‘Savage’ fight between Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis illustrates the need for Britain to reign supreme in heavyweight boxing and make Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua

The proposed undisputed heavyweight world title clash between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury remains the most talked about fight despite a punch having never been thrown.

If you listen to Fury’s promoter, Bob Arum, the fight is ‘dead in the water’ and the chances of it happening in Saudi Arabia this summer as proposed are slowly slipping away.

Joshua and Fury are supposed to be fighting to be crowned undisputed WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion of the world

Yet there are some sources who suggest a deal could be announced this weekend, with a $150million site fee agreed.

When you strip the chatter back and tone down the noise, the fight is imperative for both British and heavyweight boxing.

Not only will it determine the best heavyweight of this era, it will also solidify Britain’s position as the global home of heavyweight boxing – with Joe Joyce, Dillian Whyte, Daniel Dubois and even Derek Chisora eyeing up the winner.

Not since 1993 has a heavyweight title fight garnered as much attention or controversy since Lennox Lewis defended his WBC crown against Frank Bruno.

The 1993 bout between Lewis and Bruno featured two Brits fighting for a world heavyweight title for the first tie in history

Dubbed the ‘Battle of Britain’, it was the first time two British heavyweights had ever contested for the world title.

Despite both hailing from London and championing their patriotic beliefs, there was a sense that both men could not have been further apart.

Lewis, born in East Ham, was the more multicultural of the two thanks to his globetrotting career which took him around the world. After moving to Canada at the age of 12, he represented them at two Olympic Games and was even a flag bearer at the 1988 Olympics.

Conversely, Bruno was the epitome of modern Britain; born in London, raised in Hammersmith and with his mother from Jamaica and a father from the Dominican.

Lewis won Olympic Gold for Canada and Bruno attacked his national identity
Hammersmith fighter Bruno was adored by the British public

Identity and race was to play a huge role in the build-up to the October 1 fight, with Bruno mocking the younger champion for being difficult to identify with.

“I’m a little bit dark, but I was born in Hammersmith,” Bruno had told a Manhattan press conference. He had later turned to his opponent, saying, “I’m going to hit you upside your head so hard, you won’t even know if you’re Canadian, Jamaica, Los Angeles, or what.”

Bruno thrived off the nationality-goading, describing Lewis as “… not British,” adding, “Nobody cares about Lennox Lewis in Britain.” 

The WBC champion simply responded: “You’re an embarrassment.”

Lewis had already made on defence of his title – taking on Tony Tucker

Bruno had lost two world title fights to this point – against Tim Witherspoon and then a peak Mike Tyson – whilst Lewis was making the second defence of his world crown after defeating Tony Tucker on points.

Although he was the favourite for his more refined boxing style, Lewis was by no means popular amongst the British public. That accolade belonged to Bruno, whom many people saw as ‘The People’s Champion’.

His explosive early career saw him rack up knockouts for fun, while his personality and that booming laugh were infectious. He finished second in the 1989 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards and became a fixture on the pantomime circuit in the UK.

The question of identity brought with it a question of race. That Bruno felt the need to qualify his aforementioned statement with, ‘I’m a little bit dark…’ is indicative of Britain at the time.

Bruno had already failed twice in his bid to become heavyweight champion, losing to Mike Tyson and Tim Witherspoon
Getty Images – Getty

Taking place just mere months after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, racial tensions in the country were unprecedented.

After being accused of not being British enough, Lewis retorted and suggested Bruno was not black enough, calling him an ‘Uncle Tom’ and adding, ‘He makes a fool of himself, dressing up in girls’ clothing on television.’

It was an insult which would haunt the veteran, moments after beating Oliver McCall at Wembley two years later he told the world ‘I’m not an Uncle Tom’ and was on the verge of tears.

Although the fight at the Cardiff Park Arms was held at 1am to facilitate an American audience, the boxing world was firmly cast upon the UK. Just mere weeks later, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank would meet for their epic rematch and there was the small matter of Joe Calzaghe’s professional debut – a first round stoppage of Paul Hanlon.

Calzaghe had an incredible career after his pro debut in 1993 in Cardiff
Getty Images – Getty

Bruno entered the ring with ‘True Brit’ stitched on his shorts, waving the Union Jack above his head as he came out to a fireworks show.

The venue was susceptible to rain overhead, but whilst the clouds lingered ominously ahead with their threat of storms, it was the action in the ring which proved tempestuous.

In front of 26,000 fans, both men proved the billing of the ‘Battle of Britain’ was correct as they traded heavy blows from the first bell and let leather fly.

After a strong start, Lewis was forced to finally take a back step to Bruno’s relentless assault as he powered forward with right hooks detonating at will.

A brutal uppercut from Lewis signalled the beginning of the end

As so often in heavyweight boxing, one punch was to change the course of the fight as Lewis uncorked a vicious uppercut on Bruno’s chin and the older challenger wilted back onto the ropes.

Up against the ropes and with concussive blow after concussive blow reigning down, Bruno found his chin being propped up by Lewis so as to deliver even more punishment to his decimated chin.

Bruno never touched down on the canvas, but referee Mickey Vann dutifully stepped in to halt the barrage of punches and crown Lewis the victor and still WBC champion.

“I think there was too much pride up there, and both boys forgot their boxing,” promoter Frank Maloney said afterwards. “That was a real war up there. That was savage.”

Lewis would become the undisputed heavyweight champion – something Fury and Joshua both crave
Getty Images – Getty

It proved to be one of the most memorable and violent British world title fights in history, with both men leaving the ring with their reputations enhanced.

With Fury and Joshua seemingly so tantalisingly close, fans are hoping we are treated to another British epic.