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A Look Back: Frank Bruno

Lee Daley

Lee has been a fan of the sport of boxing for around twenty five years.

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The likes of Tyson Fury and Lennox Lewis have certainly done enough to make Britain proud. But sometimes it is the ones that struggle in their attempts to achieve what they did that captures the hearts of the public. Frank Bruno was definitely one of them.

Bruno, perhaps just as famous for his magnificently sculpted body and humble attitude, was the people’s champion. During his prime through the years as a professional boxer, Frank’s jab and big right hand became well known as a huge part of his style of fighting. Some might say that he bulked up a little too much which affected how rigid he looked to have performed, which is a claim that many wouldn’t entirely disagree with. But his admirable determination to see his dreams come true and down to earth attitude is what mainly convinced the public to side with him.

Born in Hammersmith in London on 16th November, 1961 Bruno began boxing seriously in 1970 at the age of 9 years old. He turned professional in 1982 but not before recording a 20-1 amateur record and becoming the youngest Amateur British Champion in the process.

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Bruno blasted through everybody he faced, racking up 21 straight victories before fighting James Smith on 13th May, 1984. The Englishman was ranked 9 by the World Boxing Council and the fight was scheduled for 10 rounds. Content with sticking behind the jab, Bruno was well ahead on the score cards until Smith turned on the pressure in the final round and forced his rival to the floor with a combination of punches. After the bout, the American admitted that he knew he was trailing on the judges score cards and that he had to do something about that. Bruno faced the first loss of his career.

Bruno returned to the ring in September of 1984 and overcame a further seven opponents, going the distance just once. One of those people was the South African Gerrie Coetzee, the former WBA heavyweight champion. Frank dealt with him inside three minutes. Then on 19th July, 1986 Bruno got his shot at his first world title, the WBA crown. Standing in his way was Tim Witherspoon who had already become a two time champion at that point after beating Greg Page for the WBC crown in 1984. This time, sheduled for 15 rounds of action, Witherspoon put an end to the hopes of the British public when he knocked their man out in the 11th.

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James ‘Bonecrusher” Smith takes a big right from Frank Bruno.

But ever brave, and lovably stubborn, Frank was still determined to see himself with a championship belt wrapped around his waist one day. So, he regathered himself to make another comeback on 24th March, 1987. He got a fifth round win over James Tillis and later on in that same year he fought Joe Bugner in what was a heavily publicised fight that took place on English soil. It is interesting to note that this was also boxing promoter Barry Hearn’s first taste of promoting a boxing match. Bugner, due to his win over Henry Cooper on March 16th, 1971, was unfairly and heavily disliked by the British public. Bruno was odds on favourite to win, and that he did when he captured an 8th round TKO.

But the toughest test was yet to come for Frank.

Mike Tyson had been destroying almost everybody in his path during his title reign that started when he became the youngest ever heavyweight boxer to become a world champion at the age of 20 years old in 1986. This time, Bruno would have to travel to the US, precisely Las Vegas, to see if he can cause one of the biggest upsets in boxing on 25th February, 1989. The first round was frantic! Bruno hit the canvas early but then came back to exchange with the smaller, but more powerful and faster multiple belt holder, briefly rocking Tyson which caused him to hold on. But as the rounds went by it became Tyson’s fight and in the 5th round he found the answer when he had Bruno wilting on the ropes while he rained down punches on him, forcing Richard Steele to step in.

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Although Bruno had some success in the first round, Mike Tyson had him on the go four rounds later.

It was time to rest and think about his long term plans in boxing as Bruno took the next two years away from the sport. But he was still feeling the aspiration to become a boxing king. So, he laced up the gloves again and made another return in 1991. Bruno got four more straight wins before challenging former Olympic gold medalist Lennox Lewis for the WBC title. Cardiff Arms Park in Wales was the site. That famous strong jab and the occasional right hand was a problem for Lewis early on. But when the pressure was being put on the Frank Maloney promoted fighter in the 7th he somehow managed to find a huge left hook that made Bruno stumble back. The champion continued to pour it on and eventually the contest came to a halt in Lewis’ favour.

In what would be his final campaign to win a championship crown, Frank came again in 1993. But he would have to wait until 1995 to get yet another crack at world honours.

With Lennox Lewis seeing his reign come to an end by a swift right by Oliver McCall in 1994, McCall had already made one successful defense when he saw off the aging Larry Holmes. He would travel to London to meet Bruno to find out who the better man would be on the night of September 2nd. This time, however, it appeared that Bruno’s arsenal, while a little limited, would be enough! Oliver couldn’t find the answers over the course of the full 12 rounds in which the fight lasted. The jab and plenty of right hands were mainly the key and McCall looked despondent after the final bell had rang.

Scores of 115-113 and 117-111 twice in favour of Bruno was read out to the deafening roar of the attending crowd and this time his aspiration turned into reality with the WBC crown wrapped around his waist while he gave a post fight interview to SKY television. Even Don King, who was standing right behind Bruno, seemed somewhat happy for him and gave him a pat on the shoulder for a job well done.

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Bruno hits Oliver McCall witha left jab in their London World championship fight.

To show Britain that what he had done was indeed a reality this time, he displayed his newly won posession on an open top bus which roamed the streets of London not long after. He would enjoy his time as the new champion for just over six months when he had to defend his title against Mike Tyson on 16th March, 1996. Tyson was only then recently released from prison due to a rape conviction. Sadly for Frank Mike made relatively light work of him when he, again, forced him against the ropes and made the Brit take a knee which convinced Mills Lane to wave the bout off.

More soul searching was needed once again, and even though Bruno briefly made the claim to the media that he would make it his quest to grab two world crowns, he rapidly let go of the idea and called it a day.

Throughout the years since retirement, Frank has had to fight various personal battles including struggling to accept a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder that was made in 2003.But not all has been doom and gloom as he also welcomed a new baby in 2006 and became a father for the fourth time. In 2006 he had his own autobiography published which saw a wealth of success.

To this day, Frank still likes to keep fit and gives boxing related media interviews asking for his opinion on some of the current scene in the sport. It seems as if he has finally found peace living in his residence of Cornwall after all the turbulence of the last twenty or so years.

I’m sure it would be hard to find anybody who doesn’t wish contentment for “our Frank.”

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