Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Len Johnson: The uncrownable champion

Len Johnson is possibly the greatest boxer you have never heard of.

He was the victim of a racist society which prevented him from taking his rightful shot at the title.

His extraordinary life-story is contained in boxes, housed in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.

Boxes containing his life story in the Working Class Movement Library Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Historian Michael Herbert used the information in the boxes to piece together the story behind the boxer.

Born and bred in Manchester, Len Johnson began boxing at fairgrounds in the 1920's and it wasn't long before he turned professional.

But while the white boxing establishment allowed mixed race bouts, they drew the line at title fights.

The Prince of Wales at the fight between Len Johnson and Jack Hood at the Ring, Blackfriars Road. Hood won on points in the 15th round. Credit: PA

At the time, boxing regulations included the infamous Rule 24, which stated that title contestants must have two white parents.

Johnson dominated the British and European middleweight division, but was never allowed a shot at the title.

Fed up with the attitude of boxing in Britain, Johnson then went to Australia for six months, where he won the British Empire middleweight championship. He was successful there, but when he returned home to get married, his win was not recognised.

Disillusioned with boxing, Len turned to politics, campaigning against racism and intolerance.

American Civil rights activist and singer Paul Robeson Credit: PA

He met the likes of the American Civil rights activist and singer Paul Robeson and stood as a member of the Communist Party in his home of Mosside.

He died in 1969 ...... Old enough to have seen a black boxer finally win a title.

Len Johnson's story is being retold in a play, as part of The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival.

To find out more, click here