HIS name is unlikely to crop up when boxing fans talk about their top fighters, nor will he played by some Hollywood leading man in a movie about his life.

In 1977 a sharp right hook cut short his hopes of mixing it with probably the most famous athlete in history. But Bolton-born Peter Freeman has no regrets about what he achieved in the ring, and the life it allowed him to lead.

The former Smithills School pupil has rubbed shoulders with some of the best and most colourful characters British sport has ever produced, including Henry Cooper, George Best and Wanderers' finest, Frank Worthington.

His official record reads a very respectable 24 fights, 14 wins, 11 with knockouts between 1972 and 1978. And many more matches were played out in rings up and down Europe. He was also a Central Area and Amateur Champion.

But it was defeat 30 or so miles down the road in a match he was drafted into at two weeks' notice that denied him the opportunity to get into the ring with the most famous name of all.

"Leon Spinks in March 1977 was a fight I took at short notice," said Freeman, now aged 70. "I fought him as a replacement at the Liverpool Stadium on the undercard of a John Conteh match, when his original opponent (Eddie Fenton) dropped out. I was told I would be fighting Ali next if I beat him.

"I didn't though, it only went one round. I tried my best but he caught me with a really nice right cross, it was all over very quickly and I was out but at least I didn't get a good hiding.

"It was good of him (Spinks) to send me a signed picture too, it's something I will always treasure.

"He was so well-prepared, as you would expect because he had been training well in advance while I had had two weeks to get ready. He came ready for a fight, I think the best American fighters fight, while British boxers are taught to box more. I would say it was Ricky Hatton who changed that, he was a real fighter.

"Boxing was a good to me, I fought in Spain, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. I'm very much in favour of boxing being taught to kids, it teaches them discipline and dedication, it's something they can commit to. I was fortunate because I was able to move both ways and use the ropes well, I didn't have to submit to the centre of the ring being taken by my opponent."

Freeman's dream of taking on the Louisville Lip came to a shuddering halt just 86 seconds after the opening bell, when a vicious hook from Spinks caught him square on the chin, sending him crashing to the canvas.

Freeman failed to beat the referee's 10-count and was left to ponder what could have been. As for his conqueror from that spring evening in Liverpool, within the year 'Neon' did indeed go on to face Muhammad Ali in the ring. Not only that, in one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history, he beat 'The Greatest' in Las Vegas, a split decision meaning he became the undisputed champion of the world in the first of two slug-fests in 1978, though Ali would gain revenge with victory in the second meeting.

As for Freeman's own in-ring fortunes, he can at least lay claim to being the only British fighter to take on the 1976 Olympic champion.

He never faced two of his – and many other peoples' – idols, as Conteh competed in the light-heavyweight ranks and Cooper, the ultimate in British household names, had his last fight, a defeat to Joe Bugner, the year before the Boltonian's professional berth in 1972.

Since his retirement, Freeman made his living using brain and not brawn, earning a BA in Education and lecturing at Bolton College as well as teaching boxercise to rugby players, something he continues to practice himself in his retirement.

"I just enjoy my life and don't have many regrets," he said. "I still go to the gym and do boxercise to build upper-body strength. It's a case of keeping myself mobile and maintaining strength at the top of my frame.

"Some don't look forward to going to the gym but I do, I'm please I'm still physically able to do it. If you keep going, keep active I'm hoping it will add a few years."

YouTube Spinks fight