HE was known as Yucker, Bomber and the Newport Rocky. He won the British heavyweight title and was never a heavyweight. When he died, they cried on the streets of Newport. They built him a statue and he is still loved and adored. And people still talk about him; he is legend.

You have probably heard a lot of his tales before, and mostly they are true. At the end of his career, with his British licence gone, his life upside down and the boxing over, he was in freefall. Pearce went on the road and was matched with Buster Douglas and Leon Spinks. The Spinks fight was cancelled at 24 hours’ notice and the Douglas fight was called off at just three hours’ notice. There were unsanctioned fights, including one against former world champion, John Tate. They are true stories, by the way, but by then, Pearce was a ghost of the man from 1983. That man, that year, was a force.

In Yucker’s Year, a book of the most heartbreaking, comical, intimate and brilliant pictures, the young photographer, Glenn Edwards, spends 1983 in Pearce’s shadow. He is as close as I have ever known a snapper or writer get to a boxer. And it shows – this is a different level, and it is a pleasure to look at, often a guilty pleasure. The pictures of the two fights covered in this extraordinary book look like they have been framed and created by Martin Scorsese and his army of stylists and experts. There is an image of Neville Meade, broken, slumped and beaten at the end of his British title fight with Pearce and it is stunning. It is pure cinema, man.

The access makes the pictures, but the truth of the doomed man never hovers far above the story the pictures tell. The joy and jubilation and hope in 1983 will be crushed in 1984 when Pearce fails a brain scan. The ending is there and that makes every image of Pearce seem just that bit more tragic.

It is a history that nobody at that time could have possibly imagined. Pearce running, smiling with his mother, hitting the dirtiest bag in the world, talking to the press in his dressing room, landing with a perfect right, cuddling a Great Dane, laughing and joking with his family; image after image of a man who will soon have his sunshine blocked forever.

The pictures from the fight and the weigh-in for the Albert Syben first-round job at the Lyceum in April 1983 are perfect examples; they are all black and white time capsules of a lost boxing world. It looks like the weigh-in is at the Thomas A’Beckett gym, near the Elephant and Castle. Just three feet from the scales, Darkie Smith is leaning on the ropes, cigarette in his fingers, as Pearce makes weight. He was barely 200lbs, by the way. At the time, the WBC ranked Pearce high at cruiserweight; he had knocked out Dennis Andries in 1981 at cruiser and dropped him three times.

The fight pictures are epic. Three tiny ropes, a ring exposed, and the last shot of referee Sid Nathan, kneeling over a ruined Syben to offer the count. Pearce is in the neutral corner, hovering. It is beautiful; the Lyceum’s ornate walls and gargoyles all visible in that final picture.

Then, in celebration, Pearce is having his bandages cut off by his devoted father, Wally, and his manager, Alex Steene, is there. The press fire questions, holding notepads and writing down quotes. It is like a movie picture. Steene is wearing a brilliant white suit, a tie that looks like it could be cobalt blue and gold and, obviously, he has on his dark, dark shades. I can remember those days.

After the Syben fight, Pearce secured a British heavyweight title fight against Meade in September 1983. It was local, it was personal; Meade had stopped Pearce three years earlier. At the weigh-in for the title fight, Ron Gray, Mickey Duff’s promoter, and Pearce’s man, Burt McCarthy, are shoulder-to-shoulder to check the weight: Pearce was 202lbs, and that is not a heavyweight, not even in 1983.

The best photographs in the book are the fight pictures from that night in Cardiff.  The ring introductions as they stand close, the removal of the satin robe. The action and the despair and joy at the ending. It is all glorious. Three ropes, the press at ringside, banging out their words on portable typewriters and others on the phone to copytakers. A new British champion, the dashing David Pearce of Newport. Also known as Yucker. The frenzy in that row and the joy as Pearce celebrates. It is all there, a window to our history.

And in one of the final pictures of the book, there is the writing icon, Wally Bartleman of the Evening Standard, in Pearce’s face in the dressing room, asking a question, his pad blurred by his scribble. Steene is there again, shades even darker. A page later, Pearce is naked from behind and some of his fighting brothers are laughing. He had the whole boxing world before him that night in Cardiff. I would love to have been out with all seven of the Pearce brothers that night.

The next year, there was a disgraceful decision loss in a European title fight in France against Lucien Rodriguez. Then the failed scan. Then America and then a dark circuit that can kill a man. A year after the high of the Meade fight, Pearce was lost.

He died in 2000, his hearse needed a police escort to get through the crowds. His legend lives on, and this book is packed with such vibrant and unforgettable images that they look like they belong on the big screen or in dreams.

Pearce is not going away. He was just 24 when he was forced to quit.


To coincide with the 40th anniversary of the fight, together with the book, there will be an exhibition at the Riverfront Theatre and Gallery in Newport from September 1 and through that month. The venue is next to the statue of David Pearce on the banks of the River Usk. The book is £20 plus post and packaging from glenn.photo@gmail.com