The Hall’s long association with amateur and professional boxing goes back almost 100 years.
There were several applications to stage boxing events at the Hall as early as 1893 – 1902, but there were concerns that this particular sport was not allowed under the Hall’s constitution, and also the King ‘disapproved of the introduction of professional pugilists into the Hall’.
An application by the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) for the use of the Hall for an ABA competition in connection with the first London Olympic Games was made, but this event was eventually held on 27 October 1908 at the Northampton Institute in Clerkenwell.
Although there were boxing displays within other events, the first proper tournament took place on 11 & 12 December 1918, promoted by the Imperial Services Boxing Association. This was allowed as the contestants were Soldiers and Sailors of His Majesty’s Forces – The British Empire versus The American Services.
This led the way to a series of 12 boxing performances between 1 December 1919 and 30 November 1920 being held, under Championship conditions, for gold trophies or cups, but not for ‘prize money, purse, side-stake or wager’. Most of the greatest living boxers took part, competing for a gold trophy given by HM King George V; Georges Carpentier fought three exhibition rounds on 26 December 1919. Shortly after, on 13 January 1921 the Prince of Wales, a great boxing fan, sat ringside to watch Pete Harman beat Jimmy Wilde in the 17th round.
In 1925 the first of a series of contests with prize money was allowed, but this brought accusations that the Hall was allowing betting during bouts. Although the Hall had banned betting, announcements had to be made from the ring and anyone found contravening the ban was ejected from the Hall.
Boxing in the 1920s and 1930s brought in much needed finance and the matches were of a high standard – Primo Carnera fought in Britain for the first time at the Hall and the Carpentier v Cooke fight on 12 January 1922 brought in £14,000, one of the largest Box Office takings the management had ever known. The Hall was regarded as an excellent venue for the sport, where no spectator was distant from the ring. The ring could therefore be smaller than anywhere else with a result that there was more hard in-fighting.
Other memorable tournaments included the Kray brothers, the notorious twins Reggie & Ron Kray, with their elder brother Charlie, appearing on the same bill on 11 December 1951.
Muhammad Ali boxing eight exhibition rounds on 19 October 1971, and on 29 May 1979 in Farewell to London, the Magic of Ali, making his final boxing appearance at the Hall.
Henry Cooper fought at the Hall 4 times. The first time on 27 January 1955, and the last on 12 January 1965 against Dick Wipperman.
Years later, Prince Naseem fought Juan Polo Perez on 1 July 1995 and Lennox Lewis appeared no fewer that seven times. Frank Bruno fought on 15 occasions and has also taken part in celebrity tennis at the Hall.
The last world championship to be contested at the Royal Albert Hall before a 12 year break was between Marco Antonio Barrera and Paul Lloyd on 3 April 1999. Also on the bill that night was a British heavyweight title fight between Julius Francis and Danny Williams as well as a young Ricky Hatton.
Following a 12 year break, boxing returned to the Hall on 7 October 2011 with a grudge contest between the UK Armed Forces and the US Armed Forces in association with the charity, Tickets For Troops. Tickets to ‘The Royal Albert Hall Cup‘ were free and exclusive to members of the British armed forces and their families. The UK Armed Forces were the overall winners.
Championship boxing made its return to the Hall on 28 April 2012, with a line-up of some of the best British boxers including Billy Joe Saunders and Tony Hill.
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