Thanks to Johnny’s son’s gen­eros­ity, his pre­cious Lons­dale strap will con­tinue to be viewed by count­less mu­seum vis­i­tors

Boxing News - - Yesterday’s Heroes - Alex Da­ley @thealex­da­ley His­to­rian & au­thor

BOX­ING au­thor John Hard­ing wrote to me re­cently with news of the death of Ed Brown, son of the 1920s Bri­tish ban­tamweight champ Johnny Brown, who won a Lons­dale Belt out­right. After in­her­it­ing his fa­ther’s gold belt, Ed could have sold it and made a mint. But in­stead he spent many years search­ing for some­where to de­posit the strap where the Bri­tish pub­lic could see it. Even­tu­ally, he do­nated it to the Mu­seum of London in Dock­lands. It is, I be­lieve, the only Lons­dale Belt on per­ma­nent pub­lic dis­play.

So who was the man who fought to make the belt his own prop­erty? Johnny Brown was born Philip Heck­man in the East End of London in 1902, the son of poor Jewish im­mi­grant par­ents. He used the pseu­do­nym Johnny Brown to keep his am­a­teur box­ing hid­den from his wid­owed mother, and when he moved into the pros the name stayed with him.

He signed with the well-known East End man­ager Joe Mor­ris and had his first recorded fight in March 1919. Most of his early bouts were south of the River, at the fa­mous Ring in Black­fri­ars Road. Be­tween 1921 and ’23 he spent two spells fight­ing in Amer­ica, and it’s likely this is where he de­vel­oped his rough­house all-ac­tion style.

In the States, Brown tan­gled with some of the best ban­tams in the world and built a fine rep­u­ta­tion. So when he re­turned to Bri­tain in 1923, he was fast­tracked to a Bri­tish and Euro­pean ti­tle fight. The holder of both crowns was Ply­mouth’s Bu­gler Harry Lake, a skil­ful boxer who’d beaten Johnny a year ear­lier in a non-ti­tle fight.

In their cham­pi­onship con­test, Brown drew Lake into a close-quar­ter bat­tle. The East En­der strove to knock his man out, but Lake was too clever for that. After 20 rounds, Johnny clinched the de­ci­sion. He had won a Lons­dale Belt, but some crit­ics felt he lacked the com­mit­ment to earn two more notches and make it his own.

A big ban­tam, Brown strug­gled to make 118lbs and was known to ne­glect train­ing. Ac­cord­ing to writer/his­to­rian Gil­bert Odd, Johnny de­vel­oped a chain-smok­ing habit and his trainer, Jack Good­win, had to con­stantly nag him to cut down on fags.

Luck­ily, by the time of his first de­fence, Brown told re­porters he had “prac­ti­cally given up smok­ing.” He stopped Harry Cor­bett of Beth­nal Green in 16 rounds in Fe­bru­ary 1925. That Oc­to­ber, in de­fence num­ber two, he KO’D Toot­ing’s Mick Hill in 12 to win his Lons­dale Belt out­right.

After that, Brown went on an­other US fight­ing tour, but his form was abysmal. After los­ing seven in a row, in­clud­ing two bouts in Canada and one in South Africa, he re­turned to London. Bri­tain’s gov­ern­ing body of the day, the Na­tional Sport­ing Club (NSC), called on Johnny to de­fend his crown at its Covent Gar­den HQ, but its purse of­fer was too low.

After over two years with­out a de­fence, the NSC de­clared the ti­tle va­cant. De­spite this, Johnny claimed he was still cham­pion, even though fel­low East En­der Kid Pat­ten­den had cap­tured the va­cant crown in an Nsc­sanc­tioned bout.

In his fi­nal fight, in Au­gust 1928, the 26-yearold Brown was a shadow of his for­mer self. He was bombed out in two by ban­tamweight star Teddy Bal­dock. Later, Johnny em­i­grated to South Africa. He died in 1975, aged 72.

Brown’s younger brother, Ja­cob (who boxed as Young Johnny Brown), was also a top fighter. He chal­lenged Johnny’s suc­ces­sor, Kid Pat­ten­den, for the Bri­tish ban­tam crown in 1928, but was stopped in 12. The Brown broth­ers were part of a gen­er­a­tion of ex­cep­tional East End Jewish fight­ers, most of whom to­day go un­re­mem­bered.


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