Lyndon Arthur fights for a chance at a title, and to honor his late brother


Lyndon Arthur was 10 years old when he faced the biggest trauma of his life. Given that perspective, how much can a fight against one of the most feared boxers in the sport, Dmitry Bivol, measure up?

Arthur’s older brother Zennen Blackburn, 27 at the time and a father-of-two, was shot multiple times at close range in Manchester, England, in May 2002. Zennen’s killers have never been caught. Arthur has been dealing with that tragic moment ever since.

“As you get older, you understand what sort of impact things had on you when you were younger and I understand now the trauma I went through,” Arthur told ESPN. “It happened just down the road from home. [Zennen] was a boxer and Pat tells me he was good. I never saw him box because I was too young. I know he would be proud of what I’m doing, fighting for a world title.”

And if Arthur were to win on Saturday against Bivol for the WBA light heavyweight title, he’s ready to dedicate the victory to his late brother. But overcoming Bivol will be far from easy.

Arthur (23-1, 16 KOs) is a big underdog (+1100, according to ESPN BET) in his first world title attempt, against Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), a fight on the huge card taking place at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It’s a daunting task, but Arthur — No. 9 in ESPN’s latest rankings for the 175 pounds division — has prevailed at more important turning points of his life.

Seven years after the shooting, Arthur was at a crisis point when his uncle, Pat Barrett — a former world title challenger at welterweight — found him in an emotional state sitting on a kerbstone close to where his brother was gunned down. Arthur said Barret took him to a local boxing gym in Manchester when he was in his late teens. He was introduced to Brian Hughes, an inspirational trainer who worked with the likes of Barrett, Robin Reid, Michael Jennings, Michael Gomez, Scott Quigg and even reigning WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury for a short period. Hughes would play a big role in Arthur’s early development, which Arthur says was crucial in the direction his life took.

Arthur, 32, grew up in Moston, Manchester, three miles from English Premier League side Manchester City’s home at the Etihad Stadium, an area where crime and street violence were an easy option for Arthur in his teens.

“I wasn’t doing the best of things outside of the sport when I first started boxing and it would’ve been easy for me to get into something I shouldn’t have. Boxing turned my whole life around. It gave me a sense of direction, some authority,” Arthur told ESPN.

“It happened just down the road from home. He [Zennen] was a boxer and Pat tells me he was good, I never saw him box because I was too young. I know he would be proud of what I’m doing, fighting for a world title.”

Lyndon Arthur on his brother

Starting to box late left Arthur playing catch up. After an unremarkable amateur career (6-6), Arthur’s professional career gathered momentum under the influence of Hughes.

“It took me a couple years to really get into it but I eventually took to it,” Arthur told ESPN. “Brian was one of those people that made you feel confident and better than you were. He was someone you listened to and he had time for me. I’m glad to have got the best part of him before he got ill.”

Hughes died in January 2022 at age 82.

“I would probably have gone down the wrong road if it wasn’t for boxing, and Brian was one of the ones that really helped me with my career,” Arthur said.

Barrett will be in Arthur’s corner against Bivol, 31 years after he lost a points decision against Manning Galloway for the WBO world welterweight title in Manchester. Arthur’s cousin Zelfa Barrett (30-2, 16 KOs) is a junior lightweight contender who also lost a world title shot a year ago.

“Pat has always got my best interests at heart, which is good to know having him in my corner,” Arthur told ESPN.

Arthur has a tattoo of his brother on his arm and dedicated his split-decision win against English rival Anthony Yarde in December 2020 to Zennen. It was Arthur’s best moment in a seven-year professional career. But Yarde (24-3, 23 KOs) knocked out Arthur in a rematch two years ago and proceeded to a world title shot against Artur Beterbiev, the WBC, IBF, WBO light heavyweight champion, last January. Yarde was plucky, hungry and dangerous against Beterbiev, but the Russian caught up with the Londoner in the eighth round.

While Bivol is coming off two superlative wins over Canelo Alvarez and Gilberto Ramirez, Arthur’s last fight was not a faultless performance. Arthur had to recover from a knockdown to stop Argentina’s Braian Suarez with a body shot in the 10th round three months ago.

“It wasn’t my best performance, but I showed what I had to do to get the win, I showed I could get up and stop him,” Arthur told ESPN. “I showed I’ve got that in me, that I can get off the floor if need be. I’ve got a good knockout record, and the first Yarde fight is probably my most meaningful win.

“King” Arthur, who is a Manchester United fan, has registered four wins since losing his unbeaten record to Yarde. Landing the biggest opportunity of his career before the end of 2023 was surprising.

“The fight came as a bit of a shock, I thought I was going to be fighting in February, but then they offered me Bivol for Dec. 23 and I said ‘Yeah, I’m up for it’,” Arthur told ESPN. “Everyone knows how good Bivol is, I’m fully aware of what Bivol can do, but I just have to focus on being the best version of myself, not concentrating on him. I’m preparing for someone who is going to take me seriously, not overlook me. I’m not thinking about if they underestimate me.”

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