He fit perfectly in the sport of his time, unashamedly belonging to the ancient days of cigar smoke in private venues, and rude brawls in lost halls in 15-round fights with tiny gloves. Steve Bunce on the enigma of Dennis Andries
THERE have been few confirmed sightings of Dennis Andries, interviews are even rarer and his dozens of magical fights over two decades remain legend. He is the enigma, make no mistake.
Andries fought between 1978 and 1996, the first part of his long, long career was in typical obscurity and then, after his world level days, he finished his career in a spotlight. It was a career that still makes me chuckle, the most old-fashioned and old-school of careers. Also, one of the most improbable.
He fit perfectly in the sport of his time, unashamedly belonging to the ancient days of cigar smoke in private venues, and rude brawls in lost halls in 15-round fights with tiny gloves. But he was not a relic; instead he had a boot in both worlds at a time when our business, our sport, was changing.
Dennis Andries came very close to vanishing several times – his success was certainly not guaranteed or predicted. He was never popular with matchmakers.
When Andries started, he belonged to an honest crooked time in the boxing game; a time of shameless and illegal and expected acts by too many men. It was just the way the business functioned; it was hard and unfair. Dennis survived those days, emerged from the darkness and finished in the sunshine spotlight of celebrity.
There were many stops on the way and some, like his years at the Kronk, are still hard to explain. Manny Steward, by the way, loved Andries.
He won and lost the WBC light-heavyweight belt three times between 1986 and 1991. Many of these fights were truly epic, brutal affairs and often under the radar. They are fantastic fan-friendly brawls.
He fought overseas for the European title, had wars in Australia, Atlantic City and Detroit. He met good men, beat a lot of them. There are many mythical tales about his boxing life; some are true, others are definitely true and too many are unprintable. He lived an extreme boxing life.
Away from the ring, most people have heard a version of the story about him and Frank Bruno arriving from America at the same time at Heathrow one early morning; Bruno had lost a world title fight and emerged, wearing shades, waving his fists in greeting at the cheers from the crowd and dodging the camera flashes. Nobody, according to legend, noticed Andries, who slipped out from the welcome party for Big Frank; he was, he always claims, clutching his new belt in a plastic bag. “I wouldn’t want that pressure – the pressure Frank has,” he told me once when I asked about the Heathrow story. Andries travelled home to east London on a Tube that morning, the belt on his lap, a smile on his face.
“I was the Iron Man,” Andries said in 1994. “I made people fight me for my titles – I was never given the Southern Area or the British title; you want, you got to fight me for it.”
Andries was not always pleasant on the eye, which is not a criticism, just a raw fact. He received a lot of abuse from the press – it was a very different press pack back then. I remember him dismantling Sergio Merani at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990, breaking the Argentine’s jaw to retain his WBC belt; the reports were very average, Dennis was not bothered.
“I never worried about what the press said,” insisted Andries. “I took all the criticism. I was never going to cry over a few words. No way.”
It was his British title fights from the Eighties that seemed to upset the old boxing writers. Dennis was relentless, not a stylist and he refused to be a house fighter.
At some point in about 1996, Andries shared a ring at the Peacock with British heavyweight champion, Julius Francis. “I remember how strong he was,” Francis recalled. “I could not push him about – he was from a different time; he served the old apprenticeship and worked his way through all the titles. That is the only way.”
Francis is a big believer in the proper way to develop in the boxing business. And Andries certainly did it that way. However, there were far fewer opportunities in the Seventies and most of the Eighties for boxers – all boxers, not just hard men like Andries. “We shared an opponent, actually,” added Francis. “A few years before I turned pro, I fought on an unlicensed show in Maidstone against Johnny Waldron and I knew Waldron met Andries. Waldron gave me an education.”
The Andries and Waldron fight is a perfect example of the trials and tribulations of so many fighters from the Seventies. They met behind locked doors in Mayfair in the very private World Sporting Club in 1979. The Southern Area light-heavyweight title was the prize, a shot at the British champion, Bunny Johnson, was also a possibility. It would be a big, big fight now.
Andries stopped Waldron in the 10th and last round; three months later, he went the full 15 rounds with Johnson at the Adulte Ballroom in Burslem, a venue so hidden in mystery and tales that some doubt the place ever existed. It was the first time Andries fought for the British title. Andries would win the British light-heavyweight title four years later and add the cruiserweight version 15 years after his first British title fight. Crazy stuff like that will never happen in British boxing again. Men like Andries are now extinct.
Andries walked away from boxing after a loss to Johnny Nelson for the vacant British cruiserweight title in Sheffield in late 1996. It was his 14th loss and his 65th fight. He was meant to be 43 that night, but nobody really cares. He was simply Dennis Andries, fighter.