The life and legacy of Brian London “The Blackpool Rock” who fought Mohammed Ali

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After his boxing career, London went on to become a successful business man in Blackpool and opened the town’s first upmarket nightclub called 007 frequented by England’s sporting elite

 

19th March 1955: British boxer Brian London (Brian Harper) (right) with his father, former British and Empire heavyweight champion Jack London, at home in Blackpool where Brian is training for his first professional fight against Denis Lockton at the Albert Hall, London.
London (Brian Harper) (right) with his father, former British and Empire heavyweight champion Jack London, at home in Blackpool (Image: (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

Blackpool sporting legend and former heavyweight boxer Brian London has died at the age of 87 following a bout of ill health.

Born Brian Harper in Hartlepool, he was heavyweight champion from 1958 to 1959 and enjoyed a 15-year-career fighting 58 times with some of boxing’s biggest names.

“The Blackpool Rock”, as he came to be known, died yesterday (June 23) just four days before his 88th birthday.

Brian London named himself after the cult author of the same name and was six feet tall, big-framed with a style that some regarded as crude and cumbersome.

Brian London AKA "the Blackpool Rock" in 1966
Le boxeur britannique Brian London s’entraîne le 1er août 1966 à Blackpool, Royaume-Uni. (Photo by KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images) (Image: (Photo by KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images))

Also known as the British Bulldog, London was the spirit of national optimism when took on titan of boxing Muhammad Ali in 1966.

He was unfortunately defeated in the third round via knock-out however “did his sport proud” and also Blackpool proud according to Olympic boxing coach Kevin Hickey.

When asked if he wanted a rematch with Ali, London famously said: “Only if he ties a 56-pound weight to each leg.”

On August 6, 1966 at Earls Court Arena, Kensington, London, England, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, from Louisville, Kentucky, defended his title against Brian London, from Blackpool, England.
Muhammad Ali defended his title against Brian London (Image: (Photo by David Johnson/Mirrorpix/Getty Images))

Other highlights of his career were his memorable fights against Sir Henry Cooper OBE and American professional boxer Floyd Patterson.

Born in County Durham in 1934, London moved to Blackpool when he was 16 and was encouraged to take up boxing while doing national service with the RAF.

This was after an officer discovered that his father was former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion Jack London.

His brother, Jack Junior, also fought as a light-heavyweight.

19th March 1955: British boxer Brian London (Brian Harper) running on the beach in Blackpool as his father, former British and Empire heavyweight champion Jack London, watches him. Brian is training for his first professional fight against Denis Lockton at the Albert Hall, London.
Brian London running on the beach in Blackpool (Image: (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

London turned professional in 1955 and won the first 12 bouts of his career but lost when he came up against Henry Cooper in 1956 who said that nobody had ever hit him harder in his career.

An eighth-round knockout of Welsh fighter Joe Erskine in June 1958 saw London claim the British and Commonwealth title.

Two years later, tempers flared when he got involved in the notorious 1960 “Brawl in Porthcawl”.

His heated exchange with Newport’s Dick Richardson erupted in a fight of both camps and London was fined £1,000 for punching Richardson’s trainer.

In his final fight in 1970, the Blackpool Rock was defeated by Australian-British-Hungarian opponent Joe Bugner.

London ended his career on a record of 58 total fights with 37 wins, (26 by KO), and 20 losses.

Miss UK 1966. Boxer Brian London judging at Blackpool. 9th August 1966.
Boxer Brian London judging (Image: (Photo by Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images))

The boxer went on to become a successful business man in his hometown and opened Blackpool’s first upmarket nightclub called 007 originally on Water Street.

Not only was London a draw himself but the club became well frequented by England’s sporting elite.

Locally, the heavy weight boxer was known for his kind ways and being a true gentleman.

He was often spotted jogging relentlessly around Stanley Park and waiting to pick up his grandchildren at school.

Upon the announcement of his death, tributes poured in from the local community.

Boxer Brian London and Andrew Sumner

One post on Facebook said: “Brian London was a gentleman for all the 60+ years I have known him around town. I loved the 007, in my teenage years and he should be appreciated for all he meant to Blackpool . God bless you Brian.”

Another read: “R.I.P Brian you were a true gentleman. My dad said you always stopped the car to give a lift to the RAF lads at Weeton camp when you were training there. A sad loss to Blackpool. Condolences to the family.”

One woman said: “My daughter cared for him at The Anna Cliffe care home where he was. She always said he was the Biggest best loved character in there.”

London leaves behind his childhood sweetheart, Veronica Cliffe, and his three children, Brian, Melanie and Jack.