Liverpool has a history of ingrained combat. From Nelson Tarleton winning a British title in 1929 with one lung to Callum Smith beating John Ryder on Saturday to defend his WBA Super-Middleweight title.
It was John Conteh, however, who is still the biggest inspiration to the current fighting generation and will forever hold the accolade of claiming the first world title in the city’s history.
He made history in October 1974 when he won the WBC light-heavyweight title with a unanimous decision victory against Argentinian Jorge Ahumada.
The Empire Pool in London was also the venue for his first defence of the title against American Lonnie Bennett. He went on to defend the belt a further two times with a defeat over Len Hutchins at Anfield the most noticeable.
He would go on to fight his last fight at Anfield similarly, in a perfect cycle to end his career as a sporting hero.
A lifelong Liverpudlian fighting in the city’s iconic venue.
Former Kirby ABC boxer Rob Butler told MerseySportLive that Conteh was a massive influence on their gym saying he was “one of, if not the best light-heavyweight Britain has ever produced.”
Surprisingly, Conteh built up a friendship with heavyweight champion and global icon Muhammad Ali over his career, with Ali actually persuading him to fight at light-heavyweight as opposed to heavyweight.
A decision that provided John Conteh with massive success, as he claimed the World, Commonwealth and British titles by his career end. The first world champion from Liverpool, but not the last.
Merseyside is arguably now the hotbed for combat sports in the UK with boxing and mixed martial arts having never been better.
Callum Smith is currently WBA Super-Middleweight champion and is part of a family who have challenged for multiple world titles in the past decade.
The Smith brothers are widely-known in the boxing world and with Callum Smith now a world champion, Anfield looks like a likely venue for a defence of his titles in 2020.
Similarly, female boxer Natasha Jones made history in 2012, becoming the first British woman to compete at the Olympics in boxing.
UFC fighter Darren Till is creating an avenue in mixed martial arts for the city. He brought the sport’s biggest promotion to Liverpool in a sold-out event for the first ever time.
He holds a big name in the space and is currently ranked at #5 in the middleweight division.
Most importantly, Conteh is especially an idol of Tony Bellew who was one of the biggest stars in boxing before his retirement in November 2018.
His biggest career achievements included winning the WBC Cruiserweight title and defeating David Haye twice.
Speaking about Conteh’s influence on him, Bellew told the Liverpool Echo about how he idolised him as a child.
“In my eyes he’s the greatest fighter this country has possibly ever produced. He is that good.
“What he means to me is hard to put into words. He is a role model in my city.”
The man born in Toxteth was awarded an MBE in 2017 for his services to the sport.
Regardless of more recent success for the city, Conteh’s fighting legacy will forever live on in the city and the history books because he was the first and being the first is always the hardest.
Picture by CAMPIONI dello SPORT under Creative Commons License