FRANK WARREN once had a ‘world’ champion he didn’t know what to do with. His joy at seeing Dennis Andries win the WBC light-heavyweight belt was soon replaced by the problem of what to do with him next.
Andries had sold only four tickets for his world-title winning effort against JB Williamson, fought out in front of 1,000 empty seats at the 2,500 capacity Picketts Lock Stadium in Edmonton in April, 1986.
Warren, who had previously lost money promoting Andries’ British title defeat to Tom Collins in 1982, knew a defence against mandatory challenger Eddie Davis wasn’t going to be lucrative either.
Perhaps there was another option.
Warren also had Tony Sibson on his books and he had promised him a world-title shot. One of Britain’s most popular fighters at the time, ‘Sibbo’ was a real gunslinger with a heavy left hook. He was only a middleweight, but he fancied he could jump up from 160lbs to 175lbs to dethrone the belt-holder.
The super-middleweight division was still in its infancy and these were also the days before multiple British world belt-holders and regular domestic duels for versions of world titles.
At the time, Andries was Britain’s only world champion and not since Jim Watt knocked out Charlie Nash in defence of his WBC lightweight title six years earlier had two British boxers contested a world title.
The WBC granted Sibson permission to challenge Andries on the spurious grounds of his “service to the middleweight division,” much to Warren’s relief.
‘Thunder and Lightning’ – Andries brought the size, Sibson the speed – was, Warren would admit “the only match I can think of that would pay.”
Though the Alexandra Pavilions was only a few tube stops from Andries’ Hackney home, the bulk of support when they fought in September 1986 would come from Leicester, Sibson’s home city.
Andries was moody and mistrusting with interviewers and his public, while wherever Sibson went, hundreds, sometimes thousands of supporters from the East Midlands city would follow, many of them work mates from the building sites where ‘Sibbo’ had worked as a hod carrier since being asked to leave school prematurely.
Sibson made his pro debut on his 18th birthday and won the British title the day after his 21st, but was never comfortable in the spotlight’s glare, saying he enjoyed most the early days of his pro career when it was “a bit of fun, a night out for me mam and dad. I would just turn up and it’d be easy.”
At the start, all Sibson really wanted from boxing was “a bit of extra beer money” and hopefully a Lonsdale Belt that he would give to his mother, Kath.
He went on to get a shot at the world title, challenging Marvin Hagler in Worcester, Massachusetts, in February 1983. Distracted by the celebrities he spotted at ringside – Sibson was in disbelief after seeing Jack Nicholson there to watch him – and a snapped groin protector, Sibson was well beaten in six.
Hagler was a formidable champion, but Sibson had rather fallen apart and would admit in retirement that he was shy, had an inferior complex even.
Andries was hard to his core, a fighter who just ploughed through whatever boxing threw at him. Told by first manager Ernie Fossey that the Southern Area title was his ceiling, Andries took three attempts to be crowned British champion and here he was at 32 years old, defending his world title a few weeks after the British Boxing Board of Control named him their ‘Fighter of the Year.’
Boxing News wrote after the awards night that Andries “has the menacing calm of a man who believes he’s the best in the world.”
Sibson remembered an uncultured Andries huffing and puffing his way around the small hall circuit early in his career and sought to convince himself he had the beating of him “by being sharper with the jab, making him miss and tire, then putting ‘em together.”
Not many shared Sibson’s view. BN remembered that in Sibson’s only previous foray beyond 160lbs at a good level, Lottie Mwale had chinned him inside a round, and predicted a late stoppage win for the champion.
At the weigh in, Sibson weighed around 166lbs, but the scales read 172 lbs. His coaches had put weights in his shorts to add extra pounds and knowing even those closest to him thought he was too small surely did nothing for his confidence.
Sibson would have found no comfort in the pages of the show’s programme either. ‘The Tale of the Tape’ confirmed all the physical advantages – three inches in height, six-and-a-half inches reach – were with Andries.
He also had the confidence of being the world champion, though the 5,000 crowd let Andries know they wanted him to lose the belt he proudly wore around his waist on his way to the ring. They chanted ‘Sibbo’, stamped their feet and made nuisances of themselves, but by the middle rounds, there wasn’t much for them to cheer.
Sibson did start the fight positively, but his jabs were no more than an annoyance to Andries and when he fell short with punches, Andries swung back with clumping counters. Not everything he threw landed, but when he did connect cleanly, the punches made Sibson’s legs shiver.
Andries cut Sibson over his right eye in the fourth round and shook him up in the next, but with the fight apparently in his grasp, Andries seemed to switch off.
He allowed Sibson to jab his way back into the fight in the sixth and seventh rounds. Sibson won the rounds – if not as decisively as Andries had won earlier sessions – and with the gap surely closing on the judges’ scorecards and the Leicester crowd making themselves heard again, a concerned Beau Williford told Andries in his corner before the eighth to “get working again.”
As it turned out, Sibson had only got into the fight because Andries had taken a breather and the next three minutes proved conclusively there had been no shift in the fight’s momentum.
By the end of the eighth, Sibson’s mouth was bloodied and he also bled from a wound on his left eyebrow.
Throughout the round, Sibson had talked to Andries, as much to get himself going as anything, but his fists weren’t as busy. He was becoming disheartened. He was getting beaten up and there was nothing he could do about it. His left hooks hadn’t dented Andries and every time he made a mistake, Andries hurt him.
Sibson looked beaten and inside the opening minute of the ninth round, he was forced to touch down from a volley of cuffing rights.
Similar punches led to another count and Sibson roared his annoyance after he pulled himself up instantly. His supporters willed him on, but the fight was lost.
Coolly, Andries walked across the ring from a neutral corner to add the finishing touches to his night’s work. He slung a right and left that missed, then slammed a right hand off Sibson’s jaw to put him on his knees for a third time. Again, he was up quickly, but with trainer Ken Squires on the ring apron poised to throw in the towel, referee Sid Nathan waved the fight off and Andries celebrated with a somersault.
As Andries’ victory was confirmed by the Master of Ceremonies, the crowd chanted Sibson’s name and during his post-fight interview, the champion turned on the public.
“All I do is win,” he said. “We’ve had too many losers at football, cricket, rugby… all I do is win. Britain should love a winner. We’ve only got one world champion.”
His words were well timed. On the same night, England’s footballers, preparing for the forthcoming World Cup in Mexico, were beaten 1-0 by Sweden in Stockholm in a friendly.
Andries added: “It’s time people realised I’m not just an awkward so and so, but a very talented champion. They should learn to love me. I said I would run over Sibson and I was a Rolls Royce tonight.”
In his dressing room, Sibson, who had two stitches in a wound over his left eye, wept and said: “I’m ashamed. I was sure of beating him. I feel stupid now.”