When Blackpool boxer Brian London fought Muhammad Ali in 1966
The story of The Blackpool Rock and his infamous defeat to Muhammad Ali
Stunning black and white images of boxer Brian London battling it out with Mohammed Ali have been unearthed.
1966 may be synonymous with England’s World Cup win, but not as many will remember that one of Britain’s best boxing prospects took on one of the greatest fighters of all time that same year.
Blackpool ringmaster Brian London went toe-to-toe with the one and only Muhammad Ali in a heavyweight bout that captured the attention of the sporting world.
Here, archivists at LancsLive have found the grayscale images and brought them back to life for digital consumption.
These incredible photos show Ali and London trading blows in front of a sell-out crowd at the Earls Court Arena in central London.
Many of the images reflect upon the one-sided affair, which saw Ali – formerly Cassius Clay – knock London clean out in the third round, with stills of the Blackpool boxer on the ropes.
Other snaps show Clay landing several brutal punches on London as well as a final shot of the fight’s conclusion.
We even have a single coloured snap of London receiving a massive punch from the World Heavyweight Champion, one of a flurry of 11 strikes in 11 seconds that would floor the Brit in the third round.
Christened Brian Sydney Harper, London adopted the sobriquet in imitation of his father Jack London, who was himself a British heavyweight title winning boxer who beat the famous Freddie Mills in 1944.
London was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham, on June 19, 1934, but later moved to Blackpool, the seaside resort he would call home.
With a boxing father, and a brother in Jack Junior who was a light-heavyweight, London was pushed into the sport when he joined the Royal Air Force on national service.When Blackpool’s Brian London was knocked out by Muhammad AliVIEW GALLERY
Brian had never liked the idea of boxing as a child. According to later interviews, he didn’t like the idea of having cauliflower ears but RAF officers, learning of his familial boxing pedigree, press-ganged him into fighting.
London turned professional in 1955, claiming that he only did so after finding out that he could make more money in the ring than in his day job making Blackpool rock.
Three years later, he fought Joe Erskine for the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles at the White City Stadium, in London.
He took both titles following an eight round knockout but lost them in January 1959 following a fight against Henry Cooper.
By the time London fought Ali in August 1966, he had already had one shot at the World Heavyweight title in 1959, and failed. London trained by running on the Blackpool sandhills and hitting the ring work. Now, at 32, he was up against a 24-year-old Ali well into his boxing prime but low on popularity and finances.
Ali was in serious money trouble – the boxer owed a small fortune to his ex-wife, was in debt to a raft of lawyers, and was hampered by alimony payments. He was in league with the Black Panther movement, a group of black extremists in America, it was an affiliation that was draining his popularity and his funds.
London later admitted that he stepped into the ring at Earl’s Court Exhibition Hall with apprehension, keen to “not get hurt” rather than get at Ali. As a result the American battered him.
London later told the Daily Mirror: “He was the best fighter I have ever fought. He was just very, very, fast. For a heavyweight to be so fast is unusual. He was a brilliant fighter. I tried my best but he was just too good for me.
“Looking back it was an honour to have fought such a great boxer.”
London, nicknamed the British Bulldog or The Blackpool Rock, was used to slow and lumbering fighters but Ali was lightning in the ring, despite his heavyweight status. London landed a single blow the entire match, a left jab to Ali’s jaw midway through the first round.
The Blackpool boxer was floored in the third round after Ali pushed him into a corner and landed eleven rapid punches on him in just three seconds.
London was knocked out.
“I was asked after my defeat if I wanted a rematch with Ali,” the boxer told The Mirror. “I said only if someone ties a 56 pound weight to each of his legs.”
After London retired he ran several nightclubs in Blackpool (including the famous 007 club) where he lived until his death at the age of 87 in the June 2021.