Sunday, June 8, 2014

Randolph Turpin: The Leamington Licker

 By Peter Silkov

Randy Turpin was undoubtedly one of the most exciting and talented fighters that Britain has ever produced. His outstanding and often sensational career was one that burned bright then faded away all too soon and his life ended in tragedy.

Born Randolph Adolphus Turpin on June 7, 1928, in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, Randolph and his two brothers and two sisters were the product of a mixed marriage between their English mother and Guyanese father. His parent’s marriage made for a tough upbringing due to the prejudices of the time. The Turpin’s life became even harder when Randolph’s father died when Randy was just twelve months old, due to the after effects of the gassing he had suffered in WW1. With an early life that was marked by poverty and discrimination, it is perhaps hardly surprising that all three Turpin boys made a career out of boxing. The first to turn professional was elder brother Dick, who would in 1948 became the first boxer of colour to win a British championship. Randy had his first taste of boxing at about nine years of age when he and his brother Jackie (who would himself be a good featherweight fighter) would put on spirited exhibitions against each other on the same bills as Dick’s early professional contests.  After beginning his own official amateur career at the age of twelve, Randy ran up a record of 100 fights, of which he won 95. This culminated in him winning the ABA welterweight championship in 1945 and becoming the youngest winner of that title. Turpin was also the first coloured fighter to win an ABA championship.
Randy, in time, would develop into a sensational boxer-puncher, with a good strong jab, and often underrated technical skills to go with his knockout power in both hands.
Turning professional in 1946, with the nickname ‘The Leamington Licker’, Randy’s rise to the top was swift and impressive, and only checked by his youth.  In his nineteenth contest, he out-pointed the British Middleweight champion Vince Hawkins, in a non-title bout. Randy was still too young, by two years, to fight for the British championship. Three months after his victory over Hawkins, Randy’s older brother Dick out-pointed Hawkins to win the British Middleweight crown. 

Randy had to wait until October 17,1950, before he finally got his shot at the British middleweight title, and took full advantage of it with a 5th round knockout over Albert Finch, who six months earlier had taken the title from Randy’s brother Dick.

The Next nine months would prove to be a blaze of glory for Randy that would highlight and define his career.  On February 27, 1951, Turpin added the European Middleweight title to his collection, when he knocked out Luc Van Dam in the 1st round. After four more quick wins inside the distance, including a defence of his European championship, Turpin was matched with Sugar Ray Robinson for the World middleweight championship.  When Turpin entered the ring with Robinson on July 10, 1951, in London’s Earls Court, Sugar Ray was already a legend of the ring, with just one defeat in 131 professional contests (and that had been 8 years before) and universally acknowledged as the greatest boxer in the world pound-for-pound.  Yet, Turpin, confident of his own ability, and trained to a peak of fitness like he would perhaps never be again, gave one of the greatest performances ever seen by a British boxer, to dethrone the seemingly invincible Sugar Ray. Randy surprised Robinson with his confidence, his speed, strength, and both out-punched and out-boxed the champion, so that by the later rounds, Robinson was fighting just to survive the distance. He was winning so clearly, that Turpin was being hailed by the Earls Court crowd as the new champion, long before the 15 rounds were over.

Following his win over Robinson, Randy, already a popular fighter in Britain, became an overnight sensation and celebrity, with seemingly the world at his feet. However, he was contracted to give Robinson a rematch within 90 days, and on September 12, 1951, at the Polo Grounds Stadium, New York, Robinson snatched back his World middleweight title with a controversial 10th round stoppage. The fight had been evenly contested for much of the early rounds, even though Turpin was not reproducing the form of their first match, he was still holding his own with Robinson, who was still finding him difficult to deal with.  In the 10th round, things changed when a Turpin punch (although Robinson would later say he had been butted) opened up a bad cut over Sugar Ray’s left eye, sending blood pouring down his face. The blood sent Robinson into a fighting frenzy, and he went after Turpin and unleashed a barrage of punches, culminating in a right hand that drove Turpin to the canvas. Although Turpin beat the count, he was still visibly groggy and Robinson renewed his assault, driving Randy onto the ropes, and throwing punch after punch onto Turpin. The cornered Turpin laid and sagged against the ropes, as he tried to block and dodge some of the punches coming his way.  

After Turpin had been under this attack for some 30 seconds, the referee Ruby Goldstein stepped in, and halted the fight. There was eight seconds left to go in the round.  Questions about whether Turpin should have been stopped or whether he should have been allowed to continue have persisted to this day.  Given the chance, he may well have recovered during the minutes rest between rounds, while Robinson, after having thrown so many punches and badly cut, maybe have shot his bolt.

In only sixty-four days, Turpin’s world title was gone, and he was left with just the fame and in some cases notoriety that his initial victory over Robinson had gained for him.  Randy was soon to find that the various pressures and pleasures of fame were not conductive to a successful boxing career.  Although he would win other titles over the next few years, including the European middleweight title, and the British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight titles, Turpin would never again be world champion, despite all of his ability.

 When Sugar Ray Robinson retired, while still world champion in late 1952, Randy was given a great chance to regain the World middleweight title when he fought Carl ’Bobo’ Olson for the vacant championship on October 21, 1953, at Madison Square Gardens,  in New York.  Randy’s preparations for this fight were left in disarray by personal problems outside of the ring and quarreling within his camp. After making a good start for the first four rounds, the inadequately trained Turpin faded under the constant pressure of Olson and spent much of the remaining fight pinned onto the ropes, and under attack from the rugged Olson. On his way to losing a wide point’s decision, Randy was floored in the 9th and 10th rounds and made groggy by Olson on numerous other occasions, and in the end, only his heart allowed him to last the distance.

This defeat would quicken the decline, which set in following Turpin’s fights with Robinson.  Seven months after his loss to Olson, Randy lost his European middleweight title to Tiberio Mitri, when he was shockingly knocked out in 65 seconds of the 1st round. The Mitri defeat signaled the end of Turpin as a world-class operator; although he did manage to comeback and win the British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight titles, he was only a shadow of the fighter who had beaten Sugar Ray Robinson. 

Randy’s last official fight took place on September 9, 1958, when he was knocked out in the 2nd round by the heavy-punching Trinidadian, Yolande Pompey, after having Pompey down in the opening round. 

Turpin would have two more fights that were unlicensed by the BBBC, but the Pompey defeat was really the end. His final record was 66(45koes)-8-1.

In retirement, Turpin discovered how fast fair-weather friends and hangers-on disappear when the paydays and fame come to an end. In the early 1960’s, the one-time star of the boxing ring, was reduced to taking part in wrestling contests, in an effort of make ends meet.  In debt and being chased by the taxman for money, which he claimed he had never received, Turpin was found dead of gunshot wounds to the chest and head on May 17, 1966, and the coroner ruled his death as a suicide.

Although his life took a dark and tragic turn, Randolph Turpin still ranks as one of Britain’s greatest and most exciting fighter of modern times, and his victory over Sugar Ray Robinson, arguably the finest ever by a British boxer.

Copyright © 2014 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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