AS PART of Black History Month every year the Voice of Sport always attempts to pay homage to sporting pioneers of yesteryear who led the path for others to follow.
In the 1990s British boxing was spoilt for choice in the middleweight division as Nigel Benn, Steve Collins and Chris Eubank all held world titles and fought each other in epic bouts.
The trio are rightfully a part of British sporting folklore but some 40 years before their contests there was one 11st 4lbs fighter from Warwickshire creating sporting history whose exploits have perhaps been overlooked.
Against arguably the greatest pound-for-pound pugilist of all time, on July 10, 1951, a 23-year-old Randolph ‘Randy’ Turpin became Britain’s first black boxing world champion.
In front of 18,000 spectators at the Earls Court Arena in Kensington, London, Turpin outpointed the legendary American Sugar Ray Robinson en route to a unanimous points victory to claim the world middleweight title.
Born in 1928 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire to a black Guyanese father and a white mother from the UK, Turpin held British, Commonwealth, European and world titles at middleweight as well as claiming British and Commonwealth honours at light-heavyweight during a professional career that spanned almost 20 years.
Nicknamed ‘The Leamington Licker’, Randy trained together with his brothers Dick and Jackie.
In fact, Dick, who was the oldest of the three, is the first black boxer to win the Lonsdale belt; doing so at middleweight by beating Vince Hawkins on July 28, 1946 on points over 15 rounds.
The Turpin brothers amassed a combined total of 302 fights including 225 victories with 114 KOs.
From 1949 up until his world title shot against Robinson – who had compiled an unfathomable 128 wins, one loss (against Jake LaMotta) and one draw - in 1951, Randolph went on a remarkable 21-fight unbeaten streak where he defeated quality opponents such as Luc van Dam, Cyrille Delannoit and Albert Finch.
Boxing promoter and manager Spencer Fearon has extensive knowledge of the noble art and was full of admiration for Randolph and his siblings.
He told the Voice of Sport: “Those guys paved the way. Nobody can take anything away from their accomplishments and achievements.
“When Lloyd Honeyghan beat Don Curry in ’86, that was incredible. That’s one of the greatest achievements ever by a British fighter. But was that as great as Randolph Turpin’s? No, because we’re talking about living memory and a lot of us aren’t going to remember what he did.”
Turpin lost his world title in a rematch to Robinson 64 days later after being stopped in the 10th round but Fearon believes that the defeat in New York does little to discredit Turpin’s performance at the Earls Court Arena.
“Turpin beat the greatest fighter of all time and nobody can ever take that away from him,” explained the Sky Sports pundit. “You can say that Ray Robinson wasn’t the Ray Robinson of old because he was on this busy tour of Europe and was doing a lot of partying but all you can do is beat what’s in front you.
“And the fact that he beat the legend that was in front of him, that was incredible. That is the biggest upset in boxing history.”
During his career that spanned from 1946 to 1964, Turpin, who was known for his powerful jab and stylish shoulder roll stance, picked up 66 wins (45 KOs), eight losses and one draw.
COMMEMORATED: A statue of Turpin was erected in Warwickshire in 2001
However, at the age of just 37 - under immense financial strain due to being swindled out of thousands of pounds and missing the celebrity status that came with being world champion - Turpin committed suicide after shooting himself.
“He was truly an all time great and it’s sad that he died under those circumstances,” added Fearon.
In 2001 Turpin was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and in July of that year a bronze statue of him was erected in Market Square, Warwickshire with an inscription that read ‘In palace, pub and parlour, the whole of Britain held its breath.’
While the name of Turpin may not be remembered by both the community and by boxing fans, the legacy that the Midlands native forged in the ring will live on forever.