By Clayton Goodwin
In a half-century and more of reporting professional boxing – it started at the Lime Grove Baths in Shepherd’s Bush, West London on 14th February 1968 – I have seen many exciting contests and a good few spectacular finishes. So, it must be difficult for me to decide which was the hardest and most decisive punch of all. No, not at all. It just had to be on 10th September 2004, an evening of real drama in London for boxing fans. Over in the West at Wembley the fast-rising wunderkind David Haye was taking on the more experienced, though possibly past his peak, Carl Thompson, and a couple of divisions lighter in the East End punchers light-middleweight Wayne Alexander and Takaloo were seriously crossing gloves at the York Hall in Bethnal Green.
There were several good reasons why I chose to go the latter. More than any other venue the York Hall captures the atmosphere of the many local town hall promotions which formed the tradition of the capital city’s pugilistic history. I can remember as a child in rural Kent sitting on the floor of my family’s front-room while listening to the radio commentary of many often anonymous fights from town halls and municipal baths. The names of the boxers may be forgotten but the authentic sound of the crowd clapping and cheering has never left my mind. Also, Wayne Alexander and myself travelled in similar circles, often being guests at the dominoes championships which his uncle, Joe Blake, was instrumental in promoting.
Alexander and Takaloo each had something to prove. Their glittering professional careers had stuttered. Both were coming off unexpected losses and further defeat here would damn their prospects, perhaps permanently. Wayne had lost his unbeaten record when he challenged Harry Simon at short notice for the WBO world title and, then, after a few less significant victories, had been stopped unexpectedly by Delroy Mellis. Last time out Takaloo had been outpointed by Eugenio Monteiro. Yes, there was a lot at stake. Both men carried a very potent punch, so it was no wonder that they began tentatively. In a first round which lacked incident, Takaloo took the edge in confidence, which inspired him to begin the second round more aggressively.
He backed his opponent into a corner directly aligned with my line of vision. Takaloo decided to take early advantage of Alexander’s apparently open defence. He wound up to deliver the punch that, if it had landed, would have ended it all. It wasn’t telegraphed to any great deal. Yet everybody in the hall – apart from Takaloo himself – seemed to see in slow motion what was about to happen in lightning speed. Wayne Alexander hit him with a left-hand counter-punch of extraordinary power, speed and precision. Takaloo was pole-axed, and before he even hit the floor urgent calls had been sent for an ambulance. The referee’s count was redundant. The loser’s career was effectively finished. The winner, too, struggled unsuccessfully to make further progress to another world title chance.
And across London, it was the surprise loser there that night, David Haye, who went on to reap the golden future.