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Former boxing champion Joe Bygraves passes on

Published:Sunday | February 12, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Leroy Brown, Sunday Gleaner Writer

Former British Empire (now Commonwealth) heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Bygraves, who was one of the pioneers of Jamaica's boxing, has died. He was born in Kingston on May 26, 1931 and died on January 16. He had a record of 42 wins, 22 by knockout, 28 losses and a draw.

Bygraves, who was one of a large family of 12 children, left Jamaica when he was 15 years old for England and became a citizen there in 1967.

Reports are that he started boxing in Jamaica and engaged in schoolboy competition which was active at that time. He renewed his acquaintance with the sport in England when he was 17 years of age and went on to have a very successful amateur career, winning English Northern Counties titles, first as a light heavyweight and then as a heavyweight.

He became a professional and had his first fight on February 12, 1953. It was a very successful start to a long career, as he knocked out his opponent Don Maxwell in 65 seconds of the first round.

He had a string of five victories after this before suffering a couple of losses.

Blossoming career

His career continued to blossom and one of the notable victories he scored was against Jack Gardner, the former British heavyweight champion whom he stopped in two rounds in 1956.

Bygraves could not fight for the British title because he was not born there, but that same year he won the vacant British Empire title with a points victory over the Tongan fighter Kitione Lave.

What was regarded as the most spectacular victory of his career was his ninth-round knockout victory over Henry Cooper - who himself had a stellar boxing career - on February 19, 1957.

A good victory over Joey Armstrong followed in February 1958 and this boosted his stocks and he then challenged some other well-known fighters, but with disappointing results.

First it was Willie Pastrano to whom he lost in April 1958 and then the hard-hitting Zora Folley on November 24 that same year. Folley knocked him out in nine rounds.

high stakes

He played for high stakes when he had a second fight against Ingemar Johansson on February 9, 1962 in Sweden, but the big Swede, who had some memorable heavyweight title fights in the USA, particularly those against Floyd Patterson, stopped him in seven rounds.

His last noteworthy fight was against George Chuvalo on July 7, 1965 which he lost on points over 10 rounds; and his final fight was on March 20, 1967 against Hector Corletti, which he lost on points over 10 rounds.

He had only one professional fight in Jamaica and that was against Wayne Bethea on September 22, 1962 at the National Stadium. He won by unanimous decision over 10 rounds.

That was "a dream come true", he said then, as he wanted to fight before his home crowd and do well in Jamaica's first year of Independence.

He engaged in farming after retiring from boxing and has left a rich legacy.