Ringside Report Looks Back at Tough Former World Title Challenger Tony Sibson
By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart
The boxing world is littered with fighters who were once considered prospects but did not quite manage to get from the desire to achieve the ultimate realization; a world title. You would have though that any fighter who fought 63 times, winning 55 of them, most of them at a very high level, would have managed to gather one of the myriad of belts available but for the fighting pride of Leicester it was not to be but not for want of trying!
Former British, Commonwealth and European champion, Tony Sibson’s, 55-7-1, 31 KO’s problem was that he fought at a time when he was put in against massive names in the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. His active period was the 1970’s and 1980’s so you can work out who were the opponents he faced when trying to win his titles…
He got three opportunities to win that elusive prize, 1983, 1986 and in 1988, losing all three. As always though his story is framed and ended by those facts but not defined by them.
Born in in Leicester, England in 1958, Sibson left school at 16 years of age to enter the heady world of construction. After winning 82 of his 102 amateur fights he turned over on his 18th birthday and joined the paid boxing ranks. Unbeaten in his first 26 fights Sibson discovered how hard the pro game was when his first defeat, in the first round, against Lottie Mwale of Zambia. What made it worse was that it was in his own back yard of Leicester!
In 1979 he beat Frank Lucas for the British middleweight title by stopping him in the fifth round which brought him his first belt. He then lost it later in that same year to the legendary Kevin Finnegan. His rehabilitation to winning ways came by way of beating Chisanda Mutti for the vacant Commonwealth title and then beating undefeated Bobby Coolidge, 21-3-1, 17 KO’s in a right old tear up in London by knocking him out.
Coolidge, many years after, remembered the fight in London and remarked, “I had never heard of Tony Sibson but Pete (his manager at the time) thought it was a good opportunity, a good trip, a good payday. But we knew the score going in. I understood the game. There are lambs and there are wolves and, in this fight, I was the lamb, I knew that but, it didn’t matter to me because I fought the same way every time and I was going to fight this guy the same way as well: Go forward and look to land a hard shot. I didn’t know Sibson had been a European champ. I didn’t know quite how good he really was and I think that helped me. Pete told me about a fight over in England and I said, “OK, let’s go.” I just went in there and fought him the same way I fought everybody. I didn’t know enough about him to be worried about him and that was probably a good thing”
Coolidge went from undefeated that night to having a loss on his record and it became what he knew was “a learning fight.” On the same night, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, 62-3-2, 2 KO’s, had challenged and beaten Alan Minter for the WBA and WBC world middleweight championships.
Sibson followed up his win against Coolidge by taking the European title against Matteo Salvemini of Italy; it was another 7th round knockout. Sibson went on to defend his European title against Andoni Amana and then faced another massive presence on the boxing scene of the time, Alan Minter. Minter did not get past the 3rd round.
Sibson was ready for a world title shot but made to wait. He defended his European title, fought and won a WBC eliminator but politics being what it was he was still to fight and defend his European title one more time before he got his chance against a man he had fought on the undercard for; Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
On Friday the 11th February 1983, Sibson relinquished his European and Commonwealth titles to step into the ring against Hagler to fight for Hagler’s WBC and WBA championship belts. It has been suggested that Hagler’s last experience of English boxing fans in 1980, at Wembley led to the fight taking place in the USA rather than in England – prophetic, given Sibson’s last world title fight which heralded his retirement. The history books will show that Hagler retained by stoppage in the 6th round; it was a massacre and Sibson did not win one round. Boxing News in the UK commented at the time, “Hagler’s performance was quite flawless: Sibson was the No. 1 contender, and the emphatic manner of his defeat emphasised the gulf that exists between the champion and the rest of the world.”
Sibson was later to reflect on that night, “Hagler was a truly beautiful man and the complete package. It was a great experience fighting him in America but a daunting prospect because the arena was massive. Everywhere I looked there were film stars and rock stars all there to see me get bashed up. I didn’t disgrace myself, it was six rounds and I got badly cut. Everything that could’ve gone wrong did, but it doesn’t matter because I was still on a great stage with a great man. You need to have that focus and tunnel vision for every fight. When you have that it’s a beautiful thing. Your stomach’s in knots and it’s a fantastic feeling. It’s life or death and all of a sudden you explode and you’re unstoppable. I didn’t always have that and didn’t that night.”
A very well paid Sibson then got back in the ring not long after and took on a contender in John Collins, stopping him in the second round.
The win, lose, return and win formula began to be part and parcel of Sibson’s career now. He was, however, in his mind, ready for another world title shot; a hometown fight against a light heavyweight and up came Sibson to take him on.
It was for the WBC title and in 1986 but again Sibson was stopped, this time in the 9th round. Though he fought valiantly, he fought against someone who, Dennis Andries, 49-14-2, 30 KO’s on the night was just that bit better than him.
In September 1987 he went back to redeem himself and won both the British and Commonwealth titles by stopping Brian Anderson.
His final world title attempt was to be back at middleweight and for the IBF title against Frank Tate, 41-5, 24 KO’s. It made its own piece of history as the British Boxing Board of Control made it a 12 round fight rather than the 15 rounds that were normal for the IBF. Tate did not need the 15 rounds nor the 12 rounds as he stopped Sibson in the 10th. The fight against Andries had been particularly brutal but here Sibson was noticeably jaded. At the age of just 30, he announced his retirement, not before time in his interview after the fight. He also condemned what had happened outside and before the fight.
The fight became infamous not for the scrapping in the ring but for trouble outside of it. Stories and images soon emerged of gangs of men attacking vehicles, setting off a CS spray inside which affected Henry Cooper and Nigel Benn amongst the audience and Cooper’s call for calm from inside the ropes was needed to restore order. This was all on live TV!
In retirement, Sibson enjoyed life as a successful builder. It was a decent way to end a career with many highs and a few significant lows. It was a life though that brought many rewards as Sibson was to reflect again years later. Asked for high points he found one that was as surprising as illustrative of what the sport can bring, he recalled, “I was in Worcester, Massachusetts, sitting with Johnny Cash in his dressing room. I’m a massive music fan so it was great. He was jamming away and chatting to me about the fight. It isn’t just about that one night, it’s the people you meet because of boxing.”