Tributes to Blackpool boxing great Brian London: A legend and a gentleman

A true gentleman who dared to brush shoulders with greatness to put Blackpool’s boxing scene on the map.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 8:00 am

That’s how Brian London has been described following the former boxer’s tragic passing at the age of 87.

Famed for taking on Muhammad Ali in 1966, London – born Brian Harper – enjoyed a 15-year boxing career as a heavyweight, fighting 58 times.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Blackpool's last two British champions and world title challengers Brian London and Brian Rose, who described London as his inspiration
Blackpool's last two British champions and world title challengers Brian London and Brian Rose, who described London as his inspiration

He was the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion from 1958 to 1959.

London inspired the likes of Blackpool’s Brian Rose, who followed in the heavyweight’s footsteps by winning the British title in 2011.

Speaking to The Gazette, Rose, who later challenged for world honours, admits he always looked up to the man who came to be known as ‘the Blackpool Rock’.

“He’s a legend,” the 36-year-old said.

“I was the next British champion from Blackpool after him 50 years later, so it was an honour to follow in his footsteps.

“Two Brians, two British champions, both from Blackpool, it meant a lot to me to leave a legacy like he has.”

Rose would come to know London on a personal basis and the former heavyweight would take a great interest in middleweight Rose’s career.

“He was a lovely guy, a true gentleman,” the Lion added.

“He was always giving good advice and he was someone I aspired to and looked up to, if I’m being honest.

“He always used to tell me, ‘You’re not drinking alcohol again, are you?’ but I always used to lie and tell him I didn’t drink.

“He was totally against drinking, so he was always on to me for that and that’s probably one of my lasting memories of him.

“Any boxer growing up around here aspiring to be a champion should look at Brian because he fought the greatest of all time.

“I fought for the world title but I never fought anyone of the calibre of Muhammad Ali, so every credit to him because he’s left a legacy behind him.

“He fought back in the day when he fought anyone. It’s not like now, where you get hand-picked fights and there’s a lot of politics involved. The best fought the best back then.

“It was very hard to keep an undefeated record and there weren’t many undefeated fighters at all, if any.

“He was a tough man and fought at the highest level.”

“My thoughts and wishes go out to his family as well. It must be so sad for them because he will have made a massive impact in their lives.

“He was so well liked in the town and he was still out and about. I remember seeing him not so long ago walking around the park. He just never stopped.

“It’s a shame Blackpool has lost him.”

Rose’s long-term trainer Bobby Rimmer also has fond memories of his time with London.

Rimmer, a well-known figure among Blackpool’s boxing scene, says he can’t speak highly enough of what London did for the town.

“Not many people can say they fought the greatest boxer of all time, can they?,” Rimmer said.

“He brushed shoulders with greatness and he really helped put Blackpool on the boxing map.

“I would often see him on fight nights at the Winter Gardens and it was always a great honour to chat to him.

“Whenever we bumped into each other, we would always talk about boxing and he’d always be interested in how Brian was getting on.

“It’s such a tragic loss for Blackpool. He was a diamond of a person. I even have a picture of him with George Best of all people, which is up in our gym.

“He was an old school fighter, the guys from that generation are all of the same mould – they’d terrorise you in the ring but outside of it they were absolute gentlemen.

“He had a great career, you only have to look at his record and look at the people he fought to know that.

“I know Brian always wanted to follow in his footsteps and win the British title outright, which he managed to do.

“He also wanted to build on his legacy and keep boxing in Blackpool going.

“He’ll be sadly missed.”

It’s not just the sport of boxing where London left an impact.

After his boxing career ended in 1970, London became a prominent Blackpool businessman.

He owned some of the resort’s first nightclubs, including the legendary 007 Club.

Frequented by fellow sporting stars and celebrities, the nightspot hit the headlines in 1971 when a group of West Ham United players, including Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves, paid a visit on the eve of an FA Cup tie in Blackpool, who beat them 4-0.

In later life, London continued to keep fit and was regularly seen out for runs around Stanley Park.

Former Blackpool and England footballer Paul Stewart came to know London,living close to the boxing great.

“We lived on the same road for many years and I would often see Brian running in the park,” Stewart said.

“You would often see him on his early morning jog well into his old age.

“Whenever I met Brian he was always a gentleman. He he will go down as one of the legends of boxing after all he achieved and of course for fighting Ali.

“It’s such a sad loss and my heart goes out to the family.”

Also paying tribute was RP Davies, a former boxer from Blackpool who also runs a gym in the town.

He wrote on social media: “RIP Brian London – a true Blackpool boxing hero.

“Not many men can say they shared the ring with “The Greatest” Muhammed Ali. Respect.”

Boxing expert and author Steve Bunce, who works for BBC Sport and BT Sport among others, posted on social media: “Mr Blackpool. Big Brian London. A top, top man. Gone.

“We need to speak to more of these British boxing icons. The prawn in the game is gone.”

Respected magazine publication Boxing News, meanwhile, wrote: “We’re saddened to learn of Brian London’s passing.

“The ‘Blackpool Rock’ fought between 1955 and 1970 and he didn’t duck anybody.

“He had excellent victories over some of the leading heavyweights of the period and his win over Zora Folley was the best of them. Rest in peace, champ.”

Jon Rhodes, the former editor of The Gazette, said: “So sad to hear of the death of boxing legend Brian London.

“‘The Blackpool Rock’ was a class sportsman, a true gent and one of the resort’s all time greats.”

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here