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Brits in the Big Apple

5/12/2010
Naseem Hamed promised a show worthy of Broadway upon his arrival in New York, and he delivered. Al Bello/Getty Images

A superstar in the U.K., Amir Khan seeks to make America take notice when he meets Paulie Malignaggi at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

British boxers have had mixed success in New York. Here's a look at how several Britons fared when they fought in the Big Apple.

Ken Buchanan

Scotland's former lightweight champion is best known in the States for his game defeat against Roberto Duran, who overpowered him in 13 rounds at Madison Square Garden in June 1972. However, Buchanan won four fights at either the Garden or its smaller downstairs arena, which was then known as the Felt Forum. In the "big room," Buchanan outclassed the unbeaten, 10-pounds-heavier Montreal welterweight Donato Paduano in a nontitle bout and scored a unanimous decision victory over ex-champ Ismael Laguna of Panama. The Laguna fight was a memorable one, with Buchanan's left eye swelling and closing as early as the third round, while by the 12th blood flowed from a cut over the eye. It was Buchanan who finished stronger, though, clinching the unanimous decision by hammering a tiring Laguna in the last two rounds of the 15-round bout. "It was one helluva fight," Buchanan told reporters afterward.

Naseem Hamed

Hamed's six-knockdown featherweight title fight with Kevin Kelley at Madison Square Garden in December 1997 was surely one of the wildest shootouts in the history of the great arena. Although Hamed won the all-southpaw fight on a fourth-round knockout, the colorful southpaw from Sheffield (but of Yemeni heritage) was down three times. Hamed's youth, power and superior resiliency saw him through against the experienced New Yorker. He scored three knockdowns himself, including the one that decided the contest. "It was one of the fiercest, most thrilling battles between little men in years," wrote Colin Hart in British tabloid The Sun.

Lennox Lewis

Born in London but Canadian-raised and spiritually in harmony with his Jamaican ancestral homeland, Lewis was billed as -- and generally considered -- British. Lewis' three main events at Madison Square Garden included the controversial draw with Evander Holyfield in March 1999 and a second-round demolition of the unbeaten but outclassed Michael Grant in April 2000. One of Lewis' most underrated performances, though, was his majority 10-round decision win over a tough and motivated Ray Mercer at the Garden in May 1996. This was the fight in which Lewis demonstrated that he had the heart and mental and physical endurance to win a grueling, give-and-take battle.

Joe Calzaghe

Dropped in the opening round, the unbeaten Welsh southpaw came back to beat up faded legend Roy Jones Jr. for a unanimous 12-round decision victory in their light heavyweight bout at MSG in November 2008. Bloodied and battered, Jones didn't win another round after the first.

Paul Ingle

Gritty, busy-punching Ingle overwhelmed the more polished Junior Jones, of Brooklyn, in 11 rounds on the Lewis-Grant show at MSG in April 2000. Jones dropped Ingle with a right hand in the ninth round, but the "Yorkshire Hunter" came back strong in the 10th, and an exhausted, bloodied Jones was rescued by referee Steve Smoger in the 11th.

Jack "Kid" Berg

Berg, the "Whitechapel Whirlwind" from London's East End, fought extensively in the U.S. -- which included frequent New York appearances -- from the late 1920s into the '30s. He lost a 15-round decision to Tony Canzoneri in a lightweight title fight at the Polo Grounds in September 1931, with Canzoneri going 2-1 in their three-fight series. However, Berg was revered in Britain for twice battling his way to victory over Kid Chocolate in extremely close contests in New York. The all-action Jewish boxer inflicted Chocolate's first defeat, winning a torrid 10-rounder before 25,000 at the Polo Grounds in August 1930. Berg won the 15-round rematch at Madison Square Garden Bowl on Long Island in July 1932. Each time, the split decision in Berg's favor was hotly disputed. Berg was bigger and stronger -- essentially a lightweight against a featherweight. His relentless aggression was matched by Chocolate's superior boxing skills. While there was disagreement on the winner of these fights, observers were in accord that they had witnessed exceptional encounters.

Jock McAvoy

McAvoy, the "Rochdale Thunderbolt" from Lancashire in northwest England, lost a unanimous decision to John Henry Lewis in a light heavyweight title bout at Madison Square Garden in March 1936, but he won fights at the Garden and St. Nicholas Arena in 1935. McAvoy's first-round hammering of middleweight champion Babe Risko at the Garden was one of the great performances by a British boxer away from home, even allowing for the fact McAvoy was by today's standards a super middleweight going against a 160-pounder in the non-title bout. McAvoy floored Risko six times in what the New York Times called "one of the most sensational ring battles seen here in recent years."

Tommy Farr

The durable Welsh heavyweight surprised the boxing world when he not only lasted the full 15 rounds with Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium in 1937 but also gave the great "Brown Bomber" a stubborn argument. In four subsequent New York appearances, Farr lost on points to ex-champions James J. Braddock and Max Baer and to contenders Lou Nova and Red Burman, but the fight with Braddock was desperately close (a poll of ringside reporters narrowly favored Farr).

Bruce Woodcock

The British heavyweight champion boxed well initially against Tami Mauriello but couldn't hold off the rough, tough contender from the Bronx and lost on a fifth-round KO at Madison Square Garden in May 1946. Woodcock might have done better, though, had he not been dazed by a clash of heads in the fifth. "I thought at least part of the roof must have dropped down and crowned me," Woodcock wrote when describing the collision with Mauriello's head in his autobiography, "Two Fists and a Fortune."

Gary Jacobs

Although Jacobs held the British Commonwealth welterweight title and was on a run of 16 successive wins, the southpaw from Glasgow, Scotland, was no match for the more experienced and talented Buddy McGirt, of Brentwood, Long Island, in their main event at MSG's Felt Forum in August 1989. McGirt took the fight on six days' notice, and although clearly not in top condition he cruised to a unanimous 10-round decision. Jacobs was strong and game but too limited and too slow, "often accepting four or five punches for the opportunity of missing one," as Michael Katz reported in the New York Daily News.

Randy Turpin

Turpin had the dubious distinction of having been the shortest reigning world middleweight champion, losing the title when Robinson stopped him in the 10th round of their rematch at the Polo Grounds on Sept. 12, 1951. Just 64 days earlier, Turpin had shocked the boxing world by outpointing Sugar Ray in London. Turpin looked poised for victory in New York, too, with Robinson bleeding profusely from a terrible cut over the left eye. Robinson turned the fight his way with a big right hand, however, knocking down the British boxer. The fight was stopped with Turpin under fire on the ropes and just eight seconds remaining in the round. It was "as dramatic a finish as the ring has seen in a long while," reported Arthur Daley in the New York Times. Two years later, a lackluster Turpin lost a unanimous decision to Bobo Olson at Madison Square Garden in a box-off for the championship vacated by Robinson.