Sunday 18 March 2018

Obituary: Jack Bodell

Boxer with an ungainly style was a popular 1960s heavyweight champion

KNOCKOUT: Former heavyweight champion Jack Bodell
KNOCKOUT: Former heavyweight champion Jack Bodell

Jack Bodell, the former British, European and Commonwealth heavyweight boxing champion, who has died aged 76, was resolutely unfashionable, frequently under-rated (if not derided) and possessed a style - and appearance - dating back to an earlier era.

Nevertheless, the some-time Derbyshire pig farmer proved himself one of Britain's best big men in the 1960s, an era when the likes of Henry Cooper, Brian London, Billy Walker, Joe Erskine and, latterly, Joe Bugner were household names.

Bodell's habit of upsetting the form book indicated the 6ft 1in, 14stone southpaw was a better fighter than is generally acknowledged. His ability to bounce back from repeated setbacks also suggested a more resilient character than the horizontal British heavyweight of popular memory. And Bodell's celebrated nickname - the Swadlincote Swineherd - was one of the most memorable monickers attached to any British fighter.

The amiable Bodell good-naturedly endured jibes about his conservative fashion sense and thrifty habits and at the tail-end of his career caused a major upset by outpointing Joe Bugner to claim the British, European and Commonwealth belts at the age of 31, although he could have passed for someone at least a decade older.

Born at Swadlincote on August 11, 1940, Bodell started boxing at the age of 15 on becoming a miner, and went on to become National Coal Board amateur light heavyweight champion three times.

A decent amateur pedigree saw him win the 1961 ABA light-heavyweight title and a bronze in the European Championships the same year persuaded him to turn pro.

Bodell's rise was steady, if unspectacular, and even a run of three successive defeats - including a points loss to the Welshman Erskine - did not prevent the unheralded Midlander from taking on Cooper for the British and Commonwealth crowns in June 1967, only to suffer a painful second-round defeat.

Alluding to Bodell's clumsiness, Cooper said: "I've fought a lot more dirtier [sic] fighters. Jack did it all unintentionally. When he trod on you it was accidental."

Several wins paved the way for a successful shot at the vacant British title against Carl Gizzi in October 1969, but Bodell lost his return with Cooper the next March despite a change of tactics.

"Cooper tried to pull me on to his left hook again, but this time I was ready," he recalled. "As soon as he put his right hand around my neck I dug my heel into his toes." However, four more victories set him up for a triple title challenge at Wembley in September 1971, against the 21-year-old Bugner, who six months previously had ended the career of the popular Cooper with a hotly disputed points victory.

Despite being the overwhelming favourite, a lacklustre Bugner was frustrated by Bodell's lunging southpaw style and was powerless to prevent his titles slipping away. Bodell's late career peak would also be his final victory.

Perhaps emboldened by his fighter's habit of beating the odds, his manager George Biddles somewhat ill-advisedly matched Bodell against Jerry Quarry, America's "great white hope" who was then at the height of his powers.

When the pair clashed at the Empire Pool on November 16, 1971, an outclassed Bodell was overwhelmed, the slaughter being halted after just 64 seconds. The laconic American was subsequently asked whether he had found his British opponent awkward. "Well," Quarry mused, "he fell kinda awkward."

Bodell unwisely went on to meet Spain's Jose Urtain in a European title clash in Madrid a month later, only to be dispatched inside two rounds. His final appearance - a wild brawl against Irishman Danny McAlinden at Birmingham's Villa Park for the British and Commonwealth crowns on June 27, 1972 - saw Bodell again halted in two.

He retired with 58 victories in a 71-fight career and never regretted his decision. "I had offers to come back, but I wasn't going to get any better," he said. "I wanted to take care of myself - it's no use being the richest corpse in the graveyard."

Having working at various times in farming and as a butcher, Bodell and his wife Jean moved to Coventry where, in 1983, Bodell's Coventry fish and chip shop - the Knockout Fish Bar - was officially opened by Muhammad Ali, its penny-pinching owner gleefully recounting why "The Greatest" had not demanded an appearance fee. "Ali was in the Midlands on business so I asked him if he'd pop over to open my fish and chip shop," he said. "He didn't charge me a penny, but I gave him some cod and chips."

Bodell is survived by his wife Jean and their son and daughter. (© Telegraph)

  • Jack Bodell, born August 11, 1940, died November 9, 2016.

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