Boxing is one of the toughest of all physical sports, one where the participants need to be endowed with a range of physical attributes and talents. It is often overlooked how important mental strength is within boxing and how mental and spiritual determination can overcome physical shortcomings. The history of boxing is littered with the broken dreams of men who had the physical talents, but not the crucial mental and spiritual strength, to succeed in the hardest of sports. Often in boxing, it is the strongest of mind, rather than simply the strongest of body, which ultimately triumphs.
Dennis Andries was one such fighter, whose mental strength was the foundation of his tremendous success, in an extraordinary career, which saw him rise from a domestic journeyman who struggled to get fights, to a three-time world light-heavyweight champion. Despite the success and overcoming of more than his fair share of setbacks and rough times, during his career, Andries was to find that he would never gain the kind of recognition and affection with the fans, that some other fighters, who achieved far less…managed to gain.
Andries was born in Guyana, on 5th November 1953, and had a tough childhood, when his parents relocated to Britain and then split up; he later described himself as being a ‘wild kid.’ Like many wild kids, before and after him, Andries found himself drawn into boxing, but at a later age than most, Andries was already 25 years old when he turned professional, in 1978, after a rudimentary amateur career.
Fighting at light heavyweight, Andries’ career was tough from the start, operating in a traditionally unfashionable division, Dennis soon found that his brawling style made him an unfashionable fighter, both with the fans, and with possible opponents.
There were no easy fights, no padding of the record. With no big-time promoter or managerial connections, Andries was thrown into the deep end from early on, often made to take fights at short notice, against opponents who were higher ranked and had much more experience.
In just his ninth professional fight, Andries came in at short notice to face Bunny Johnson, who was the ex-heavyweight and current light-heavyweight British champion, in an over the weight non-title match. Andries lost on points after 10 grueling rounds, but despite losing, had showed his toughness by giving the reigning British champion an awkward night.
After a run of four wins, Andries met Johnson again on the 27th Feb 1980, this time for Johnson’s British light-heavyweight title, at the ironically named Adult Ballroom, in Staffordshire. Unfortunately, the spectators witnessed a fight that was a long way from a majestic dance, as Andries’ dogged, yet, clumsy brawling, and Johnson’s defensive counter-punching, combined to produce that most-dreaded of all things, for both boxing fans and fighters alike…the stinker. Some scribes of the time called it the worst title fight in living memory. They openly ridiculed the clumsy efforts of the challenger Andries, delighting in recalling how on several times he almost threw himself down to the canvas, when missing one of his wild punches. What the scribes mostly neglected to mention or else totally overlooked, was that, despite the rawness of his title challenge, Andries had lost by a mere point.
Undaunted by the defeat or the criticism, Andries plugged on; a throwback to the early days of boxing. He learned from defeats and victories alike.
Thirteen months after his defeat by Johnson, Andries finally got his hand onto his first title, when he out-pointed Shaun Chalcraft, over ten rounds, for the Southern Area Light-heavyweight title. This was a title that is generally considered a gateway for receiving a shot at the higher domestic titles, such as the British, and Commonwealth championships.
Andries had repositioned himself in line for another British title shot, at the same time, his reputation as a relentlessly stubborn hard hitter, albeit, clumsy and raw, was already scaring away many prospective opponents. Managers tried their best to steer their fighters away from the wild swinging man, now known as the ‘Hackney Rock’. Even at this unglamorous stage of his career, Dennis’ toughness was not in dispute.
So, Andries found himself struggling for fights, even with the Southern area title as bait.
It was during this time, in late 1981, when opponents were hard to come by, that Andries took on the future British heavyweight champion David Pearce, and giving away a stone, found himself stopped in the 7th round. This was the first stoppage defeat of Andries’ career, and he would not be stopped again until he met Thomas Hearn’s, some six years, and a whole career turnaround later.
As would be the case though out his career, Andries just dusted himself off after the Pearce defeat, and got back into the gym.
On 15th March 1982, Andries got his second crack at the British title, this time facing Tom Collins for the now vacant title. Andries had already fought Collins twice previously, winning both, the first via a decision, the second on a 6th round knockout.
However, if these two victories were supposed to make things easier for Andries, it didn’t quite turn out that way. After making the busier start, against a constantly retreating Collins, Andries began to tire after the first 6 rounds, punching himself out with his wild swings, which sometimes missed by embarrassing margins. After hardly throwing a punch for the first six stanzas, Collins got his jab going, and proceeded to outbox the tiring Andries over the rest of the fight, and flooring him in each of the last two rounds.
Again, as in his previous attempt at the British championship, the boxing press were scathing of the performances of both men and marked the fight out as a clear indicator of the paucity of talent within the domestic light-heavyweight division.
Andries had now failed in two attempts at winning the British championship, not many fighters get a third attempt. Although he still held the Southern Area title, ’the Hackney Rock’ found himself struggling for opponents willing to risk their often clean, but padded records against him.
At this point in his career, it would have been easy for Andries to go the same way of many boxers whom fail to win titles after one or two attempts, and tend to either slowly fade away, or else settle for being a journeyman, for younger and still ambitious fighters. But, ‘The Hackney Rock’ was made of sterner stuff.
With a grim resourcefulness, Andries came up with the idea of going missing from the gym for weeks at a time, to give the impression that this hardest of workers was beginning to shirk on his training, and was ready for the taking. What people didn’t know…Andries was training in secret in an amateur gym, whose members were sworn to secrecy.
Eventually, Andries’ stubbornness gained him a third crack at the British title, on 26th January 1984. Andries made it third time lucky, when he became British Light-heavyweight champion, by this time, out-hustling the defending champion, Tom Collins, over 12 grueling rounds. Three months later, Andres successfully defended the title against Collins, in what were the pairs 5th and final fight against each other. Again, Andries won a close and grueling fight on points. The boxing scribes were now calling Andries an overachiever and a ’Cinderella man’ for becoming British champion at over thirty years of age.
Finally becoming a champion had an effect upon Andries, he was still wild and liable to lose his balance sometimes when throwing a punch, but there was an added confidence, and belief in his ring work now. If the doubters had thought that Andries would be happy to be British champion for a while, before either passing on the title to some rising young gun, or else riding off into the sunset of his own violation, they were wrong! The Hackney based Guyana had a lot more ambition than people would have believed.
Andries ran up a number of solid wins, including three victories in America, before in Dec 1985, challenging the skilful Frenchman Alex Blanchard, for the European Light-heavyweight title. Before the fight, Andries was given little chance of victory, by the scribes, who considered him to have outdone himself by winning the British title. The general consensus was that the European championship was just a little out of Andries league, and he was the decided underdog against the beanpole 6 foot plus champion, who could both box and punch.
Again, the scribes were wrong. Although Andries failed to win the title after he was held to a controversial draw, he left no doubt that he belonged in this class by giving the highly rated Blanchard all he could handle in a stirring fight, which saw both boxers hit the deck.
This fight proved to be the breakthrough for Andries, he was now world rated, but seen as a tough, but limited, opponent by the divisions top men Perhaps this is why American J.B Williamson was persuaded to come over and defend his WBC world light-heavyweight title against Andries in London. Although Andries was the hometown man, he once again found little encouragement in the boxing press. He found himself being branded a heavy underdog, amid predictions that his direct and basic style would lead to him being outclassed. Some questioned whether he deserved to be fighting for the world championship at all.
Not for the last time, Andries turned the negative predictions of his critics back upon them, when on April 30, 1986; he beat J.B Williamson at the Picketts Lock Stadium, London, on a split-decision, to become world champion at thirty-two years of age.
Even as world champion, Andries would remain an underdog. When it was announced that his first title defense would be an all-British clash, with the very popular and highly thought of, Commonwealth Middleweight champion, Tony Sibson, the champion was once more viewed by the majority as the underdog.
Andries, himself, bristled at the assumption that he could be beaten by a middleweight, and gave Sibson a one-sided beating, flooring ‘Sibbo’ three times, before the fight was stopped in the 10th round.
However, Andries world title reign would come down with a thud, when six months later he faced the already legendary Thomas ’The Hitman’ Hearns in Hearns’ home town of Detroit. Hearns was coming back from his classic three rounds of mayhem with Marvin Hagler and looking for his third world championship.
It was a painful experience for Andries, as he found himself outclassed by ‘The Hitmans’ speed, skill and power, and was down six times, four times in the 6th, once in the 9th, and once in the 10th round, after which, the referee finally stopped the fight.
Although he lost his title, Andries gave an astonishing display of heart and toughness by getting up from the knockdowns, and continuing to literally throw himself into attacks on Hearns. Ironically, the end finally came in the 10th round, after an Andries’ hook seemed to have momentarily floored Hearns, only for Andries then to tumble down again to the canvas, more from exhaustion than a punch, and although he once again regained his feet, the referee decided he had seen enough. Despite this, there were those who believed that Hearns had punched himself out and was at the point of exhaustion.
After losing his world championship in such a punishing manner, most people thought that this was the end of the line for Andries, or that at most, he would return to the domestic scene to see out the reminder of his career. Instead, Andries wrong-footed everyone…yet again. In a brave and audacious move, Andries relocated to America, and joined Thomas Hearns’ famed Kronk gym, persuading trainer Emanuel Steward to take him under his wing. Andries won the respect of his fellow Kronk fighters, many whom set out to teach the limey a lesson in sparring, and send him home to England, only to find that Andries could take it, as well as dish it out, but he usually dished out far more than he took.
Emanuel Steward would later say, regarding Andries, in reference to the belief that ‘you can’t teach old dog new tricks,’ that Andries, when he joined the Kronk gym, didn’t know any tricks.
After seven months out of the ring following the Hearns loss, Andries came back, with the same dogged determination, but also with some new tricks, and new belief. Andries was now a smoother, more polished fighter, with a larger range of shots, and his natural strength, and fitness, which was boosted by the hard rounds of sparring in the Kronk gym. Far from being over, Andries’ career was about to hit its peak.
After running up a string of victories, including a 10 round point’s victory over former IBF world light-heavyweight champion Bobby Czyz, Andries found himself back in title contention. On 21st Feb, 1989, at the Convention Centre, Tucson, Arizona, he took on the unbeaten and highly touted Tony Willis, for the vacant WBC world light-heavyweight championship. Andries won on a 5th round stoppage and yet again, his disbelievers were proved wrong!
Andries’ second reign as world champion was brief. Four months later, on 24th June,1989, he would meet Australian Jeff Harding for the first of a trilogy of fights between the two; fights which were all out and out barnstormers, which rank with the best ever seen in the division.
In their first fight, Andries started fast, and throughout the wild fight unloaded his punches almost at will upon the iron chinned Austrailian, but then slowly tired, as Harding’s wicked body punching began to take their toll. In an epic 11th round, Andries put everything he had left into a savage attack upon Harding, only for the battered challenger to come back with a vicious attack of his own, and have the champion hurt at the end of the round. Going into the 12th and final round, Andries was ahead on points, but had nothing left in his legs. Harding, covered in blood from severe eye cuts, came forward with a brutal attack, to floor Andries twice, and then have him hanging helplessly upon the ropes, provoking the referee to end the fight.
Ironically, Andries had gone into this fight the favourite, after Harding came in as a late replacement for Donny Lalonde.
The critics were lining up now to bury Andries’ boxing career, at almost 36, there couldn’t be any more comebacks, could there be?
Following two solid wins over fringe contenders, Andries faced Jeff Harding for the second time, this time as a clear underdog against his eleven years younger opponent.
On 28th July 1990 at the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, Austrailia, Dennis Andries became world light-heavyweight champion for the third time, when he regained the WBC title by knocking out Harding in the 7th round. In a replay of their first fight, both boxers had gone toe-to- toe from the start, with Andries out-punching the champion early on, but beginning to tire in the 5th round, as Harding started to come on. After a frenetic 6th round, Andries came out blazing in the 7th round, like a man who wouldn’t be denied, forcing Harding to the ropes, he landed a huge uppercut, and one of his patented looping right hands to floor the iron Aussie. Although Harding got to his knee by the count of nine, he could not beat the count, and Andries was world champion for a third time at the age of thirty-six.
Andries became only the second man to win the world light-heavyweight title three times, the other being Marvin Johnson.
In this his third reign, Andries remained busy, successfully defending the title against Sergio Daniel Merani, who he stopped in the 4th round, in London, and then going to Australia to defend against Guy Waters, who he beat comfortably on points.
Then on 11th September 1991, Andries defended his title against Harding again, in the pair’s third and final bout. Fighting in the unusual setting of the Hammersmith Odeon, Cinema, London, the two men fought out 12 rounds of the hardest, and most unforgiving of wars, which made the fight scenes of the Rocky films positively boring by comparison. Again, Andries made the stronger start, with the iron Aussie seemingly getting stronger as the fight wore on, but with many of the rounds hard to split between Andries wilder, more powerful punches, and Harding straighter, more precise shots. Andries punches seemed to do the more damage in the course of the fight, with Harding again bloodied, and battered by the end. But, Harding made the stronger finish, with the almost thirty-eight year old, Dennis Andries, visibly wilting in the final two rounds.
In the end, Harding was adjudged a contentious winner on points, by a majority decistion, with one judge seeing the fight a draw. Dennis Andries had lost his world title for the third and last time.
This was still not quite the end for ’The Hackney Rock,’ although at 38 years of age, and after the wars with Harding, his career slipped into a lower gear.
Perhaps in a final bow to age, Andries now stepped up to the Cruiserweight division, and for the remaining five years of his career would fight in England and Europe.
Now, Andries was taking on men both younger and bigger than him, but still able to handle most of them. In early 1992, he lost a debatable decision to the very useful Akim Tafer for the European Cruiserweight championship in France. Andries never had much luck with European titles it seems.
After his final fight with Jeff Harding, Andries went 10-5 (6 KOs) in his final 15 fights, and included in his victories was a 4th round stoppage win over Crawford Ashley, who was the holder of Andries old British light-heavyweight title.
On 21st January 1995 Andries became the oldest man ever to win a British championship when he out-pointed Denzil Browne for the British Cruiserweight title in Glasgow Scotland. Andries held onto the British title for four months, until being out-pointed by Terry Dunstan, who had been just twelve-years-old, when Andries had first fought for the British light-heavyweight championship.
The fighting spirit was still strong, but the body was slowing down now, and Andries lost a rematch to Dunstan in February 1996, although still competitive, Andries was no longer able to fight at the high tempo of his peak.
In Dec 1996, a month past his forty third birthday, fighting again for the British Cruiserweight title (which Dunstan had vacated) Andries was stopped in the 7th round by Johnny Nelson, in front of Nelson’s home fans in Sheffield. Nelson would later win the WBO world cruierweight title.
This was finally the end of the road for the ’Hackney Rock’. After a career spanning 18 years, Andries had compiled a record of 49-14-2 (30 KOs) with 10 of his defeats coming either in the first three years or the last five years of his career.
Dennis Andries is a prime example of what determination and dedication can achieve in the face of criticism and defeat. Told more than once by critics that he couldn’t box correctly, he proved he could fight and fight with the best. Almost seventeen years since his last contest, Andries is still generally overlooked, often in favour of fighters who had easier, but more high profile careers, yet, did not achieve half as much as he did. But, those who appreciate the genuine warriors of boxing know that Andries was one of Britains toughest, and that he carved out a permanent mark in boxing history.