Adopted Sheffielder Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham was hoping that a third run at a boxing world title would be successful when he made a surprise return to the ring in November 1996.
At 37 years of age, and with four years without a fight, few people shared his optimism. But Graham would produce a vintage performance against rising star Chris Johnson and come within reach of his ambition in a bout with American Charles ‘Hatchet’ Brewer.
After winning a number of amateur titles, Graham turned professional in the late 1970s. He learned his craft at Brendan Ingle’s St Thomas gym in Wincobank and quickly gained a reputation as an agile boxer.
Graham was also a winning fighter. From his first bout in November 1978 to January 1981, 16 opponents were overcome with four knockouts.
Sheffield City Hall was the venue for Graham’s first title shot against Pat Thomas in March 1981. The challenger overcame the holder on points to become the British Light Middleweight champion.
By the end of the year Graham added the Commonwealth title and at the start of 1982 defended both against Chris Christian, winning by TKO in the ninth round.
The European Light Middleweight title was the next accolade for Graham and, after a successful defence, he moved on to the European Middleweight title.
This was taken off Ayub Kalule in Sheffield after the referee intervened in the tenth round and was retained after a defence against Mark Kaylor. However, Sumbu Kalambay took the belt from Graham in mid-1987.
The first world title fight finally arrived for Graham in 1989 as the vacant WBA middleweight belt was contested against Mike McCullum. The close fight ended in a split decision in favour of McCullum, with Graham unlucky to have a point deducted in the eighth round.
In 1990 Graham had one hand on the WBA crown. Julian Jackson was moments away to being withdrawn due to swelling around his eye.
But in the middle of the fourth round Jackson released a devastating right hand that knocked Graham out of the bout and away from his world title ambitions.
Struggling to rebuild his career after this defeat, Graham lost another fight with Kalambay for the middleweight belt and was then stopped by Frank Grant for the British Middleweight crown, which Bomber had successfully defended four times previously. Graham subsequently announced his retirement from the ring.
In mid-1994 Graham stated his intention to return to the ring after he had applied again for his boxing licence, which had lapsed. Although he was found to be medically fit to box, he failed a controversial psychometric test, which was similar to an IQ test and his application was rejected.
Graham commented at the time: “It was a hard test and I was not given ample time – I should have revised just like I did at school.”
He added: “Some university kids have taken it and failed. I doubt any boxer could have passed.”
Graham had to wait until August 1996 for the British Boxing Board of Control to grant his licence. He said: “I’m delighted to be back. I’m looking at getting fixed up with a promoter to get three or four warm-up fights before I step up to the top class.”
The first fight, with Bomber’now at Super Middleweight, was scheduled for November 26 at the Concord Sports Centre against American Terry Ford.
In the build-up Graham was quietly confident of his chances against his little-known opponent.
“I truly do not know what is going to happen. If he’s come to fight, or to run away or to hold, I just have to deal with it and look as best I can.”
Ford was content to let Bomber do the chasing on the night and looked to catch Graham with a big punch rather than provide any sustained assault.
The knockout blow never came for either fighter and, as Graham had been the busier of the two unleashing a number of combinations on the American, the fight was awarded to him in front of 2,000 fans.
“I was a bit ring rusty, the timing wasn’t quite there and the range was out a bit but that’s to be expected after such a long time,” said Graham after the bout.
Back in action in March, fighting Craig Joseph from Bradford in south London, Graham again came out on top after the contest went the eight scheduled rounds.
An improvement was seen in his performance and Bomber was even confident enough to kiss his gloves before delivering his jabs.
Canadian Chris Johnson, who was ranked eighth in the world by the WBC, was the next man to meet the self-assured Graham in the ring.
The pundits and experts were still sceptical that Graham would be able to offer a performance to stop the young Johnson from demonstrating that his return to the ring had been a mistake.
However, in eight rounds Bomber had convincingly outclassed his opponent, twice putting Johnson on the canvas, and returned to Sheffield with the WBC International Super Middleweight title.
After defending the belt against Vinnie Pazienza, Graham was matched against Charles Brewer for the IBF World Super Middleweight crown.
Fighting in Atlantic City, Graham performed well, but was stopped in the tenth round, leaving his dream in pieces.
A short time later Graham was diagnosed with an eye problem and forced to retire. He has an impressive professional record of 48 wins from 54 fights and held British and European titles in three middleweight divisions on numerous occasions.