Mickey Duff, one of Britain’s most colorful boxing promoters, died on Saturday. Duff, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the last several years, died at a nursing home in South London. He was 84.
During his illustrious career, Duff worked with 19 world champions, including Frank Bruno, Joe Calzaghe, Barry McGuigan, Jim Watt, Maurice Hope, John "The Beast" Mugabi, Lloyd Honeyghan, Alan Minter, John Conteh, Terry Downes and Cornelius Boza Edwards. He was considered one of boxing’s true renaissance men having started out as a boxer and handled all the jobs in the sport, including matchmaker, cutman and trainer before moving into boxing management and promotions in the 1950s.
The International Boxing Hall of Fame at Canastota, New York flew its flags at half-mast over the weekend in honor of Duff, who was elected to the Hall in 1999.
“He was a real fighter for boxers. He would come up with these great ideas for boxing,’’ said Promoter Don King. “He was one of the youngest guys to ever get his promoters license. He was iconoclastic. He was a good boxing man. He wanted to put on good shows. Boxing people will have to remember him as one the great boxing men of our times.’’
Duff, the son of a rabbi, was born Monek Prager in a small town outside Krakow, Poland on June 7, 1929. His father moved the family to England after fleeing the Nazi’s in the 1937. Duff took up boxing and illegally turned pro when he was just 15 years old.
“He had to sneak into the game,’’ King said.
Over the course of four years, Duff compiled a record of 61-8. In his autobiography “Twenty and Out’’ published in 1999, Duff described his boxing style as “I hit and I ran.’’ He said as a matchmaker he would never have put himself in a fight.
Duff retired as a boxer when he was 19 years old and worked as a salesman and later returned to boxing as a manager. As a promoter Duff used his partnership with the BBC as a means to gain control of the lion’s share of major boxing promotions in Britain during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Duff’s promotion group staged Muhammad Ali’s defense of the heavyweight title against Henry Cooper before 40,000 at Arsenal’s Highbury football ground in 1966.
"It took us into the big league, where we stayed for three decades," said Duff.
Welterweight champion Lloyd Honeyghan and Duff had a sticky relationship. Honeyghan was one of Duff’s greatest champions, but they didn’t get along personally. Honeyghan once said of Duff: "Mickey and I don't mix outside boxing. He looks at me as a pawn, a commodity. I don't like him."
That prompted Duff to reply: "Fortunately, there's nothing in our contract that says we have to like each other.’’
In the rough and tumble business of boxing, Duff was a one of a kind. He could be gruff, irascible, and funny. Most remember him as an honest businessman who always wanted to put on a good show. King got to know Duff really well when he was involved in the promotion of the heavyweight title match between Tim Witherspoon and Frank Bruno in 1986.
“He was a good man. I loved the man. He was one of few guys I got a laugh with while I was working with him. He always had some great stories,’’ King said.