Boxing world pays its tributes to former heavyweight champion

The boxing world has paid tribute to former British heavyweight champion Gary Mason after he was killed in a bicycle crash.

Mason, 48, was cycling near his flat in Wallington, south London, on Thursday morning when he was in a collision with a white van. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The 43-year-old driver was arrested on suspicion of causing death by careless driving and bailed pending further inquiries.

Mason, known as a hard-hitting fighter with a strong chin, was British champion from January 1989 to March 1991.

He also led a remarkable life after boxing, involving rugby league, arm-wrestling and therapeutic drumming.

The Jamaican-born boxer won 37 of his 38 professional bouts – including 34 by knockout – during a career which lasted from 1984 to 1994.

His only loss came against the up-and-coming future world champion Lennox Lewis at Wembley Arena.

Frank Bruno, Mason's stable-mate under Terry Lawless, said: "We used to spar together in the early days.

"Gary was probably a better technical boxer than me, although I had more determination. That's why I made it and he didn't. It was his technical ability that spurred me on to work harder.

"I'm very sorry about his death, particularly the circumstances of how it happened.

"Both of us were plying our trade at an early age and I had a lot of respect for the guy."

Mason was on the brink of a world title bid and favourite to win when he came up against the 25-year-old Lewis.

But he had suffered a detached retina from a previous fight and Lewis punished the eye, opening up a cut. The referee was forced to stop the contest in the seventh round.

Boxing promoter Frank Maloney said: "I'm very sad. It's a great loss, not just to boxing but to life in general.

"He was always a happy guy with a smile on his face.

"Even if things were going wrong for him, he cheered other people up.

"He was one of the nice guys of boxing.

"And he did great work for charity. People don't realise the amount of work he did for charity."

He said the fight against Lewis effectively ended Mason's career, adding: "One man's career ended and one man's career went forward. It was a great shame.

"Gary was a good heavyweight but he was around at the wrong time, with the likes of Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno," he added.

"If he was around today he would have dominated the heavyweight division."

Mason, a carpenter's son, led a varied life after his boxing career.

A spell as a pundit for Sky Sports was cut short after he swore on television.

He also played three matches for rugby league side London Broncos, scoring a try in his first game, appeared in television show Gladiators, attempted to launch an arm-wrestling competition, and worked as a security guard for a local hospital.

More recently the 6ft 2in ex-fighter was running therapeutic hand drumming workshops after setting up the Rhythmical Empowerment Group.

He was also a founder member of the Bunbury Celebrity Cricket team where he was known as a "crafty bowler, mighty batsman and heavyweight fielder".

He was separated from the mother of his teenage son Jordan.

Sports agent Dave Davies, who looked after Mason in the mid-1990s, said: "He was a real character, a south London boy trying to do well.

"He was a bit of a handful but he was a great guy. He will certainly be missed.

"Gary was always looking for a pound note. If there was ever anybody who would say, 'This time next year I'm going to be a millionaire', it was him.

"He decided he wanted to be a media star. He wanted to do after-dinner speaking and to open gyms. Unfortunately he was very much in the shadow of Frank Bruno."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Officers were alerted at about 6.15am yesterday to a van in collision with a bicycle on Sandy Lane South, near the junction with Woodcote Road, Wallington.

"The cyclist, aged 48 years, was pronounced dead at the scene."

A post-mortem examination will be held at St Helier Hospital mortuary and an inquest will be opened at Croydon Coroner's Court.

The police were yesterday still seeking witnesses to the collision.