A Great Fight that started so disgracefully

How it all began. The press conference held at Stakis Casino in 1985.

In November 1985, Mark Kaylor and Errol Christie fought an eliminator for the British middleweight title. The 8 rounds they shared in the ring that night would have been enough for the fight to be remembered as a classic encounter, unfortunately the events leading up to the fight will always overshadow the fight itself, much like the far more publicised Larry Holmes vs Gerry Cooney match 3 years earlier.

Errol Chrisitie was a prodigy. The term prodigy is used for “a young person with exceptional qualities or abilities”. The Guinness Book of Records lists Christie as the only British boxer to win all 10 amateur titles.

Managers and promoters awaited the inevitable switch from the amateur code to the professional ranks for young Christie. It was London businessman Burt McCarthy who secured the moniker of the former Coventry standout.

To boxing purists, Christie was a joy to watch, a smooth as silk boxer with a devastating punch. Only one of Christies first 13 opponents heard the final bell.

Of those first 13 bouts, 3 of them took place in America, McCarthy sent his young signing to the toughest school in boxing back in the early 80s, the legendary Kronk Gym in Detroit, run by hall of fame trainer Emanuel Steward.

Steward has been attributed with many quotes regarding Christie, but the one that in hindsight may matter most, was that the young Briton “more than held his own with world champions Milton McCrory and Duane Thomas in sparring”. It was these gym wars that promoter Frank Warren believed changed Christie as a fighter.

In June 1984, Christie faced Stan White on the undercard of Thomas Hearns vs Roberto Duran at Caesers Palace, Las Vegas. He scored a routine 5th round Tko in a scheduled 6 round bout.

What turned into a proud night for British boxing. Kaylor and Christie served up a classic encounter.

Warren had warned Christie against going to the Kronk and his warning seemed to be well founded when on his return to a British ring he was stopped in the 1st round by unheralded Belgium light-heavyweight Jose Seys.

The loss was attributed at the time to the natural weight discrepancy between the two, but even that explanation was blown out of the water when Herol Graham knocked out Seys in 6 rounds a month later. Graham was in the process of moving up in weight to the 160lb middleweight division.

Christie came back with 7 good wins against fairly good opposition so the Seys incident was seen by many as purely a blip.

Boxing was in a mini-boom period in the UK and many of the big fights were being televised on free-to-air TV by ITV. Errol Christie was their top prospect, and so all his fights were shown to large UK viewing audiences.

Mark Kaylor was not born with Errol Christie’s natural flair and silky skills. But, from a very young age he had a fierce desire to be a fighter rarely seen in one so young. By 1980 Kaylor had won the ABA title and represented Great Britain at the Moscow Olympics, he turned professional at The Royal Albert Hall on 14th October the same year.

Kaylor had moved into his grandmother’s home in Canning Town at 16 years of age purely to be able to join the famous West Ham ABC, as he was in very close proximity to the renowned Royal Oak Gym run by manager Terry Lawless he was able to spar top quality professionals such as British light-middleweight champion Jimmy Batten while still wearing the amateur vest.

Many experts believed that Errol Christie would go on to emulate the great Sugar Ray Leonard.

The obvious choice of manager for Kaylor’s professional career was Lawless who worked with the promotional group known as “The Cartel” which included Mickey Duff, Jarvis Astaire and Mike Barrett. At that time the cartel between them trained, managed and promoted fighters such as Frank Bruno, Jim Watt, Maurice Hope and Charlie Magri who all held, or went on to hold world titles.

Kaylor ran up a 24 fight unbeaten run before being disqualified in the 9th round against American Tony Cerda for hitting after the bell. Kaylor had a temperamental personality and snapped easily when he felt provoked.

The fight before the Cerda DQ, Kaylor had become British and Commonwealth middleweight champion beating champion Roy Gumbs in 5 rounds. This was the first time Kaylor went into a fight as the betting underdog.

After 2 more wins, disaster struck when Duff surprisingly pitted the West Ham Man against American puncher Buster Drayton. While Drayton had 8 losses on his resume, he had ended the unbeaten run of future WBC Light-middleweight champion Duane Thomas and a month before facing Kaylor had made his first UK appearance by blasting out British 154lb champion Jimmy Cable in 1 round.

After a routine 10 round comeback, Kaylor was matched against the experienced EBU champion Tony Sibson in a matchup for all 3 belts that caught the imagination of the British fans. Sibson outpointed Kaylor over 12 rounds in a bout that was marred by fighting between Sibson and Kaylor fans.

The poster for Mark Kaylor vs Errol Christie.

Again, Kaylor rebounded with 2 confidence building bouts at Bethnal Green’s historic York Hall against American opposition before the British Boxing Board of Control ordered that Christie and Kaylor would meet in an eliminator.

You cannot explain the reasons behind the racial undertones of the promotion without understanding events that took place in London in 1985. Violent rioting took place culminating in the Broadwater Farm riot.

The riots were the result of racial tension between the Afro-Caribean community and the Police. The Metropolitan Police had very few Black or Asian officers and were subsequently found to be both racist and sexist in culture.

By the time the fight promotion started, certain factions had attached themselves to Kaylor with the hope of proving the superiority of his skin colour. Likewise, the beleaguered black community hoped that Christie could come through and give them a much needed boost.

By the time the two met at the press conference to announce the fight, the tension was palpable. Words were crossed and a melee broke out between the two fighters, it was broken up, but continued later in the car park where camera crews had set up to capture events as they unfolded.

With well-founded worries over another racial clash, the Police asked the Boxing Board to cancel the event, but they finally agreed to allow it to go ahead when adequate security measures were agreed upon.

What started so badly ended so well, a British classic.

The atmosphere at Wembley that night, which just so happened to be Bonfire night (Nov 5th) was electric, the fight was an absolute classic and a credit to both boxers. Only they know what truly motivated them, but whatever that was, allowed both to be hurt and floored, but come back with such courage and fortitude that even their opponents fans must have gained respect by the fights end.

Two knock downs apiece and both hurt at other times during the 8rounds that the fight lasted, it will always be remembered by those old enough to remember those times.

The BBBoC later fined Kaylor £15,000 and Christie £5,000 for their part in the Stakis Casino incident.

Years later when asked about his part in the press conference incident Kaylor said “Back then, I had a quick temper that I’d rather not have had. There was always this spark in my head! Today, I’m embarrassed by it. Errol was a nice guy. There’s no way I could behave like that now.”

If Kaylor vs Christie is to be compared in build-up to the Holmes vs Cooney match, then the fighters came out with respect intact just as their American counterparts did. In both cases, boxing was the real winner.

Kaylor now lives in California with his American wife and 3 sons.

Sadly we lost Errol Christie in June 2017 to Lung cancer. R.I.P champ.

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