Cannock boxing impresario Ron Gray has been given the sport’s most prestigious accolade, the Sir Henry Cooper Award, marking his 50 years in the fight game, writes Brian Clifford.
“It was a real knockout to receive such recognition from the British Board of Control,” said Ron. “And, to put the icing on the cake, the trophy was presented to me by Henry’s two sons, Henry Marco and John.”
Recalling his long friendship with British, Empire and European heavyweight champion Henry Cooper, Ron went back to 1959 when, as a 17-year-old – having held his licence for a year – he went over to Sweden to fight a home heavyweight.
Top of the bill was a European title fight between Sweden’s Ingemar Johannsen and Britain’s Dick Richardson at the Gothenburg football stadium and Henry Cooper was there to watch. “Henry was the only one in the 63,000 crowd who was cheering for me,” says Ron. “I sat next to Henry on the plane home and that began our long friendship.”
Ron was outpointed that night, faring better than Richardson who was knocked out.
Managed by George Middleton for six of the ten years he was a professional boxer, Ron retired from the ring in 1968 and concentrated on his business. But he was back on the scene in 1972, taking over as the West Midlands’ main promoter when Willenhall-based bookmaker-promoter Alex Griffiths died.
That was the start of 25 years as a promoter at Wolverhampton Civic Hall, Dudley Town Hall, the Park Hall, Wolverhampton, the Albany, Birmingham, Trentham Gardens, Nottingham, Evesham, and Cleethorpes.
All the time Ron had a dual role – not just promoting but acting as a manager as well and looking after young hopefuls like Paul Chance, Micky Baker, Roy Skeldon, Tommy Taylor, Peter Till, Nigel Rafferty and Wolverhampton’s Richard Carter, the 50th young boxer to join the Gray stable. But the star was, of course, British and European featherweight champion Pat Cowdell. The West Bromwich ace earned Ron’s undying praise for his fight with world featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez in Houston, Texas, in 1981.
“Pat was ahead on points after 12 rounds, but was floored by Sanchez with only 16 seconds left of the 15th and final round”, recalled Ron. “But Pat got up on nine and went after Sanchez for the last few seconds. He was magnificent; it was a display of great courage.” The Mexican got the verdict on a split decision.
By the 1980s Ron added another string to his bow – he became matchmaker for London promoter Mickey Duff at Wembley and the Royal Albert Hall. He was the first from outside London to get such a job. He was matchmaker – setting up all the fights on the bill – for all Frank Brumo’s fights in the capital.
A member of the Midland Area Boxing Board of Control for over 20 years, Ron, now 72, decided to “hang up his gloves” in 2000 and now watches his son, Steve, organise sporting luncheons with a boxing theme under the Grays Promotions banner.