Champagne Charlie’s big night

PUBLISHED: 11:05 05 January 2012

Charlie Magri

Charlie Magri

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Recorder boxing correspondent Len Whaley looks back at some great fights of old

Charlie Magri, already an east London hero, became a ring legend the night he took the world flyweight title from Eleoncio Mercedes in March 1983, standing in the Wembley Arena ring after his seventh-round triumph, he felt he was in seventh heaven.

He later admitted: “When you achieve your life’s dream it doesn’t feel real, because you’ve suddenly achieved what you have been working for all your life, when you reach the end of the journey you don’t know what to do next.”

The tiny terror from the backstreets of Stepney who had been chasing his dream since he was a 10-year-old, just stood and soaked up the atmosphere.

There were many before the contest who believed the world chance had come too late for the fighter who won the British title in his third pro fight, just six weeks after making his pro debut in 1977 – an all-time record.

Eight fights later, and Magri, who had been an outstanding amateur at Stepney’s Arbour Youth BC winning a string of ABA titles and international honours, was challenging for the European crown.

When he added that title to his collection, most people thought the world title would soon come his way, but it was never a smooth path to glory.

He ruled for years as the EBU champion, but was having trouble beating those little hard men from across the Atlantic – like tough Argentinian Santos Laciar who gave him problems when Magri beat him on points at the Royal Albert Hall.

Later, his contest with Mexican Juan Diaz was supposed to be a part of the build up before his world title clash, but the warm-up proved too hot as Diaz halted him in the sixth round.

He came back with two wins, before Jose Torres arrived from Arizona and halted him in nine rounds, and after two defeats in seven months, people started to write off Charlie’s world-title ambitions – and it hurt.

It was a tribute to Magri’s ability – backed by the guidance of manager Terry Lawless and matchmaker Mickey Duff –that just 10 months after that second defeat, he was fighting Mercedes for the WBC world flyweight title at Wembley.

Always exciting, Charlie attracted the support that no other flyweight could match. He was spurred on by his huge fan following, but stung by the critics who were writing him off as he aproached the fight with a detached determination.

“I knew that night that it was my time. I did not believe it was possible for me to fail – it was as simple as that.”

However, the win was never going to be easy. Mercedes was making the first defence of the title he had won just four months earlier and had clearly not come to surrender.

The challenger ripped home his powerful punches to head and body, but the champion soaked up the shots and slammed back with his own powerful blows.

“He was landing hard right crosses and hooks, but I couldn’t feel the shots, it’s a state of mind. When you are really primed it’s hard for someone to hurt you with a punch,” Magri explained.

Mercedes was a proud champion and continued to battle through to the sixth round, landing more big right hands, but the writing was on the wall after he took some more punishment and suffered a badly-gashed left eye after a clash of heads.

The end was near, and it came after Magri piled on more pressure in the seventh round. Referee Roland Dakin examined the injury and signalled it was all over – Magri was the new world champion.

He returned to a hero’s welcome in east London and when he made a guest appearance at a York Hall show he was surprised by Eammon Andrews and honoured with a ‘This is your Life,’ TV tribute.

Unfortunately, Magri’s world title win was his last in this country – just six months after his victory he took an ‘easy’ defence against Frank Cedeno, but was knocked out in the sixth round.

He travelled to Italy where he knocked out Franco Cherchi, but was beaten in a bid for the world crown by Thailand’s Sot Chitalada at Alexandra Palace and then lost his European flyweight title to Duke McKenzie in his final bout at Wembley in May 1986.

He has had his setbacks in life since, but can still recall his feelings on the night he became a world champion: “It was then that I realised after all the years, after all the disappointments and wanting to give up, I’d finally made it.

“I’d climbed my own mountain and right then, all the anger and frustration seemed to melt away.”

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