The Myth of the Horizontal Boxer: Brits who Stood up in the USA

Frank Bruno Mike Tyson

American fight fans and boxers alike have enjoyed taking a swipe at their British cousins for as long as professional boxing has been around. The phrase ‘horizontal heavyweights’ has been thrown at British fighters for what seems like forever, but it isn’t just the big guys that take stick, lower weight divisions have often failed when it comes to travelling over the Atlantic.

However, this isn’t always the case and there have been some famous wins for Brits in the USA, many of them in Nevada, the home of the Thomas & Mack and the MGM Grand where many great fights have taken place surrounded by casinos and neon lights.

For every Anthony Joshua losing to Andy Ruiz, there is a Nigel Benn beating Iran Barkley. Boxing is booming again across the world, and part of that success is due to British boxers, especially when they stay upright.

Here are some of those moments when the British won in the USA, and sometimes for world titles too. 

The Dark Destroyer makes it a quick night

Nigel Benn had just won the WBO belt from the tough Doug DeWitt and then signed the contract that would take him to Bally’s in Las Vegas in the summer of 1990. It was during this era that it was said that for a Brit to secure a win in America they would have to get a knock-out. The same xenophobic comments were often directed at other countries too and could be attributed to sour grapes as much as perceived poor or biased judges.

The stage was set and Benn was favoured by many British bookmakers to pull off a win. However, Barkley was a hard-hitting pro who had height and reach advantages as well as fighting on home soil. The three knockdown rule was in place, and the fans were ready.

What happened next couldn’t have been predicted by anyone in the audience, but Benn put Barkley on the floor three times and with mere seconds left of the first round, the fight was over. There was controversy as Benn hit Barkley while he was on the floor after the second knockdown without losing points or even receiving a warning.

Despite the complaints from Barkley’s corner, the British boxer had scored a fine win away from home. 

Joe Calzaghe goes down and gets back up

Joe Calzaghe was unbeaten and coming towards the end of his career when the Don King fighter, Jeff Lacy, landed on the shores of England. It would seem that King had decided the time was right to snatch Calzaghe’s belts and end his career. It was a huge mistake as he was given a masterclass by the Welshman.

Calzaghe followed this up with three more fights including the tough, skilful Mikkel Kessler, before finally deciding to fight in the USA for the first time.

For Calzaghe’s final two fights he had Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr lined up. Hopkins put Calzaghe down in the first round for the first time in his career, a feat that Roy Jones Jr replicated in his fight next.

However, the Brit rose from the canvas on both occasions to seal wins. A controversial split decision against Hopkins, who many thought had won, and a unanimous decision against Roy Jones. While Hopkins showed just why he is so respected as a fighter, Roy Jones Jr looked as if the best days were past him as Calzaghe taunted him and showboated to victory. Tricks that Jones would have done himself many times in the past to lesser opponents.

As George Foreman himself said, no one could beat him, and he retired undefeated. 

Ricky Hatton in Nevada

Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton fought professionally for 15 years from 1997 until his second and final retirement in 2012. In that time he defeated the highly regarded Kostya Tszyu with some devastating body shots and also the much less regarded Juan Urango. The Urango fight took place in Las Vegas amid the bright lights of the casinos and Hatton made hard work of what was supposed to be an easy night.

However, he then followed this up with a fight that set him up for a shot at Floyd Mayweather. On June 23rd, 2007, Hatton and José Luis Castillo entered the ring at The Thomas & Mack Centre.

Hatton never had problems attracting his loyal fans to fly over the Atlantic and this time was no different. A lot of fans put money down online on Hatton, because placing a bet online can mean receiving a no deposit bonus. Once the fans had placed their bets and had made the journey from the casinos and hotels along the strip, the arena started to fill up with the noise of patriotic Brits hoping for a famous win. And, they got it.

José Luis Castillo was considered to be one of the best lightweights of that time and many believed that he had been robbed in his first fight against Floyd Mayweather. However, Hatton who was well known for powerful body punches put Castillo down in the fourth and he was counted out for the first time. 

It was said by Hatton that Castillo broke four ribs from just one body punch, although sadly for Hatton this was the last win of any note. Losses to Mayweather and Pacquiao, and then Senchenko in a comeback fight put paid to the boxer’s career. 

The horizontal and non-horizontal heavyweights

Anthony Joshua being beaten by Andy Ruiz in the seventh round by TKO in the famed Madison Square Garden was one of the biggest upsets of all time. Very few people would have given Ruiz much of a chance that night against the Olympic gold medallist but as boxing fans understand, these things happen and it is one reason why the sport is so exciting.

Frank Bruno rocked Tyson in their first fight before normal service was resumed. The incredibly well-built Bruno who was known for devastating punching power had hurt Tyson. It appeared that for perhaps the first time, Tyson had been staggered in the ring but whatever the truth was, Tyson came back quickly to put an end to the British challenger.

Then there is Lennox Lewis, perhaps the best British heavyweight ever and the only one to be undisputed world champion. After losing his titles to Hasim Rahman in South Africa, Lewis wisely decided to opt for the US in the rematch which was won comfortably by knockout in the fourth.

Now Tyson Fury is providing the excitement for Brits in the US and with a controversial split decision in the first fight with Deontay Wilder, a second fight ending in victory for the Brit, a third and final fight is due. Love him or hate him, Tyson Fury has no intention of being a horizontal heavyweight and he has given the casinos of Vegas plenty of action so far along with the fans of matched betting

Summary

There have been some famous victories over the years for Brits in the US and Las Vegas especially. It was a casino in New Jersey though, that saw one of the biggest upsets ever when Lloyd Honeyghan shocked the world and crushed the mighty Don Curry and ended his unbeaten record.

Although the Brits have had to eat humble pie on many occasions, there have also been some fine fight nights where they have come out on top in the states. Hopefully, as the pandemic recedes there will be many more exciting nights to come where the Brits give their American cousins a run for their money.