The other day, I heard that former British boxer, Lloyd Honeyghan, was having some very serious medical issues and is in tough shape. This prompted me to think about his stellar career and I thought a retrospective on this once undisputed welterweight champion of the world was in order.
Born in Jamaica, Honeyghan joined his parents in England when he was but a boy of 9. He began boxing a couple of years later and proved throughout his rather long amateur career to be a capable but unspectacular fighter. Certainly, he never gave a hint during his formative boxing years of what was to come. He seemed destined to join the junk heap of “has been’s who never were”, so common in the world of boxing. But Honeyghan had a surprise waiting for everyone.
Lloyd turned pro in 1980. He won his first 18 fights before facing his first test against a “name” when he fought, and beat, the highly accomplished American, Harold Brazier, at Grosvenor House Hotel in London. This was no mean feat. Brazier lost only 18 times in an astonishing 127 fights – a nearly unheard-of number for a top modern-day fighter. So, with the win, Honeyghan turned a number of heads and was now “on the radar”, so to speak.
Three fights later, “Ragamuffin Man” needed only until the third round to knock out the future two-time Junior Middleweight Champion, Italy’s Gianfranco Rossi. It was as unexpected as a thunderstorm in the Sahara. Lloyd Honeyghan was here to stay! Still, some weren’t sold and Lloyd found himself in the predicament of having to further prove himself before any sort of world title shot. On November 27, 1985, at the Alexandra Palace in the Borough of Haringey, London, Honeyghan laid a merciless beating on St. Lucia’s Sylvester Mittee (Mittee actually represented Britain in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, losing to eventual silver medalist, Simon Cutov of Romania). The fight was mercifully stopped in the 8th round – although many at ringside felt it could have been stopped somewhat earlier. There could be no more denying Honeyghan’s talent and a title shot was lined up for late 1986.
Honeyghan blew through a tune-up bout with Horace Shufford (another 8th round TKO) and on September 27, 1986, stepped into the ring with the reigning world champion, America’s Donald Curry. Now, it’s important to keep two things in mind here to help the reader understand the shock of the ultimate result of this bout. First, British and European champions simply were not held in high regard on this side of the Atlantic. The standard view was that while classically and technically sound, these fighters just didn’t have the raw talent and athleticism of their American counterparts. Now some of this was true, but much of it was the hype fed to North American fight fans about their boxers.
The other matter was Donald Curry himself. Curry was a monumental talent. His pedigree was ridiculous. His brother, Bruce, was also a world champion. Donald’s amateur record was an eye-popping 400-4! He was an AAU champion in 3 different divisions. He defeated the excellent Davey Moore at the US Olympic trials. He was a World Cup gold medalist. He would have undoubtedly captured a gold medal at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 had the American’s not boycotted. As a pro, he hadn’t missed a step either. In only his 12th fight, Curry knocked out former world title challenger, Bruce Finch, in the 3rd round. He won two very difficult decisions against the equally heralded, Marlon Starling and on December 6th, 1985, he absolutely destroyed WBC champ, Detroit’s Milton McCrory, winning with a vicious second round knockout. Donald Curry was unanimously recognized as the best pound for pound fighter in the world.
So, when Honeyghan stepped into the ring against Curry on that September night in Atlantic City, he was about as big an underdog as one could be. In fact, some sportsbooks took the fight off their board because the odds were so stacked against Honeyghan that if he found a way to win, they would have been pushed into insolvency, paying out the winning chits. As it was, Honeyghan did find a bookie to take the bet and he wagered $5,000 U.S. on himself at 5-1 odds – smart bet, as it turned out.
Apparently, Lloyd forgot to read the screenplay, which had him losing handily to the preter-naturally talented Curry. Honeyghan battered Curry for the first couple of rounds, stunning him in the second. Curry found himself a little over rounds 3 and 4 but by round 5, the mystery about who was going to win the fight vanished as Lloyd began taking apart Curry piece by piece. Add to the beating, a bad cut over his left eye during the 6th round (accidental headbutt), and Curry simply lost the will to go on. In his corner between rounds, Curry told his corner he’d had enough and the referee, Octavio Meyran, had no choice but to halt the proceedings. Lloyd “Ragamuffin Man” Honeyghan was the undisputed, undefeated, Welterweight Champion of The World!
Of course, there was the usual litany of detractors and naysayers after his great win. Some said Curry had an off day. Others said he simply took Honeyghan too lightly. A few even suggested that the headbutt was deliberate and that Honeyghan should have been disqualified. None of these comments nor suppositions were lost on Lloyd so, as if to add emphasis to his defeat of Curry, Honeyghan, in his next three fights, went on to soundly defeat Johnny Bumphus, Maurice Blocker, and Gene Hatcher – all former or soon to be world champions themselves – in a row.
Then, completely unexpectedly, trouble came at the hands of the heavy-handed, but lightly regarded Mexican, Jorge Vaca. Vaca wasn’t the original scheduled opponent and Lloyd had in no way prepared for the Mexican, who was a late substitute. Still, he was heavily favoured to win the fight. Alas, this was not to be. In a highly controversial ending, Vaca became the new champion when he was unable to continue because of a gash from an accidental headbutt. What was so galling about the incident was that even though the butt was deemed accidental, Honeyghan still had a point deducted and Vaca ended up on the right side of the technical decision. It was absolutely outrageous! The scuttlebutt afterwards was that Vaca had been gifted the title because the WBC, based in Mexico, was holding its annual convention in London, the week of the fight. Crowning a Mexican as world champ, in London no less, during the week, was the icing on the cake for the organization.
A re-match was ordered and five months later, Honeyghan avenged his defeat by knocking out Vaca in the 3rd round of their bout. This made Lloyd the first ever British fighter to regain a world championship belt and helped cement his legacy as probably the best British welterweight ever. Lloyd would lose the title again and for the last time to Mark Breland in 1990. While he continued to ply his trade, it was apparent that he had lost a step. Yes, he did rattle off 7 wins after the Breland loss but the quality of the opposition was somewhat suspect. Still, it was enough to earn him a fight against Vinny Pazienza in 1993 and while Honeyghan fought well, he was eventually overwhelmed by the pressure tactics of the “Pazmanian Devil” and the fight was stopped in the 10th round. Lloyd would have three more fights, winning two of them, before ending his career in the ring in 1995. His final record was 43-5 (30 KO’s).
Since his retirement from the ring, life hasn’t been easy for Honeyghan. His personal life became fodder for the tabloids because he had fathered 5 children by at least 3 women – none of whom was his wife. He was actually attacked by another boxer during a weigh-in right near the end of his career, sustaining a head injury when he was struck with a hammer. While he didn’t make enormous money in the ring, he did well enough but has had a devil of a time hanging onto it in his retirement. Most telling though, Lloyd did put on a great deal of weight post-retirement, resulting in a heart attack in 2017 and again just a month ago in 2020. As this goes to press, Honeyghan was reported to be in critical care in hospital in England. At only 60-years-old, it’s a potentially sad ending to a very accomplished boxer’s time.
This brings us to the two inevitable questions that pop up each and every time the reign of a former world champion is revisited; where does he rate overall? How would he do today? I’ll deal with the former question first. Don’t let anyone kid you; Lloyd Honeyghan was an excellent fighter. He has to be the best or second-best British welterweight of all time, with only Ted “Kid” Lewis perhaps ahead of him. He is, for my money, better than Kell Brook, Kirkland Laing, or Ernie Roderick. Brian Curvis deserves mention but not at the level of Honeyghan. On the world stage, Lloyd is upper echelon based just on his defeats of people like Donald Curry.
How he would do today is trickier. The uber talented Errol Spence Jr., Terrence Crawford, Keith Thurman and the legendary Manny Pacquiao are truly special and I think would have gotten the better of Honeyghan 7 times out of 10. I think he beats Shawn Porter and also Danny Garcia. Now I know Garcia is seen as untouchable by many, but boxing is often a question of styles and I think Garcia is made for Lloyd. I do think fans should remind themselves of just how good Honeyghan was so I’m embedding a clip of his fight with Curry. I encourage my readers to refresh their memories of Lloyd by giving it a look. Here’s the link:
As you can see, Honeyghan had it all; speed, power, good footwork, and excellent command of the ring. He was a formidable foe. In fact, now that I’ve just looked at it again, I’ll subtract Thurman from the list of men I think would have beaten Lloyd. He was “that good.” In Honeyghan, we have the welterweight equivalent of a Lennox Lewis, for me; excellent, but not quite great. Lloyd was definitely an upper echelon type fighter, but I can’t quite bring myself to see him beating the likes of Mayweather or Leonard. I might be wrong though. I’ll always regret that we won’t ever have the chance to find out. In the meantime, I ask you all to join with me in sending Lloyd “Ragamuffin Man” Honeyghan, former two-time world boxing champion, your thoughts, prayers, and positive energy as he wages the fight of his life. Lloyd, our thoughts are with you.