Sad news from the boxing world this weekend as it emerged that legendary promoter Mickey Duff has passed away at the age of 84. Mickey holds legendary status in British boxing, with a career that as seen him fight, manage, matchmake and promote. He has had some of the best British boxers under his promotion, including sixteen World Champions. He is among a group of British promoters that were larger than life characters and sometimes more of a household name than the fighters they were promoting. Duff’s later contemporaries were Frank Warren, Barry Hearn and Frank Maloney, but Mickey was the first to really transform boxing and the way fights were promoted.
Mickey Duff was born Monek Prager in the Polish town of Tarnow. His father was a Rabbi, who moved his family to London in 1937 to escape the growing threat of anti-Semitism in the country. At the age of eleven, Mickey’s life was set to go in an altogether different direction as he was sent to a Jewish religious school in the North-East, but it was obvious that was not where his heart lay and within four months he was back in the East End.
It was after this time that he started to train at one of the local boxing gyms. Mickey actually showed a bit of promise as a young boxer, but his parents were against him fighting, so he had to get a friend to forge their signature so he could fight at schoolboy level. It was during this time that he chose the ring name Mickey Duff after a character in a James Cagney time. After 69 fights Mickey decided to quit fighting at the age of just 19. It was then he decided to turn his hand to match making within boxing.
It was when he turned to managing fighters that he really started to have success. In 1961 he was Terry Downes’ manager when he defeated the American Paul Pender to claim the World Middleweight title. It was after this he formed a promoting partnership with Harry Levene and Jarvis Astaire. The trio took boxing to the big arenas of the time, like the Wembley Empire Pool, with fighters like Terry Downes and Henry Cooper, and in 1966 they promoted one of the most famous fights in British boxing history when Henry Cooper fought Muhammed Ali for the World Heavyweight title at Arsenal’s Highbury football ground.
For the next thirty years Mickey Duff and his associates promoted some of the greatest names in British boxing, like John Conteh, Joe Calzaghe, Frank Bruno, Alan Minter and Lloyd Honeyghan. This was in the days before satellite television and Duff had his media contracts with the BBC, but it was not until the eighties that boxing started to be regularly shown live on television. It was the rise of Frank Warren’s promotion and his dealings with Sky Sports that made Mickey Duff decide to retire from the promotion business in 1999.
His death is a sad loss to boxing and many of the fighters that fought under him and his fellow promoters have paid tributes to him on his passing. He will be missed.