Born: July 21, 1927; Died: July 27, 2011.
Mike Barrett, who had died aged 84, was the essence of Metropolitan London cool that chimed well with the “Swinging Sixties” during which he rose to prominence to become one of Britain’s top boxing promoters.
He was debonair, with an immaculate dress sense and a ubiquitous air of gravitas and shrewdness.
Much less known about the fight impresario – raised in Wandsworth, London – was that he was a loyal fan of Greenock Morton football club – an alliegance he developed when his Immigration Officer father sent him north to Greenock as an evacuee to avoid the Second World War Luftwaffe Blitz.
As a result, even as he was promoting major British world class boxers such as lightweight Dave Charnley, world flyweight champion Charlie Magri and middleweight Alan Minter, Barrett always paid close attention on Saturdays to the Morton team he had supported weekly at Cappielow during his wartime evacuation years in the Tail O’ the Bank.
Londoner Barrett’s Scottish wartime sojourn also played its part in his subsequent career of playing a key role in the boxing careers of Glasgow pair Jim Watt and Gary Jacobs.
Equally, it was Barrett who promoted what is acknowledged still as one of the greatest heavyweight boxing matches ever staged in Britain – the 1967 clash in London’s Albert Hall between Americans Thad Spencer and Leotis Martin. It was refereed by Edinburgh’s George Smith who called this bout the “greatest heavyweight fight I ever handled.’’ No mean accolade from the man who had officiated 12 months previously at the second Muhamad Ali v Henry Cooper world heavyweight title fight in London.
Yet Smith’s tribute was also an endorsement of Barrett’s passion for promoting fights that were genuine contests.
Born Michael Arthur Barrett in 1927 he boxed briefly for London’s Earlsfield amateur club but quit the ring to cut his entrepreneural teeth as a wharf owner in the 1950’s London docks. A tough commercial mileu that prepared him well for the often cut-throat competitive world of professional boxing management and promotion.
Cutting his promotional teeth in the 1960’s at places like Manor Place Baths in his native Wandsworth, Barrett’s real launching pad into big time British boxing was his master stroke of obtaining an exclusive deal to promote in London’s famed Albert Hall where he promoted over 150 major shows and sealed a major alliance with big promotional hitters like Mickey Duff, Jarvis Astaire and manager Terry Lawless.
It was Barrett’s connections with Lawless that saw the former play a significant role in promoting the career of Glasgow’s Jim Watt when Watt won the world lightweight title at the Kelvin Hall in April 1979 and subsequently succesfully defended it there several times between 1979 and 1981.
But Barrett eventually fell out with both Lawless and Mickey Duff over the issue of mismatches.
For example, Barrett’s scathing and justified censure of the gross mismatch in Cannes in 1987 that saw Lawless’s heavyweight Frank Bruno demolish the utterly inept American Chuck Gardner in 60 farcical seconds provoked a personal rupture between Lawless and Barrett that meant they never spoke to each other again.
In contrast, in his mangement and promotion of Glasgow’ welterweight Gary Jacobs, Barrett practised what he preached about the importance of quality of ring opponents by putting Jacobs in with world-rated American James ‘’Buddy’’ McGirt in New York and also when he matched Jacobs in a world title challenge over 12 rounds in Atlantic City in 1995 against American world champion Pernell Whitaker, which Jacobs lost after a gallant challenge.
Similarly, Barrett ensured that another of his Scottish boxers, Larkhall-based British champion, Alex Dickson had his quota of hard, competitve, opponents during his career.
This was a prime element of Barrett’s whole promotional philosophy. A passionate belief in ring quality control which he had demonstrated in 1980 when a show with which he was a co-promoter in London was heavily criticised for featuring inept obscure Mexican opponents in what became known subsequently as the ‘’Mexican roadsweepers’’ fiasco. An event that so embarrased Barrett that he publicly apologised to the paying fans and those watching on television.
But it is for his part in promoting the 1968 fight where Welsh boxer Howard Winstone won the world title by beating Japan’s Mitsunor Seki and his involvement in the 1986 world heavyweight title joust beteen Frank Bruno and American Tim Witherspoon, won by the latter, plus his beneficial intervention in the lives and careers of Watt, Dickson and Jacobs, that Mike Barrett will be most remembered by posterity.
Barrett, who died after suffering a heart attack at his Cyprus home, is survived by his six children, nine grandchildren and several great-grand children.