Month made for fistic memories

Three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali flicks a jab at Edmonton Oilers tough guy Dave...

Three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali flicks a jab at Edmonton Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko during their three-round exhibition bout at Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place) June 12, 1983.

MURRAY GREIG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:26 PM ET

EDMONTON - Today, if the mainstream media christened a title fight between two white guys "The Vanilla Thrilla," there would be howls of protest from the paragons of political correctness.

Fortunately, such was not the case 25 years ago, when the Edmonton Sun coined that catchy moniker for the June 14, 1986 showdown between Ken Lakusta and Willie de Wit for the Canadian heavyweight championship at Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place).

The name grabbed national media attention and was enthusiastically embraced by the public in the weeks leading up to the fight.

The 14,761 fans jamming the joint generated the biggest live gate ever for an all-Canadian title bout -- upwards of $600,000 -- and saw de Wit pound out a unanimous decision.

But the electricity that charged the Coliseum that night was tempered by the news that, even as de Wit was being handed the belt, the Mindbender roller-coaster at West Edmonton Mall had careened off its track, killing three people. More than a dozen others were injured.

So much for fond memories.

With Jelena Mrdjenovich set to fight for her third world championship against Irma Adler on June 24 at the Shaw Conference Centre, here's a recap of pre- and post "Vanilla Thrilla" bouts that comprise the rest of Edmonton boxing's all-time Top 10 June moments:

2 1/3 June 12, 1983: Muhammad Ali made his final appearance in the ring in a three-round exhibition with Edmonton Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko. The bout was set up by Larry Messier -- Mark's uncle -- who had a long working relationship with Ali.

As Semenko recalled in his autobiography, Looking Out for Number One, the bout started on a humorous note:

"I didn't know what I was supposed to wear and I didn't have a boxing wardrobe kicking around the house," Semenko wrote.

"I didn't have real boxing boots, so I got an old pair of black high-top runners. Ali had this nice zippered sweat suit to wear into the ring; I wore a crimson-and-silver terry cloth bathrobe.

"We hadn't even thought about it, but I was wearing the robe when they laced the gloves on me in the dressing room.

"So there we were, standing in my corner with the opening bell about to ring, and I couldn't get the damn bathrobe off over those great big 16-ounce gloves.

"So my cornerman, Rocky Addison, stood real close to me, trying to block everybody's view, while he hacked the sleeves off my robe with these little scissors."

Semenko didn't embarrass himself against "The Greatest" -- but he was careful not to get Ali mad, too. The official verdict was a draw.

3 1/3 June 22, 1960: Edmonton's Wilfie Greaves won the British Commonwealth middleweight title in a thrilling 15-round split decision over Nigeria's Dick Tiger in front of a sold-out crowd at the Edmonton Gardens. In their rematch five weeks later, Tiger regained the title by KO.

4 1/3 June 1, 1939: Viking's Eddie Wenstob and Nova Scotia's Tiger Warrington battled to a 15-round draw for the vacant Canadian heavyweight championship at the Gardens.

5 1/3 June 6, 1966: Edmonton's Billy McGrandle won the Canadian featherweight title with a 12-round unanimous decision over Rocky MacDougall at the Sales Pavilion.

6 1/3 June 13, 1952: Earl Walls knocked out Edmonton's Vern Escoe in their Canadian heavyweight title fight at the Gardens. The Torontonian repeated the feat in a rematch six weeks later.

7 1/3 June 14, 1986: Fort McMurray's Danny Stonewalker jabbed his way to a brilliant eight-round decision over future British Commonwealth champ and world title challenger Willie Featherstone on the undercard of the DeWit-Lakusta showdown.

8 1/3 June 20, 1970: Homegrown Canadian lightweight champ Al Ford won his 30th consecutive bout with a 10-round decision over Angel Rivera at the Gardens.

9 1/3 June 20, 2008: In an all-Edmonton middleweight showdown, Kris Andrews scored a first-round KO over former Canadian and British Commonwealth champ Tony Badea at the Shaw Conference Centre.

10 1/3 June 23, 2006: Jelena Mrdjenovich won the vacant WIBF world lightweight title with a 10-round decision over former Playboy Playmate Mia St. John (43-5-2) at the Shaw Conference Centre.

murray.greig@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos