Terry Downes, 81, middleweight champion and Britain’s pride

By Richard Sandomir New York Times 

Terry Downes, a quick-witted middleweight boxing champion from Britain nicknamed the Paddington Express, who became wealthy outside the ring by investing in legal betting shops and later did a bit of acting, died on Oct. 6 in Hertfordshire. He was 81.

His wife, Barbara, said the cause was kidney failure.


Mr. Downes, whose record was 35-9, was a thoroughly British fighter. He held the British middleweight championship twice and fought all but two of his bouts in Britain, including his defeats of a fading Sugar Ray Robinson and the Brooklyn-born onetime champion Joey Giardello in London.

“He had a come-forward style and he didn’t bother to duck too often,” Barry Hearn, a Hall of Fame boxing promoter, said, in an interview. “He was a crowd-pleaser who, when he fought in London, was really popular and people were happy to get a ticket.”

Mr. Downes could take a punch, but his face — especially his nose, which he called his “perishin’ hooter” — suffered for it. He was a bleeder who needed plastic surgery to remove scar tissue and 364 stitches overall to close the many cuts to his face.

“They’re so tiny, they’re almost invisible,” his wife said.

His tender nose began to spurt blood in the third round of his fight in Boston in early 1961 against the reigning world middleweight champion, Paul Pender, a firefighter from Brookline, Mass. Mr. Downes lost by a technical knockout in the seventh round. “It looked as if he’d cracked my hooter with an ax,” he told The Daily Mail in 2011.


Pender, Mr. Downes said, “had won by a nose.”

Mr. Downes won the title during their bruising rematch that July in London. But he was disappointed that it ended when Pender did not rise from his stool at the start of the 10th round.

“The fight wasn’t going Pender’s way,” Mr. Downes said to The Daily Mail. “And he wasn’t daft. He jacked it in because he knew he had a return fight in Boston. He was getting beat and did not want to take a battering.”

Back in Boston the next year for the last fight of their trilogy, Pender reclaimed the middleweight belt in a 15-round slugfest.

Mr. Downes faced Robinson, a five-time world middleweight champion and one of the greatest fighters in history, in 1962 five months after losing the title to Pender. But by then Robinson was 41 and past his prime.

“I didn’t beat Sugar Ray,” Mr. Downes said after beating him. “I beat his ghost.”


Mr. Downes’ fighting career competed with the increasing attention he received for his part ownership of betting shops with Sam Burns, his manager. The British government legalized betting shops nationwide in 1961, and within two years Mr. Downes said he had sold a share of his shops for $728,000, although he and Burns retained control of them.

Later that year, Mr. Downes played down suggestions he would retire to tend to the shops. “I got to fight so I can sleep nights, mate,” he said after ending a six-month layoff by fighting Rudolph Nehring as a light heavyweight. “I’m too young to go to seed, but I haven’t slept properly since I stopped training. Now that I’m back in harness, I sleep like a baby.”

Mr. Downes fought three more times after knocking out Nehring, all as a light heavyweight. In his final fight, in late 1964, he faced Willie Pastrano, the world champion. Mr. Downes pressed Pastrano with his swarming style until Pastrano sent Mr. Downes to the canvas twice in the 11th round and the referee stopped the bout.

Mr. Downes and Burns owned the betting shops until the early 1970s, when they sold them to the William Hill bookmaking chain.

Terence Richard Downes was born in the Paddington neighborhood of London on May 9, 1936. His father, Richard, was a mechanic, and his mother, the former Hilda Horwood, worked at a department store. His father taught him the basics of boxing, a skill he found useful in the streets.

“Every day of my life was a fight day,” he told The Telegraph. “You’d sock some kid on the nose and his big brother was round later to avenge the family name.”

He was having increasing success as an amateur, fighting for a local club, when his family left for Baltimore in 1952 to care for his sister, Sylvia, a trapeze artist who had lost her right arm in a traffic accident.

During his five years in the United States, Mr. Downes fought at a local YMCA and joined the Marines, where he was among the 10 Eastern representatives scheduled to fight in the boxing trials for the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Ultimately, he did not meet the residency requirement that would have allowed him to represent the United States.

“I was all right to be in the bloody Marine Corps, catching bullets in the front line,” he told The Guardian, “but with boxing gloves they said no, you can’t represent us.”

He returned to Britain in 1957 and began his professional career with two quick victories. But he lost his third fight on a fifth-round technical knockout to Dick Tiger, a future champion whose skills were greatly underestimated by the promoter.

Afterward, Mr. Downes said he had wondered why he had been matched with a giant — but “then I realized I was flat on my back looking up at him.”

In addition to his wife, the former Barbara Clarke, he leaves his sons, Terry Jr., Paul, and Richard; his daughters, Melanie Cooke and Wendy McNicholas; eight grandchildren; and his sister, Sylvia Haddaway.

After his boxing career, Mr. Downes acted on stage, on television and in movies like “A Study in Terror,” a Sherlock Holmes film, and Roman Polanski’s 1967 horror comedy, “The Fearless Vampire Killers.”