On this day… January 29… Visiting greats beat Francis and Yarde in the UK

It was an iconic time. Mike Tyson had been all-but shunned by the USA, dubbed a pariah by so many and with a rap sheet almost as long as his boxing record.

But the UK welcomed him with open arms, embracing the former world heavyweight champion, Manchester’s MEN Arena selling out in minutes and the British public not giving Tyson a minute of peace throughout his tumultuous stay.

It was an amazing time. Tyson filled the front and back pages of the newspapers. He was headline news. He was mobbed everywhere he went, so much so that at one point he had to seek solace in a police station to take cover from the masses who were swarming him. 

In another instance, with a megaphone in hand, he addressed the crowds and told them he was grateful for their support and for being so welcoming.

The whole thing had been a masterstroke by promoter Frank Warren. 

In the other corner, when Tyson actually got to do what he was in the UK today to do, was Julius Francis, a game and experienced Englishman wo was in the form of his career following three very good wins, over Pele Reid, Scott Welch and Danny Williams.

Francis trained at an army barracks in Aldershot for the fight, and you can insert any joke you like here about needing the troops as back-up when he finally got into the ring.

As an aside, some people remember this more for Francis selling advertising space on the soles of his boxing boots to the Daily Mirror newspaper, for which he was paid some £40,000 or so. 

Julius was not over-awed on the night, as such, but he was overwhelmed.

Tyson, cheered on by his late aide Steve ‘Crocodile’ Fitch, had short dreads and by the time fight night came, he was all business.

Any pre-fight niceties, glad-handing, high-fiving was all gone. Instead, Tyson did what he did best. 

Francis would later say he felt he got an extremely good version of Tyson and he believed he was one of the last opponents to experience that.

Tyson was in the midst of a rare spell of activity as he tried to build momentum for another championship run. He had fought Orlin Norris only a couple of months before (a fight that ended with a punch-after-the-bell controversy), then fought Lous Savarese five months later (back in Britain during a far more toxic visit), and he closed out the year by breaking Andrew Golota’s face in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 

Still, Francis was down five times in four minutes before referee Roy Francis called it off in the second session of a one-sided bout.

And it was a success. The crowd wanted to see a Tyson KO on his first fighting visit to the UK, and they got exactly what they paid for.

A right uppercut was the first shot to undo Francis, and the Englishman held as Tyson tried unloading to the body and head with his trademark short, powerful blows on the inside. Francis was felled again by a counter left hook at the bell.

“Francis really had to show his pride and grit to get up twice,” said Sky Sports commentator Ian Darke, on the call.

Francis gamely planted his feet and tried to battle back but was down again early in the second, and as he walked back out having made it back to his feet, Tyson stepped to the side and fired in a right to the body and a left hook to the head and Francis was dropped once more.

Again, Francis came out, shaping up, but in essence he had become a sitting duck. He tried to grit his teeth and cover up, but Tyson was vibrant, searching for angles and he broke through a final time – dropping Francis again – causing Roy Francis waved it off.

It was mission accomplished, but Tyson’s expression did not change. He was unmoved. 

He was back a few months later for Savarese, and things were very different, but his first boxing trip to the UK had been an overwhelming success.

On the big Manchester bill, two of Warren’s stars – Joe Calzaghe and an emerging Ricky Hatton – boxed. Calzaghe experienced a drab encounter albeit against a quality operator in David Starie while Hatton blitzed Mexican Leoncio Garces in three rounds.

Also on this day…. In 2023

Warren brought another top-liner over when Artur Beterbiev boxed Anthony Yarde in Wembley. Yarde was courageous and gave the unified light-heavyweight champion plenty of problems but ultimately wilted in the eighth of a Fight of the Year contender.

Warren has brought over many big names through the years. I left Wembley this night – and was also in Manchester as a fan for Tyson-Francis – with journalists Chris McKenna and the late Ron Lewis. 

“You’ve always got to come and see the greats when they box on these shores,” said Ron. 

That was true. 

Tyson and Beterbiev, the stuff of boxing nightmares for opponents but two of the modern greats with very different legacies.

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