Saturday, April 16, 2016

TBG Book Review: Battling Bruce: The Story of the Fighting Career and rise to fame of Bruce Woodcock

The Boxing Glove Sunday Night Book Review 

Review by Peter Silkov

"Battling Bruce: The Story of the Fighting Career and Rise to Fame of Bruce Woodcock"

By Brian Hughes

This is a very interesting book on the career of Bruce Woodcock, British, European, and Commonwealth heavyweight champion of the mid to late 40s.  Hughes is a former boxing trainer and has written a series of books on the great fighters of yesterday, including Jock McAvoy, Johnny King, Jackie Brown, Peter Kane, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Willie Pep.  In this book, Hughes builds a portrait of the man whom he says was responsible for instilling within him his life long passion for the fight game.

Bruce Woodcock was born on January 18, 1920, in Doncaster, Yorkshire, into a tightly knit, but poor family. He started his professional career in 1941, and within a few years, had become one of Britain’s biggest sporting stars.  He won the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles in 1945, and was viewed as one of the country’s greatest heavyweight prospects since the days of Bob Fitzsimmons.  Woodcock had a picture-perfect left jab, a knockout punch in his right hand, grit, and durability. He seemed to be a prime candidate to go all of the way to the World heavyweight championship, at a time when the legendary Joe Louis was aging, and coming towards the end of his amazing 12-year reign.

By the time WW2 was over, Woodcock was being hailed by many as the future world champion and every fight he was in became a huge occasion. With the country suffering from the after effects of WW2, it was sportsmen-like Woodcock who people relied upon to cheer up and brighten the dark and grey days of post-war rationing.

However things would take a disastrous turn for Woodcock, as he was pushed too far, too fast. The result was that his once promising career came to a bitter and premature end, at an age when he should have been in his prime.

Brian Hughes takes us through Woodcock’s boxing career, from its meteoric rise to the top in Britain and Europe, to the point when things started to go wrong, and eventually the brutal end of Woodcock’s boxing dreams.

After winning the British and Commonwealth titles from Jack London in 1945, Woodcock went on to defend them twice in two brutal bouts against Freddie Mills, another huge star of British boxing at that time.  But, things went wrong when Woodcock was put in with world-ranked American contenders.  The first misstep came in May 1946, when Woodcock was taken to America, and matched with the hard punching and far more experienced, Tami Mauriello, and was stopped in the 5th round. Less than a year later, after 6 impressive rebuilding victories, Woodcock was matched with the 20 pounds heavier, big punching, Joe Baksi, and brutally stopped in the 7th round.  Woodcock was never really the same after this defeat to Baksi, which left him nearly blind in his left eye.  Despite this, Woodcock was still maneuvered into a ‘world title’ fight with Lee Savold in June 1950, in which he was stopped in the 4th round.

By the time Woodcock had his final fight against Jack Gardner in November 1950, he was just a shadow of the great fighter that he had once been.  Woodcock’s story is both an uplifting tale of a poor boy making good with his fists. It is also a cautionary warning about what happens when a bright young prospect is pushed too fast by those wishing to make their money quickly, rather than things more shrewdly, and looking more to the future. 

Hughes has structured this book in an interesting fashion, with each chapter of the book focusing upon a particular fight of Woodcock’s career.  Within each chapter, Hughes gives us the build up and background of the fight, then the fight itself, followed by the fight’s aftermath.  There are interesting insights into the politics that took place in the background of Woodcock’s career and the manner in which he is mishandled by his management and promoter, and pushed too far, too soon is graphically described.  Woodcock’s story is an all-too-typical bittersweet boxing tale, which shows how a man from humble beginnings is able to fight his way to fame and riches, only to have his career ruined by his over eager manager and promoter.

Had Woodcock been given a few more years to develop, then there is little doubt that he would have had a longer, and more lucrative career as British and European champion. Eventually he would have gained a genuine shot at the World heavyweight title.  One only needs to look at the lucrative career of Henry Cooper in the 50s and 60s, to see how Woodcock’s own fighting career might have turned out had he been more patiently handled.  As it was though, the people behind Woodcock could not resist fast tracking him, even though the signs were clear that he was not yet ready for such a move.

Bruce Woodcock died on December 21, 1997, at the age of 77.  He is still fondly remembered today by those who recall his fights, as a champion whose time at the top was all too brief. 

‘Battling Bruce: The Story of the Fighting Career and Rise to Fame of Bruce Woodcock’ is a gritty, fast-moving, analysis of the fighting career of one of Britain’s great champions of the past, which shows once again why boxing is known both as the sweet science, and the hardest game.

*The book contains many photographs, the photos on this page are not from the book. 

*Book available at Brian Hughe's webpage

Copyright © 2016 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

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