Fight Cities: Manchester

“This is Manchester, we do things differently here” - Tony Wilson. 

Manchester is a place where even in places where the mills have long gone quiet, industrialisation is still everywhere. The scent of hard work and working class culture is thick in the air. The timeless music of Oasis, the Smiths and the Stone Roses seems to rise from the footsteps on cobbled streets. 

Wedged between the windswept moors, the Pennine hills, and rivals to the west that shan’t be mentioned, its attitude has always been Manchester against the world.

The first fighter to embody that was the rough and tough Jock McAvoy. Born just north of Manchester in Burnley in 1908, Jock moved to the city to turn professional.

In 1933, McAvoy took the BBBofC British Middleweight Title and British Empire Middleweight Title in a fifteen round points decision from Len Harvey in Manchester, much to the rapture of the crowd. 

He then set sail to the United States to take on the best America had to offer. He outpointed former middleweight champion Al McCoy in November before taking on the light heavyweight champion Eddie Babe Risko in a non title bout. 

He only took seconds to first floor the champion. Risko was then knocked down five more times in the first round before being knocked out in the dying seconds of the very first round. Too good for his own good this would be McAvoys undoing. 

Risko shunned the rematch and Jock wouldn’t get a shot at the title until he faced all time great John Henry Lewis, where he lost a 15 round decision. 

After McAvoy there was mostly a hiatus in world championship stars from the sooty streets of Manchester. Although the amateur scene blossomed and many captured titles Manchester’s boxing renaissance came at the end of the 20th century, so to save time, we move to the late 1980’s. 

Pat Barrett was the first major figure in this movement. British light welterweight champion, European champion ‘Black Flash’ went on to fight for world titles at welterweight and light middleweight. His wicked left hook and bad boy persona meant he was a favourite in the city. 

Now a trainer/promoter Pat’s ‘Black Flash’ promotions and Moston and Collyhurst Gym have cemented him as one of Manchester boxing’s most well respected figures. 

The story of Manchester boxing though couldn’t be told without stressing the influence of the man they call ‘the Preacher’. Normally clad in a flat cap, cigarette and venomous snake Billy Graham is  a proper boxing eccentric. 

Graham Teaches his young protege

A former professional fighter in his own right he made his name as head of the Phoenix Camp training fighters. He took Ensley Bingham, Mike Brodie and Michael Gomez to British Titles. Paul Burke and Steve Foster to commonwealth titles. Gomez and Anthony Farnell to world titles. 

He also coached Manchester legend Carl ‘The Cat’ Thompson. Turning pro in 1988 Thompson ended his career as British, European and world champion. 

Going over to Germany when that was a terrifying thing to do Thompson won his world title against hometown fighter Ralf Rocchigiani in Hannover. 

Back to back defences over Bonafide superstar Chris Eubank followed, solidifying Carl as Manchester’s biggest name. Although he lost his title to Johnny Nelson there was fight in the old dog yet. 

In his 40th year he was matched against a young upstart; David Haye. Arrogant and hubristic Haye miscalculated how much was left of Thompson. In the 5th round the Cat pounced, pulverising Haye until the towel came flying in. 

Billy Graham’s ultimate success wouldn’t be with Thompson though. His career would be defined by association with one man whose name would ultimately become a byword for Manchester boxing...Hatton. 

Nobody did it quite like Ricky Hatton. Thousands at Vegas fight nights, more in Manchester. ‘Hatton Wonderland’ and ‘Blue Moon’ ringing out through the MEN, MGM and Maine Road. ‘The Hitman’ became the king of Manchester. 

Born on the 6th of October 1978 in Stockport, he fought his way to a British and WBU belt before he put in one of the greatest performances in British boxing history. Ricky stopped the pound for pound number 1, Kostya Tszyu in 11 rounds, all while a rowdy Manchester crowd chanted his name. 

After that he was the biggest star in British boxing. He had super fights against the two best fighters of the 21st century; Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. He had stunning knockouts over Louis Collazo and Paulie Mallinagi and an epic homecoming at his beloved Manchester City against Juan Lazcano. 

After every single one, win or lose, Ricky could be found in the pub, nursing a Guinness with his fans. He was a true people’s champion, just a working class lad who hit the big time. 

After Hatton there was a huge explosion of Manchester fighters all of whom came with the same attitude that Hatton had embodied, win at all costs and always go out on your shield. 

Ricky’s younger brother Matthew would win a European title and put in a brutally gutsy performance against Canelo Alvarez for the WBC junior middleweight title. 

Salford’s Jamie Moore was an all action brawler who competed from 1999 to 2010. British and European champion, his boxing career will be most remembered for his instant classic with Matthew Macklin. 

Moore was trained by another great Mancunian, Oliver Harrison. Training out of ‘Oliver’s gym’ in Pendleton Oliver trained Jamie as well as Martin Murray, Rocky Fielding, and even Amir Khan for a time. 

When Oliver became ill he passed his stable of fighters onto his protege, Moore, who upon his passing used the experience Oliver had given him to continue his legacy by training fighters. 

Linking up with Mossside amateur coach, full time fireman and part time prankster Nigel Travis the pair now boast a stable that has includes ; Carl Frampton, Tommy Coyle, Steven Ward, Martin Murray, Rocky Fielding, Jack Catterall, and newly crowned world champion Chantelle Cameron. 

After Moore came Manchester’s biggest cult superhero; Million Dolla, Anthony Crolla. 

In a career that never stopped for a second Anthony Crolla, in the years up to 2015 he went 29–4–2. The record of a good rough and tumble fighter, in 2014 though, his life became a Rocky film. 

In the final weeks of preparation for his maiden world title fight he saw two men breaking into his neighbor's home, he gave chase to the burglars but when he caught them he was hit over the head with a concrete slab. 

Crolla suffered a fractured skull and a broken ankle, doctors told him he would never box again. 8 months later though, Crolla was fighting Darleys Perez for the WBA World title. Winning the fight, the judges ruled a draw, just to add to the drama, an immediate rematch was signed. 

Like a phoenix from the ashes Crolla demolished Perez with a stunning body shot, living his dream of becoming a world champion.

Trained by his very own ‘Mick’, a Mancunian who deserves as much credit as his muse. Joe Gallagher has been a staple of Manchester boxing his whole life. His coaching career has boasted countless ABA champions, British champions and 4 word champions, including Manc's Crolla and Quigg. 

In the sequels to his rocky moment he would knock out Ismael Barroso in Manchester, best British rival Ricky Burns and  face pound for pound stars like Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares. Even having one last dance in Manchester before he hung up the gloves. 

Crolla was the perpetual underdog, never relenting, never backing down from a challenge, never doing it the easy way. Just like the city he came from. 

Crolla’s story also gave rise to another incredible, quintessentially Manchester story. When a 25-4 Crolla was matched with a 14-0 prospect Kieran Farrell it was seen as a top domestic fight.

Crolla won a unanimous decision but at the end of the fight Farrell collapsed, suffering a bleed on the brain. He suffered brain damage and was lucky to survive. 

Again though the Manchester spirit of the fight back was breathed into him. Farrell told the Guardian ‘I couldn’t put my socks on. Now they say I’m a miracle’. 

After a miracle recovery he opened the aptly named ‘People’s Gym’ and founded Kieran Farrell Promotions, putting on boxing shows and training his own fighters. 

It is not just home to exciting undefeated prospects and tough road fighters, but most importantly a community hub for local kids, inspiring the next generation of Manchester boxers. His heroic story and epic comeback earned him a historic  BEM from the Queen in her 90th Birthday Honours. 

Throughout this period Scott Quigg won the WBA World Bantamweight Championship, defending 5 times before losing in a mega fight with Carl Frampton at the MEN. 

Terry Flanagan also won a world title, beating the recently reinvigorated Jose Zepeda at the Manchester velodrome. He also had 5 defences between 2015 and 2017. 

Manchester is the birthplace of reigning heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson Fury. Although a proud traveller now based out of nearby Morecambe, Tyson grew up on the Manchester boxing scene. Trained by the legendary Jimmy Egan Tyson went from amateur stand out to Undisputed Heavyweight champion of the world, something not too many cities can claim. 

Manchester boxing continues to blossom with the aforementioned Moore’s gym, People’s gym, Gallaghers Gym, Moston and Collyhurst Gym, Jimmy Egans and countless others churning out more stand out boxers than most places in the world. 

With professionals like Fury, Lyndon Artur, Zelfa Barrett(nephew of the original Black Flash), Mark Heffron, Ben Ridings, Aquib Fiaz and countless others flying the flag for Manchester it could not be in a healthier place. 

Fighting is a condition, a state of mind, Manchester’s state of mind is that of the underdog, it’s condition unchanged by 100 years of history. A culture of fighting for the underdog and fighting for what you believe in. 

Boxing had Manchester United fans singing Blue Moon for Ricky Hatton and City fans cheering for fighters with Manchester United badges on their shorts. In Manchester boxing is a universal language, shorthand for their fighting attitude. 

Ewan Breeze for SimBoxx as part of the Fight Cities Series.

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