REGULAR readers of this column will know just how much of a fan I am of area title contests. In a piece that I produced back in January 2019 I stated that “I consistently find that the best contests are those that take place for an area title”.  In these days of Inter-Continental titles and so-called ‘regular’ world championships, there are a variety of routes along which an up-and-coming boxer can choose to take on his way to the top. Many British fighters elect not to chase the British title and so it is no surprise that the area titles have been greatly diminished over the course of the last 40 years or so.

In the 1970s the area titles were a solid stepping-stone on the way to the British title, and many excellent boxers naturally took this route. The Southern Area title was always one of the most hotly contested, with boxers of real quality and promise often being matched. As far back as the 1930s many Southern Area championship contests were also classed as British title eliminators, such was the competition. In the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, Chris Finnegan, Clinton McKenzie and Clyde Ruan all fought in such contests, and before them so did Arthur Danahar, Harry Mason and Vince Hawkins, and all three of these became British champions.

I remember two cracking bouts for the Southern Area lightweight title that took place in 1974 and 1975 between Reading’s Tommy Dunn and Noel McIvor of Luton. These two lads regularly featured in the top five or six at the weight in the country and although neither became a British champion, they were both excellent fighters.

The two men met for the first time at Reading Town Hall on 11 December 1974 and they produced a tremendous contest that BN described as “Britain’s small hall fight of the year”.  McIvor was the champion, having won the title in 1972 by blasting out Alan Salter in two rounds at the National Sporting Club, and he was a far more experienced professional than Dunn, who had only turned pro earlier in the year after an illustrious amateur career, and McIvor, therefore, was fancied to win.

The lucky ringside reporter was Harry Mullan, in the days before he became the editor of BN, and he was full of praise for Dunn, stating that “it is early days yet, but he is beginning to look like the natural successor to Ken Buchanan. The two fought with the sort of courage and ferocity which would have graced a major promotion. Dunn won beyond dispute, but gritty McIvor fought his heart out.  He lost his title at the first defence, but he can rarely have figured in a better fight.”  

Noel received some honest advice from his manager Johnny Barclay half-way through the bout when he was told that “There’s six rounds gone and you are six rounds behind, you have got to knock him out.” That set things up a for a terrific conclusion.

Seven months later the two met again, this time at the World Sporting Club in Mayfair. Dunn came into the bout on the back of a shock two-round defeat at the hands of Jarrow hard man, George McGurk, and, as he had also been stopped by Alan Salter, he had something to prove.  McIvor had drawn with McGurk two months beforehand and so this title rematch was delicately poised.

This time Dunn’s victory was more clear-cut and, once again, Mullan was the reporter. “McIvor chased him relentlessly, but the stylish Reading youngster never lost control of the exchanges.  Referee Sid Nathan called a halt after 1-20 of the seventh, with blood pouring from a gash over McIvor’s left eye.”

The following week Tommy went to Edinburgh to spar Ken Buchanan, and he lost the area title the next year to Johnny Claydon, another great from this era. McIvor and Dunn retired in 1977 and 1978 respectively but their legacy, at area level, is rock solid.