FORMER world light-heavyweight champion John Conteh has expressed surprise after being awarded an MBE for services to boxing.

Conteh, now 66, from Liverpool, held the WBC title between 1974 and 1978 before retiring after his final fight at Anfield two years later. In retirement, Conteh has remained a well-respected figure in the sport for his charity work and his involvement in the London ex-Boxers’ Association.

Conteh told Press Association Sport: “I never even thought about the possibility of getting an honour – where I grew up the only letters you got were from the DHSS. It’s an absolute privilege and an honour and I’m so grateful to all the people who supported me and put me forward for this award.”

Conteh began boxing at the age of 10 and exceeded his own expectations by claiming the vacant WBC crown with a points win over Jorge Ahumada in London in October 1974.

Three successful defences followed before he lost his title via split decision to Mate Parlov in Yugoslavia, before two unsuccessful attempts to claim it back against the great Matthew Saad Muhammad.

Conteh added: “I didn’t grow up wanting to be a boxer – I wanted to be a musician but I soon realised I couldn’t play any instruments or sing.

“I told myself I would try as hard as I could and see where it got me, and where it got me was beyond my wildest dreams.

“Here I am today, still involved in the sport and with all these letters after my name. I’ve got the WBC and now I’ve got the MBE – how much more could I possibly want?”