Bunny Johnson signed & inscribed "British Commonwealth Championship. To Jack" & dated 13-1-75 training Ampro (London) tee shirt WORN in preparation for his contest vs Danny McAlinden when he would become Britain's first ever black heavyweight champion.
Bunny Johnson vs Danny McAlinden
British And Commonwealth Heavyweight Title, 13th January 1975, Grosvenor House, Mayfair, London.
Jamaica born, Birmingham bred Johnson entered the annuls as Britain’s first black heavyweight champion when he trounced ex sparmate "Dangerous Danny" by way of ninth round knockout before the bib and tucker brigade at the World Sporting Club in Mayfair. Ironically, McAlinden, originally from Newry, County Down, had been the first Irishman to claim the crown when he battered Jack Bodell at Villa Park three years previously.
Trailblazer Bunny, then 27, conceded half a stone and in the modern era would have flourished in the then non-existent cruiserweight class. He later dropped to light-heavy and won a Lonsdale Belt outright before pursuing a career in law and serving on the Midland Area Council.
Condition good (well worn with blood & sweat stains from hard sparring sessions)
Bunny Johnson's Mark On Boxing Is Finally Recognised.
Britain's first black heavyweight champion was last week inducted into the British Ex-Boxer's Association Hall of Fame. By Mike Lockley, 29 Sep 2016.
The indelible mark left on the sport by Bunny Johnson, a torchbearer for black athletes in this country, has finally been recognised.
The Kingstanding 69-year-old Britain’s first black heavyweight champion was last week inducted into the British Ex-Boxer’s Association Hall of Fame. Bunny, who also held the domestic light-heavyweight title, received the honour at a red-carpet, Hastings reception attended by former World lightweight champ Ken Buchanan, World light-heavyweight champ John Conteh and Olympic gold medallist Dick McTaggart.
It’s an award that means an awful lot to Bunny, who stills speaks with the clarity and Churchillian precision that set him apart from the pack in his 1970's pomp. He weighs and measures words, like a shopkeeper at scales, before delivering them.
“To receive this honour now, I really feel it is something special,” said the champ, who is thoroughly content with his career.
“To have McTaggart present, a man who was technically superb, a man who shaped the amateur sport, that was really great.”
Bunny refuses to dwell on “what ifs?”, but has every reason to look on the breaks and big money afforded to many modern fighters and taste the bile of bitterness. He was, in truth, too light for a heavyweight and frequently gave away two stone, yet gained the domestic crown.
Making light-heavyweight was an ordeal, yet Bunny grabbed the British belt.
“If the cruiserweight division existed back then,” he chuckled, “I would’ve owned it.”
That, I’m sure, he would.
Bunny, who began his 73-fight career in 1968, also had the misfortune to “peak” when Caribbean fighters were considered a blight at the box office. They simply didn’t sell tickets, promoters argued.
Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner and Co had the right complexion, they had the right connections.
Delivering sentences with an old-style West Indies verbosity, Bunny said: “In the ‘70s, I had a conversation with one of the big promoters, I will not mention his name.
“He explained the overwhelming majority of people who watched boxing shows were white people and they liked to see an image of themselves in the ring.
“That was correct. There was not that level of support for Caribbean fighters. If you went to a fight, you would not see a substantial number of black people in the crowd.
“There was a reason for that. They came over here to save money with the expectation of one day returning home. Of course, many didn’t, but that was their expectation.
“It was very difficult for the promoter to make it economically viable. Maybe he was partly right, but he was not wholly right.
“He could’ve marketed us, but marketing us was something he was not prepared to do because it would cost more money. It was not racism, it was economics, and I understand economics.”
Bunny predicted he’d be Britain’s first heavyweight champ before lacing on a glove, a boast that prompted howls of laughter from work colleagues.
“The thing is,” he said, “I was inspired by (first black World heavyweight champ) Jack Johnson. After reading the book all I wanted to do was emulate what he did by becoming the first black heavyweight champion of Britain. It was something I wanted to achieve.
“I was a spot-welder at Alvic Tools, in Aston Cross, and told someone what I was going to do. He said, ‘if that happens, I’ll eat my hat’.”
Bunny made his dream a reality in 1975, trouncing Irish brawler Danny McAlinden in nine rounds to take the crown.
I can vividly recall McAlinden, who had taken jack-hammer left hooks all night, spread-eagled on the canvas, the steely determination he’d displayed replaced by a lame, sickened sneer.
“I used to do a few rounds of sparring with Danny,” Bunny recounted matter-of-factly. “I cannot see what confidence he would’ve had going into that fight because he had been shown to be somewhat ineffective when sparring with me.
“When it happened, I was elated, I couldn’t believe it. It was like a miracle had happened.”
Bunny’s career was, thankfully, free from the faux feuds and bad blood that have dragged today’s boxing to the level of Vegas wrestling bills.
“No time for it,” he said. “It’s two people in the same ring attempting to do the same thing – earn a living.”
But he talks with chilling detachment about his career.
“I have hurt people quite badly in sparring,” he shrugged. Of savage sparring sessions with British champ Jack Bodell, he recalled: “They were hard. Bodell was not technically strong. He had to use brute force, ignorance sometimes follows those words, to overcome the subtleties.
“I knocked him out once. I hit him with a peach of a left hook. It looked like he wasn’t going to get up, but eventually he did.”
Of Tim Wood, demolished in one round for the light-heavyweight title in 1977, Bunny said: “A nice man, a very nice man, but not made for the rough-and-tumble of professional boxing, I felt.”
The immense legacy of Bunny Johnson, an ex-fighter now not in the best of health, has now been recognised. It’s a fitting honour for a true ring craftsman who didn’t get the breaks his talents deserved.
Not that the ex-fighter is complaining.
“What has happened has happened,” he shrugged, “I do not regret anything, it’s a waste of energy.”