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Bunny Sterling: The first Caribbean immigrant to win a British title

Bunny Sterling is the latest trailblazer featured in our Hidden Figures online series, running throughout Black History Month, bringing to life the stories of black sporting pioneers you may never have heard of

Bunny Sterling
Image: Bunny Sterling claimed the British middleweight title in 1970

Bunny Sterling became the first Caribbean immigrant to win a British belt, but was never rewarded with a world middleweight title fight.

After arriving in London at the age of six, Sterling would pursue a professional boxing career in 1966, but would suffer defeat on his debut against Joe Devitt, a far more experienced fighter, and two more losses would follow.

Sterling, who was managed by George Francis, started to make inroads into the domestic division with eight successive wins, although his progress was briefly stalled by a Southern Area title defeat to Johnny Kramer, which was soon avenged by a stoppage win.

Bunny Sterling
Image: The Londoner overcame a difficult start to his pro career

Outside the ring, Sterling was studying law, but he still remained focused on a British title fight, defeating Dennis Pleace and Harry Scott in eliminators to earn a shot at reigning champion Mark Rowe.

At Wembley Arena in September 1970, Sterling would stop Rowe on a cut to complete an historic victory as he claimed the British and Commonwealth titles. Despite his status as Britain's new champion, Sterling instead had to travel to Australia and Canada to defend his Commonwealth belt.

Bunny Sterling
Image: Sterling defeated Cuba's former unified champion Luis Rodriguez but never received a world title fight

Impressive victories over former world champion Luis Rodriguez and world title challenger Tom Bogs enhanced the reputation of Sterling, who was now eligible for a European title fight after being granted British citizenship.

In the 14th of 15 rounds, Sterling would suffer a knockout loss to Jean Claude Bouttier, and he would lose his Commonwealth belt soon after in a 15th-round stoppage by Tony Mundine.

But Sterling would enjoy more success at British title level, including a rematch win on points over Rowe, before he fell short again at European level in a razor-thin split decision loss to Elio Calcabrini in Italy.

Bunny Sterling
Image: Sterling ended with a record of 35 wins, 18 defeats, and four draws

In 1975, Sterling would regain the British belt with a stoppage of Maurice Hope, the Antigua-born Hackney fighter, who became a world champion four years later.

European title glory finally came in 1976, with a stoppage of Frank Reiche in Germany, although a fight against one of the reigning world champions had eluded Sterling, who retired four fights later.

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