By Terence Dooley
Part One Link: Click Here
By 1987 Lloyd Honeyghan was living the dream, the Jamaican-born, British-based WBC and IBF world welterweight champion had the scalps of Don Curry, Johnny Bumphus and Maurice Blocker strapped to his belt. Lloyd, however, was hankering for a showdown with former amateur legend Mark Breland, who had picked up the WBA title vacated by Honeyghan after 'The Ragamuffin Man' had refused to take on South Africa's Harold Volbrecht in 1986.
Breland's decision to fight for the vacant title impacted massively on a potential unification with Honeyghan as the WBC had a policy of removing fighters from their rankings if they took on South African opposition. Mark's title win against Volbrecht in February 1987 had placed a two year embargo on a meeting with Honeyghan, it would be three years, and a whole lot of changes, until the two men met to settle the question of 147lb superiority.
In the meantime, Lloyd took his show to Marbella, defending his belts against American challenger and former WBA 140lb titlist Gene Hatcher. Their fight took place in the Nueva Andalucia Bullring; the defending champion was cast as the matador by promoter Mickey Duff – Honeyghan helped sell the fight by sullenly dressing up in bull fighter clothing and punching a stuffed bull.
Lloyd's bullish behaviour was starting to attract its share of criticism. Claims that he was shouting at everyone and anyone who crossed his path were exacerbated by Hatcher's father and trainer, Ron, and Dave Gorman, Gene's manager. “I went to offer my hand. Honeyghan looked through me and brushed past. He may want millions but there ain't no millions for being champ unless you're also a personality,” blasted Gorman (The Sunday Times, August 23 1987).
Lloyd was typically defiant when told about Team Hatcher's observations. “They are my enemies, why should I bother with them? Hatcher has come to take my living away,” stressed Lloyd. Hatcher, though, continued to turn the screw.
“I hear people in Britain don't like him either; in America all those who have met him think he's arrogant, he's too arrogant for his own good and I'll teach him a lesson when we get in the ring,” pledged Hatcher. “The good Lord gifted me with these fists and I am a mean, green, fighting machine. I am not a finesse fighter, I am a 'mad dog', real aggressive,” (The Times, August 29 1987).
It turned out that Lloyd was a madder dog. A rain delay had pushed the fight back a day yet there was no delay on the night, Honeyghan clattered his man with a left hook to bring about the KO finish at 0:45 of the first session. Hatcher went down heavily, he was on the canvas for considerably longer than the duration of the bout itself, leaving the fresh, fired-up champion keen to bounce into his next defence.
There are many things a fighter needs to make it in the sport of boxing, two of the most important things are his fists – hand and knuckle injuries are massively debilitating to a fighter. Honeyghan, like many fighters before and after, was carrying hand damage going into his October 28 1987 title defence against the unheralded Jorge Vaca.
The champion kept turning southpaw to ease the stress on his right hand only to lose his way, an accidental clash of heads in the eighth left Vaca with a gash over his right eye. Lloyd's inability to take control was borne out by the scorecards; the champion was deposed, suffering defeat for the first time in his career via a split technical decision.
Curry, Bumphus, Blocker and Hatcher had been seen as potential slip ups, Vaca had been viewed as a chance to work on technique. Honeyghan was typically enigmatic when asked what went wrong. He said, “I just want to be by myself for a while. I just want to hang out in the street and chill out,” (The Times, October 30 1987).
Honeyghan had come close to withdrawing from the contest three weeks prior to the first bell, hand problems had hindered his training. A specialist was brought in, a special padded glove was utilised and Lloyd was soon back on the road to full sharpness. There was, however, the small matter of his alleged personal problems, his relationships with women were legendary at the time, there were fears that Honeyghan's popularity had impinged on his performances.
Lloyd was phlegmatic, blaming Vaca for failing to light the notoriously short Honeyghan fuse. “I wish he had made me mad before the fight”, whispered the former champion, “but he was too nice. He even came up and said 'hello' to me. The next time, if there is a next time, the fight will not go 12 or 15 rounds. I will win.”
It was not back to the drawing board for the former undisputed 147lb king. At first, Honeyghan was reluctant to begin the rebuilding process, telling people that, “I don't think I will fight again - not because of the hand, but because I don't want to”, before heading to New York to see a specialist as he sought to get rid of the arthritis that was spidering along his hands and arms.
Duff ensured that the Honeyghan title machine rumbled on, netting a March 1988 return with Vaca at London's Wembley Arena. It was also a date with history, the 27-year-old was bidding to become the first British boxer since Ted 'Kid' Berg to regain a world title.
Lloyd went for Vaca with a venom that had been missing in their first meeting, trapping his man on the ropes in the third before unleashing a torrent of shots that forced referee Joe Cortez to intervene at 2:58 of the session.
The sullen, listless Lloyd of their first encounter was instantly forgotten. Honeyghan was a man transformed by the time he sat in front of the assembled press in the wake of his revenge win. There had been talk that his confidence had been a façade built of the shifting sands of that victory over Curry, that the real 'Ragamuffin Man' was using his weakened hands to mask a shattered self-belief. Lloyd shrugged off such speculation.
“I'm back on top of the world,” bubbled Lloyd. “I killed him on the ropes. Sometimes you've got to dig your boots in and fight. In a fight you've got to take chances. I knew that if I’d lost I'd have retire. Thank God I've done it. All my problems are behind me, I've got something to live for. I'm back to my rightful place,” (The Times, March 30 1988).
Lloyd also had a new face in his team, trainer Bobby Neill joined Terry Lawless and Jimmy Tibbs in the ranks of 'Former Advisors to Lloyd Honeyghan' to make way for American coach Jimmy Williams of Florida.
Williams analysed Lloyd's next opponent, Yung-Kil Chung, and decided that his charge needed a new style if he was to impress against the 5' 11'' South Korean. With Breland's recent conqueror, Marlon Starling, now the chief medium-term target, Williams felt that this potentially tough sequence of fights required a tip-top Lloyd; the 61-year-old dipped into his coaching manual and came up with a master plan.
“Honeyghan has to stay down and stick on him like white on rice and when Chung throws that left hook Honeyghan knows he has to tip his hat to him. Like you tip your hat to a lady. How do you tip your hat to a lady? That's right, when you can't get hit,” opined Williams when asked how they were going to approach the Chung test, perhaps unaware that the last thing Lloyd required was advice on how to engage women.
Williams had studied under the greats, he looked at Lloyd's 5' 8½'' inch frame and decided that one thing was needed, “The Triangle”. This style had been employed by Tiger Flowers to historic effect, Tiger was the first African American world middleweight champion. Flowers passed the technique, which posits the opponent's head as the tip of a triangle with the ribs the two other points, onto a budding fighter called Sugar Ray Robinson - it was now in the hands of Honeyghan.
“You never go down the pipe (straight on) unless you are in a position to move quickly to the side of the triangle,” enthused Williams. Mickey Duff was unmoved by the new regime. “Honeyghan is not changing his style, he is merely building on it”, insisted Duff, “at any time in the fight he can change back to his old ways.”
Mickey was back to his old self, a recent operation had not dented his desire, the promoter was still eyeing a fight against Breland even though Mark had lost his '0' to Starling the previous August. “Starling is very good at beating Breland. If Breland attacked me in the street I would send for Starling,” scoffed Duff when asked about the threat posed by Starling.
Both Honeyghan and Starling kept their end of the big fight bargain, albeit in strange circumstances; Honeyghan scored a win over Chung after the Korean refused to box on after taking a low blow; Starling was knocked out by an illegal blow thrown by Tomas Molinares at the end of round six of their WBA fight. The result was recorded as a loss only to be declared a NC by the NJSA; the WBA, however, still recognised Molinares as their champion, adding salt to Starling's wounds.
Strangely, the animosity shown by Starling prior to his February 1989 WBC title fight against Honeyghan seemed to stretch go beyond the usual big fight pale. “I don't like him, and he doesn't like me,” glowered the 'Magic Man' after arriving in Las Vegas for the Caesars Palace grudge match.
Starling hated the fact that he had been knocked unconscious by Molinares via a foul; he resented Lloyd because Honeyghan was the defending belt holder; he also felt that his victory and subsequent draw over Mark Breland had been passed over.
There was also the small matter of bad omens and terrible historical precedents. Honeyghan appeared confident yet there were constant reminders of the task ahead of him. Reporters pointed out the roll call of British defeats in Las Vegas: Maurice Hope had been knocked out by Wilfred Benitez, Colin Jones was out-pointed by Milton McCrory, Cornelius Boza-Edwards lost to Bobby Chacon and Barry McGuigan had suffered greatly against Steve Cruz. Only Alan Minter had escaped the jinx, taking home a contested world middleweight title decision win over Vito Antuofermo in 1980.
Lloyd shrugged off these bitter facts; he was Lloyd Honeyghan, improved by defeat, bolstered by “The Triangle”, a mature character who was not about to disrespect his opponent. Well, maybe just a little. “I feel more mature. I've done my work and there is no way Starling can beat me. You want the truth?” asked Honeyghan when asked if he had turned over a new leaf. “Well I did spit at him. Not nice but he knows how it all started,” (The Times, February 2 1989).
Everyone knows how it finished, Honeyghan was comprehensively beaten by his bitter rival. Starling hammered his man into a ninth round TKO defeat. An inconsolable Honeyghan pointed to a lump on his right temple when asked how it had all gone so very wrong.
“It is here, man. A nerve went every time Starling caught me, it was like putting a knife in. I can't remember exactly when it started, the fourth I think, but from then on it was murder. It reached the point where I just had to keep away from Starling. Stick and move and wait for him to make a mistake. I wobbled him in the third round, felt him go but I couldn't repeat that and then the nerve went. From then on the pain was awful every time I got caught,” muttered Honeyghan (The Times, February 6 1989).
Starling had managed to put aside his feelings of animosity, carrying out Eddie Futch's instructions to the letter, only deviating from the boxing blueprint once, a warmongering wobble that saw Futch threaten to walk away from his ward's corner. Starling had added Honeyghan to his resume, utterly annihilating the prospect of a Honeyghan-Breland encounter.
Indeed, Duff suggested that it may be time for his man to walk away from the sport. Starling was in pole position for a third meeting with Breland – Mark had picked up the vacant WBA title by defeating Seung-Soon Lee on the undercard of Marlon's win. Honeyghan's woes were doubled when he failed the post-fight drugs test. Lidocaine, a form of pain killer, was found in his system, leading to talk of a ban.
“Lloyd may have used a similar substance to Lidocaine, although I'm not exactly aware of what he took or whether it was in tablet form or an injection. But we're not talking World War III here. It's not a major substance like a steroid or cocaine. All pain-killers are banned, but this particular one does not have any performance-enhancing qualities. If anything it is more of a downer than an upper,” sighed Duff when hit with the latest bit of bad news (The Times, February 18 1989).
Starling may have won the battle, but Honeyghan was still in the Breland race. Duff cleared up the mess caused by the failed drugs test, pointing out that Lloyd was facing the prospect of a ban and hefty fine yet Robert Hines and James Kinchen had only been fined $750 when found to have Lidocaine in their system.
Duff pulled another master stroke. As a former WBC title-holder, Lloyd lacked the top twelve status necessary to challenge WBA holder Breland, there was also the small matter of Lloyd having dumped the WBA title into a bin when refusing to face South African challenger Harold Volbrecht. A phone call and apology later, and the last remaining obstacle to a Breland-Honeyghan fight was removed.
“After Lloyd giving an apology three months ago, Gilberto Mendoza, the president of the WBA, decided to reinstate him. He'll be in the January list, at No3 or No4,” smiled Duff, a Breland money spinner no doubt dancing across the forefront of his boxing brain (The Times, January 20 1990).
So it was finally on, Breland opted to travel to the UK to fight Honeyghan, wisely opting out of a chance for a return with his Starling, the man who held the key to beating the 6' 2'' New Yorker. Mark brought his 111-1 (73) amateur record, a 26-1-1 pro slate, an Olympic gold medal, WBA world title and huge reputation over to the UK for a March 3rd 1990 showdown at London's Wembley Arena.
Both men were united in one key area, they struggled with hand injuries – Breland had broken his right hand three times in one year and Honeyghan was virtually crippled by arthritic pain. Their fight had bubbled along for three years, it had survived defeat, political wrangling and injury. Indeed, Breland arrived in the UK in a bullish mood, insisting that his Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York upbringing had prepared him for anything.
Years of rivalry were settled in a single moment. Honeyghan walked onto a jab early and was dumped to the canvas, he visited the floor again after walking onto another straight left in round two. “It was the first jab. Breland caught Lloyd with a jab and Lloyd was just never the same after that,” sighed Duff after the fight was called off in round three.
It was a sad end to a thrilling world title career, Lloyd would go on to win the Commonwealth 154lb title but his world aspirations were ended by Breland. Ironically, Mark had burned brightly for the final time, he lost his next one, a brutal nine round war with Aaron Davis in July of that year. Both Breland Honeyghan were damaged goods by the time they met one another, with Honeyghan the more damaged of the two.
“I fought terrible, I was in really good shape I just don't know what went wrong,” he sighed, the win over Curry had slipped into his rear view mirror, as had his prime. The once adoring crowd had delivered their verdict on his performance when chanting “What a load of rubbish” after Lloyd's knockdown strewn capitulation.
Lloyd went 9-2 (8) during the rest of his career. However, his top-level days ended in 1993, Las Vegas once again the resting place for his hopes and dreams as Vinny Pazienza pasted the former undisputed boss in the tenth round of a non-title fight. A far cry from that magical night against Curry in Atlantic City.
Still, whenever a British fighter has a mission impossible, when the likes of Lennox Lewis, Naseem Hamed and Ricky Hatton travelled abroad to expand their resumes, the name 'Lloyd Honeyghan' invariably popped up. His win over Donald Curry is one of the high water marks of British world title victories.
Honeyghan returned as a light-middleweight in 1991. The former fighter faced accusations that he had blown his world title earnings. Although he admitted that he had recently sold his Rolls-Royce and two houses, Lloyd was quick to point out the real reason for his return, “My pride.”
'The Ragamuffin Man' made constant references to his financial stability during his 154lb career, chiding reporters for constantly speculating about his earnings; he wasn't set to become the 'Rag and Bone' man of British boxing.
“I know people say I'm skint but how much I've got is nobody's business. I can tell you I make sure my six kids are all well fed, well clothed and go to good schools. When I was at the top it was all women, clothes and jewellery, but I don't regret one minute,” smiled Honeyghan when confirming that he had once blown £20,000 in a single month.
There were flashes of the old fighter, most notably in the Commonwealth title wins over Mickey Hughes and Kevin Adamson. There was also time for a good old-fashioned grudge match or two. One of the grudge matches came on April 14 1993 when former sparring partner Darren Dyer allegedly attacked Honeyghan with a hammer at the weigh in for the Andy Till-Wally Smith British light-middleweight title fight.
Lloyd later testified that Dyer had resembled something “from the film Alien” during the incident. Dyer, a gold medallist at welterweight in the 1986 Commonwealth Games, had tried to get Honeyghan earlier that year, flying at Lloyd with a trophy during an awards ceremony in London in a bid to settle some perceived bad blood.
The former world welterweight champion moved on, Dyer was left in the past as Honeyghan sought to move his future career back towards world title level. Up-and-coming prospect Adrian Dodson had his own world title aspirations: he also had a massive ego, a lot of confidence and was seen as the natural successor to Lloyd.
Dodson had amassed an 11-0 record going into 1995, Honeyghan was the southpaw's first stiff test. Adrian was college educated, not afraid to blow his own horn and generally managed to rub the older fighter up the wrong way. “This guy is history. What's he doing in the ring with me? This isn't the Eighties, this is (February) 1995,” snorted Dodson. Now a wily old pro, Honeyghan remained relatively quiet, there was the carrot of a world title shot against Julio Cesar Vasquez if he could get past the young pretender.
As the press conference ended, Honeyghan paid tribute to Dodson's academic achievements before pointing out that he held a BA in the sport of boxing and would be dishing out a lesson come fight night.
Sadly, however, Dodson proved too young and quick for the ageing warhorse. Honeyghan's final pro appearance saw him lose via a third round TKO on the undercard of Nigel Benn's bittersweet win over Gerald McClellan at London's Docklands Arena.
Lloyd's last in-ring appearance was televised later that night by ITV; the station, and the boxing fraternity, was still in shock after witnessing Gerald's post-fight collapse. The final moments of Lloyd's career played out against this bleak backdrop. The man who had burst to prominence by ripping the welterweight title from an American pound-for-pound fighter had his last throw of the dice down the undercard of another big British win only for tragedy to reduce this loss to a footnote.
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