British boxer Brian London, who challenged Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight
title in 1966, has died aged 87.
The former heavyweight fought Ali just days after England had won the World Cup at
Wembley, Despite being buoyed by a spirit of national optimism, the Hartlepool-born
boxer was defeated in the third round.
Former UK Olympic boxing coach Kevin Hickey said Brian London “did his sport proudly
[and] did Blackpool proud”. London, who was born Brian Sidney Harper, moved to
Blackpool when he was 16 and was encouraged to take up boxing while doing national
service with the RAF, after an officer discovered his father was former British and
Commonwealth heavyweight champion Jack London.
He beat Joe Erskine to become British heavyweight champion in 1958 but was deposed a
a year later by Sir Henry Cooper, who said nobody hit him harder in his career.
Years after the 1966 fight, he admitted in a BBC interview years later that he was “not
good enough” to defeat Ali, but his son-in-law Dave Garside said the American’s trainers
were wary of London’s abilities.
He said he was told by Ali’s manager Angelo Dundee that London’s first-round knockout
victory over one of his other boxers, Roger Rischer, in 1964 had a huge bearing on how
the fight was approached.
“It was personal, Dundee said they told Ali ‘this guy can fight’,” he said.