When “Boy” Green Mauled John H. Stracey

By Mike Casey on October 15, 2012
When “Boy” Green Mauled John H. Stracey
Dave Green's punches came hard and fast, and Stracey grimaced as they struck home.

Some fighters blend so perfectly in combat that you could be forgiven for thinking that they were born to one day fight each other…

If you ever fancy a mischievous wager, try telling your boxing pals that Jim Watt knocked out John H. Stracey inside a round. In vain will your friend scour the professional records of each boxer in his search for that shattering result. But it did indeed happen, in the British Amateur Boxing Association lightweight final of 1968, when southpaw Jim poleaxed John H. with a thunderous left to the jaw. Some amateurs are never quite the same again after a reverse of that nature. Fewer go on to win professional championships.

But John H. Stracey was made of stern stuff and imbued with an indomitable will to win. Seven years later, in the cauldron of Mexico City, he survived a first round knockdown to win the world welterweight championship from the great Jose Napoles and become the golden boy of British boxing

Watt didn’t do too badly either. In 1979, before his adoring fellow Scots, he won the WBC lightweight crown by stopping Colombia’s Alfredo Pitalua at the famous Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. In subsequent defenses, tough and canny Jim outpointed the highly touted Howard Davis Jr. and stopped Sean O’Grady. In losing the title to Nicaraguan legend Alexis Arguello, Jim achieved the rare feat of going all 15 rounds with the man they called El Flaco Explosivo (The Explosive Thin Man).

But this story is of Stracey, his exciting career of ups and downs and how the golden boy from London’s East End came to clash with a no-nonsense all-out action man from the famous Cambridgeshire fighting town of Chatteris: Dave “Boy” Green.

Some fighters blend so perfectly in combat that you could be forgiven for thinking that they were born to one day fight each other. I got that impression when Dave stopped John H. in the 10th round at Wembley on March 29, 1977, in one of the best British domestic fights I have ever seen.

From the time the bout was made the boxing fraternity was hooked and eagerly anticipated the outcome, for the pairing of Green and Stracey represented much more than a simple domestic dispute. Billed as a world championship eliminator, the contest was a timely collision between two immensely exciting world-class fighters.

Stracey was a former world welterweight champion, a proud hero who had been dethroned all too soon in the eyes of many, but still a top contender. Green was his heir apparent, the young rising prospect who was still gunning for such honors and threatening Stracey’s superiority as Europe’s best welterweight.

In view of their respective roles, it was ironic that while Stracey was a man without a title, Green was the British and European junior welterweight champion. Dave had earned those titles the hard way, but he knew that championship success in the more prestigious welterweight division would bring him greater recognition.

Not that Dave “Boy” Green was the kind of fighter you could ever fail to recognize. Like that other famous “Boy” from Britain’s Fen country, Eric Boon, Dave’s fighting style left you in no doubt as to why he was known as the “Fen Tiger.” The exciting Boon had been similarly fiery some 40 years before, winning the British lightweight championship and posting 93 victories in a 120-fight career.

Beginning

From the very beginning, Green was full of fire and brimstone, a tough and aggressive boxer-fighter who never stopped coming forward. Although he scored many quick victories early in his career, he was not a true knockout puncher against top class men, but rather a persistent and hurtful hitter who ground down opponents by the sheer cumulative effect of his blows. He traded largely on raw strength, courage and a fiery spirit that drove him through the punishment and pain barriers.

In his first meteoric year of 1975, Dave clinched a place among Britain’s top three junior welterweights with a run of 10 successive victories, including a crushing win over the dangerous Alan Salter.

Green was deceptively clever at manoeuvring a man into position and despatched hurt opponents in swift and ruthless fashion. As he progressed, Dave also added a very effective jab to his armory and often outjabbed far cleverer men.

First and foremost, however, Green came to fight, and his simple formula continued to prove stunningly successful. In 1976, he surpassed his achievements of the previous year by notching a further dozen victories and annexing two titles.

His rapid progress was enthusiastically monitored by coachloads of his supporters, who cheered him to one triumph after another as he barnstormed his way to the top. The skillful and evasive Billy Waith was worn down in 11 rounds in an eliminator for the British junior welterweight title, and champion Joey Singleton was subsequently deprived of his belt in another stirring encounter.

In both fights, Green showed the qualities of a champion fighter, but as ever it was his implacable will to win that stuck in the mind. It was a natural trait that perhaps was most evident when he won the vacant European title from the brave Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Piedvache, in a memorable battle at the Royal Albert Hall.

In Piedvache, Dave met a tough and courageous man with a similarly plucky will to win. The Frenchman refused to be intimidated by Green and frequently punished Dave with vicious counterpunches. Such a resilient and defiant adversary might have disheartened other fighters accustomed to dominating their opponents, but Green’s determination never wavered and Piedvache was a beaten man after nine rounds.

Perhaps Dave Green didn’t become discouraged in such circumstances because he didn’t know how to. He was a natural punching machine with great fitness and stamina levels. He could keep the blows coming even in his most trying moments.

In his last fight before meeting Stracey, Green was as frustrated as any man could be by the deft skills of the veteran Argentinian craftsman, Mario Guilloti. Yet for 10 laborious rounds, Dave patiently kept throwing all manner of blows to earn the referee’s decision.

Observers

Boxing observers questioned Green’s ability to defeat a man of Stracey’s superior all-round skill and experience, but it is unlikely that such doubts bothered Dave to any great extent. Locked into his own pleasant little world, he was a superbly confident and refreshingly uncomplicated character who believed in taking each fight as it came and not dwelling on history. Besides, Guilloti was Guilloti, not Stracey. Spoilers are notoriously good at making hot prospects look bad. Willie Pep had learned that lesson many years before when he had became entangled in the web of the infuriatingly contrary Sammy (The Clutch) Angott.

One factor in Green’s favor was that Stracey had been inactive for the past nine months after losing his world welterweight championship to Carlos Palomino. It was John’s most painful and protracted defeat and marked the sensational fall of a hugely popular and marketable fighter.

Like Green, Stracey exuded that special magnetic appeal that captured the public’s imagination. Fiercely determined, the Cockney kid from Bethnal Green was a colorful, hard hitting stylist who fought his way to the top by combining his talent with the brand of admirable grit with which Green could identify.

It was this latter quality that drove John to victory in fights that many experts felt he would lose. He frequently looked vulnerable, but he was so tenacious in full flight that his opponents rarely had the chance to hit back. Unlucky defeats to Marshall Butler, Bobby Arthur and Cubby (Top Cat) Jackson blotted John’s early record, but he quickly matured and progressed and was soon producing the moves of a world-class fighter. He travelled to France to wrest the European title from the rough, tough Roger Menetrey and suddenly the world championship was in Stracey’s sights.

Nevertheless, when he was matched with the legendary Jose Napoles in Mexico City, few gave John a chance of becoming Britain’s first world welterweight champion since Ted (Kid) Lewis in the Roaring Twenties. The doubts seemed justified in a frightening first round, as the aging but still brilliant Napoles brought his countrymen to their feet by flooring Stracey with a blurring combination of punches.

Memories of past British failures on foreign soul flooded the mind as John hit the canvas, but he clambered up and doggedly refused to be overwhelmed. His self-belief was so strong that not even a legend could beat him that day. Courageously, he surged back and five rounds later the Mexican crowd was muted as John rifled punches at the defenseless Napoles to score one of the greatest away victories ever achieved by a British fighter.

It was a victory of the heart that made Stracey a national hero, and for a while there was no stopping him. Three months later he barrelled his way to another memorable win when he halted the clever Hedgemon Lewis. When Stracey sang with the crowd and waved a giant Union Jack at the conclusion of that fight, he had the confident look of a man who would reign for a long time to come.

Last

The good times didn’t last. Stracey’s next fight against the talented and dangerously underrated Carlos Palomino was regarded as a relatively easy title defense, a cue for further celebration and patriotic indulgence. But Palomino emerged as a smart and accomplished professional who ignored the chants of the partisan crowd to outpunch and outgame John in 12 bruising rounds.

All at once the joy of the last heady year had been cancelled out by the accurate punches of the unsung underdog. It was distressing to watch Stracey being buckled by body blows in the closing stages of that fight, and while he licked his wounds during the subsequent months one wondered if he could ever regain the old fire and enthusiasm.

The Green fight was to be the acid test for John, and one had to admire him for coming straight back against a fellow world ranked opponent after such a traumatic defeat. He had dismissed the option of a “safe” opponent, knowing that a big victory over Green would guarantee a quick return against Palomino. Stracey certainly appeared to have recaptured his old fighting spirit and felt sure he could beat Dave. But then the “Fen Tiger” was equally confident of his chances.

As the countdown to the big battle began, so the sense of excitement grew. Inevitably, the 1939 lightweight title clash between Eric Boon and Arthur Danahar was recalled, for that famous duel had also brought together two men from the tough fighting areas of Chatteris and Bethnal Green. On that occasion, Boon’s strength and punching power had prevailed over the superior skills of Danahar, but would the pattern be the same again?

The general belief was that Stracey, despite his long layoff, would still be too good for Green; but as the two fighters came out for the first round on that electric Wembley night, it was the “Fen Tiger” who stole the thunder with a whirlwind start. Within seconds, the crowd of 10,600 had something to cheer as Green discarded caution and charged into Stracey, forcing John back with a furious and continuous assault. It was an opening attack that lacked finesse, the initial onslaught of a man high on adrenaline and relieved to be let loose after weeks of disciplined training.

The punches came hard and fast, most of them directed at the body, and Stracey grimaced as they struck home. John looked worried and confused as he was chased around the ring, and his attempts to fend off his tormentor were swamped by the oncoming flood of aggression.

Although both fighters missed badly as the melee became wilder, Green continued to score heavily with most of his punches, while Stracey struggled to land his first significant blow. John needed a moment’s respite to regain his rhythm and timing, but he was caught in the eye of the storm and could only smother and try to survive.

Green, in his eagerness to maintain the advantage, was twice cautioned by referee Harry Gibbs, but Dave was so engrossed in his mission that he continued to pile forward at a frantic pace. Already Stracey’s left eye was beginning to swell, but he displayed great courage in remaining upright and trying to fight back.

The second round was almost identical to the first as Green continued to steam forward, the tempo so fast that the fighters were still lashing punches at each other after the bell. Stracey remained defiant, though he was still taking a shellacking. By the third round, he at last saw the light at the end of the tunnel and began to score with his own punches. But he was still facing a tough uphill climb as Green applied relentless pressure, throwing punch after punch with his customary ferocity, frequently compelling John to seek refuge against the ropes.

Willing

The “Fen Tiger” was a willing prisoner of that magic trance that grips the top athletes in the heat of competition, when they become oblivious to everything but their opponents. So immersed was he in the job at hand that when referee Gibbs grabbed him by the hair and yanked him off Stracey for a serious lecture about dangerous use of the head in the fourth round, Dave barely seemed to notice. Again and again he swept forward, finding the mark with roundhouse rights to the head and clumping swings to the body.

Yet strangely, it was during that heated and hectic fourth round that Stracey’s revival began to gather momentum. Green’s punches and the prospect of defeat seemed to spark John into life as he began to counter with some solid blows. This provoked Green into launching another fierce attack in the fifth round, and once again the going was torrid for Stracey as he was buffeted from one side of the ring to the other and denied the chance of mounting any sustained rally.

However, in the sixth and seventh rounds the fight became more evenly balanced as Green inevitably slowed, allowing Stracey to stand his ground more and place his punches. John was suddenly able to use his jab to greater effect and succeeded in checking Dave’s rushes with bursts of fine uppercuts and hooks.

An already thrilling battle thus blossomed into a truly classic confrontation, as Stracey came out of the wilderness to challenge Green’s superiority and close the points gap. The eighth and ninth rounds were bitterly contested as the battered but rejuvenated Stracey planted himself in mid-ring and gamely traded punches with Green, frequently beating him to the punch. There were brief moments during those rounds when Dave appeared to flag a little, but each time he came blazing back with a fresh assault.

Stracey could never quite cope with the sheer persistence of the “Fen Tiger,” nor his underrated versatility. For Green was more than an unimaginative, slam-bang merchant. He attacked in different ways, sometimes behind ramrod left jabs or clubbing rights, other times by simply mauling his way inside in whatever way he could.

Yet courageous Stracey had reduced Green’s lead considerably and the fight was now very close. Both fighters were marked around the eyes, but it was Stracey’s injured left eye that determined the outcome. The 10th round was still in its early stages when the eye finally closed, severely hampering John’s vision and throwing him straight back into choppy waters again. His desperation was clearly apparent and provoked Green into mounting another vicious onslaught.

Time

This time John could not hold the “Fen Tiger” off. Stracey was offering only token resistance now and being hit repeatedly by the looping, almost overarm right that Green called his “muck spreader.” The deceptive punch seemed to take several trips around the houses before it found its target, yet more than a few good men felt its wallop.

Referee Gibbs stopped the action to ask Stracey if he wanted to continue and John nodded as every great fighter does in that kind of predicament. But he was now defenseless, and after taking further punishment he was rescued by a timely act of compassion from Gibbs.

It was a moment of magnificent glory for Green and one of painful frustration for Stracey. The one bad thing about a great fight is that one’s joy for the winner is tinged by pity for the loser. The consolation for John H. Stracey was that he finished on his feet, which was typical of the man. In more than 50 professional fights, he was never counted out.

Jim Watt would forever remain the only man to achieve that feat!

Mike Casey is the Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Dave "Boy" Green vs John H Stracey Rounds 1 to 3



Dave "Boy" Green vs John H Stracey Rounds 4 to 6



Dave "Boy" Green vs John H Stracey Rounds 7 to 9



Dave "Boy" Green vs John H Stracey Round 10



Dave Green v Jean Piedvache HL



John H. Stracey v Jose Napoles Part 1 of 3



John H. Stracey v Jose Napoles Part 2 of 3



John H. Stracey v Jose Napoles Part 3 of 3



John H Stracey v. Hedgemon Lewis - Rounds 1 to 3



John H Stracey v. Hedgemon Lewis - Rounds 4 to 6



John H Stracey v. Hedgemon Lewis - Round 7 to End



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  1. the thresher 12:53pm, 10/17/2012

    Boy was like Billy Schwer. He was a scrapper who gave his all as did Billy.

  2. dollarbond 06:33am, 10/17/2012

    Very enjoyable read.  Thank you.

  3. Mike Casey 11:31pm, 10/16/2012

    Thanks, Pug - be well!

  4. pugknows 08:11pm, 10/16/2012

    Lovely piece, Mike.

  5. the thresher 06:47am, 10/16/2012

    Boy was a fine fighter in the Brit tradition.

  6. Mike Casey 05:44am, 10/16/2012

    Thanks, Schmidty! Yes, John H and Carlos have done pretty well for themselves since their boxing days, which is nice to see. Green was a great and very likeable character and still loved up there in the Fen country.

  7. MIKE SCHMIDT 04:25am, 10/16/2012

    Great write up Mike C. Had a chance to speak to both Palomino and Stracey together at Hall of Fame a few years back—both viewed their scrap as a WAR. Stracey is now a nice singing crooner and belted out a few songs over the HOF weekend—love the write up and love the videos—keep em coming Sir!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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