Finnegan, Christopher Martin [Chris] (19442009), boxer, was born Christopher Finegan on 5 June 1944 at 2 St Laurence Close, Cowley, Middlesex, the third son and fourth of eight children of Patrick Finegan, general labourer, and his wife, Bridget, née McAleenan. The family had moved from Drogheda in Ireland to England shortly before he was born. He started training at Hayes Amateur Boxing Club at the age of twelve. He competed in his first junior championships at fifteen but lost interest in competitive boxing for a number of years. After leaving school he planned to become a mechanic but was employed as a builder's labourer instead. He married Cheryl Mary Loosley (19451991), a clerk from Iver, Buckinghamshire, and daughter of Frederick Edwin Loosley, electrician, on 21 September 1963. She was to become one of his most passionate and vociferous supporters. They had four daughters and a son.
In April 1966 Finnegan won the national Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) middleweight championship at the Empire Pool, Wembley, but was disappointed to miss out on selection for that year's Commonwealth games in Jamaica. He was selected for the European championships in 1967 but had been beaten in that year's ABA final and also failed to win the title in 1968. Despite this he was surprisingly chosen to represent Great Britain at the Mexico Olympics in 1968.
The British press did not expect Finnegan to win a medal in Mexico. He overcame some difficult opponents in the early stages of the tournamentincluding Yugoslavia's Mate Parlov, who later became a professional world light-heavyweight championwith skilful long-distance point scoring. In the semi-finals he survived two standing counts of eight to out-point the American Al Jones and narrowly won the judges' decision against the Russian Alexei Kiselyev in the final. The national coach, David James, put Finnegan's success down to his superior stamina and conditioning, though Finnegan later revealed that he had been on the piss right up to the start of training (Finnegan and Bartleman, 63). None the less his Olympic gold medal was the first for a Briton in the boxing ring since 1956 and the first for a middleweight since 1924. He became immediately well known as a sportsman and personality, and was made an MBE in 1969.
Turning professional within a month of the Olympic final, Finnegan signed with the manager Sam Burns and began training with Freddie Hill at the Craven Arms gym on Lavender Hill, south London. His early performances as a professional were fairly mediocre but a courageous showing in a fifteen-round defeat against the tough Dane Tom Bogs for the European middleweight title in August 1970 enhanced his reputation significantly. The following January he beat Eddie Avoth to claim the British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight title. He gained the European light-heavyweight title against Germany's Conny Velensek in Nottingham in February 1972, having been controversially denied victory in Berlin the previous May.
Finnegan's only challenge for a world title came on 26 September 1972, when he took on the fearsome light-heavyweight champion Bob Foster, a former deputy sheriff from Albuquerque, New Mexico, at Wembley's Empire Pool. Foster had knocked out his two previous opponents in the second and fourth rounds respectively. In an enthralling contest Finnegan fought with defensive skill until the fourteenth round, when Foster knocked him out with a left hook. He later acknowledged the champion's superior powerWhen Bob hit me it was like being hit with a scaffold pole with a glove on the end of it (The Independent, 4 March 2009)while Foster admitted that Finnegan was the toughest guy I've fought since I won the title (The Times, 27 Sept 1972). The influential US trade paper The Ring voted it the fight of the year. However, the fight with Foster was to be the high point of Finnegan's professional career. He lost his European title to the German Rudiger Schmidtke in November 1972 and was beaten twice by Liverpool's hard-hitting John Conteh over the next eighteen months. He had now lost his British and Commonwealth titles; according to the promoter Mickey Duff these defeats had knocked him out of world class (Duff and Mee, 119). He subsequently regained the British light-heavyweight title, and won the Lonsdale belt outright by stopping John Frankham at the Albert Hall in October 1975. Yet Finnegan never got a chance to defend his title. He was forced to retire in February 1976 following surgery for a detached retina.
Finnegan was an accomplished and popular boxer. Never an explosive puncher, he was a clever tactical fighter. Many of his victories came as the result of quick footwork and fast jabbing. He just does not hit hard enough, one journalist commented, to take hold of the contest by the scruff of the neck (The Times, 21 May 1974). Yet his courage and determination, along with his exuberant personality and quick wit, ensured his popularity among British boxing spectators. He published an autobiography in 1976 and ran a pub for a few years after retirement. Like many former boxers, he struggled financially but was warmly received at boxing functions, where he would always be immaculately dressed. His younger brother, Kevin Finnegan (19482008), was also a successful professional boxer during the 1970s. Chris Finnegan died on 2 March 2009 at Hillingdon Hospital of pneumonia and decompensated liver disease. He was survived by his five children.
The Times (28 Oct 1968); (28 Aug 1970); (23 Jan 1971); (5 Oct 1971); (7 June 1972); (22 Sept 1972); (27 Sept 1972); (23 May 1973); (21 May 1974); (4 June 1975); (27 Feb 1976); (1 March 1982) · C. Finnegan and W. Bartleman, Finnegan: self-portrait of a fighting man (1976) · G. Odd, The woman in the corner (1978) · J. Harding, Lonsdale's belt: the story of boxing's greatest prize (1994) · M. Duff and B. Mee, Twenty and out (1999) · R. Gutteridge, Reg Gutteridge: king of commentary (1998) · The Times (4 March 2009) · Daily Telegraph (4 March 2009) · The Guardian (4 March 2009) · The Independent (4 March 2009) · J. Sugden, John Conteh: more Kirby than Knightsbridge, Sporting heroes of the north, ed. S. Wagg and D. Russell (2010), 194210 · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.
BFI NFTVA, light entertainment footage
photograph, 1968, Photoshot, London · photographs, 196875, PA Images, London · photographs, 196875, Getty Images, London · photographs, 196876, PA Images, London · J. Blau, photographs, 1972, Camera Press, London · obituary photographs · photographs, repro. in Finnegan and Bartleman, Finnegan (1976)