From Bugner to Burns, why British boxing craves real British fights

Anthony Crolla (left) and Ricky Burns (right) fight for nothing other than British pride on Oct. 7. Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images

In 1971, Joe Bugner put an ugly end to the love affair between Henry Cooper and the British public in a fight that stopped a nation, defined a decade and is still talked about now.

The British heavyweight title changed hands that night at Wembley, but the real prize was something far more elusive and far more meaningful; they were fighting to be the best of Britain, two well-known boxers finally ending a domestic debate by fighting each other. Bugner against Cooper now would pack the other Wembley, not the indoor version where they met under a canopy of lingering smoke.

Fast forward to this October and Ricky Burns takes on Anthony Crolla with the pair continuing the fine tradition when they meet in Manchester for nothing more serious or glittering than the right to be the winner of a fight between two fine former world champions. They are probably not the best at their weight in Britain, Crolla is arguably not even the best lightweight in Manchester, but together they make a fight that is extremely attractive -- even if they have no history.

There are other fights involving two British boxers that desperately need to happen and that is why the series of bittersweet meetings with Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Michael Watson are still talked about and cherished a quarter of a century on.

There are also the great British fights that should have happened but for a variety of ridiculous reasons were lost forever, left in the angry rubble of a negotiating table or ruined by a freak accident.

Tyson Fury against David Haye was one such bout. It was a fight that came from absolutely nowhere and then vanished. Haye, by the way, did manage to turn his heavyweight defence against Audley Harrison into a massive event. Also, his first fight with Tony Bellew was a much bigger fight than it had any right to be. Haye knows that British sells and the public agrees with him. It remains a shame that Amir Khan and Kell Brook never met last year.

If a couple of British boxers have some unresolved history, not some manufactured hate, then the impact of a fight can be quite shocking.

The Carl Froch and George Groves rematch was a real surprise, selling 30,000 more seats than first expected. The great rematches of the 1970s, where Lonsdale belts were the standard and the only necessary bling, always seemed to be "unresolved" fights between men convinced that they would win a rematch or even a third fight.

Alan Minter against Kevin Finnegan and Chris Finnegan against John Conteh defined an age. They were in back-page spectaculars, the type of fights that have faded over the years as the overwhelming allure of belts has turned the heads of boxers, managers, promoters and the television executives.

The Burns and Crolla fight is a real British fight between two seasoned boxers. Minter and Finnegan fought 45 rounds, an achievement that will never be equalled by two British boxers at championship level.

Groves and James DeGale, who fought as amateurs, met when they were both inexperienced professionals back in 2011, their pro fight sold-out quick and was excellent. If they had been fighting in the 1970s or 1980s they would have had a rematch and probably even a third fight by now. Instead, they both left the ring hating each other and have since won versions of world titles.

Their second fight as professional boxers could be one that simply never happens and that would be a shame. The British fight public wants it, but the pair [and their teams] have so many other options and that is a pity. It would truly be the best of British.

Liam Smith and Liam Williams met this year too, with the former emerging victorious after a bloody and brutal brawl. However, it was not the end of their business and they fight again in October in Newcastle.

It is an old-fashioned dust-up with some modern twists and too many British fights like Smith vs. Williams II collapse because one of the boxers gets selected for a weakened version of the world title. Both need to be applauded for fighting each other and not seeking an easier route. The first fight belonged in another decade and the same goes for the rematch.

So, as the new season starts we have Burns vs. Crolla, an all-Sheffield scrap for the Commonwealth middleweight title between Sam Sheedy and Liam Cameron and the prospect of a dozen big British fights before the end of the year.

Next year we might get Fury vs. Haye or Fury vs. Joshua. It's the type of massive, global event that the British fight public wants, expects and invariably gets. However, British fans also love and desire fights like Smith against Williams and Burns against Crolla.