Franklin Roy Bruno, MBE (born 16 November 1961) is a British former professional boxer who competed from 1982 to 1996. He had a highly publicised and eventful career, both in and out of the ring. The pinnacle of Bruno’s boxing career was winning the WBC heavyweight title from Oliver McCall at a packed Wembley Stadium in 1995, in what was his fourth world championship challenge. Bruno faced multiple top-rated heavyweights throughout his career, including two fights against Mike Tyson in 1989 and 1996, and a domestic clash against Lennox Lewis in 1993.
He was also known for his exceptional punching power, scoring 38 knockouts in 40 wins and giving him a 95% knockout-to-win ratio; his overall knockout percentage was 84.44%. Like Henry Cooper before him, Bruno has remained a popular celebrity with the British public following his retirement from boxing, including his well-documented struggles with mental health.
Bruno became a professional boxer in 1981, quickly achieving 21 consecutive wins by knockout. This streak caught the attention of international boxing magazines, such as The Ring, KO Magazine, Boxing Illustrated and Ring En Español. During this period Bruno defeated former world title contender Scott LeDoux, the fringe contender Floyd Cummings, Belgian champion Rudy Gauwe, British contenders Tony Moore and Eddie Nielson, and opponents such as Bill Sharkey, Walter Santemore and Ken Lakusta. However, in May 1984 the up-and-coming future world heavyweight champion, American James “Bonecrusher” Smith, halted that streak when he defeated Bruno by knockout in the tenth and final round of their bout, with Bruno leading clearly on all three judges’ cards.
In February 1989, Bruno challenged Mike Tyson for the undisputed world heavyweight title. In the opening moments, the fighters came together with huge punches. Bruno’s legs buckled, and he took a big step back, inadvertently stepping off the ring apron. Most agree that he would have gone down, at least to a knee in any event, and this was called a knockdown. Bruno did not complain, and instead gathered himself to continue, ultimately rocking Tyson (for the first time in Tyson’s career) with a left hook toward the end of the round. However, Tyson recovered and eventually beat Bruno when the referee stopped the contest in round five with Bruno taking heavy punishment, lying helpless on the ropes.
Bruno kept winning fights, helping him to retain his spot as one of the world’s leading heavyweights. He defeated contender Carl Williams, and then journeymen such as Jose Ribalta, Pierre Coetzer, and Dutchman Jan Emmen.
In 1993 he had a third world title chance against young Lennox Lewis, who was making the second defence of the belt (his first of three championship reigns). The Lennox Lewis vs. Frank Bruno fight was the first time that two British boxers had fought for the world heavyweight title. Lewis beat Bruno on a stoppage in round seven, Bruno again failing to take his title chance after leading the contest on points up until what proved the final round.
On 2 September 1995, Bruno finally became world champion by outpointing WBC Champion Oliver McCall over twelve rounds. Bruno did not last long as champion – the contract he signed to get McCall meant he had to face Mike Tyson in his first defence. Tyson beat Bruno on a stoppage in round three, Bruno performing unusually poorly in what turned out to be his last bout as a professional, due to a severe eye injury caused by Tyson. Bruno was advised not to fight again to avoid running the risk of causing any more damage to it, which could result in permanent blindness. Bruno retired soon after the fight.
Bruno’s publicist throughout most of his career was sports historian Norman Giller, who wrote three books with Bruno: Know What I Mean, Eye of the Tiger and From Zero to Hero. His manager for all but his last five fights was Terry Lawless, who signed him as a professional shortly after he had become ABA heavyweight champion at the age of eighteen.