What is the value of a British Commonwealth Title? - by Ron Jackson

On a visit to South Africa Simon Block, the then General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control suggested that Boxing SA should encourage South African boxers to fight for the Commonwealth title as these were still meaningful titles.

Well, one must question this because unfortunately with all the organization belts and other regional belts up for grabs these days the Commonwealth title has been devalued.

These bouts were originally known as British Empire Championships and were only open to any professional fighter living in Great Britain or any part of the British Empire. The first Empire title fight was between Jim Driscoll, the British featherweight champion who out pointed Charlie Griffin for Australia at the National Sporting Club, London, in 1908.

There were very few Empire title fights in the early years and it was mainly England, Australia and South Africa that took part. Prior to 12 October 1954, the date that the British Commonwealth and Empire Boxing Championships Committee was formed, there was no official body and the Australian and British promoters ran the show with other members of the British Empire being virtually ignored.

On 22 November 1972 the British Commonwealth Boxing Championships Committee was reconstituted and in 1989 the "British" tag was dropped.

There are now 54 Commonwealth states: Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bangladesh, Botswana, Britain, Brunei, Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvala, Uganda, Vanuata, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Due to South Africa's withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1960 local fighters were no longer able to fight for Commonwealth titles and only after being accepted back in 1994 were they once again able to contest these titles.

Before the proliferation of world bodies and in the days when there were only eight recognized champions in eight divisions an Empire title was highly respected and considered a stepping stone to a world title.

In the flyweight division champions like Jackie Patterson and Rinty Monaghan went on to win undisputed world titles and in the bantamweight division there were outstanding fighters like Owen Moran, Jimmy Carruthers and Lionel Rose.

Peerless Jim Driscoll who fought from 1901 to 1919 and was considered one of the greatest featherweights of all time was the first British Empire featherweight champion and Hogan Kid Bassey from Nigeria on of the best fighters to come out of Africa also won an Empire title before going on to win the world featherweight championship in June 1957.

The legendary Ted "Kid" Lewis who had a reported 299 fights won and lost the world welterweight title to Jack Britton, subsequently went on to win the British Empire welterweight title in 1924.

Lloyd Honeyghan and Maurice Hope held Commonwealth titles at one time or another and also won world titles and Randy Turpin who arguably had the greatest win ever by and Englishman when he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson won Empire titles at middleweight and light heavyweight.

Britain's Freddie Mills won and Empire title before going on to become world light heavyweight champion.

South Africa has produced some outstanding champions when they were still known as Empire Champions with heavyweight Ben Foord winning the title in August 1936 and then fighting some of the best heavyweights in the world. Laurie Stevens also won the Empire lightweight title in 1936 and was ranked as one of the top lightweights in the world.

Vic Toweel possible the greatest fighter ever produced in South Africa first won the Empire bantamweight title before going on to win the undisputed world bantamweight title when there were only eight divisions with eight champions.

Other outstanding South African fighters who won Empire Titles were Gerald Dreyer, Willie Toweel and Johnny "Smiler" van Rensburg who won the lightweight and welterweight titles.

Another outstanding champion was Jake Tuli who shocked the world when he won the Empire flyweight title in September 1952 and was ranked at number one by the Ring magazine for a long period without ever getting a crack at the undisputed world title.

Dennis Adams also caused a major upset on October 23, 1957 when he knocked out Frankie Jones in the third round to win the British Empire flyweight title.

In recent years fighters like Daniel Ward, Johnson Tshuma, Andre Thysse and Tshifwa Munyai have won Commonwealth titles but it did very little for their careers. Thysse actually gave up the title to fight for the IBO belt.

Looking through the latest list of champions released by the Commonwealth Boxing Council one realizes that very few of the current champions can be considered serious contenders for world titles.

South Africans who have won Empire / Commonwealth titles:

Laurie Stevens - lightweight (won title, January 11, 1936)
Ben Foord - heavyweight (won title, August 17, 1936)
Vic Toweel - bantamweight (won title, November 12, 1949)
Jake Tuli - flyweight (won title, September 8, 1952)
Gerald Dreyer - welterweight (won title, December 8, 1952)
Johnny van Rensburg - lightweight (won title, February 12, 1955)
Willie Toweel - lightweight (won title, June 16, 1956)
Dennis Adams - flyweight (won title, October 23, 1957)
Johnny van Rensburg - welterweight (won title, May 17, 1958)
Daniel Ward - flyweight (won title, March 6, 1995)
Johnson Tshuma - middleweight (won title, October 31, 1997)
Andre Thysse - super middleweight (won title, March 1, 2003)
Tshifhiwa Munyai - bantamweight (won title, June 22, 2006)