Reflecting on Islington boxer Michael Watson MBE's career

Chris Eubank lands a punch to Michael Watson's head during their WBO title fight at Tottenham's Whit

Chris Eubank lands a punch to Michael Watson's head during their WBO title fight at Tottenham's White Hart Lane ground in London. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Islington boxer Michael Watson had a remarkable boxing career which sadly ended at Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane on September 21, 1991.  

Watson was born in Clapton, Hackney on March, 15 1965, and took up boxing as a junior with the Hoxton based Crown and Manor ABC where he developed well and won an under 71kg London Schools title in 1980.  

He was involved in around 20 bouts for the Crown and Manor Club, losing just two. Bob Kipps, a well respected coach at the Crown and Manor Club, helped forge initial amateur success at the club for Watson - aided by Eric Whistler, a former Senior ABA champion. 

Watson reached a Junior ABA final in May 1981 and the semi-finals of the NABC Class B competition in December 1981; although he lost on both occasions.   

Aged around 17, Watson, a keen Arsenal fan, moved to Hackney’s Colvestone ABC, sadly long defunct now, and sparred with the likes of Kirkland Laing, Dennis Andries and Darren Dyer, under the watchful eye of the late Harry Griver, a taxi driver who ran the club.  

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Watson’s finally won a National title in January 1984 when he lifted the NABC Class C under 75kgs crown. 

The pinnacle of Watson’s senior career as an amateur came perhaps in 1984 when he boxed at middleweight in the British ABA semi-finals at Preston, where he was very controversially outpointed by Scotland’s Russell Barker from Dunfermline. 

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That loss effectively eliminated any lingering chance of being chosen for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.   

During the London ABA championships that year he halted Islington’s highly touted John Beckles in the opening round of their London ABA semi-final contest, having already removed Repton’s tough Harry Lawson from the North-East Divisional stage.

Both Beckles and Lawson went on later to win National ABA crowns  at light-heavyweight in their own right. The loss to Barker was to prove to be Michael’s last bout in the amateur code.

Later that year, Watson opted to punch for pay and billed from Islington, he made his professional debut at the Royal Albert Hall on October, 16 1984 stopping Bolton’s Winston Wray in the fourth round of a scheduled four rounds encounter.  

He was managed by Mickey Duff and his influential National Promotions organisation, and trained by the quietly spoken Eric Seccombe.   

Watson and Seccombe had linked up earlier at Colvestone and Seccombe stayed with Michael until the final few months of his paid career nearly a decade later.   

Watson boxed regularly on shows at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, Royal Albert Hall and the Wembley venues (Conference Centre, Grand Hall and Arena) and also at Wembley Stadium (when Frank Bruno challenged Tim Witherspoon for the world heavyweight crown in July 1986). 

He racked up seven straight victories, demonstrating both good punch power and fine ring skills.  

However, in his eighth contest on May, 20 1986, Watson was outpointed by the vastly more experienced, James Cook from Hackney, the margin of defeat being waver thin with a score of 78.5 to Cook and 78 points to Islington’s fast rising star Watson.  

This was Watson’s first loss in the professional ranks, but nevertheless a fine learning experience for him.  

Watson recovered well by chalking up eleven straight victories, often against good opposition from the United States.  

Next up for Watson was a trip to Caesars Palace, Paradise in Nevada, where he met Israel Cole from Sierra Leone in a scheduled eight rounder.  

Following an accidental head butt in round two, Cole was unable to continue and the verdict was announced as a technical draw.  

Back home again Watson notched up three stoppage victories in a row against American opponents and by then, Mickey Duff reckoned he was due for his first title tilt and his opponent was the fierce punching “Dark Destroyer” from Ilford, Nigel Benn.  

Michael Watson and Nigel Benn met in the ring in 1989

Michael Watson and Nigel Benn met in the ring in 1989 - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Benn was undefeated at the time and held the Commonwealth middleweight championship, and it looked to be a formidable task for Michael.  

Benn had won all of his 22 fights all of them ending quickly, Watson had lost just once in twenty-four outings.  

It was a great fight held in a tent pitched in Finsbury Park, not far from Watson’s home in Islington, where Benn pounded away at Watson for six rounds without moving him and in the process had effectively “punched himself”, it took a stiff jab from Watson to floor Benn for the full count. 

Michael Watson hoolds aloft the Commonwealth middleweight trophy alongside manager Mickey Duff

Michael Watson holds aloft the Commonwealth middleweight trophy alongside manager Mickey Duff (right) after taking the title from champion Nigel Benn - Credit: PA Archive

He was now firmly in the big league and a world championship title tilt against Mike McCallum the “Jamaican body snatcher” beckoned, although there was to be a hiccup on the way. 

The fight was set for November, 29 1989, but in the last seconds of his last sparring session with Hackney’s Ray Webb, Watson’s nose was broken forcing the postponement of the contest.  

They did meet for the WBA middleweight crown held by McCallum in April 1990 at the Royal Albert Hall and it proved to be a torrid night for Michael.  

McCallum was a class act, although at that time he was not recognized,  as he would be in the future and he knocked out Watson in the eleventh round of their scheduled twelve rounder.  

Not to be deterred, Watson was back in the ring on November, 18 1990 when he stopped Errol Christie in three rounds in Birmingham, a successful Commonwealth title defence followed against Australian, Craig Trotter in January 1991, who was stopped in six rounds and then came a one round knockout of Anthony Brown from Trinidad and Tobago at the York Hall in May 1991. 

Then came the two epic battles with Brighton’s Chris Eubank, both for world championship honours.  

It was a close fight first time round at Earls Court in June 1991, with many of the rounds were very close to score, but in the end the three men who mattered most, notably the judges went for the champion via a majority draw with the following scores: 116-113, 115-113 with the other calling it a 114-114 tie. 

In July 1991, Eubank relinquished his WBO middleweight title and a fight for the vacant WBO super- middleweight championship was arranged, called Eubank-Watson 11 at White Hart Lane in September 1991. A date that nobody present or watching on television can ever forget.  

In round 11, with Watson ahead on points and seemingly on the verge of a stoppage victory, he knocked Eubank down with an overhand right. Moments later, Eubank was back on his feet and connected with a devastating uppercut, which caused Watson to fall back and hit the back of his head against the ropes.

Referee Roy Francis stopped the fight in round 12, after which Watson collapsed in the ring. There was no ambulance or paramedic at the event. Doctors wearing dinner jackets arrived after some eight minutes.

A total of 28 minutes elapsed before Watson received treatment in a hospital neurosurgical unit, and he spent 40 days in a coma and had six brain operations to remove a blood clot

Her Majesty The Queen, awarded him the MBE in 2004 for his services to disability sport.  I was so privileged to be around when Michael Watson had his say. 

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