Champions pay tribute to starmaker Lawless

Len Whaley recalls the success of a caring fight manager and a loyal friend. TRIBUTES poured in from all over the world, praising the achievements of fight manager Terry Lawless, who died last week in Spain at the age of 76, and will be remembered as Brit

Len Whaley recalls the success of a caring fight manager and a loyal friend.

TRIBUTES poured in from all over the world, praising the achievements of fight manager Terry Lawless, who died last week in Spain at the age of 76, and will be remembered as British boxing's most successful champion-maker of the 20th Century.

Lawless, who moved to Marbella after he retired, died in hospital following a gall bladder operation, after he had been suffering ill health for several years.

He is remembered in the boxing business for a magnificent success list with hundreds of titles won over the years by boxers who he helped achieve - and in many cases surpass - their wildest dreams.

He guided the careers of world champions including welterweight John H Stracey, flyweight Charlie Magri, light-middleweight Maurice Hope and lightweight Jim Watt, as they scaled the heights in the 1970's and 1980's.

You can add heavyweight king Frank Bruno, who Lawless developed from unknown novice to become the biggest name in British sport, plus star welterweight Lloyd Honeyghan.

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Both spent most of their careers under his guidance and training regime at the legendary Royal Oak gymnasium in Canning Town, before moving on to claim their world titles under different management.

West Ham-born Lawless stayed in Newham to train his fighters using the Duke of Fife gym in Katherine Road Forest Gate in his early years, before making his name at the Royal Oak gym.

The champions, and British boxing, certainly owed much to the achievements of the one-time docks clerk who, in his early years, many people in the fight game predicted would never make a successful manager because he had never been a successful boxer.

He served some tough apprenticeship years at the start of his career, away from the title spotlight, looking after some young, enthusiastic down-the-bill fighters.

He would drive his hopeful prospects to their fights at small-hall boxing shows all around the country, often in a battered, borrowed van, trying to break through into the big-time.

The wait ended on a February night in 1968 at Kensington's Royal Albert Hall, when welterweight Ralph Charles and junior-lightweight Jimmy Anderson won their British championships on the same evening.

That was just the start of something special, as a string of bright amateurs developed into star professional fighters at the bustling sweatshop on the floor above the Royal Oak Pub.

That gym produced a conveyor belt of British, Commonwealth and European champions, alongside the elite world titleholders, as Lawless reigned supreme for over a quarter of a century.

I first knew Terry in those early days when he was just starting out as a boxing manager around 50 years ago, and he was looking for publicity for some of his local prospects.

He sometimes called me several times in one day pleading to get his local fighters a story on the boxing page.

We certainly never realised that in the years to come, Fleet Street's biggest names plus the top TV companies worldwide would be in a queue, lining up for his interviews.

I carried on covering his fighters around the London halls and in big promotions all over Great Britain, Europe and the world from Vienna to Las Vegas.

On some of the biggest boxing nights of the past 50 years, I celebrated with the winners and sympathised with the losers, but always enjoyed the company of the man who stayed loyal to his friends inside and outside of boxing.

After Lawless bowed out of the boxing scene to spend his retirement in the Spanish sunshine, we still stayed in touch by telephone.

We would talk about the sporting scene in general - and boxing in particular.

Although he suffered years of poor health, he always retained an insatiable appetite for sport, watching the satellite television coverage of events from around the globe.

He still retained the expert's eye for detail that had made him such a success during his reign at the Royal Oak gym, aided by long-serving assistant Frank Black and Jimmy Tibbs, a former Lawless boxer who over the years has developed into one of the outstanding trainers in the fight game.

The care of his fighters extended far beyond the gym. Usually, before big fights, he welcomed them into his home where his wife Sylvia, his dedicated supporter and the mother of their children, Lorraine and Steve, took charge.

She was always ready to 'mother' the fighters, cooking their favourite meals and trying to make sure they enjoyed a stress-free build up to some of the biggest nights of their ring careers.

Former world lightweight king, Jim Watt still has fond memories of the hospitality he received at the Lawless home. "I really enjoyed my stays with Terry and his family when I came down from Glasgow. It was so much better than enduring the loneliness of a hotel room," he said.

"Terry treated his boxers like sons rather than fighters."

That 'father-figure' tag stuck to Lawless over the years with rivals accusing him of giving his fighters too many 'easy fights'.

However, one fight promoter once told me: "Terry Lawless comes across like he is everybody's favourite uncle - but take it from me, he is one hard so and so when it comes to negotiating a deal on behalf of his fighters."

But it was that 'safety-first' formula that was vital as he built up a stable of champions. He was only too aware that just one mistake could ruin any boxing career.

"You know in this game if a fighter has 20 wins he's a great boxer - then if he has one defeat, he's got a bad manager," he once told me.

If caring too much about his fighters was a crime, then Terry was guilty, but it played a vital part in his magnificent managerial record in the toughest sport of all.

Rest in peace Terry.