“The brief, harsh dramas that change the lives of fighters are often enacted in memorably peculiar places,” as Hugh McIlvanney once wrote. So it was for Donald Curry, when a little-known welterweight from South London via Jamaica left him in bloody tatters in the “jarringly inappropriate” setting of the Circus Maximus Showroom in Atlantic City in September 1986. Back then only Marvin Hagler was considered a better fighter than Curry, whose domineering knockout of Milton McCrory in 1985 had sent him shooting towards stardom. Then a louche polyamorist with a sonorous name reduced him to nothing.
Lloyd Honeyghan’s philandering had already made him the subject of tabloid intrigue, although nothing could prepare him for what was to come. Later he would be tabloid fodder, the subject of stings and sanctimony and confected rage. Then he was just a 6-1 underdog whose insouciant manner seemed hardly well-earned. “More interesting than endearing,” as McIlvanney wrote, no one gave Honeyghan a chance against Curry. The Guardian called him a “no-hoper,” “too inexperienced to take on a fighter as formidable” as the “Lone Star Cobra.” The veteran Welsh fighter Colin Jones was supposed to have said that Honeyghan risked getting killed. To almost all ears, his manager Mickey Duff’s assertion that Curry would face “the toughest fight he’s ever had in his whole career” rang wildly untrue.
The only figure who took exception to such fatalism was Honeyghan himself. So far Honeyghan had fought mostly at the domestic level, with the exception of a victory over the future junior-middleweight titlist Gianfranco Rosi in the course of a busy 1985. But Honeyghan had already shown signs of being a class above the fairly humdrum set of British fighters of his day. Troubled by Cliff Gilpin in December 1983, Honeyghan had since evolved into a tricky, twitchy boxer-puncher, with an unorthodox style whose futurity nodded to the more avant-garde variations on British fighting that were still to come. By 1986, moreover, he had reason to believe that a welterweight title was there for the taking. Curry had long struggled to make weight even while becoming the first dominant post-Leonard fighter in the division. In 1985, he had even gone so far as to fight twice at junior middleweight, before boiling down his lean frame once more to wax McCrory in two. Anyone who had seen Curry laying waste to himself in preparing for Colin Jones, his sweat pooling in puddles on the floor, could not have believed he would make weight again. A full-time ascent to middleweight seemed assured.
And yet, after blitzing Eduardo Rodriguez in March 1986, Curry was back for more. Later he would blame Sugar Ray Leonard for the mistake, on whose advice Curry claimed infamously to have decided to wait on fighting against Hagler. Leonard would of course get there first, when he teased the long-term middleweight champion into retirement via notorious split decision in April 1987. But by then Curry had already faced his own night of pain against Honeyghan on September 27, 1986.
Honeyghan had issued Curry with several dire prophecies during the pre-fight brouhaha, none of which either an unsuspecting audience or a relaxed Curry had taken much care to heed. But when the British welterweight bolted from the corner in the first, Curry found himself suddenly on the receiving end of a hurting foretold. With Curry hovering in front of him, Honeyghan set the tone by lashing him with hooks and uppercuts toward the end of the round. Twitching in pink sequin, Honeyghan quickly learned that Curry was powerless to stop him hurtling into range. Tearing out for the second, Honeyghan ripped into Curry with a lead straight right that nearly toppled the undisputed champion. While Curry tried desperately to recover his legs, Honeyghan began whipping him to the body whenever he got close.
Characteristically a boxer-puncher, now Honeyghan stepped up a gear into the seek-and-destroy mode that he would commonly inhabit throughout his championship reign. With Curry wounded, Honeyghan landed a sequence of mean headshots that sent his opponent stumbling across the ring at the end of the second. Curry slumped into his newly panicked corner looking dazed and confused.
For the next round, Curry employed a tactic that was mostly unfamiliar to him as he tried to stick to the outside and circle around the ring. But while he sought to keep the relentless Honeyghan off him by picking occasional counter-shots, the Bermondsey man continued to rear in and drive him backward – even after Curry caught him clean with a ripping straight right. By the end of round four, Honeyghan’s ferocious intensity had reduced Curry to an increasingly patternless fighter, for whom the only refuge would come between rounds.
Surging forward at the start of the fifth, Honeyghan sent a right hand crashing into Curry’s jaw to resume hostilities. Now permanently on the move, Curry’s legs repeatedly betrayed him whenever Honeyghan suddenly bridged the gap between them and ragdolled the Lone Star Cobra on the inside. Under siege, Curry’s heart sank for good when a collision caused a deep cut to form beneath his brow in the sixth. Already bleeding from the mouth, with Honeyghan’s blows arcing relentlessly into body and head, Curry went back to his corner and never returned.
Did Curry know then that his life as a top-level fighter was over? There would be no eight-figure payday against Marvin Hagler down the line, no pay-per-view fight with Ray Leonard or Thomas Hearns or Roberto Duran. The future had been his for the taking, until suddenly it was not. Slumped in the corner, for all intents and purposes Donald Curry was done. “You know, the thing with boxing is I never wanted to be a pro,” he would later tell Jonathan Rendall, days before his knockout loss to Michael Nunn. “After the amateurs, I wanted to go to college. Study business or something, you know. I tried it part-time at first. I tried it again recently, but you can’t do it with boxing. You know how they get you? It’s the things they give you. When they want you to turn pro it’s a car. Then it’s an allowance. Then it’s a house. After the amateurs, I never wanted to be a pro. I never wanted to.”
And for Honeyghan? There would be other fights, but there would never be a night quite like that one. “The media crucifies me,” he would later complain, fed up with being hounded by the tabloid press. “They write about my lifestyle and the way I dress. They said I was going to get married the week before I fight. It’s all crazy.” Beset by hand problems, with a passion for sex that verged on addiction, Honeyghan would resemble an increasingly one-dimensional fighter in future, until Marlon Starling and Mark Breland returned him permanently to the domestic scene he had come from.
“The plan was simple,” Honeyghan would later tell Ben Dirs, in a piece for the BBC. “All I ever wanted from when I was a kid was sex, partying, and training. And to be champion of the world.” Soon, too soon, it would all be gone. Honeyghan and Curry would be names for history. But on that night of gaudy anachronism, of glittering violence, of dark euphoria—on that night, Lloyd Honeyghan had it all.