Editor’s Letter: Mark Potter was so much more than a “nearly man”

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IT WAS almost one of the unlikeliest coronations in British heavyweight championship history when Mark Potter came so close to defeating Danny Williams in an unforgettable encounter in October, 2000.

On that night inside the Wembley Conference Centre, with Williams’ right arm dangling from his dislocated shoulder, Potter pressed his advantage before Danny – in a performance he calls his proudest – somehow salvaged victory with his left. It was a truly heroic turnaround from Williams and the part in which huge underdog Potter played in it will ensure he’s never forgotten.

“I’ve just got to do what I need to do to stay alive,” Potter said in May, seven months after being told stomach cancer would kill him. “Now I’ve been told that I only have three months to live. I’m going to beat this, and prove the medics and the NHS wrong.”

Potter passed away, aged just 47 years old, at the weekend. He fought to the end, smiling to his family and friends, keen for those who were always by his side not to share his agony. Potter underwent chemotherapy in an effort to prolong his life alongside alternative therapy that he hoped would provide a miracle.

Potter made his debut in July 1997, outpointing J A Bugner over six rounds on the undercard of Naseem Hamed’s victory over Juan Gerardo Cabrera. Also on that Frank Warren-promoted bill was Dean Francis, the uber-talented fighter who lost his life to cancer four years ago. Like Potter, Francis valiantly scrapped for survival against the most formidable and unforgiving opponent of them all.

Matt Legg, who campaigned at heavyweight from 2001-2014, has fond memories of his time with Potter. “We used to spar and, being the gentleman that he is, he took it easy on me because I was a brand new pro,” he remembered. “He said we’ll go tip-tap, which I was grateful for. It was an honour to share the ring with him.”

Danny Williams and Mark Potter during their British and Commonwealth heavyweight title fight at Wembley on October 22, 2000 (John Gichigi/ALLSPORT)

Potter – known as “The White Shark” – compiled an official record of 21-5 (14). He defeated Danny Watts to lift the Southern Area heavyweight title in March 2003, a victory that effectively secured his shot at Williams, five months later. Though he ‘retired’ following a loss to Michael Sprott in 2003, Potter competed in MMA and was a keen advocate of the unlicenced boxing circuit, where he pummelled Butterbean to a stoppage defeat.

Less famous was Potter’s contest against Danny Bardell in 2018. Bardell, who suffered from Down Syndrome, always wanted to be a boxer and when Potter allowed himself to be counted out in the second round, he made a young man’s dreams come true.

That kindness is a theme of Potter’s life. Wayne Alexander, the former European 154lbs champion, said: “He was always friendly, always had a smile on his face. I’ll never forget how close he was to winning the British heavyweight title. He was always kind and helped me out with a favour, one that I’ll never forget.”

Those sentiments were echoed by another former fighter, long-time friend David Walker. “He was a tough fighting man but a true gentleman,” Walker said. “He had a loving, caring heart and I’ll always look up to him, in many ways.”

Potter, who was a personal trainer up until a year ago, was in terrific shape when the cancer diagnosis came a year ago. He initially presumed it was a training injury before numbness spread to his calves and forced him to get checked by his GP. Expecting to be told he’d overdone it in the gym, he was shocked when doctors told him he had stage four stomach cancer.

Alongside his beloved wife, Hannah, and two children, Sam and Rosie, the fighter refused to accept it as a death sentence. Ultimately, as too many realise, the best way to combat the disease is with an early diagnosis.

Frank Warren, who will pay tribute to Potter at this weekend’s show at the O2, said of the fighter he often promoted: “Mark was a great fighter and an even bigger character who was involved in many entertaining fights over the years and was a hugely popular face around the fight scene, particularly in the London area.

“Mark was a fighter right to the end and never stopped punching – may he rest in peace.”

Audley Harrison, who fought Potter when they were both on the way up in the amateur code, wrote: “He gave me a hell of a battle in the London ABAs… Looking back, a lot of boxers have passed in the last few years. Definitely makes you appreciate your time here.”

Potter was so much more than just the man who nearly beat Danny Williams. How he conducted himself during battle against a wicked disease, and the kindness he exuded throughout his life, is testament to that.

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