By Dean Berks – The welterweight division has always produced some of the richest talents in boxing history. Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson, Emile Griffith and Jose Napoles are just several of the all-time greats to have graced its ranks. The 1980’s continued this trend, starting with Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Donald Curry. Towards the end of that decade a new set of fighters emerged, a talented and entertaining group that was headed by four of its best: Britain’s Lloyd Honeyghan, Jamaican Simon Brown, and Americans Marlon Starling and Mark Breland. Honeyghan would go on to face Starling and Breland, losing to both, whilst Brown’s only loss of the 80’s was to Starling. In 1988 though, Honeyghan and Brown stood side by side as WBC and IBF champions respectively. They never got the chance to share the ring together. If they had, it may have unfolded into an action-packed contest between two of Jamaica’s finest exports.
Style & Attributes
The flash Honeyghan exploded onto the scene when he ripped the Undisputed 147 lb championship away from Don Curry, forcing the Americans corner to retire him after six painful rounds. Boxing in a complete antithesis of the more rigid and upright Briton of the time, he implored a relaxed and fluid style, up on his toes and using his footwork to manoeuvre in and out of range whilst unleashing fast combinations from a low guard. He was also no stranger to roughhouse tactics, and could also adopt a swarming style when necessary. Standing 5 ft 8 inches and with a 69-inch reach, his record at this stage stood at 32-1, 21 ko’s, avenging his only defeat and regaining his WBC title, by knocking out Mexican Jorge Vaca in three, reversing an eight round technical decision defeat five months previously. He also possessed a solid chin with only Cliff Gilpin forcing him to take a count.
The American based Brown started his career boxing in a smooth style, earning him the same nickname as the legendary Napoles, “Mantequilla”, meaning ” as smooth as butter”. But as time went on, he morphed into a stalking, heavy-handed puncher. He had dropped a split twelve round decision to Marlon Starling, his only loss, but had rebounded with a three-round destruction of pre-fight favourite Shawn O’Sullivan. When Honeyghan lost to Vaca, the IBF title was declared vacant and Brown was matched with Detroit’s Tyrone Trice to find a new champion. In a tremendous contest, Brown rose from a second-round knockdown and early points deficit to wear Trice down, flooring him three times in the twelfth before stopping him in round fourteen to capture the crown. He stood 5 ft 9 1/2 inches tall with a 71-inch reach. His power was evident in his then 25-1 with 19 ko’s record.
Honeyghan’s self-belief was crucial to his approach. He never doubted himself in the slightest against Curry, bossing the Texan from the opening bell. He carried solid power, particularly in his right hand, evidenced in his knockout of Gianfranco Rosi when winning the European title, and then in World title fights against Johnny Bumphus (KO 2), Gene Hatcher (KO 1) and Vaca. His defence relied on rolling on the ropes and movement.
There is no doubting the power in both hands Brown possessed, his left hook being one of boxing’s best. Setting up opponents behind a strong left jab, he would dissect them with accurate counters, working them over with surgical accuracy. Impressive defensively, slipping and rolling punches, but always looking for the knockout.
Honeyghan’s focus could be found wanting at times, particularly with outside of the ring activities. It was these that played a huge part in his loss to Vaca. Suffered from hand problems too. Could be off-balance at times when attacking and his style meant he could be open to counters.
When in stalking mode, Brown could find himself being outboxed and neglecting his defence, making him appear flat-footed. This contributed to his defeat to Starling. Lack of activity at this point too, with only eight fights in four years.
Both are respectful in the opening round, Honeyghan using the perimeter of the ring whilst Brown assumes the role of aggressor, looking for openings behind his jab. In the second, Honeyghan times Brown’s jab with an overhand right. The punch wobbles Brown, forcing him to back up as Honeyghan opens with both hands, trying to finish the job. Brown weathers the storm and adjusts his strategy from the third. His jab becomes more definitive, disrupting Honeyghan’s rhythm, and he starts slamming his right hand over Honeyghan’s low guard. By the sixth, Brown is in control and powerful hooks to the body are beginning to sap Honeyghan’s legs away from him. Brown is still wary of Honeyghan’s power though and is content to slowly break his man down. That is until a big right buckles Honeyghan in round eight. He retreats to the ropes, but a powerful left hook sends him to the canvas. He rises but is in trouble. A left hook sets him up for a thumping right hand that sends him crashing to the canvas for the second time. He bravely pulls himself up, but this time the referee steps. Brown raises his arms as the now unified IBF & WBC welterweight champion.