ON THE BUSES

One of the busiest box­ers in his­tory, Billy Bird fought for 28 years and scored more KOS and stop­pages than any­one

Boxing News - - Yesterday's Heroes - Alex Da­ley @thealex­da­ley

BERNARD HOP­KINS turned pro in 1988, aged 23, and re­tired in 2016, aged 51. He boxed for 28 years, and be­came the old­est fighter to win a world ti­tle – at the grand old age of 48. Be­fore Hop­kins, box­ing’s grand old man was the “Old Mon­goose” Archie Moore. Archie was still a world cham­pion at 44 and re­tired at 46. Like Hop­kins, he was ac­tive for 28 years. But he had more than three times as many fights as Bernard – at least 219, with 186 wins, 10 draws and just 23 de­feats – which per­haps makes his achieve­ments more im­pres­sive.

Twenty-eight ap­pears to be the magic up­per limit for pro­fes­sional box­ing ca­reers. Bri­tain’s own record-hold­ers, Billy Bird and Sam Minto, also each boxed for 28 years be­fore re­tir­ing. Though not in the world cham­pi­onship class of Moore and Hop­kins, they each had more fights than Moore and Hop­kins com­bined.

I wrote about mys­te­ri­ous 345-fight vet­eran Sam Minto in the June 30, 2016 is­sue. So what about Billy Bird?

Billy was the younger of two fa­mous fight­ing brothers from Chelsea, long be­fore that Lon­don bor­ough be­came the pre­serve of the su­per-rich. Sonny Bird, the elder brother by five years, was a fre­netic crowd-pleaser, while Billy was an or­tho­dox boxer. When pos­si­ble they got fights on the same card and sec­onded each other. Sonny fought from 1918 to 1935 and had 232 recorded pro bouts. Billy, though, had even more – 359 that his­to­rian Miles Tem­ple­ton has traced – in a ca­reer that started in 1920 and fin­ished in 1948, when Billy was 49.

Billy served in France dur­ing the Great War and turned pro at 21. Some­how, de­spite his busy fight­ing sched­ule, he man­aged to hold down a day job as a Lon­don bus con­duc­tor. “Rush­ing up and down the steps of my bus serves as run­ning prac­tice some­times,” he told a reporter in 1927. “I work from 8.30am to 4.30pm. Then I go to a gym­na­sium and train for an hour or two. Be­lieve me, I’m as fit as any boxer.”

Bird was of­ten billed as “The Fight­ing Bus Con­duc­tor”, and most pas­sen­gers knew not to mess with the uni­formed, well-set young man on the Gold­ers Green to Wandsworth route. But in the early 1930s Bird passed ‘the knowl­edge’ and be­came a Lon­don taxi driver. In­evitably, his new so­bri­quet was “The Fight­ing Cab­man”. Of­ten he’d park his cab out­side the halls where he boxed. Af­ter a fight and a quick change of clothes, he’d head out­side to pick up fares from the fight-go­ers leav­ing the show. Few re­alised that their driver was the man they had just seen in the ring!

Billy started as a light­weight, fin­ished as a mid­dleweight and was far more than a jour­ney­man. He won 262, drew 20 and lost 74 of his recorded bouts, some­times fight­ing two or three a week. Once he had two fights on the same day and won them both. And he could punch. Go­ing by avail­able data, he holds the record for the most KO and stop­page wins of any fighter in the world. Bird had 141 KOS and stop­pages; in sec­ond place is Archie Moore with 132. Sadly, Billy died from a blood dis­ease in Fe­bru­ary 1951, aged just 52, less than three years af­ter re­tir­ing.

Bird never reached a Bri­tish cham­pi­onship, but an­other longserv­ing cam­paigner who did was Welsh heavy­weight le­gend Tommy Farr. Tommy’s ca­reer spanned 27 years (1926-1953), but he did take 10 years out be­fore an ill-ad­vised comeback, con­firm­ing the old ring mantra: ‘They never come back.’

One man who came close to dis­prov­ing the mantra was Hol­land’s only ever Olympic box­ing gold medal­list, Bep van Klav­eren. Bep turned pro in 1929, cap­tured the Euro­pean light­weight and mid­dleweight ti­tles, then re­tired in 1948. How­ever, he came back in 1954, and in 1955 went the dis­tance in an un­suc­cess­ful Euro­pean wel­ter­weight ti­tle bid. He was then 48.

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