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Lawless, Terence Joseph [Terry] (1934–2009), boxing manager and trainer, was born on 29 March 1934 at St Andrews Hospital, Devons Road, West Ham, London, the only son of Joseph Frederick Lawless (1901–1982), a cooper and spirit warehouseman, and his wife, Eileen Isabel, née Driscoll (1900–1982). At the time of his birth registration his parents lived at 13 Wade's Place, Poplar. He never boxed professionally himself but, through the suggestion of a childhood friend, Sammy McCarthy, the British featherweight champion between 1954 and 1955, became involved in the sport first as a trainer, and then, having completed his national service in 1957, as a manager. He was an assistant to Al Phillips, a former professional boxer turned trainer-manager, from whom he learnt many of the technical and tactical skills of the boxing trainer. He married Sylvia Rose Lusk (b. 1937), an accounting machine operator, on 27 July 1957, in the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Bethnal Green. His profession at the time was listed as ship's clerk. They had two children, Lorraine and Stephen. For many years, during and after his managerial career, he and Sylvia also ran a shop in Leyton.

Lawless first came to prominence outside boxing circles during the late 1960s and early 1970s when he managed the West Ham welterweight Ralph Charles to British, Commonwealth, and European titles. He then successfully guided another East End boxer, John H. Stracey, to a world welterweight title victory over José Nápoles in Mexico City in December 1975 that astonished the British boxing press. In 1979 both Maurice Hope, a light middleweight originally from Antigua, and Jim Watt, a Glaswegian lightweight, also became world champions under Lawless. The Tunisian-born but East End-raised flyweight Charlie Magri became the fourth of Lawless's world champions in March 1983.

During the 1970s and 1980s Lawless was the most successful and best-known manager in British boxing. With the help of an experienced team which included Frank Black, George Wiggs, Jimmy Tibbs, and George Francis, he trained his stable of boxers in a gymnasium above the Royal Oak pub in Canning Town. He placed particular emphasis on fitness and technique and was an excellent motivator. After Watt's first session at the gym, for example, Lawless looped string around his ankles while he boxed to encourage him to narrow his stance. He was also meticulous in his preparations, initially keeping hand-written index cards of all opponents and then spending hours studying video recordings of previous fights. He often encouraged his fighters to stay with him at his family home in Essex in the weeks before major bouts.

According to Watt, Lawless was ‘more than just a manager to his fighters’ (Watt, 28). He was considered to be a conscientious and caring man, who would protect his boxers from unnecessary injury in the ring and vigorously defend them from media criticism. He was particularly careful in selecting opponents and avoided taking his fighters abroad, where referees and judges were considered less trustworthy and more unpredictable than in Britain. However, his cautious attitude sometimes frustrated those who worked with him. Mike Barrett, a promoter at the Royal Albert Hall and a business partner, was particularly critical. ‘All you want is for your fighters to win all your fights’, he allegedly complained in exasperation on one occasion, to which Lawless replied ‘Yes, of course I do’ (Duff, 211).

Lawless's careful approach was particularly evident in the early professional career of the heavyweight Frank Bruno. Mickey Duff, Bruno's promoter, argued that nobody ‘could have done a better job in [his] formative stages than Lawless’ (Duff, 203), but, matched with a series of weak opponents whom he quickly knocked out, Bruno admitted in his autobiography that he became frustrated and embarrassed. The relationship survived Bruno's loss to Tim Witherspoon at Wembley Stadium in July 1986 but not his crushing fifth-round defeat by Mike Tyson in Las Vegas on 25 February 1989. Bruno felt that he was being stifled and prevented from making his own decisions and chose not to renew his contract with Lawless.

Lawless was a shrewd businessman as well as a successful trainer. He had worked closely with Duff, Britain's foremost promoter and matchmaker, since the early 1970s and, in 1979, signed a formal income-sharing agreement with Duff, Barrett, and another promoter, Jarvis Astaire. Details of the arrangement were published in the News of the World and the Sunday Times in December 1984. The group was accused of operating as a cartel and Lawless, in particular, was suspected of a conflict of interests and misusing his managerial position. Most of his boxers publicly supported Lawless, however, and the British Boxing Board of Control exonerated him and his associates, finding little evidence that the boxers had suffered financially.

Lawless managed dozens of boxers during his career. In addition to the four he steered to world titles he played a key role in the early careers of future world champions such as Bruno, Lloyd Honeghan, and Joe Calzaghe, but his reputation as a maker of champions, made in the 1970s and early 1980s, had faded significantly by the mid-1990s. He retired to Spain in the late 1990s with his wife. He died in Marbella on 24 December 2009 following complications from a gall bladder operation, and was survived by her and their two children.

Matthew Taylor

Sources  

The Times (5 June 1973); (8 Dec 1975); (22 April 1982); (10 Dec 1984); (23 Feb 1985); (26 Dec 2009) · Boxing News (4 Dec 1981) · J. Watt and N. Giller, Watt's my name: an autobiography (1981) · R. Gutteridge, Reg Gutteridge: king of commentary (1998) · H. McIlvanney, McIlvanney on boxing, 1st edn, 1996 (2011) · M. Duff and B. Mee, Twenty and out (1999) · F. Bruno and K. Mitchell, Frank: fighting back (2006) · C. Magri, Champagne Charlie (2007) · J. Calzaghe and B. Doogan, No ordinary Joe (2007) · The Guardian (29 Dec 2009) · The Independent (31 Dec 2009) · Daily Telegraph (1 Jan 2010) · Time of our lives: the Lawless years, television programme, Sky Sports 2, 17 May 2012 · b. cert. · m. cert.

Archives  

 

SOUND

 

BL NSA, interview recording


Likenesses  

photographs, 1963–88, Rex Features, London · photographs, 1975–89, PA Images, London · photographs, 1978–95, Getty Images, London · group portrait, photograph, 1983 (with Floyd Patterson), Photoshot, London · obituary photographs