British Beef #2 - Kaylor v Christie

After a summer of inner-city riots across Britain, Errol Christie and Mark Kaylor collided head-on in an explosive fight that was a grim reflection of society at the time...

Last Updated: 15/11/13 10:24pm

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All our other British Beef brawls will have a belt on the line, be it domestic or world, to add to the occasion.

Well, Mark Kaylor and Errol Christie didn't have one between them when they met in a seminal year for British society, 1985. But they had much, much more riding on them when they were to meet.

It may only have been an eliminator for the British title but their Wembley showdown took place against a backdrop of racial tension that had seen riots take place in Birmingham, London and Liverpool that summer.

Christie - young, flash and black and trained at the Kronk - was no stranger to street life; he came down from Coventry with a 20-1 record and was cast as the face as angry, anti-establishment Britain.

Kaylor, in contrast, had won and lost the title before and was the established name needing a win to resurrect his career. Coming from West Ham, he had the football crowd behind him at a time when racism and rioting were as common on the terraces of our football grounds as the streets of inner-city Britain.

Head-to-head: Nothing unusual as Kaylor and Christie front up

It is widely believed that the police did not want the fight to take place for fear of a National Front presence and the sort of scenes that had marred Minter-Hagler and dominated the front pages all summer long.

Christie, the confident young upstart he was, had lit the blue touch paper a long time ago, calling out Kaylor whenever a television microphone was thrust in front of him and as the rising star of ITV sport, that was fairly often.

When the fight was announced the boxing world prepared itself for a crossroads fight between a champion fighting to keep his name in lights and a challenger ready to brush the old guard aside.

Many feared the worst outside of the ring but few could have expected it. And no-one expected the fighters to fan the flames at their head-to-head press conference at the Stakis Regency Casino - especially just three days after PC Keith Blacklock had been murdered as Broadwater Farm Estate burned. But Kaylor and Christie did just that though, laying into one another in front of a baying press pack.

Posing for photos, full of fury yet respectful, the pair seemed intent on rising above the tornado of tension that swirled around their meeting. They had moved apart when Kaylor, known for his short temper, came storming back across the room and whispered something into Christie's ear.

Toe-to-toe: Then something was said and all hell broke loose... in the car park!

Clashed

Apparently it was only three words. Kaylor maintains he called him "an ugly bastard", Christie to this day, insists it was "ugly black bastard". Either way all hell broke loose, punches were thrown and shirts ripped before they were pulled apart.

Already in trouble, the pair were not done there. They clashed again in the car park on the way out, this time with the cameras perfectly positioned.

Years later Kaylor would lay the blame on someone "not doing their job" in allowing the two to get at each other and remained adamant that he was not "100 per cent responsible". The British Boxing Board of Control agreed to an extent, fining him £75,000 and Christie, no angel by his own admission, £15,000.

The photo-shoot brawl upped the ante even more. Leading black political figures of the time called for the fight to be scrapped and then-Minister for Sport, Richard Tracey MP, was urged to take the bold mood in the best interests of a nation on the brink of racially-charged change.

Boxing though, less socially aware than ever, pressed ahead and a reported £82,000 pot - a record at the time - was put up as the prize. The PR got worse when the date was announced: November 5. Bonfire Night.

When fight night came, the mood at Wembley Arena was one of menace. The football element was there in their thousands, so too the black community, tired of being harassed and harried and ready to stand up and - if needed - fight, with Christie their symbol of defiance.

Fraught

It was the presence of the Metropolitan Police though that stood out, two lines of uniformed officers surrounding the ring just to remind those tuning in, that this fight had become a fraught social statement rather than an evening of the sweet science.

Floored: Kaylor goes down as the tension is released in the first

The thick blue line did not stop the atmosphere catching hold from the first bell and in an opening round in which months of tension were released, both fighters went down. Christie was first, floored by a sharp straight but clambering back up with help from the ropes on the count of three.

The compliment was returned before the end of the round, Kaylor slumping to his knees after a one-two and taking the same count himself, but Christie was also cut - thankfully the only blood spilled in Wembley that night.

Kaylor was back on the canvas in the third, this time thanks to a right but by the middle rounds, the balance had been redressed and Christie, more than once, was forced to cling on. The action bustled along at a fair pace, punctured by regular moments of clear-cut action with Kaylor, probably holding sway until the eighth, when the end suddenly arrived.

A left hook from Kaylor took Christie's legs away and as he stumbled forward trying to hold himself up, the West Ham man stepped aside to see his man topple to the floor. Unable to get straight back up this time, Christie dragged himself to the ropes in a brave, if undignified, attempt to haul himself up, but it was too late and too much for him. He slumped back down, was counted out handing Kaylor a knockout win.

The fight had been good enough to defuse any hostility in the crowd and a packed arena cleared without any further trouble, most people glad the night had passed without incident and delighted that the grudge had not got in the way of one of the fights of the year.

When the dust had settled, neither actually got to fight for the British title - not even Kaylor. He was stopped by Herol Graham in a European title challenge while Christie never reached the same heights again, never boxed with the same intensity again and ended up going down in British boxing history as one of our biggest underachievers.

Years later they were reunited - by phone at least - on Steve Bunce's Boxing Hour radio show. Kaylor, living in California and carving out a living as a boxing coach and aerobics instructor, was full of respect but tellingly, never apologised and to this day denies the racist slur.

Christie documented the chapter vividly in his acclaimed autobiography No Place To Hide: How I Put The Black In The Union Jack and was comfortable with his part in the whole fight, if not Kaylor's behaviour.

Both have moved on, but both will be remembered for being the central characters - not unwittingly - in a rivalry that intertwined boxing and society like never before.

But he will always be remembered for his part in a fight that split a nation and a fight brought sport and society closer, for a while at least, than they had even been before - and have ever been since.

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