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Mickey Duff

Boxing promoter.

Born: June 7, 1929; Died: March 22, 2014.

Mickey Duff , who has died aged 84, was a boxing promoter and matchmaker who made decisive and crucial forays into Scottish boxing over three decades.

Born Monek Prager in 1929 in Tarnow, Poland, the son of a Jewish Rabbi, Duff in his own words "missed extermination by a year" as he and his mother followed his father out of Poland in 1938 to England just 12 months before the Nazis invasion (many of Duff's relatives died in the Holocaust).

He briefly attended a Rabbi's school in northern England in the early 1940s before becoming involved in amateur boxing while working in the garment industry.

Boxing was his big passion in life and aged 15 he illicitly obtained a professional boxing licence and won 55 of the 69 pro bouts between 1944-48. However, in a 1991 interview, he claimed he would never have hired himself to box on one of his own subsequent shows as his style was "dull and unexciting and I always liked exciting boxers".

Officially, Duff was a stateless person under British citizenship rules until one month after he promoted the Muhammad Ali v Henry Cooper world heavyweight title fight in May 1966. He finally becoming British on his 37th birthday in June 1966 - a fact that his bitterest promotional rival Jack Solomons once ruthlessly tried to use to block Duff obtaining a promoter's licence.

However, that 1966 Ali v Cooper world heavyweight title joust marked the start of Duff and his partners' promotional ascendancy over Solomons who had dominated British boxing since 1945.

Starting with Terry Downes in 1961, Duff's matchmaking and negotiating skills saw him play a huge part in the rise of most of Britain's European and world champions - 19 overall including Scotland's Jim Watt, Glasgow Jewish welterweight Gary Jacobs and heavyweight Frank Bruno, plus Welsh legend Joe Calzaghe.

His massive input into Scottish boxing started with his early associations with Scotland's only double outright Lonsdale Belt winner turned promoter Peter Keenan .

Frozen out of promoting and matchmaking for a time by Solomons' dominance of the British Boxing Board of Control's London-based Southern Area Council, Duff came north to act as Keenan's matchmaker which benefitted Scottish fight fans in many ways such as being able to see American world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston parade through the streets of Glasgow in full Highland dress in 1963. The visits of Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson, who both fought at Paisley in 1964, were also a fruit of the Keenan-Duff promotional axis. But the benefits of the Keenan-Duff link were not all one way .

When Duff refused entry to the inaugural boxing dinner show at his London based Anglo-American Sporting club in 1964 to two of his own former boxers - the feared gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray - they sent Duff a death threat via a dead cat in a parcel. Enter Keenan, whom the Krays liked and respected having stayed at Keenan's Glasgow family home as guests.

Keenan not only went down to London and lived for a week under Duff's roof as his personal bodyguard, he confronted the feared gangster twins on their own East End manor and elicited a guarantee Duff would suffer no more hassle. They duly honoured this promise.

For his part, Duff repaid this act of comradeship from Keenan by agreeing to co-promote with Keenan and his partners, the WBC world lightweight title fight in Glasgow's Kelvin Hall between Watt and Colombian Alfredo Pitalua in April 1979. It was won by Watt - a victory that launched a Scottish pro boxing renaissance.

But more than that, this historic bout only came to pass because Duff flew to Las Vegas and persuaded the WBC to ditch their original idea of ignoring Watt in favour of Hawaii's Andy Ganigan.

Equally, Duff's personal pre-fight payment of $20,000 to American boxing Czar Don King was crucial in swinging the Pitalua bout for Watt and Glasgow (King waived his contractual rights to Pitalua). He also subsequently co-promoted all Watt's subsequent title defences against the likes of American Olympian Howard Davies and Sean O'Grady in 1980.

On the wider British and international stage, Duff's peerless matching, promotional skills and ring savvy helped the likes of welterweight John H. Stacey, Irish featherweight Barry McGuigan, Duke McKenzie and Richie Woodhall among others, to taste world title winning success.

Outside of boxing Duff had one son Gary with wife Marie whom he married in 1951 but his other great passion in life was gambling. It was a recreational activity although, by his own admission, he once dropped a $250,000 in one night on the baccarat tables of a Las Vegas casino. Typically, he avoided having to actually pay this sum by smartly offering the casino boss a planeload of 200 high-rolling London gamblers whose subsequent gambling losses wrote off his own debt to the casino.

It is as a giant of British and international boxing at the highest level that Duff will be remembered.

He is survived by his partner Gloria Weisfeld, his son and two grandchildren.

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