Date - 27th September 1986
Venue - Caesars Hotel/Casino, Atlantic City, USA
This was probably the greatest victory ever by a British boxer in an overseas bout.
Honeyghan was born on 22nd April 1960 in St Elizabeth, Jamaica, but grew up in London. He was known as the “Ragamuffin Man” and was managed by the renowned Mickey Duff. Despite being undefeated and having beaten a number of quality opponents, he was given virtually no chance of toppling the highly-regarded Donald Curry.
Honeyghan had made his professional debut on 8th December 1980 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, stopping Mike Sullivan in the 5th round. He had gone on to win the British welterweight title with a points win over Cliff Gilpin on 5th April 1983, also at the Royal Albert Hall, and then won the European welterweight title on 5th January 1985 in Umbria, Italy, with an impressive 3rd round KO of Gianfranco Rosi. On 27th November the same year, he completed a fine hat-trick by halting Sylvester Mittee in the 8th round at the Alexandra Pavilion in north London to win the Commonwealth title.
Honeyghan in training
There was no denying that Honeyghan had earned a shot at the world championship. He had beaten a string of contenders, including the aforementioned Mittee, Harold Brazier, Roger Stafford and the top-ranked Horace Shufford.
At the time, Curry was considered to be the best boxer, pound-for-pound, in the world. He was born as Donald Sample on 7th September 1961 in Forth Worth, Texas. His amateur career had been outstanding; he had engaged in an estimated 300+ bouts and earned a place on the USA’s team for the 1980 Olympic Games, which were to be held in Moscow in what was then the USSR. Unfortunately, the USA’s boycott for political reasons robbed Curry of an opportunity to win a gold medal. He had made his professional debut on 26th December 1980 (just 18 days after Honeyghan) and flattened Mario Tineo in the 1st round in Las Vegas. He made rapid progress and was soon sweeping his way towards the top of the division.
Curry was considered to be unbeatable
On 13th February 1983, he outpointed Jun-Sok Hwang of South Korea in his hometown of Fort Worth to win the then-vacant WBA title. On 4th February 1984, he outpointed the talented Marlon Starling in Atlantic City to win what was then the newly-created IBF title. Finally, on 6th December 1985, he crushed Milton McCrory in awesome fashion with a 2nd round KO to gain the WBC title in Las Vegas. Curry was now the undisputed, universally-recognized welterweight champion of the world.
He was thought to be invincible and possessed devastating power. In addition, he had superb hand-speed and sharp reflexes. He was known as the “Lone Star Cobra”. After his destruction of McCrory, there appeared to be a lack of worthy challengers for him at welterweight and he had complained of struggling to make the 147 lb weight limit. A plan was revealed in which he would move up in weight and face Mike McMallum, and though McCallum was a skilled fighter himself, Curry was expected to beat him. Following that, he would then challenge the legendary world middleweight champion, Marvin Hagler, in a multi-million dollar showdown.
Honeyghan was a relentless pressure fighter
After Curry had stopped Eduardo Rodriguez in the 2nd round in Forth Worth on 9th March 1986, which was in defence of his world welterweight championship, his ambitious agenda involving McCallum and Hagler was abandoned. It transpired that he had not been seeing eye-to-eye with his manager, Dave Gorman.
Somewhat surprisingly, it was soon announced that he would stay at welterweight for at least one more defence and this would be against Honeyghan, who was the leading challenger. The Curry-Honeyghan bout took place in what resembled a cocktail lounge and was scheduled for 12 rounds. The referee was Octavio Meyran of Mexico. The judges were Jose Guerra, Larry O’Connell and Charlie Spina.
In the UK, the fight was given little media coverage and was not shown live on TV. The following day (a Sunday) ITV were set to put on a delayed showing in the early evening. The main reason for the lack of interest was essentially down to the fact that this was viewed as a mismatch; Curry was fully expected to wipe the floor with him.
Caesars in Atlantic City was the fabulous venue for the Curry-Honeyghan clash
Sporting glittering pink/purple trunks, Honeyghan displayed absolutely no fear or respect towards the champion. If he was in awe of the event, he certainly did not show it. He took the fight straight to Curry in his usual hustling, bustling fashion, always pressing forward and not giving Curry a chance to establish a rhythm.
It is possible that the champion was taking this fight lightly but by the end of the opening round he surely would have known that this was going to be a long, tough night for him. Of course, given the calibre of Curry, it was not going to be a walk-over for the British hopeful. In the 3rd and 4th rounds, Curry held his ground and scored with some heavy shots of his own. Regardless of this, it was obvious that Honeyghan was not going to be deterred easily and he kept the pressure on.
Curry never fully recovered from his loss to Honeyghan
This pressure began to take its toll on the champion by the 5th round and Honeyghan was clearly in command. It was truly shocking to witness the supposedly unbeatable “Lone Star Cobra” being mauled and forced to give ground like this. In the 6th round, he was nailed with a series of solid blows and his nose was broken. At the sound of the bell, Curry shook his head in dejection as he headed back to his corner, showing all the signs of a beaten man. At this point, all the judges had Honeyghan ahead; Guerra’s score was 59-56, O’Connell’s score was 58-56 and Spina’s score was 58-56.
The champion declined to come out for the 7th round and Honeyghan was rewarded with a stunning victory. It was one of the biggest upsets in welterweight history and upon his return home, a celebratory parade was held for the winner in his neighbourhood, Bermondsey.
Curry was never the same again. His previously-proposed match-up with Mike McCallum materialized the following year but he suffered another startling loss, this time by a 5th round KO. He challenged middleweight champion Michael Nunn in 1990 but was halted in the 10th round in Paris, France.
Honeyghan ultimately reigned twice as world welterweight champion and defended against notable opposition such as Johnny Bumphus and Maurice Blocker. But none of his other triumphs could eclipse what he achieved against the “Lone Star Cobra”, which was a terrific occasion for British boxing.