A date to forget for Honeyghan

Martin Supple
03/03/2018 5:00pm

Twenty-eight years ago tonight, Martin Supple watched his hero Lloyd Honeyghan destroyed in three rounds by Mark Breland at Wembley Arena. Here he vividly recalls a memorable but disappointing night for both himself and the Ragamuffin man...

If you listened to the radio on Saturday 3 March 1990 you may well have heard 'Enjoy The Silence' by Depeche Mode or 'Infinity' by Guru Josh (you'll know the tune), both occupying slots in the top ten singles chart. In the first division Nottingham Forest's Gary Crosby was heading the ball out of the hands of Manchester City keeper Andy Dibble to score the game's only goal.

By the end of the nineties the date would be sandwiched between two fight of the decade contenders. Mike Tyson's shocking defeat by Buster Douglas took place three weeks earlier on 10 February, and the sensational fight between Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor would take place in Las Vegas seven days later on 10 March.

But on 3 March, Lloyd Honeyghan challenged Mark Breland for the WBA welterweight title at Wembley Arena, and although utterly skint, I had to be there. Having loved boxing for years as a kid, this would be the first time I'd attended a live show. Back then, Honeyghan was box office. He had of course ripped the undisputed crown from 147lbs king Donald Curry in 1986, having stated ominously pre-fight: "I'm here to win. I've not come here to mess around".

Cheapest tickets for Honeyghan vs Breland were 25 quid. My pal Mark had just bought himself a motor - a 15-year-old orange Austin Allegro. My uncle, a big boxing fan, heard our grand plans and wanted in. He also had a car which would make it to London and back without falling apart. We were together in support for a Honeyghan victory but our expectations ranged between certainty (me), through trepidation (my uncle) to strong doubt (Mark).

Honeyghan gained additional publicity in his first defence of his welterweight titles when he raced across the ring and walloped Johnny Bumphus as he was still getting off his stool. Shown live on BBC1, Lloyd stopped Bumphus in the second. When challenged about the controversial incident by Harry Carpenter, Honeyghan said: "the bell went ding, and I went dong!"

I'd seen all of Lloyd's title fights on television and become a fan partly because of his Jekyll and Hyde character in and out of the ring. More often than not, you were guaranteed both action and controversy with a Honeyghan fight. The 16-year-old me was convinced he would take care of Breland. The American, an Olympic gold medallist from 1984, seemed to have been fed on poor opponents in his title fights - Rafael Pineda, Mauro Martelli and Fujio Ozaki for example - and had failed when matched at a higher level against Marlon Starling.

Bubble burst, Breland had rebounded by recapturing the WBA belt against the overmatched Seung-Soon Lee. Although the aforementioned Lee was several leagues below, Breland had dispatched him in less than a minute. Honeyghan, however, had suffered a torturous nine round beating at the hands of Starling in January 1989, and had subsequently looked poor in labouring to a ten-round decision over journeyman Delfino Marin in August.

Honeyghan and Breland actually shared an unlikely kinship, partially forged by their mutual hatred of Starling, and were civil enough with each other in the preceding weeks, Honeyghan even commenting: "Mark is such a nice guy, it's a shame I have to beat him up."

BBC television would show the fight live on Saturday night prime time. Desmond Lynam was in the chair back then, assisted by legendary British trainer Terry Lawless. Lawless told viewers that although Honeyghan looked in fantastic shape at the weigh-in, he expected Breland to win, and would not be surprised if it was over early. Breland was a feared puncher, somehow managing to make welterweight for years, despite standing 6' 2' inches tall. The fact that the weigh-in was conducted on the day of the fight, in this case at 11am, makes Breland's weight-making feat even more astonishing.

Saturday night fights were not alien to BBC1 in 1990. Indeed, their midweek 'Sportsnight' show often featured live Wednesday night boxing too. ITV had Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank among others, whilst BBC carried fights mainly from Mickey Duff's National Promotions stable, which contained Pat Barrett, Kirkland Laing and Duke McKenzie to name but a few.

The undercard at Wembley Arena that night had an upcoming knockout artist from Yorkshire named Henry Wharton in the chief support - blasting away to a fourth-round victory over American Joe Potts in an era when Eastern European imports were merely a twinkle in the eye of promoters. I was too young and too broke to have an interest in the bookmakers' odds for the main event, but safe to say Breland was a handy favourite. The late Glyn Leach, writing for the now-defunct Boxing Weekly, went for Breland in eight. A relatively fresh Lloyd, he reasoned, had struggled with the height and jab of Maurice Blocker. Unlike Blocker though, Breland was a hitter.

Ahead of the fight, Honeyghan was required to apologise to the WBA after being pictured disposing of their belt into a dustbin three years earlier. This gesture of defiance was a reaction to the WBA naming South African Harold Volbrecht as Lloyd's next challenger. Apartheid was still high on the agenda of sporting politics in 1990, with Nelson Mandela having being freed only weeks earlier.

Honeyghan stated: "I have to admit I went a bit too strong with the WBA belt that day. Yet in my letter of apology I made it quite clear I still stood by my principle." A couple of weeks earlier, 'Sportsnight' had aired a preview of the fight, with Tony Gubba asking Lloyd about his hand trouble. Worryingly, he revealed that he had an injured right hand and was not throwing it in sparring but "saving it for the fight". It was also being reported that future British light middleweight champ Andy Till had worked Lloyd over in sparring. Not good.

Kirkland Laing and Michael Watson were interested spectators at ringside. Laing had to be convinced by his girlfriend to give me an autograph, after complaining he didn't really want to because he was tired. Kirk being Kirk. Watson signed for dozens of well-wishers ahead of his first world title challenge against Mike McCallum the following month. With Watson's story well documented, I still somewhat sadly recall the little wink and "thanks mate" he gave me as a snapshot in time when I wished him good luck. Somebody mentioned John Mugabi was in the house. We looked but couldn't find him. A shame, as I was intent on discovering whether his English had extended beyond his stock phrase of: "I knock him out."

Honeyghan entered the ring to a traditional fanfare (which is so good, it deserves to find its way back into boxing). The then-standard clouds of tobacco smoke combined with the television lights to create a haze around the building. Crazy noise was being created by the partisan crowd. Breland as champion entered the ring second - the very apt 'I Get The Job Done' by Big Daddy Kane blaring as the American looked all business. Honeyghan, sporting a warrior-like 'half a haircut', aimed a straight fist at Breland during the introductions Aaron Pryor-style. My mate observed prophetically: "Breland won't be impressed with that."

And so it proved. Honeyghan was of course wrecked in three one-sided rounds as Breland did as he pleased. A short sharp jab midway through the first round started the damage. Honeyghan went over and his legs turned to jelly. From a jab. A further five knockdowns over the next seven or eight minutes and it was all over. Disbelief was the over-riding emotion in the crowd. How could Honeyghan have been so poor, annihilated so emphatically? His balance was so bad it made Deontay Wilder look like Willie Pep.

Watching again, nearly three decades on, it is a miracle how Honeyghan lasted as long as he did. When Breland wasn't bouncing him off the canvas, he was tearing into the home fighter with ripping shots. A destruction clinically executed. With the benefit of hindsight, Breland was an excellent fighter, and put on perhaps his career-best performance. Certainly in terms of result at least. But surely Lloyd had something permanently missing thanks to that defeat by Starling. A once fearsome fighter became the very embodiment of the saying 'growing old overnight'.

It was a long journey back to the East Midlands that Saturday night, conducted largely in silence owing to my opportunism for a back seat nap. Sunday morning and I could hardly speak, my throat hoarse through shouting encouragement in vain from the cheap seats. In one of the saddest sights I've seen watching boxing live, Honeyghan had left the arena to a cacophony of boos. Hero to zero. The insulting (but rather innocent compared to today's standards) chant of "What a load of rubbish" went up several times before the official announcements. The humiliated Raggamuffin man would have been just as hurt by the jeers and chants as he had been by Breland's fists.

Honeyghan would continue fighting for several more years, but on this terrible night his career at world level was ended for good. 'SHOT TO PIECES' screamed the cover of Boxing Weekly the following Thursday, complete with a full A3 shot of a humiliated Honeyghan on the canvas. I almost attended my double Geography lesson rather than relive the fight described on the pages inside. But the A-level coursework would have to wait, because relive it I did. 'Honey Roasted' went Boxing News on the Friday, presumably having the alternative 'Honey Monster' on standby had the result been the reverse.

Fast forward 28 years, and despite the outcome, I still recall that night at the crumbling old Wembley Arena with fondness.

This article was originally published on Boxrec news