Yesterday’s Heroes: Eddie Smith, one of boxing’s first “apprentice boxers”, beat Tony Sibson at the Royal Albert Hall

By Miles Templeton

WHEN I first started to follow boxing, Eddie Smith was one of my favourite fighters. An unheralded fighter out of Nat Basso’s Manchester camp, Eddie turned pro in 1976, beating Derby’s Cyril Bishton on a three-bout show at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. Top of the bill saw Pat Thompson winning the Central Area light-heavyweight crown after nearly 60 contests as a high-quality journeyman.

Eddie did not set the world on fire as an amateur and thus his debut went largely unnoticed. He was only 17 at the time, and this was a very young age to become a professional fighter in the mid-1970s. As a result, each of his first seven contests were limited to four rounds and Eddie was one of the first of the Board’s ‘apprentice boxers’. A ruling had been introduced the previous year allowing boxers aged 17 to compete for the first time in many years. Eddie won his first six-rounder just 11 days after turning 18 and he ended 1976 with seven wins from eight contests. His stable included Kenny Webber, Winston Cousins and Danny McLoughlin, all trained by that great Manchester figure, Brian Hughes.

Throughout 1977 Eddie continued to learn his trade, dropping decisions to Howard Mills and Jimmy Pickard, both good quality Northern middleweights, but winning against the likes of Steve Fenton, Joe Lally and Bob Tuckett. He won four from five in 1978 and then got his first big break, coming in as a late substitute against Tony Sibson in an eight-rounder at the Royal Albert Hall.

Sibson had only lost one of his 19 contests and was rated number four in the British middleweight rankings, with Smith down at 15. ‘Sibbo’ boxed horribly that night claiming that he was weight-drained. He stated that he lost 19lbs during the week of the fight, the last four of which were shed in the sauna on the day of the contest. This would never be allowed today, thankfully.

BN reported that “From the sixth onwards Smith got stronger while Sibson faded. Tony was on the verge of real trouble as he took those rights to the head and he was hit with a volley of vicious two-handed hooks to the side of the body after taking a right to the head in the seventh.” Eddie was all over him and he deserved his points victory.

By now, Smith had switched managers, linking up with Ernie Fossey. Brian Hughes also joined the Fossey stable, taking Danny Miller, Lee Hartshorn and Lance Williams, all Manchester lads, with him on his move south. The Sibson win pushed Eddie up to number six in Britain and he continued to improve, despite dropping a narrow 10-round decision to Sibson in their return in March 1979. By the end of the year, Eddie was ranked behind only John Conteh and Dennis Andries at number three in the light-heavyweight division after a victory over Cardiff’s Bonny McKenzie. Tom Collins then upset the applecart, beating Smith in a tight one at the Midlands Sporting Club, Solihull.

After losing out to Eddie Burke, Smith then topped the bill on the Grand National show at Liverpool Stadium. Eddie came in as a late substitute for Frankie Lucas and hammered the American, Johnny Heard, in five rounds. In 1981 Eddie boxed at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, beating Rafael Zamora in three rounds on the same night that Alan Minter was beaten by Mustafa Hamsho.

Continuing to ply his trade until 1987, topping the bill at Belle Vue, and beating men like Frank Wissenbach and Blaine Logsdon inside the distance, it all ended for Eddie at Blazer’s nightclub in Windsor when a young Nigel Benn stopped him in a round. Eddie won 29 of his 45 bouts and he went out with his head held high. Later years have not been kind to Eddie, he suffered a bad car crash shortly after retiring, but I remember him as an excellent fighter.

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