John Conteh was born and raised on the tough streets in Kirkby, Liverpool in 1951, he first walked into the Kirkby Club at the age of 10 and was hooked from day one.
After over 50 amateur fights and winning National Titles at Middleweight and Light-Heavyweight, John aged 19, travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and duly came home with the middleweight gold medal after beating Titus Simba in the final.
After a successful amateur career, John turned pro in an eight-rounder against Frenchman Okacha Boubekeur and knocked the little known 27 year-old out in a blistering first round.
Nine more knockout wins followed either side of one solitary points victory against Tony Burwell in Nottingham, five of which were in the first two rounds.
John then took his impressive record into a match-up with American Eddie Duncan (5-1-1) in September 1972 and despite dominating the “The Big E”, Conteh lost by ¼ of a point in a contentious upset result.
The Scouser was back in the ring within two weeks and scored a first round win against Ferenc Kristofcsak at the Royal Albert Hall, then followed that up with three straight knockout wins within a seven week period.
Conteh was on a mission after his solitary loss and wins over Dave Matthews and former WBC Heavyweight Title challenger Terry Daniels in the States early 1973, guaranteed John a crack at the European Light-Heavyweight Championship.
In a tough twelve round contest, Conteh managed to blast out the German EBU Title Holder Rudiger Schmidtke in the last round, Schmidtke was making the fourth defence of the Title he won from Conteh’s next opponent Chris Finnegan.
Finnegan was himself a former European Champion and had picked up the British and Commonwealth Light-Heavyweight belts in his last fight against Roy John, making his fight with Conteh a winner take all fight nicknamed “The Triple Crown.”
In a bruising fifteen round battle which swung this way and that, Conteh managed to earn a tight points win and pick up all three belts at the Empire Pool in Wembley, London on May 22nd 1973 in a fight that announced both fighters to the world stage.
Conteh made five defences of his Titles in a six month spell whilst Finnegan fought only once before the two fighters met again, almost a year to the day, back at the Empire Pool.
This time the fight was stopped in the sixth after Finnegan suffered bad cuts, with Conteh scoring a TKO victory.
The impressive nature of Conteh’s two victories over Chris Finnegan earned The Kirkby fighter a crack at the WBC Light-Heavyweight Title vacated by the retiring Champion, American Light-Heavyweight legend Bob Foster.
His opponent was Jorge Victor Ahumada, who met Bob Foster four months prior in a tough draw for the Undisputed Title, a re-match was ordered by the WBC and the WBA between the two, but Foster chose to retire rather than face the Argentinian.
The fight again took place at the Empire Pool in Wembley and in what John himself has called “The highlight of my career”, Conteh won a split decision in a hard fought contest and became WBC Light-Heavyweight Champion of the World.
A defence against Lonnie Bennett followed his Title victory, then in a ten round points victory against Willie Taylor in America, Conteh broke his hand in the third round and was worried about his hands being tied right.
Conteh then left his management company and his trainer George Francis and signed with Don King, but only fought three times in the next three years, all victories including one in his beloved Liverpool against Len Hutchins.
After the Hutchins fight, Conteh was due to defend against Miguel Cuello but pulled out two days before the fight with his Management giving a hand injury as the reason but Conteh has since admitted it was all down to money, contracts and TV rights.
Cuello then won a decision victory against Jesse Burnett for the vacant Title in May 1977 at the Stade Louis II Stadium in Monte Carlo, Monaco before losing the title in a ninth round KO against Croatian, Mate Parlov in Lombardia, Italy in what proved to be his last fight.
Parlov (21-1-1), would then become Conteh’s next opponent.
John travelled to Belgrade in Serbia determined to try and wrench back the title he never lost in the Ring.
Parlov came out the winner in a controversial unanimous decision in front of 40,000 fans at the Red Star Football Stadium, but Conteh was convinced he had done enough, “I thought I had won that fight, but I knew I wouldn’t get the decision in front of his home crowd.”
Conteh went back to his roots after the disappointment against Parlov and knocked out Leonardo Rodgers at the Empire Pool in seven rounds before facing former WBC Title challenger Jesse Burnett.
The hard-hitting 33 year-old, who also had Miguel Angel Cuello on the floor in his Title challenge, knocked Conteh down in the first and eighth rounds but Conteh showed real fighting grit to claim a draw after ten hard rounds.
With just one win in his last three fights, John contemplated his next move, just two months after the Burnett draw, he decided to fight in his hometown against American, Ivy Brown and won an easy points decision.
Conteh was ready for another crack at his beloved WBC Belt and re-united with his former trainer George Francis to get him in shape for his Sixth World Title clash.
His opponent would be recently crowned Champion Matthew Saad Muhammad, who had knocked out Marvin Johnson in the eight round to claim the belt four months before.
Conteh would lose on points but a rematch was ordered because Muhammad’s corner were using illegal substances to treat eye damage caused by Conteh’s accurate punches, In the rematch though, John was knocked out in the fourth round in what proved to be his last ever Title challenge.
Two months after the tussles with Muhammad, John fought James Dixon at The Stadium, Liverpool, It was May 1980 and it turned out to be the last time John would step into the professional ring, Conteh won with a fifth round stoppage.
Not long after the fight, A routine brain scan had found a slight stain on the stem of Conteh’s brain, It kept John out for a year before a second scan came back clear.
By this time it was late 1981 and Conteh decided to hang up his gloves at the age of 30, with an impressive (34-4-1) record and seven World Title fights behind him.
During his boxing career, John was a regular on the BBC’s premier sporting show Superstars, a show were an array of British sporting legends compete in various sporting events and even became the shows overall champion in 1974.
He announced on an episode of Sporting Legends with Eamonn Holmes that Muhammed Ali had told him to fight at Light-Heavyweight because he was too small to be a Heavyweight, Advice which Conteh duly noted.
He also told of another fight he’d had in his life, a battle with alcoholism, but had been clean for nine years.
After tackling his troubles head on, Conteh is now a regular on the after-dinner speech scene and takes in the odd fight here and there as I know only too well after a chance meeting with the former WBC Champ at Paul Smith’s British Title defence at Liverpool’s Echo Arena back in March.
by Phil D. Jay (pictured above with Conteh) for www.britishboxers.co.uk