The Tiger of the Fens: RSR Looks Back at the Career of Dave 'Boy' Green
By Richard Hulse-August 9, 2007
Chatteris is a small market town on the eastern side of England, and it lies in the midst of flat fen country. It's a land that's very ancient, one that was old when the Romans came. It's also bred and sustained a people who needed to be tough and independent. Dave Green, a British fighter of the 1970s, had his origins here, and maybe some of that deep-rooted tenacity can be seen in his fighting style.
Dave was born in June 1953. Even in a sport where most athletes make their impression in their early twenties, Green looked like a fresh-faced juvenile, hence the nickname 'Boy'. There was nothing innocent about his ring manner though, or if there was, it was the innocence of a pure and burning aggression. This all-out style also earned him the nickname the 'Fen Tiger'. When the Editor of the UK's trade paper, 'Boxing News', the late Harry Mullan, was searching for a way to describe the relentless manner of 1980s featherweight, Barry McGuigan, he commented that not since the days of Dave 'Boy' Green had a British fighter brought such an attacking spirit into the ring.
Green, boxing at Light Welter, swiftly compiled a 15-0, 12 KO’s tally, and in June 1976, was matched for the British Light Welterweight Title against Joey Singleton, 10-1-1, 2 KO’s. Green stopped Singleton in six rounds, ostensibly due to cuts, but it was clear Joey had taken so much overall punishment the fight couldn't have continued much longer anyway. Singleton continued to campaign into the early 1980s, and showed his competence by going the distance with one-time Danish golden boy, Hans Henrik Palm, and the intermittently world-class Kirkland Laing.
Just before Christmas 1976, Green challenged for the vacant European crown. His opponent, Jean-Baptiste Piedvache, was a highly experienced fighter with a 38-1, 18 KO’s record, although he'd never contested a Title before. Perhaps it was because there were fewer opportunities around in that period. Green used his solid jab to score points, as a preliminary to breaking down the Frenchman, but his opponent put up stubborn resistance. Both men threw some heavy exchanges of body and head punches, although eventually Piedvache couldn't come out for the tenth due to a heavily swollen left eye.
This made for a showdown, in early 1977, between Britain's two premier fighters at around this weight category. A year before, John H Stracey, 44-4-1, 38 KO’s, was WBC Welterweight Champion of the world, and although not a fighter of eye-catching flourishes, he was a well-schooled stand up classic boxer. Despite his slender physique he was also deceptively strong. Stracey, although he'd lost his Title to an unheralded but highly capable fighter, Carlos Palomino, hadn't given up hopes for a second crack at the big time.
It's strange to think now that his match with Green was a non-title fight. In this latter era, there would doubtless have been any number of sanctioning bodies willing to stake a claim to it. In any event the fight was a standard situation, an old lion against - well, against a young tiger. Having said that, Stracey was only three years older than Green, but maybe his longer career was catching up on him. Looking back, Stracey once commented that Green didn't box an entirely clean fight - 'He knows what he did' - but it may be that John would have found it hard to contain Green's surging assaults at the best of times. By the tenth, Stracey had taken enough punches, and the fight was stopped. John fought once more, got a win, and then hung up his gloves.
Green's victory left the way clear, in June 1977, for him to challenge Stracey's successor as WBC Champion, Carlos Palomino, 21-1-2, 11 KO’s, at the Empire Pool, Wembley, London. Palomino was a smoother fighter than Green, a good all round technician who could throw most punches well. He'd been less experienced than Stracey, but his proficiency at body shots still managed to finish the Englishman's reign as World Champion. In this bout, Palomino needed to call on every ounce of his ability to try and fend off Dave's pressure. Almost all the rounds were closely fought, and Green seemed to have gained a slight points advantage early on. Palomino began to regain some ground, but it was anyone's fight. In the tenth, the challenger's eye closed, and a round later, Palomino, who in previous sessions had been struggling with facial cuts and the Englishman's hard shots, cut loose with a left hook that nailed Green. The challenger was counted out.
It was his first defeat, but sometimes that can be the one that takes something out of a boxer. I suspect Green was always destined for a short shelf life as a top fighter anyway. There are always exceptions, but high-energy types who take punishment whenever they get in the ring are not usually made for long careers.
Nonetheless, Green still seemed to be a significant force. He beat a tough American fringe contender, Andy Price, 23-4-3, 7 KO’s, and, in January 1979, fought for the European Welterweight Title against Henry Rhiney. Rhiney, 32-13-6, 10 KO’s, was a fair boxer, and did have some success in the third round, but other than that he was bulldozed backwards, and finally stunned by hooks in the fifth. The referee administered a standing count, but soon afterwards intervened when it was apparent the fight had been drained out of Henry.
Despite these successes it looks, in retrospect, that Green's best days were behind him. Confirmation of this was given in his next match. He travelled to Denmark, in June 1979, and started brightly enough against his veteran challenger, 36-year-old Jorgen Hansen, 59-13, 23 KO’s. But, abandoning all defense in the third, Green tried to completely overwhelm Hansen, and was caught by two stiff right hand counters. He went down sprawling on his hands and knees, and despite regaining his feet, was despatched by his waiting opponent.
Dave came back and notched up a couple of wins against modest opposition, before being offered a final big payday. Realistically, a payday was all it can have been expected to be. March 1980 saw Green in Landover, Maryland in the USA, attempting to tackle a fighter rapidly establishing himself as one of the greats of the new decade. Sugar Ray Leonard, 26-0, 17 KOs, having just won the WBC Welterweight Championship, was looking for a showcase first defense, and Green fitted the bill. It's disturbing the fight should ever have been made; getting knocked out by Hansen a few bouts earlier wouldn't seem to have established Green's legitimacy as a challenger for any kind of World Title, let alone against a champion of Leonard's calibre.
Green, needless to say, did his best, and also it's probably superfluous to any student of Leonard's career to add that it wasn't enough. Dave surged forward, tried to cover up against the counters, and attempted to drag Leonard into the trenches. Leonard quickly gained ascendancy, hit freely with fast combinations, showed some fancy footwork, and ended matters in the fourth with a volley of punches and a finishing left hook. Ray, of course, went on to megafights and greater glory in tussles with Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler. Dave, by contrast, returned to England to complete the final stages of his boxing journey.
Dave did win four matches, but it looked as though his earlier energy wasn't quite there. His last fight came in November 1981, when he was stopped in five rounds by Reggie Ford, whose mediocre 8-7-I record belied the fact that he was a pretty sharp boxer when he wanted to be. Afterwards, Green wept in the ring, and announced his retirement.
How to assess his career? It was difficult in the 1970s to get a World Title shot, let alone win it. A fighter did have to be a bit special or a bit lucky, and preferably both. Green came close against Palomino, but I feel, even if Dave's hand had been raised, he wouldn't have enjoyed a long reign; he took too many shots and didn't have enough technical refinement. Yet, Green was certainly a bright spirit within the ring, and, at his peak, his onslaught could be a formidable thing to face. As Marvin Hagler once said about his opponents, 'None of them come out looking like fresh money.' In his freewheeling aggression his approach wasn't unlike a later British boxer, Nigel Benn, at least when Benn was on the way up and attacking his foes with fiery abandon. Green was, I suspect, physically stronger pound for pound than Benn, although Nigel was a sharper craftsman and a harder one-punch hitter.
I understand Ray Leonard and Green have become good friends in the years since their match. The clip of Dave going down from Leonard's closing shot was shown on many occasions on television to introduce the Sugarman's later bouts. Green once grinned, and remarked, 'I've seen it that many times, I still believe one day I'm going to get up.'