’s Tim Witherspoon in 1986.

 

The fight with Witherspoon was a big affair.

 

American World Heavyweight boxing champion Tim Witherspoon dons a chef's hat as promoter Don King prepares to carve the meat during an American-style barbecue hosted by the boxer in Basildon. Witherspoon defends his title against Frank Bruno at Wembley. Ref #: PA.1685295  Date: 13/07/1986

American World Heavyweight boxing champion Tim Witherspoon dons a chef’s hat as promoter Don King prepares to carve the meat during an American-style barbecue hosted by the boxer in Basildon. Witherspoon defends his title against Frank Bruno at Wembley.
Date: 13/07/1986

Boxing - World Heavyweight Championship - WBA Title Bout - Wembley Stadium - Frank Bruno v Tim Witherspoon

oxing - World Heavyweight Championship - WBA Title Bout - Wembley Stadium - Frank Bruno v Tim Witherspoon Tim Witherspoon training in the ring during the build up to his fight with Frank Bruno. Ref #: PA.6223939  Date: 07/07/1986

oxing – World Heavyweight Championship – WBA Title Bout – Wembley Stadium – Frank Bruno v Tim Witherspoon
Tim Witherspoon training in the ring during the build up to his fight with Frank Bruno.
Date: 07/07/1986

 

Fight night!

 

Boxing - WBA World Heavyweight Title - Frank Bruno v Tim Witherspoon - Wembley Stadium

Action from the bout between Tim Witherspoon and Frank Bruno. Witherspoon went on to defeat Bruno in the 11th round to retain his WBA title belt at Wembley Stadium. Ref #: PA.6223902  Date: 19/07/1986

Action from the bout between Tim Witherspoon and Frank Bruno. Witherspoon went on to defeat Bruno in the 11th round to retain his WBA title belt at Wembley Stadium.
Date: 19/07/1986

Frank Bruno v Tim Witherspoon

 

 

Despite leading in the fight, Bruno’s lack of stamina came back to haunt him, and Witherspoon finished the fight in round 11, meaning Bruno had to start again on the path to another tilt at the heavyweight crown.

 

 

Boxing - World Heavyweight Championship - WBA Title Bout - Wembley Stadium - Frank Bruno v Tim Witherspoon

 

 

Enter Joe Bugner.

Bugner was everything that Bruno was not, especially in the popularity stakes. The Hungarian-born fighter had hardly endeared himself to the hearts of the British public, by controversially defeating Henry Cooper in what turned out to be Cooper’s last ever bout in 1971.

 

 

Boxing - British, Commonwealth and European Heavyweight Championship - Henry Cooper v Joe Bugner - Press Conference Joe Bugner (second r) and Henry Cooper (second l) sign contracts to meet each other in March 1971, watched by promoter Harry Levine (c), Cooper's manager Jim Wicks (l) and Bugner's manager Andy Smith (r) Ref #: PA.636296  Date: 27/01/1971

Boxing – British, Commonwealth and European Heavyweight Championship – Henry Cooper v Joe Bugner – Press Conference
Joe Bugner (second r) and Henry Cooper (second l) sign contracts to meet each other in March 1971, watched by promoter Harry Levine (c), Cooper’s manager Jim Wicks (l) and Bugner’s manager Andy Smith (r)
Ref #: PA.636296
Date: 27/01/1971

 

Defeating our ‘Enry on a hotly disputed points decision was tantamount to mooning at the Queen during the recent jubilee celebrations. “I never wanted to be the man who ended Henry’s career. I had no idea that was to be his last fight” Bugner commented in 2008. “What happened to me after that fight was worse than being crucified. Even the Kray twins got a better press. I was blamed for something I had no control over and one moronic Labour MP even called for me to be stripped of my title, stripped of my assets and sent back to wherever I came from. I was a 21-year-old kid and my mind was totally f****d after that. I had another 20 fights in England after beating Henry and the reaction from the crowd was bloody painful every time. In the end, I was chased out of my own country.”

 

Boxing - The Penny Pushover - The Bull, London Road, Bedford Heavyweight boxer Joe Bugner, who is due to fight champion Henry Cooper, pushes over a stack of old pennies in the Bull pub in Bedford. The pennies were piled up by customers in aid of the National Kidney Research Fund. (l-r) Andy Smith (Joe's manager), Joe Bugner and Publican Gordon Lee. Archive-PA150127-1 Ref #: PA.10253917  Date: 16/02/1971

Boxing – The Penny Pushover – The Bull, London Road, Bedford
Heavyweight boxer Joe Bugner, who is due to fight champion Henry Cooper, pushes over a stack of old pennies in the Bull pub in Bedford. The pennies were piled up by customers in aid of the National Kidney Research Fund. (l-r) Andy Smith (Joe’s manager), Joe Bugner and Publican Gordon Lee.
Date: 16/02/1971

 

An awesome evening for Joe Bugner, left, who expresses affection for Henry Cooper by placing an arm around him, after he beat him at the Empire Pool on points. Challenger Joe is now the Heavyweight Champion of Great Britain, Europe and the Commonwealth. Ref #: PA.1981359  Date: 16/03/1971

An awesome evening for Joe Bugner, left, who expresses affection for Henry Cooper by placing an arm around him, after he beat him at the Empire Pool on points. Challenger Joe is now the Heavyweight Champion of Great Britain, Europe and the Commonwealth.
Date: 16/03/1971

 

In subsequent years, Bugner would establish himself as a decent heavyweight, losing to Ali in a shot at the world title in 1975.

 

British heavyweight Joe Bugner (l) and his manager Andy Smith (r) at Heathrow Airport where they will fly out to America to meet Muhammad Ali to arrange a fight in February 1973. That fight did take place with Muhammad Ali winning on points after 12 rounds. Archive-PA159739-1 Ref #: PA.10254128  Date: 10/12/1972

British heavyweight Joe Bugner (l) and his manager Andy Smith (r) at Heathrow Airport where they will fly out to America to meet Muhammad Ali. That fight did take place with Muhammad Ali winning on points after 12 rounds.

 

Bugner was 22 when he gounf Ali for the first time. Elvis was in the room:

Elvis Presley had presented The Greatest with a magnificent bejewelled robe with the words ‘People’s Choice’ spelt out in gemstones on the back.

Elvis was performing at the Las Vegas Hilton and before the fight he invited about 50 or so people to his hotel suite for a party.

“I thought I’d be very complimentary to him,” recalled Bugner. “I said, ‘Excuse me, Elvis that’s a beautiful robe you gave Ali. I’d love one like that because, as you know I’m also a champion.’ But Elvis turned around and said, ‘You’re no champion’ just like that. I told him to get stuffed and I walked out.

“His bodyguard, a guy they called Big Red, came over and said, ‘Hey man whatya doin … no one speaks to the King like that.’ I replied, ‘Mate, you tell Elvis he’s a d***head.’ Mind you I still listen to him in the car!”

 

Muhammad Ali looks round at the welcome he receives at Heathrow Airport. He is in London to see the fight between Joe Bugner and Santiago Alberto Lovell at the Royal Albert Hall. Ref #: PA.9269535  Date: 29/11/1974

Muhammad Ali looks round at the welcome he receives at Heathrow Airport. He is in London to see the fight between Joe Bugner and Santiago Alberto Lovell at the Royal Albert Hall.
Date: 29/11/1974

 

But the British public didn’t forgive or forget easily, and Bugner’s defeat of Cooper still rankled, although it seems harsh to blame a man who, after all, didn’t decide who the fight should be awarded to.

 

Boxing - European, Commonwealth and British Heavyweight Title - Joe Bugner v Richard Dunn - Empire Pool, Wembley Joe Bugner raises his arm in victory after flooring Richard Dunn in the first round at the Empire Pool, Wembley, London. Ref #: PA.1149397  Date: 12/10/1976 Picture by: PA/PA Archive/Press Asso

Boxing – European, Commonwealth and British Heavyweight Title – Joe Bugner v Richard Dunn – Empire Pool, Wembley
Joe Bugner raises his arm in victory after flooring Richard Dunn in the first round at the Empire Pool, Wembley, London.

 

However, in recent years, Bugner had made yet another comeback, beating Jame Tillis, David Bey and Greg Page within a year, and he was starting to move back up the world rankings.

 

Boxing - Heavyweight - Joe Bugner v Danny Sutton - Alexandra Pavilion, London Referee Mike Jacobs raises Joe Bugner's arm to declare him the winner after he had stopped American heavyweight Danny Sutton in the ninth round. Ref #: PA.9781453  Date: 20/04/1983

Boxing – Heavyweight – Joe Bugner v Danny Sutton – Alexandra Pavilion, London
Referee Mike Jacobs raises Joe Bugner’s arm to declare him the winner after he had stopped American heavyweight Danny Sutton in the ninth round.
Date: 20/04/1983

 

Bugner news was back.

 

 

File picture of boxer Joe Bugner before his 1987 fight against Frank Bruno. Bugner, the former British world heavyweight title contender, has announced he will return to the ring next month at the age of 45. Now a grandfather and Australian citizen, the ex-British and European title holder says he will fight current Australian champion Vince Cervi, 27, on the Gold Coast on September 22. See PA story BOXING Bugner.

Joe Bugner before his 1987 fight against Frank Bruno. Bugner

 

Vital Boxing takes up the tale:

Bruno had been lined up to face Trevor Berbeck, at Wembley, but an injury to his potential opponent put pad to that fight. With the need to keep active a priority, the wheels were set in motion for a fight to take place… Making a foray into Boxing for the first time, Barry Hearn did the deal that would see the two pugilists go face to face in a contest to be held at White Hart Lane (Tottenham’s ground) on October 24th.

 

 

Former Tottenham Hotspur Manager Bill Nicholson (c) tosses a coin to determine which corner the fighters (Frank Bruno (l) and Joe Bugner) will fight out of. Archive-PA224835-14 Ref #: PA.8340777  Date: 18/10/1987

Former Tottenham Hotspur Manager Bill Nicholson (c) tosses a coin to determine which corner the fighters (Frank Bruno (l) and Joe Bugner) will fight out of.
Date: 18/10/1987

 

…40,000 crammed into the famous stadium and waited for what was a highly-anticipated bout. Bugner entered the ring in a white gown adorned with the gold and green of his adopted Australia whilst Bruno, resplendent in his familiar red gown, entered the ring to tumultuous cheers with the Union Flag flying high in his corner..

Round eight was to be the pivotal round in the fight, once again Bruno was forcing, in the most professional of ways, the fight and as the end of the round a flurry of punches, accompanied by a push, saw Bugner slump to the canvas. As he arose, Brunorained more punches down on the struggling Bugner and just before the bell sounded his corner threw the towel in, although the official records show that John Coyle, the referee, had stepped in to save Bugner from more punishment.

 

 

File picture of boxer Joe Bugner (l) in action against Frank Bruno in 1987. Bugner, the former British world heavyweight title contender, has announced he will return to the ring next month at the age of 45. Now a grandfather and Australian citizen, the ex-British and European title holder says he will fight current Australian champion Vince Cervi, 27, on the Gold Coast on September 22. See PA story BOXING Bugner. Ref #: PA.1003947  Date: 23/08/1995

Picture of boxer Joe Bugner (l) in action against Frank Bruno in 1987. Bugner, the former British world heavyweight title contender, has announced he will return to the ring next month at the age of 45.  Date: 23/08/1995

 

Bruno won. Bugner was gracious in defeat:

“Bruno’s punch could upset Tyson. He certainly punched harder than I thought he could. I hope he smashes Tyson’s face in…”

Bruno did fight Tyson on February 25, 1989. The British loved him. A nation willed ‘Big Frank’ to win. Game on and Bruno landed a huge punch, Tyson wobbled.

Harry Carpenter didn’t so much commentate and he did cheer for the country’s great hope:

“He’s hurt Tyson. He’s hurt Tyson and Tyson knows it and is going for him… He knows he can hurt him now. Get in there Frank”

And then Bruno was pulverised.

But that’s another story…