Saturday, May 24, 2014

Les Darcy: The Maitland Wonder

 Les Darcy ‘The Maitland Wonder’ is one of the greatest ‘what ifs’ in boxing history.  He was Australia’s golden boy and by the age of 20 years old, he had built up a 46(29koes) -4 ring record and gained recognition as the Australian world middleweight champion, as well as winning the Australian heavyweight championship. There is little doubt that Darcy was one of the greatest boxers ever to come out of Australia and perhaps one of the greatest middleweights of all time; yet, so many questions remain about him because he was dead at the age of 21 and before he was able to show just how great he could be.

James Leslie Darcy was born in Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia, and started boxing after leaving school and becoming a blacksmith’s apprentice.  By the time he was fifteen Darcy had won numerous amateur competitions and decided to turn professional.  As a professional Darcy developed quickly, growing from a welterweight into a muscularly built middleweight, who was equally adapt at either boxing or slugging it out.  Darcy soon began to gain a huge following as he reversed early point’s defeats to Bob Whitelaw and Fritz Holland, and beat everyone else put in front of him with impressive ease.  Darcy was that most valuable of things, a boxing prodigy.  He was very soon becoming the star attraction at the Sydney Stadium and fighting 20-rounders.

At this time, the World middleweight championship was disputed between a number of fighters who claimed to be the world middleweight champion. On May 22, 1915, Darcy beat the renowned Jeff Smith on a 2nd round foul, to claim the Australian version of the World middleweight title.  Over the next 16 months, Darcy defended this title against top opponents such as Eddie McGooty, Jimmy Clabby, and George Chip, and strengthen his claim to being the best middleweight in the world, while at the same time, adding the middleweight and heavyweight championships of Australia to his growing title collection. Darcy seemed to have the boxing world at his feet, with his only problem being that he had fought his way through all likely opposition in Australia.  In order to further his career and prove he was the genuine world middleweight champion, Darcy needed to go to America and prove himself against the best opposition there, but there was a major stumbling block in the shape of WW1. Australians were being conscripted to join in the fight against the Germans and Darcy, when he asked permission from the Australian government to leave for America, was denied permission.  Darcy even offered a guarantee of $5000 dollars that he would return to Australia within 6 months and sign up with the Australian army, but he was again turned down. Darcy was to argue later that his main concern was to fight a few times in America in order to provide his family with enough financial security should something happen to him while he was conscripted.  It was an argument that would be largely rebuffed until after his death.

On October 27, 1916, just a month after what would prove to be his last fight, a 9th round knockout of the highly rated American George Chip, Les Darcy took what would prove to be a fateful decision.  Darcy and his manager E.T O’Sullivan stowed away on the cargo steamer ‘Hattie Luckenbach’ that was bound for Chile, at which point they would change to another ship bound for New York. The reaction to Darcy’s actions in Australia was immediate and unforgiving. He was branded a slacker and a traitor and the people who had worshiped him as a fighting hero rose in unison against him.  Darcy was vilified in the Australian press, and there were calls for the government to confiscate his property.

When Darcy finally arrived in New York, after a voyage of almost two months, he was received with open arms at first, as the top American promoters sought to gain his services.  Things went bad quickly, as the anger in Australia at Darcy’s actions, soon made its way to America and certain people who Darcy had left behind, such as his Australian promoter Snowy Baker, started writing to contacts in the United States, calling for Darcy to be blacklisted.  Within a short while, Darcy found himself pilloried in the American press as a coward and a traitor, who had placed money and fame before serving his country in a war.

For a while, Darcy was banned from boxing in America, but then even when the ban was lifted after a short while, he found that the bad publicity about his flight from Australia made promoters cold to having him on their bills. This was compounded in April 1917, when the US joined the war.  Darcy signed up to the American Flying Corps and took the oath of allegiance, intending to become an American citizen.  But still he was a pariah.

Darcy was still trying to gain a boxing fight, while training for the Corps, when he fell ill with septicemia and peritonitis, caused by infected teeth and tonsils.  Darcy then developed pneumonia, and died on May 24, 1917, barely six months past his twenty sixth birthday.

After his death Darcy was given a huge send off in America, by many of the people who had so recently rejected him while he was alive, and when his embalmed body arrived back in Australia some months later, he was hailed as a national folk hero, by the very same press whom just a little while before had vilified him as a traitor and a coward.  
Les Darcy’s final ring record was 46(29koes)-4.  He was never knocked down during his career.

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1 comment:

  1. Hello, and thanks for the Darcy Tribute on the 98th Anniversary of his death..
    I'd like to point out a couple of innocent errors, if you'd happily make correction.
    Firstly, Darcy was born at the family homestead in Stradbroke, New South Wales. Oct 31, 1895.
    Secondly, ET O'Sullivan wasn't Darcy's Manager.
    Thirdly, Darcy was indeed, knocked down during his career.
    Fourthly, Darcy passed away 24th May, 1917. Barely 6 months following his 21st birthday.
    Fithly, Septicemia & streptococcal is what took Darcy to the full count of '10'.

    Cheers. Tony Hood.