Today’s game, with its fractured titles and cotton-wool protected contenders, seldom spits out fighters of the calibre and concrete ruggedness of Brian Cartwright.
A British title unjustly eluded Brian, whose 84 fight career stretched the entirety of the 1960s: he twice attempted to lift the Lonsdale belt – at flyweight and super-featherweight – but came up short on each occasion.
He did, however, hold the Midlands crown at bantam and feather. And the now 80-year-old’s amazing career, which began at flyweight (8st) and concluded at light-welter (10st), reads like a “who’s who” of the game’s elite.
Brian, who lives in Shirley and is battling his toughest opponent – dementia, was thrown deep early on and faced the very best.
Super Scot Jackie Brown outpointed him for the British flyweight title in 1962. He twice took world title challenger Alan Rudkin the distance. Italian world flyweight king Salvatore Burruni was given all the trouble he could handle in Rome in 1964. Future British featherweight champ Evan Armstrong lost to Brian in 1966. European lightweight supremo – and world title challenger – Antonio Puddu gained a rare stoppage victory over the battling Brummie. Future world featherweight champ Howard Winstone similarly proved too much in ‘65.
The list is endless.
Make no mistake, Brian Cartwright, with a quiff of hair that suggested he’d be more at home in a 60s pop group, was one of the very best boxers to be shaped by our city.
He faced the finest and Travelled the world to do so.
Yet, little remains of the fighter’s outstanding achievements. To an extent Brian, raised in Garretts Green, is the forgotten man of the Birmingham fight game.
And that is palpably unfair.
If he’d plied his trade today, Brian – now cared for by wife Iris, herself a sprinter of such quality she was considered for the ‘64 Tokyo Olympics – would be world ranked.
To some degree, he and Iris, who ruled the athletics tracks as Iris Harper, were Birmingham’s Posh and Becks of the ‘60s. Their wedding made headlines in the Birmingham Evening Mail.
He had the misfortune of fighting at a time when, domestically, the lower divisions teemed with talent. And those talented athletes weren’t afraid to risk reputation and rankings against fellow dangermen.
Brian was among the most dangerous of dangermen. He was not a concussive puncher, but possessed durability and ring smarts.
Son Mark, who took over his dad’s wrought-iron Business, said: “I tell my kids if their grandad was fighting today you’d be millionaires.
“He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke and he didn’t swear.
Yes, he was strict, but mum was more strict.
“You’d get a back-hander off her, not dad.”
The swirl of stories surrounding Brian’s life in the ring are the stuff of folklore. As an amateur, and Brian was one of the best to wear an army vest, he twice beat Ralph Gold, forever remembered in these parts for his directorship of Birmingham City. “Ralph’s mother was over the moon,” laughed Mark, “because it put an end to her son’s dreams of being a boxer and made him concentrate on what he was good at.”
What Gold was good at was Business and finance. After taking Nigeria’s world featherweight title challenger Rafiu King the distance in the sweltering heat of Lagos, impressed government officials offered him three wives, cattle and a job coaching the national squad.
Brian immediately declined the cattle and women, but thought hard about the coaching job.
“Rafiu King was someone I remember dad talking about,” said Mark. “He told me he was one of the best he faced. Dad hit him with the best punch he’d ever thrown. King simply shook his head and in a clinch said, ‘that was a very good punch, Brian’. I think dad ran for the rest of the 15 rounds.”
And, incredibly, Brian’s career ran near parallel to that of heavyweight favourite Henry Cooper.
He appeared on the undercard of FIVE big shows topped by Our ‘Enry.
When Cooper stopped Birmingham’s pin-up puncher Johnny Prescott on that memorable summer ‘65 night at St Andrew’s, Brian was also in action. He outpointed Terry Crimmins.
On September 20, 1966, at the Empire Pool Wembley, Cooper bit off more than he could chew in Floyd Patterson. Brian also came unstuck against thunderous punching Jimmy Anderson who would beat him for the British super-featherweight title two years later.
He even followed when Henry travelled to Rome on March 13, 1969. Cooper survived a series of blows well south of the border before despatching Italian tormentor Piero Tomasoni with that famed, trip-hammer left hook. Brian was stopped by Antonio Puddu.
Brian began punching for pay after a stellar career in the army boxing squad. Brother Alan, a rugged battler, was also a respected military fighter.
“Dad had hundreds of fights for the army,” said Mark, now 54. “In fact, he was home every weekend, he was hardly there. He’d tell them he was fighting that week, so they’d let him have the weekend off.
“He was fighting every week.”
It’s clear Brian, managed by larger-than-life East Midlands character George Biddles, had it tough from the get-go.
He made a winning pro debut at Birmingham’s Embassy Sportdrome in June, 1960, but lost his third contest to South Africa’s Brady Barlow.
From there, the calibre of opposition was steadily cranked up.
His bid for the British flyweight title was derailed by Jackie Brown. Brian bounced back by taking the Midlands bantamweight belt in 1963 via a points win over Billy Williams and two years later Mick Greaves was beaten for the area featherweight title.
Jimmy Anderson outpointed him for the British super-featherweight title in 1968 and by that time the writing was on the wall: a long, punishing career had scattered sand in Brian’s boots. He won only two of six bouts after Anderson and quit the game following a September, 1969, stoppage loss to one Victor Paul. That brought his record to 54 wins, 26 losses and four draws.
Mark explained: “He quit because he was fighting people who were younger and he was supposed to beat them and he was being beaten himself. He thought, ‘it’s time’.”
Thankfully, Brian retired before becoming simply a name for a new breed of “up and coming” prospects. He walked away while still carrying the skills that made him such a sublime scrapper. He never allowed a youngster to face the mere ghost of Brian Cartwright.
In sport, the word legend is bandied about too easily.
But make no mistake, Brian Cartwright remains a true legend of Birmingham boxing.
Source : BirminghamMail