Grimsby boxer Kevin Hooper's title brings back memories for Len Slater
KEVIN Hooper's Midlands Area lightweight title victory last Friday brought memories of the region's first Area belt winner flooding back to Grimsby boxing stalwart Len Slater.
Unbeaten 28-year-old Hooper has become the first boxer to lift an Area belt in the region since Stuart Fleet won the light-heavyweight title in April 1997.
Grimsby boxers Mike Duffield and Matty Teague were crowned Area winners away from home. Duffield won the Midlands super-middleweight title in Wolverhampton in November 2002. Teague lifted the Central Area featherweight belt in Leeds in December 2005.
Former British title challenger Steve Lewsam, who Slater managed and trained, won the Midlands Area heavyweight title at the Beachcomber, in Humberston, in March 1994. He had bagged the cruiserweight title on home soil three years earlier.
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Other Grimsby boxers to challenge for Area titles were David Moore, Rick North and Albert Call.
But the man that set Grimsby on the Area title trail was John Laine, some 38 years ago at the age of just 19.
Laine, who had no amateur experience, beat Keith Nugent on points to win the Midlands Area light-middleweight belt in December 1974, at the Winter Gardens in Cleethorpes.
The fight was a thriller, with Laine edging it 98½-98. And the victory completed a quick-fire rise to fame by the teenager, who had contested nine fights within 12 months.
"That must be some kind of record," said Slater (pictured), who trained Laine at his former gym in Abbey Road. "It's something I'm still very proud of. He went from nothing to an Area winner in no time.
"We just kept going and going and then the Area title became vacant. He was a very big-hitter and a quick-learner. It was clear he had something."
Laine later moved on to London, teaming up with British trainer George Francis and former world champ John Conteh. He finished his career with 14 wins, six defeats and three draws.
Slater, 81, is a former long-time member of the British Boxing Board of Control's Midlands Area Council. Aged 21, he was the sport's youngest manager in Britain.
After Arthur Jackson brought big-name boxers such as Jack London, Henry Hall and Randolph Turpin to the region in the 1940s and 50s for exhibition events, Slater later teamed-up with promoters Mickey Duff and Nat Basso.
Basso had links with big-name fighters such as Joe Bugner and Richard Dunn, who Grimsby boxer Moore, another of Slater's students, fought alongside – as well as Conteh – at a show in Nottingham in 1971. Moore also fought a headline bout at London's renowned York Hall venue in September 1970, losing on points to future British title contender Dave Proud. The fight was screened live on TV.
Slater said that Basso was also a part-manager of Carl Thompson and that helped set up the only British title fight to have taken place in this region, when Lewsam fought future world champion in June 1992.
Slater is also proud of Lewsam's performance in his first fight after losing to Thompson, four months later, when he held Tom Collins – a former British and European champion and a three-time world title challenger – to a draw in Cleethorpes.