“WHAT happened to Ron Barton?” It’s a question I’ve been asked more than once since I started writing for BN, and despite some enquiries I’ve been unable to find out for certain. Neither Wikipedia nor BoxRec has a record of this 1950s light-heavy’s passing, though several ex-boxers assure me that he died long ago. However, no one I spoke to could recall when or how.

It seems strange that the passing of a former British champion – one who held a title at a time when British titlists were household names – should go seemingly without mention in the press. Perhaps someone reading this article will contact Boxing News and supply the details. Meanwhile, let’s look back on the career of this talented West Ham boxer who was once ranked in the world top 10.

Born in February 1933, Ron attended St Michael’s Catholic School in West Ham until the statutory age of 14. He joined the RAF a year later, and whilst serving won the 1953 ABA middleweight title.

One morning in late January 1954, Arthur Boggis, a former pro lightweight turned manager, walked into the Boxing News office. With him was a handsome, athletically built young man, whom Arthur introduced as Ron Barton.

“He’s turning pro under my management,” Boggis told BN Editor Gilbert Odd, “and he’ll be British light-heavyweight champion within two years.” Arthur insisted that the contract be signed then and there, and accosted a BN staff photographer to take a snap. “It’ll be a historic occasion for a future title-holder to become a pro in the office of Boxing News and for the editor to be a witness,” Boggis told Odd.

Barton had his first pro fight the following month – a first-round KO victory – and over the next year stormed through Britain’s light-heavies, winning fight after fight. In January 1955, Ron whipped future champ Arthur Howard in a British title eliminator. Then, five months later, the West Ham man beat Canada’s Yvon Durelle (a future world title challenger) by disqualification in an Empire title eliminator. Barton then stopped two Americans, Mel Brown and Austin Jones, in six and two rounds respectively to reach 19-0 as a pro. But in fight 20, he dropped a decision to Italy’s Alessandro D’Ottavio, which he avenged with a points win in a return two months later.

Fans and pressmen alike were excited by Barton, some even hailing him as the successor to Freddie Mills. In March 1956, at Harringay Arena, Ron fought the experienced ex-middleweight champ Albert Finch for the British light-heavy crown vacated by Randolph Turpin. After seven close rounds, Finch retired with an eye injury in the eighth.

“That fight made me British champion,” Ron told The People newspaper a year later. “But it also finished me.” Barton said he’d suffered double vision after the fight, along with a back injury. But a lucrative offer tempted him to tackle Canada’s Gordon Wallace for the Empire crown three months later. “[Barton’s] movements were slow, his punches weak and his timing bad,” recalled Gilbert Odd. “He gave the Empire title to Wallace on a plate. It was so bad I did not want to look.”

Afterwards, Ron relinquished his British crown and returned his Lonsdale Belt, telling the BBBofC that he was undergoing eye treatment. He made a brief return to the ring three years later for five fights, before retiring again. After another year out, he came back again for another three bouts, before leaving the game for good with a 26-5 record.

Barton was a good boxer, with a cool temperament and a decent dig, developed hauling meat crates as a Smithfield Market porter. In a press interview, he revealed how he’d made a small fortune through boxing and quickly lost it all, so it’s no surprise he made two brief comebacks. With better luck, he could have reigned for far longer as champion.