By Mark McKenna: Forgotten in the midst of pre fight build-up for the coming weeks blockbuster events – Pacquiao VS Clottey , Darchinyan VS Guerrero amongst the excellent fights awaiting us – is the quiet anniversary of one WBA Welterweight bout between Mark Breland and Lloyd Honeyghan.
The bout took place twenty years ago on March 3, 1990 at Wembley Arena in London – and signalled a sea change in the careers of two welterweight standouts of the 1980’s from opposite sides of the Atlantic.
American Mark Breland came into the fight on a six fight knockout streak. Standing 6’2 , at age 26 with a 77 inch reach the Brooklynite was a Thomas Hearns clone with an immaculate boxing pedigree. The Hearns comparison included having a devastating jab and a sleep inducing right hand as well as Hearns stigma of a suspect chin and serious durability concerns.
Breland had amassed one of the greatest amateur records in history – 110-1(70) and a 1984 Olympic Games Gold. He entered the pro ranks with more hype and pressure than any fighter in recent memory and raced to a, 16-0(11), record before a seventh round knockout over perennial contender Harold Volbrecht to win the vacant WBA 147lb belt.
Breland would lose his diadem in defence number one against Marlon Starling , a battle tested Hartford contender in the 11th round of a war of attrition. The perception afterwards was that Breland’s amateur background meant little in the paid ranks and that he lacked the necessary mental toughness and overall sturdiness needed to reach the top of the Welterweight tree.
Certainly, a rematch draw three fights later against Starling left even the most die hard fan under whelmed. and Breland fought tentatively. His own corner believed he had lost the bout.
Breland followed the Starling bout with a trio of first round knockouts. The third , in 54 seconds against obscure Korean Seung-Soon Lee garnered him the vacant WBA Welterweight belt. He was again a world titlist , having won two world titles for the same vacant belt against lesser opposition.
Three title defences followed – all inside schedule wins , one over future Junior Welterweight champion , dangerous Colombian Rafael Pineda. Breland was in optimum mental condition for Honeyghan’s challenge that lay ahead.
Eccentric Londoner by way of Jamaica, Honeyghan entered the Breland match on a one fight win streak , a 10 round points nod over trial horse Delfino Marin.
Prior to this fight Honeyghan had lost his WBC Welterweight title to the same thorn in Breland’s side , Marlon Starling. The ninth round TKO loss was the second of the 34-2 Honeyghan’s career , the first being against big punching Mexican Jorge Vaca on a dubious technical decision. This Aberration was summarily reversed with a third round blowout.
The fight crowd in the USA had paid no attention to ‘ The Ragamuffin man ‘ until his 1986 Ring magazine upset of the year victory over the seemingly invincible Don Curry in July of that year for the then unified Welterweight title.
Honeyghan entered that bout unbeaten in 27 starts; He had already won British , Commonwealth and European honours most observers knew little of the British boxer/puncher, thinking he was an obligatory sacrifice for Curry at the time.
Honeyghan broke Curry down physically and mentally over six nightmarish rounds. Never a factor in the match pound for pound entrant Curry was retired on his stool at the start of the seventh round. Honeyghan returned to the UK a conquering hero, and set about defending his WBC/IBF belts against Johnny Bumphus (KO 2) , A 24-0 Maurice Blocker (W 12) and an all time division quickie KO ( 45 seconds ) against Gene Hatcher. Thus followed the Vaca bouts and the Starling loss.
The question marks over Honeyghan’s head loomed – was he at the tail end of his career at 29 , and could he scale those heights again? With no significant test since his only truly genuine loss against Starling the answer would be swift and crushing...
From the first round on Honeyghan gave the immediate impression of a shot fighter. Off balance , tentative and back pedalling at every opportunity he gave Breland no resistance whatsoever. Rarely has a former top flight boxer looked so dramatically inferior from one bout to the next.
Breland sensed that this was a very different version of the man who had destroyed Donald Curry and acted accordingly. Midway through round one a stiff jab sent Honeyghan to the floor; Stunned and embarrassed Honeyghan rose only to be assailed for the next ninety seconds by more jabs , venomous right hands and uppercuts.
Round two saw more of the same for the hapless Brit. Backing up against the much taller American, Jab after jab detonated against the Ragamufin man. Commentator Alex Wallau at ringside opined that Honeyghan ‘ had nothing left ‘
It must be crushing to fight on knowing that your skills and strength have deserted you, but if anything a champion’s heart shines through in these moments and Honeyghan gets great praise for fighting on with a pea shooter against an AK47.
After taking a battering for two minutes Honeyghan slips to the canvas with barely a minute to go. Moments later he is dropped for the second knockdown of the fight -again by a single jab. With another thirty seconds to go another slip occurs, the result of a slowly diminishing balance in a hailstorm of punches. A swarming Breland scores knockdown three of the fight with 10 seconds to go in the second round. At this point referee Julio Alvarado of Panama would be commended for ending the bout with very little dissent from anyone involved.
The Third round opens with another trip to the canvas for Honeyghan from a fusillade of blows inside the ten second mark. Despite trying to tie Breland up , or avoiding punches there seems no respite from the avalanche of shots delivered in Honeyghan’s vicinity. Honeyghan’s landed punches would number less than five at this point. Trapped In the corner at the two minute mark Honeyghan looks a spent fighter.
Wallau yells out ‘ Alvarado has to stop this fight ‘ amidst the non stop punching from Breland. Booing starts in the audience as spectators voice their agreement with the astute ringside commentary. Finally at the 0:45 mark the target practice ends.
As bad a case of refereeing as ever I’ve seen. That wasn’t a fight , it was an execution ‘ Wallau tells the equally disgusted and shocked audience.
The Wembley massacre would prove to be the end of the road for both boxers ; the dawn of the 90’s would signal a changing of the guard in the welterweight ranks and neither Honeyghan or Breland would be part of the transition.
For Breland this would be his last successful title defence. In his next bout he would be a knockout loser to fellow New Yorker Aaron Davis in nine brutal rounds. He would win another three bouts against nondescript opposition before falling apart against Jorge Vaca in six in September 1991. A Five fight comeback - all wins at Junior Middleweight - in 1996 and 1997 closed out the Breland pro log at 35-3-1(25). Most observers look back today at Breland as a fragile and flawed champion - top class against second raters and ordinary against top five welterweights. This is a harsh and cruel judgement based more on expectations given his amateur background. As it is , he won two world titles and is probably the greatest amateur to ever lace up a glove. No small feat.
Honeyghan would fight on until 1995 , going 9-2. There were no further notable names on his resume except for Vinny Pazienza and Adrian Dodson who inflicted the defeats on his ledger in 10 and three rounds respectively. Ending his career at 43-5(30) Honeyghan would be forever remembered as the first man to beat Don Curry and as one of the pioneers of the British invasion of America.
March 5, 2010