RIP Brian London

Boxer Brian London, who challenged Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight title in 1966, has died aged 87.

London, who took his nickname of “The Blackpool Rock” from his hometown, fought Ali days after England had won the football World Cup.

Despite being buoyed by a spirit of national optimism, the Hartlepool-born boxer was defeated in the third round.

Former UK Olympic boxing coach Kevin Hickey said London “did his sport proud [and] did Blackpool proud”.

London, who was born Brian Sidney Harper, moved to Blackpool when he was 16 and was encouraged to take up boxing while doing national service with the RAF, after an officer discovered his father was former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion Jack London.

He beat Joe Erskine to become British heavyweight champion in 1958 but was deposed a year later by Sir Henry Cooper, who said nobody hit him harder in his career.

London was involved in two world title fights – the 1966 clash with Ali and a match against Floyd Paterson seven years earlier, in which he took the American to 11 rounds before losing by a knockout.

Years after the 1966 fight, he admitted in a BBC interview years later that he was “not good enough” to defeat Ali, but his son-in-law Dave Garside said the American’s trainers were wary of London’s abilities.

He said he was told by Ali’s manager Angelo Dundee that London’s first-round knockout victory over one of his other boxers, Roger Rischer, in 1964 had a huge bearing on how the fight was approached.

“It was personal, Dundee said they told Ali ‘this guy can fight’,” he said.

He had fights against the best heavies in the world: Ali, Quarry, Machen, Spencer, Bugner, Folley and Johansson.

London’s final fight was a defeat by Joe Bugner in 1970 and he went on to run a nightclub in the seaside resort.