IN my last column I erroneously stated that Frankie Lucas failed twice when boxing for the British middleweight title. I said that he had lost to both Kevin Finnegan and Alan Minter. It was, of course, Tony Sibson, and not Minter, who beat Lucas in his second title attempt in 1979. This mistake will now be rectified by an appreciation of the young Sibson’s meteoric rise through the ranks during the early part of his career. Tony’s five-round victory over Lucas was for the vacant British title as Minter had, in fact, recently vacated it. Sibson also held both the Commonwealth and the European titles at a time when those titles meant something and he boxed for world belts on three occasions, at both middleweight and at light-heavyweight.
Egged on by the famous “Sibbo’s Army”, Tony had that extremely rare attribute that makes a fighter so watchable, for he could take his man out at any time with just one punch. His contemporaries, Dave Green and Jimmy Flint, were similar types. They each brought drama and raw energy to their contests and the fans loved them.
Sibson was not a top amateur. He boxed for Young England against an Irish team in 1975, but he was not a prolific title winner with the vest. He did come from fighting stock however, as his relation Wally Sibson won 19 of 30 contests during the early 1920s. Tony turned professional in 1976 and was managed by Carl Gunns, who was then developing quite a useful stable of Leicester fighters, including Mick Bell, Romal Ambrose, Adey Allen, Tony Hague, Carl North and Larry Richards. Carl had been Tony’s trainer at the Belgrave ABC and he well understood the young lad’s potential and it did not take long for Sibson to become the star of his stable.
Sibbo’s first victory took place on his 18th birthday and, after winning his next 12 convincingly, the last of which was a 59-second blitz of Merthyr’s Gareth “Tashy” Jones, he was ready to make his hometown debut on a Dave Roden show at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester.
This old hall was first used for boxing during the second world war when Jack London and Bruce Woodcock, both British heavyweight champions, had fought there. The venue was also used throughout the 1960s when the bill-toppers included Mick Greaves, Rocky Campbell and Jack Bodell. Leicester had not seen professional boxing for nine years and Sibbo was just the man to spearhead its revival.
Cardiff’s Bonny McKenzie took the bout at 4pm that same day after Paddy Doherty of Belfast missed his flight, and the Welshman gave Tony a hell of a fight before being stopped on cuts in seven rounds, after being down twice earlier in the contest. This victory projected Tony into the British top 10 and in his next contest at the hall Sonny Kamunga was easily outpointed.
After compiling a streak of six straight inside the distance victories Sibson was matched against the Zambian, Lottie Mwale, for his third contest at the local hall and although it was generally anticipated that Sibson would win, Boxing News correctly predicted that it would not be easy, “the Commonwealth Games gold medallist is undefeated in six pro fights and it is an extremely dangerous match for Sibson, possibly more so than the Albert Hall fight with Billy Knight which fell through”. This opinion proved to be extremely prescient when Mwale took Sibson out with a measured overhand right, which rendered the Leicester man unconscious even before he hit the floor.
Sibson came back with a vengeance, learned from his defeat, and became one of the UK’s finest fighters throughout the remainder of his career and the way in which he demolished the American, John Collins, in two rounds at Atlantic City in 1983 is an object lesson in the use of raw, controlled power. The fight is on Youtube, take a look at it.