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Britain's Greatest Super-Bantamweights: Including Duke McKenzie, Prince Naseem & Carl Frampton

British world champions at 122lbs have been few and far between over the past century, but there have still been a few fighters who have reached the summit of the super-bantamweight division.

Great Britain has a long and illustrious history in some weight classes, however this specific weight class is not one of them.

Technically, the super-bantamweight division is over 100 years old, with first bout at the weight taking place in 1922. It was not well received at the time and over half a century would pass before the WBC sanctioned its inaugural 122lbs world title fight, in 1976.

The British Boxing Board of Control would not introduce a British title in the division until April 1994. Bizarrely, an Englishman had won world honours at 122lbs, 17 months prior.

The Duke's short reign sets the tone...

Duke McKenzie (39-7, 20 KOs) captured the WBO strap with a close unanimous decision victory over Jesse Benavides, to become a three-weight word champion. It is worth noting that, at the time, the WBO version was lightly regarded.

McKenzie lost the belt in his first defence, against Daniel Jimenez; the Puerto Rican prevailed by the finest of margins. 

This set the tone for Brits in world title bouts at 122lbs; what has followed is a long line of nearly-men and short-lived championship reigns.

Naseem Hamed (36-1, 31 KOs) briefly lit up the division for nine months between 1994 and 1995. The ‘Prince’ halted Freddy Cruz in the sixth round to win the WBC International strap, before making five successful defences; none of which went beyond the fourth round.

It would be 1997 before another British fighter would have a crack at super-bantamweight world title. Belfast’s Wayne McCullough (27-7, 18 KOs) challenged crafty veteran, Daniel Zaragoza.

The 1992 Barcelona Olympic silver medallist had hoped to become a two-weight world champion, having previously held the WBC title at 118lbs. In a competitive fight, the judges edged towards the cleaner punches of the Mexican. The Northern Irishman was furious.

McCullough would be given three more opportunities to win a world title at super-bantamweight, but it was not to be. 

Not to be for aspiring British world champions...

The first British 122lbs champion, Richie Wenton (24-6, 10 KOs), received a shot at the belt previously held by Duke McKenzie, in 1998. Unfortunately, it was now in the possession of the great Marco Antonio Barrera.

The Liverpudlian was no match for the future Hall of Famer, and retired at the end of the third round. The ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ then forced Paul Lloyd to do the same at the end of the first three minutes, in his next bout. The Englishman had won British, Commonwealth and European honours at bantamweight, but the step up in weight, and class, was too vast. 

Michael Brodie had amassed a 29-0 record, picking up the British, Commonwealth and European titles along the way, when he faced Willie Jorrin for the vacant WBC strap. The American visitor was precise, while Brodie (36-4-1, 24 KOs) was busy. Most observers believed the Englishman had done enough, but the judges saw it differently; one scored the fight a draw with the other two giving it to Jorrin.

Three years later, Brodie received a second chance to turn his dream of becoming a world champion into reality, this time at featherweight. After a war with In-Jin Chi, they could not be separated on the scorecards. In the rematch, the Korean crushed the Mancunian’s hopes, winning by knockout in the seventh round.

Like Brodie, Michael Hunter (30-2-1, 13 KOs) was undefeated and had previously won the British, Commonwealth and European straps ahead of his IBF world title fight with Steve Molitor, in 2006. Hunter found himself on the canvas in the fourth round, before the Canadian finished the bout in the following frame.

Four year later, Molitor was back on these shores, defending his title against Jason Booth (38-15, 15 KOs). The Nottingham fighter was talented, but troubled. He had won British and Commonwealth titles at flyweight in the late ‘90s, but by 2005, it appeared his career was over. 

Thankfully, Booth was able to turn things around, picking up the Commonwealth bantamweight belt and the British title at 122lbs before his world title tilt. 

Molitor had previously beaten Booth’s brother, Nicky, and the Englishman was out to avenge that defeat. ‘Too Smooth’ fell just short, finding himself on the wrong end of a majority decision.

A month later, Leicester’s boxing binman, Rendall Munroe (28-5-1, 11 KOs), travelled to Japan to take on WBC king, Toshiaki Nishioka. It was an arduous task, and the champion retained his title by wide unanimous decision. 

The former European and Commonwealth holder’s brace of wins over Kiko Martinez and his stoppage victory against Victor Terrazas have aged well, as both men subsequently became world champions.

Others have had success in the division including: Esham Pickering (34-11, 14 KOs), Kid Galahad (28-3, 17 KOs) and Jason Cunningham (32-7, 7 KOs); who all won British, Commonwealth and European belts at the weight, but never contested a world title at super-bantamweight.

Scott Quigg prevails where many others had failed...

Over 20 years since Duke McKenzie became Britain’s first super-bantamweight world champion, the United Kingdom finally had another, in the form of Scott Quigg (35-3-2, 26 KOs). 

The Bury fighter had won the WBA ‘Interim’ title against Rendall Munroe, in 2012, but was upgraded to ‘Regular’ champion before his bout with Yoandris Salinas.

Quigg made six defences of his belt, including an impressive second round stoppage against Kiko Martinez, to set up a domestic super-fight.

Since they were prospects, Quigg and Carl Frampton (28-3, 16 KOs) were intrinsically linked. When the Bury man held the British title, ‘The Jackal’ had the Commonwealth belt. Soon after Quigg won the Interim strap, Frampton became European champion. A showdown was inevitable.

The Belfast boxer became the IBF titlist in 2014 with a comprehensive decision win over Kiko Martinez. Victories over Chris Avalos and Alejandro Gonzalez followed, before a unification with Quigg.

The fight never caught fire, but Frampton prevailed, winning a split decision. The bout was closer on the scorecards than it had been in the ring. 

Frampton vacated his belts to move to featherweight and became a two-weight world champion, by outpointing Leo Santa Cruz.

Following in the footsteps of Quigg and Frampton...

In the intervening years, others have attempted to replicate the achievements of the aforementioned pair, with limited success.

Former British champion, James ‘Jazza’ Dickens (32-5, 12 KOs) took on the legendary Cuban, Guillermo Rigondeaux, for the WBA ‘Super’ title, in 2016. The scouser’s dreams were crushed as he sustained a broken jaw in the second round, which forced him to retire from the fight.

Next to receive a world title tilt was Gavin McDonnell (22-2-3, 6 KOs). The Doncaster fighter decided to try his hand at professional boxing after his twin brother, Jamie, won the European bantamweight belt. Given he had limited amateur experience, McDonnell did remarkably well to capture British and European straps. However, the jump to world level was too great. McDonnell gave a good account of himself, but was second best against Rey Vargas. 

Another attempt at world honours was also unsuccessful, as the Englishman was stopped by Daniel Roman in the 10th round of their WBA title bout.

Despite Britain’s lack of pedigree in the weight class over the years, the division is home to some interesting prospects. 

Perhaps, one of Liam Davies, Dennis McCann, Peter McGrail or Shabaz Masoud can establish themselves as the next big thing from the United Kingdom.

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