Joe Erskine (tied for 176)
Cardiff, Wales, UK
January 26, 1934 – February 2, 1990
5’11” / 190-212 lbs
45-8-1-0(13) from 03/09/1954 to 10/27/1964 (10y7m)
1-5-0-0(1) against the top ten
0-1-0-0(0) against linear champions
1-1-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers
No fights for the linear championship
Top ten opponents: W-UD-10 Willie Pastrano, L-TKO-13 Ingemar Johansson, L-TKO-12, L-TKO-5, L-TKO-9 Henry Cooper, L-UD-10 Karl Mildenberger
-1 total score (1 + -4+ 0 + 2)
Joe Erskine came along during a rather deep era for British heavyweights. Henry Cooper, Dick Richardson, Don Cockell, Jack Bodell, Joe Bygraves, and Brian London all roamed the heavyweight division, each contending at or near a world-class level. And Erskine faced almost all of them.
Erskine was a smallish heavyweight with good speed and underrated slickness. He was a deceptively nimble boxer, and had received quite a bit of praise from American trainers, including Muhammad Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee. It was generally agreed what held Erskine back from greatness was his relatively small stature and lack of a big punch.
After a lengthy and successful amateur career, Erskine turned pro in 1954. Over his first three years, he would amass a 29-0-1(10) record. His best wins during this span included 10 round decisions over young versions of Henry Cooper and Dick Richardson, and a 15 round decision over Johnny Williams for the British Heavyweight title.
It should also be noted that he fought Simon Templar and Ansell Adams back to back. When I came across those names in boxrec.com, I assumed it was a prank or an error. But the best I was able to ascertain, there were indeed two heavyweight boxers in the late 1950s by those names. I figured that the Saint could probably handle himself in the ring, but I guessed that Adams should probably have stuck with photography.
But I digress.
Erskine finally lost when he stepped up against longtime contender Nino Valdes in his 31st pro fight. Valdes caught him early with a big shot, dropping him 30 seconds into the contest. Erskine was up before the count of 10, but the big Cuban poured on the pressure, and forced the stoppage in the first round.
Erskine bounced back quickly, beating Peter Bates three months later. He then decisioned Henry Cooper in a defense of the British title, and then Joe Bygraves immediately after. This led to what would essentially amount to a title eliminator against up-and-coming Swedish banger Ingemar Johansson. The winner of the fight was promised a shot at Floyd Patterson. Johansson would prove to be too big, too skilled, and too powerful. He imposed his size and strength on Erskine from the beginning, and was way ahead on points when he finally chopped Erskine down in the thirteenth round.
Four months later, Erskine would take on regional rival Brian London, and would be surprisingly knocked out in just eight rounds by his fellow Brit. Erskine would take five months off, and return with a win over a club fighter in a get-well fight. He would then notch his first win over a top contender, beating former light heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano via ten round decision. Two more ten round wins would bring Erskine back into the ring against old for Henry Cooper, in November 1959. This time, Cooper was no longer green and inexperienced. Henry took the fight to Erskine, and battered him into submission in the twelfth round.
A rare knockout victory ten months later against a journeyman followed, and then a decision over German fringe contender Ulli Ritter. These wins pushed Joe back into the ring for a fourth fight with Henry Cooper. And this time, Cooper blew him away with ease, dominating the fight with just his jab, slicing Erskine up and forcing him to quit after five rounds.
Erskine was looking like a potentially spent force, but he still had some fight left in him. He would score a disqualification win over rising prospect George Chuvalo after five rounds, in a rough fight. He would then face Cooper once more, and once again Cooper would blow Erskine away, taking nine rounds this time.
After the fifth match with Cooper, Erskine would fade from contention, posting a 6-2(1) record against solid competition over the next two years. Joe would retire after a ten round loss to British prospect Johnny Walker.
Erskine is a good example of an historic heavyweight who might have benefited from having a cruiserweight division. He gave great fighters tough fights, and was surprisingly quick and skilled. But he was always just a bit underpowered against the best of the big men.