Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Legend of Dan Donnelly: Ireland’s Unbeaten Heavyweight Champion

By Peter Silkov

Throughout boxing’s deep and storied history, the Irish have for a long time figured prominently as one of the great fighting nations who have produced, in various shapes and weights, countless outstanding fighters and champions. The legendary Dan Donnelly is one of Ireland’s earliest and certainly most enduring heroes. He was a bare-knuckle fighter whose exploits, both in and out of the ring, made him a hero throughout Ireland, at a time when Ireland desperately needed a hero. 

Rumour has it that Donnelly was born upon St Patrick’s Day in 1788, which would have been very fitting in Dublin Ireland.  Donnelly was born into poverty, one of 17 children, and the son of a carpenter who was often sick and out of work. Like the majority of the people around him, life for Donnelly and his siblings was a hand to mouth existence. Despite this harsh upbringing, Donnelly developed into an imposing physical specimen, standing just less than 6 foot and weighing around 196 pounds.  Legend has it that Donnelly had a freakishly long reach, with hands that reached down to his knees. The truth of this has never been fully substantiated, but one of Donnelly’s arms would later become a legend all on its own.

As a youth, Donnelly followed his father into carpentry, and seemed destined for an unremarkable, humdrum existence, like those around him. Yet, Donnelly’s size and personality marked him out early on as something a bit special. He was a charismatic individual, who enjoyed socializing, had many friends and admirers, even before he had found fame with his bare fists.

Donnelly also got into regular fistfights on the streets of Dublin. Such street fighting between young men who had drunk more than their fill was commonplace in Donnelly’s time (as it is now), but Donnelly showed unusual strength and ability in these tussles, amd soon gained a reputation as a formidable fighter. Although, it was also said by some people that he would only fight when provoked by someone or something he had seen. Indeed, Donnelly seems to have been quite the romantic hero from very early on in his adult life, and stories abound of him going to the aid of damsels in distress, and intervening when gangs are on the rampage. Donnelly gained the reputation as someone who stood up to bullies and toughs. Long before he had even fought a professional fight, the people of Dublin looked upon him as a hero, as his reputation grew with every tale of his most recent valiant exploit. There may be a question hanging over the truth behind some of these early tales of Donnelly, after all, the art of embellishment and story telling is no where stronger than in the Emerald Isle. At the same time, there’s no denying that there must have been something special about young Dan Donnelly for him to gain such attention that he would have stories told about him from such an early age.

Soon Donnelly had gained the attention of two fervent sponsors of prize fighting, fellow Irishman Captain Kelly, and Captain Barclay, a Scot. Together, the two captains persuaded Donnelly to channel the fistic prowess that he was using almost nightly for free, into a professional arena where he could be handsomely paid for it.

During this time in late 1814, there happened to be a troupe of English boxers touring Ireland. The most formidable boxer within the troupe was Tom Hall, who had recently gained notability by beating George Cribb, the brother of the Heavyweight champion of England Tom Cribb. Soon arrangements were made for Hall and Donnelly to meet.  The fight took place on September 14, 1814, at the Curragh, in County Kildare, which was famous for both the breeding of racehorses and the innumerable prizefights that would take place there. The spot known as “Belcher’s Hollow,” was a natural hollow around which a crowd would form to watch the two bare-fisted contestants fight it out in the 22 foot square base that would be roped off in order to form a ring. This is where a huge crowd of 20,000 people came to watch Donnelly take part in his first official prizefight.

The fight itself ended controversially in the 15th round. Hall, finding himself overpowered the longer the fight went on, had taken to falling down without being hit in order to end each round (prize ring rules of the day being that a round ended only when one of the contestants hit the deck.) This tactic of Hall’s, though valid in some ways under the rules of the time, drew more and more frustration from Donnelly. In the 15th round, when Hall again fell onto his knees without taking a blow, an enraged Donnelly hit him square on the ear, bringing forth a torrent of blood.  At this time, Hall’s seconds jumped into the ring declaring that Donnelly had committed a foul, and demanded that the Irishman be disqualified. The referee, however, perhaps mindful of where he was, or rather just not a fan of Hall’s tactics, declared that he would not disqualify Donnelly, and that Hall himself deserved to lose for repeatedly going down without being hit. With Hall refusing to fight on, an impasse was reached, culminating in both sides claiming victory.  Hall’s backers and the English writers claimed that Donnelly had lost on a foul due to his hitting Hall while he was down. Donnelly’s supporters saw it completely the other way, with Donnelly being the rightful winner due to Hall’s refusal to fight on. Ireland had a new, much needed hero. This was a time when Ireland was still coming to terms with the consequences of the “Act of Union,” which had basically reduced Ireland to just a leaderless pawn in the English pocket. Donnelly’s win over a highly ranked English fighter, such as Hall, was seen as a huge blow back against the ever more powerful English imperialists. Donnelly had given England a bloody nose with his victory and was hailed all over Ireland as their champion.

Fifteen months later, Donnelly faced England’s George Cooper, a fighter highly regarded in England, who felt that his experience and skill would be far too much for the raw and inexperienced Irishman. The fight took place on December 13, 1815, once more at the Curragh, but with Belcher’s Hollow now renamed Donnelly’s Hollow, in tribute to Dan’s victory over Tom Hall. Again, it was as if the whole of Ireland had converged on the Curragh to see their champion in action. Cooper at 168 pounds was outweighed by about 20 pounds, but in a fight that was fiercely contested from the start, he made good use of his superior experience and skill, at times making Donnelly’s aggressive rushes look crude and foolish.  However, by the 7th round, Donnelly’s superior strength and endurance began to tell, and he slowly began to take control of the fighting.  Finally, in the 11th round, Donnelly landed a huge right hand that smashed against Cooper’s mouth, lifted him off his feet, and sent him sprawling senseless onto his back.  Donnelly had been victorious once more.  The spectators (except for those who had come over from England to support Cooper) were besides themselves with joy and adulation, and as Donnelly victoriously made his way back to a waiting carriage, a handful of his fans followed in his wake and dug out the imprint of every footstep that he took. Almost 200 years later these almost mythical footsteps, which have been named “The Steps to Strength and Fame” can still be seen in Donnelly’s Hollow.

Donnelly’s standing and celebrity now reached such a height that it was on a par with something akin to what today’s rock stars might expect to experience. Every man wanted to be his friend and buy him a drink and every woman wanted to be something a little bit more. Donnelly, generous and sociable by nature, found it hard to turn either offer down, and with his new friends, money inevitably ran out (as it invariably did, quite quickly.) Donnelly thought nothing of buying drinks for everyone, friend and stranger alike. Soon the money that Donnelly had been paid from his fights was all gone, spent almost quicker than the time it took to earn. Like so many others, both before and after him, who had grown up in similarly poverty stricken backgrounds, Donnelly was to fall victim to the overwhelming trappings of his success.

Needing money due to his every increasing prolificacy, Donnelly toured England in 1819 with Jack Carter boxing exhibitions. The exhibitions were very successful, drawing large crowds wherever they went, but Donnelly spent his money as quickly as it was handed to him. On July 21, 1819, Donnelly fought Tom Oliver, another highly rated Englishman. This hard fought battle took place in a ring on Crawley Hurst, a few miles outside of London. Once more, Donnelly’s exceptional fortitude and strength saw him come through another grueling epic, and he was finally victorious after 34 rounds, essentially rendering his opponent senseless.

Prince Regent Image:
Rumours abound that sometime before, or after this contest, Donnelly met the Prince Regent, later to be George IV.  The Prince is said to have remarked, “I am delighted to meet the best man in Ireland” to which Donnelly replied, “Not in Ireland, your Royal Highness, I’m the best in England.” The story goes that the Prince was so impressed by this brash, yet, charismatic Irishman, that he knighted him on the spot.

While the truth about this supposed knighthood may never be known, what is undeniable is that the adulation of Donnelly in Ireland. Even in parts of England, where he had made an impression wherever he roamed, his celebrity had reached even more heights that are extraordinary. Poems and songs were dedicated to him at an almost alarming rate. The great Tom Cribb was still the Heavyweight champion of the whole of Britain at this time, and a match between Cribb and Donnelly would surely have been a ‘natural’ and a huge spectacle no matter wherever it took place.  Unfortunately, it never happened.  It is true, Cribb had been inactive a long time by 1819, and would fight only once more before retiring, and it is possible that he did not fancy facing the burly Irishman. The truth behind this non-fight we will never really know, but what is known, is the tragic direction that Donnelly’s life took after he defeated Tom Oliver.

Donnelly never fought again. Feted and admired wherever he went, Donnelly’s life fell into a pool of constant carousing from bar to bar. His money was soon gone again and his excesses were soon taking a visible physical toll upon him. Within a matter of months of the Oliver victory, Donnelly was reduced to begging for money from friends and former backers, as the once huge procession of hangers-on melted away from their dissipated hero.  In February 1820, Donnelly staggered alone from a Dublin bar and collapsed unconscious outside, where he lay in the rain all night. The next morning he was found, soaked to the skin, and shivering.  Pneumonia set in, and a few days later on February 18, 1820, Ireland’s undefeated heavyweight champion was dead.

As often happens with such fallen heroes, Donnelly’s death brought forth a huge outpouring of grief and tributes. An estimated 70,000 people lined the streets of Dublin to watch, grim faced, as Donnelly’s hearse proceeded slowly on, followed by carts and carriages covered in flowers. Donnelly’s death even inspired a eulogy by the famed poet and prize-fighting fan, Lord Byron.

However, Donnelly’s story and legend was not over yet. Just hours after he had been buried at Bully's Acre, Donnelly’s body was dug up and removed from his coffin, by the kind of grave snatchers that were prevalent at the time. When the loss of Donnelly’s body became public knowledge, the whole of Dublin was in an uproar, with people rioting, as they demanded the return of their hero’s remains. Eventually, amid all of the uproar, an eminent Dublin surgeon, Doctor Hall, spoke up and confessed that two students had delivered the body to him for scientific research, but claimed that he had not been aware of the corpse’s identity and would rebury it himself. The truth is more likely that Dr. Hall knew very well the identity of the body being delivered to him, and that he had Donnelly snatched from his resting place ’to order’, but had not been ready for the outpouring of rage and fury that the deed had provoked.  Although Dr. Hall did indeed rebury Donnelly in his grave, it is unlikely that his followers were aware that he had been replaced into his coffin minus his right arm.

Whether this annexation of Donnelly’s right arm was an act of defiance on the good doctor’s part, or simply due to him being overwhelmed by the medical fascination of the arm that had made Donnelly a feted and undefeated fighter throughout all of Ireland, we will never know. Eager to hide his grisly acquisition, Dr. Hall sent Dan’s right arm over to Scotland, where for almost 50 years it was studied by medical students at Edinburgh University. When the mummified limb, now black and stiff, was no longer of any use for research, it was sold to a Victorian circus, and for years earned the circus’s proprietor a small fortune as it was displayed upon countless tours of England.  Then in 1904, a Belfast publican and bookmaker Hugh “Texas” Mcalevey brought the arm and displayed it for some years in his bar. Eventually, feeling that the blackened and shriveled limb was keeping customers away, Mcalevey put the arm upstairs in his loft, where it stayed for nearly 20 years until his death in the late 1940s.

Upon Mcalevey’s death, Dan’s arm was rediscovered by wine merchant Tom Donnelly (no relative to Dan it seems) who in turn passed it on to Kilcullen publican Jim Bryne, in 1953, who put it on display in his bar “The Hideout,” which was situated just a mile from the site of Donnelly’s famous triumph over Cooper.
Donnelly’s arm became a popular attraction and Bryne even organized a reenactment of Donnelly’s famous encounter with George Cooper.

Donnelly’s right arm remained on show at the Hideout in pride of place, for over 50 years, as the pub was passed on to Bryne’s son upon his death.  Then, when Bryne’s son decided to sell the pub, Donnelly’s arm found its way to New York in 2006, as one of the main attractions of the “Fighting Irishmen” exhibition, at The Irish Arts Centre.

The arm returned to Ireland in 2009 and is regularly one of the feature attractions at various boxing themed exhibitions.  Despite legends to the contrary, all known studies of Donnelly’s right arm seem to point to the conclusion that his arms were of normal length for a man of his size. Dan Donnelly is still celebrated as one of Ireland’s most enduring heroes and figures in Irish folklore.

Today an imposing stone monument, which was renovated by public subscription in 1953, stands in the centre of “Donnelly's Hollow” at the site of his famous victories over Tom Hall and George Cooper, beside the famous footsteps that he took following his conquering of Cooper.


Almost 200 years since his death, Donnelly is still a hero to many an Irishman.  He was a fighter, even if only for a short time, through his fistic exploits, that gave England a bloody nose, and in doing so gave renewed hope to the whole Irish nation.

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Review:Yesterday’s Glovemen: The Golden Days of Ulster Boxing

 The Sunday Book Review by Peter Silkov
 “Yesterday’s Glovemen: The Golden Days of Ulster Boxing”  Written by Brian Madden

This week’s book is a celebration of the great boxers to come out of Northern Ireland.  Ireland has a long history of providing a great number of outstanding pugilists to the sport. Ever since the legendary bare-knuckle champion of Britain Daniel Mendoza toured Ireland during his prime, he more or less single-handedly inspired the Irish to take up organized fighting. 

First published in 2006, “Yesterday’s Glovemen: The Golden Days of Ulster Boxing” looks at the lives and careers of a fascinating selection of fighters, ranging from those who found world fame and world titles, to those who had careers as journeymen. A few fighters in this book had only a handful of professional contests, but their career and life stories as recounted to us by Brian Madden, more than justify their inclusion within this book. Indeed, one of the most rewarding aspects of this book is how you find yourself discovering fighters of the past who you had never previously heard of, in addition to reading about fighters of whom you might have already are acquainted. Each of the book’s 26 chapters are devoted to a different boxer.

The boxers included in “Yesterday’s Glovemen: The Golden Days of Ulster Boxing” are Mickey Lavery, Jack Garland, Pat “Maurice” Marrinan, Ike Weir (Jimmy Rooney), Bunty Doran, Al Gibson, Paddy Slavin, Tom Meli, Bunty Adamson, Bob Gourly, John Kelly, Billy “Spider” Kelly, Paddy Graham, Jimmy Carson Sr., Charlie Cosgrove, Sammy Cowan, Henry Turkington, Jim Mccann, Paddy Graham, Francie “FRA” McCullagh, Jimmy Carson Jr., and David Irving.
Alongside such well-known names as Jim “Spider” Kelly, John Kelly, Rinty Monaghan, Freddie Gilroy, and Johnny Caldwell, there are plenty of other fighters whom, while not as famous, have just as interesting life stories to be told.

Another charm of this book is that, despite the compactness of every fighter’s bio, the author manages to build an interesting and informative account of each fighter that he covers. It really is impressive how vivid a picture Madden is able to paint of each fights career and life within these pages.

This book is a handsome one, with a nice cover, and within its 258 pages there are plenty of photographs of the fighters being profiled.

Brian Madden’s narrative is detailed, yet never too dry. We are never just drowned in a list of facts and dates, as is the mistake of some boxing biographies. This book flows as we learn interesting aspects of fighters lives outside the ring as well as inside it, each fighter is portrayed as a person, rather than just a stereotypical boxer.

In all, Madden has put together a wonderful book that seems to have escaped the attention of many. It is a book that deserves to be read, and will be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone with a healthy interest in boxing, especially in reliving the glory days of Irish boxing. It is a pleasure to find a book, which brings back into the light fighters who might otherwise have become forgotten. 

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Matthew Saad Muhammad Needs A Gravestone..You Can Help

I was shocked earlier today to find out that Matthew Saad Muhammad, one of the gutsiest and most exciting fighters to ever pull on the gloves, is buried in an unmarked grave. Saad's story is well known amongst the strain of boxing fans whose memories and knowledge reach back into the golden era of the 1970s and 80s. Saad rose from a impoverished and unhappy childhood, to become one of the most outstanding world champions of his era; a World light-heavyweight champion when the division was  arguably  in its deepest vein of talent ever seen. Saad was not just a world champion, he was an inspiration, for everything he endured, and overcame both in and outside of the ring. When Saad's boxing ability faded, he carried on being an inspiration, albeit often unnoticed by the people who used to watch him in his epic fights. Like Many ex-fighters and ex-champions Saad's final years were not always pretty, in many ways he found himself back where he had started, battling poverty and homelessness. Yet, even in these dark days,  Saad still tried to give back, his thoughts weren't solely for himself, but to help those around him who he saw were also struggling. This is what made Saad such a great champion, even years beyond his boxing career. When Saad died it was years too early, a hard life catching up with him too soon. Now this brave man lies in an unmarked grave. It is cruelly ironic that a man who was abandoned as a young boy by his family, and found homeless and nameless on the Philadelphia streets, should now lay beneath a nameless grave. Everyone deserves better at the end of their life, no one should end their lives nameless, but especially one so courageous and giving as Matthew Saad Muhammad. He was just a boxer, but what he did during his life transcended just the simple category of 'boxer'. There is a fund which is collecting money in order to buy Saad a gravestone. The target is $5000.00 dollars. Please give as little or as much as you can so that this champion in life does not lay nameless in death. It is the least we can do for Matthew Saad Muhammad. has started a fund raising campaign to give this warrior the respect he deserves! Philly Boxing History has done so much retired boxers and has helped provide gravestones to other boxers such as Gypsy Joe Harris, Eddie Cool, and Garnet "Sugar" Hart. Please visit if you able to contribute . If you do not know the story of Matthew Saad Muhammad, I invite you to drop down on this page and read about his life. Thank you.

From the Saad Muhammad Gofundme page:

"Many of the great heroes of Philly Boxing History currently lie in unmarked graves all around the Philadelphia area. is on a mission to provide gravestone memorials for these fighting men and women who gave so much to so many boxing fans.

In recent years, we have completed four such projects, placing gravestones for Philly legends Tyrone Everett, Gypsy Joe Harris, Garnet "Sugar" Hart and Jimmy & Eddie Cool.  Each of these men were outstanding boxers during their time and provided fans with some of the greatest and most memorable ring action in history.

They gave us everything they had, and fans remembered them long after they were gone by helping us provide each with a gravestone to mark their final resting place.

We now embark our fifth gravestone project effort.  The recipient of this one is perhaps the most exciting boxer in the history of the sport.  Matthew Saad Muhammad was a hard-hitting thrill machine who staged one ring war after another during his Hall of Fame career.

Saad Muhammad began making history at the legendary Spectrum in South Philadelphia, and went on to become the WBC light heavyweight champion of the world. After winning the crown, he successfully defended it eight times. His fights were savage works of art against the very best of his era.  Saad Muhammad gave us indelible memories to cherish and relive for the rest of our lives.

Now it is time for us to return the favor.

Matthew Saad Muhammad passed away on May 25, 2014 at age 59, and currently rests at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Please help us purchase a gravestone for this ring hero. He was a world champ, a boxing giant, and a favorite warrior to countless fans.  He was also an approachable and ever-friendly icon outside of the ring.

The monument chosen by the family of Saad Muhammad is a sizable black granite stone that features a beautiful image of Matthew draped in his championship belt, and with his nickname, "Miracle Matthew", engraved beneath it.  This will indeed be a monument appropriate for such an all-time great.

But we can only do it with your support!  Please help us with this important project and be part of a wonderful tribute.

Everyone who donates to our cause will receive a limited edition Matthew Saad Muhammad boxing card. If your contribution is $100 or more, you will receive a 16" x 20" photo of Saad Muhammad (plus the boxing card).  Donate $200 or more and receive a special Matthew Saad Muhammad tee shirt (plus the photo and the boxing card).  If your contribution is $500 or more, you will receive an original 9" x 12" oil pastel painting of Saad Muhammad by Philadelphia artist Lou Baker (plus the tee shirt, the photo, and the boxing card).  These special keepsake gifts are our way of saying 'thank you' to everyone who helps us reach our goal.  (Note: All gifts will be mailed at the end of the campaign, after we reach our goal.)

Please consider getting involved.  No donation is too small (or too large!).

The amount we seek will cover all costs and fees connected to the gravestone for Matthew Saad Muhammad.  We are not asking for anything more than the amount we need for this specific project. However, if any additional funds are raised during this campaign, those dollars will be used for future gravestones placed by the Philly Boxing History Gravestone Program.

We have a long list of other boxers currently resting in unmarked plots. will be our fifth gravestone, but we look forward to placing many more.

Thank you for your support!"

An online campaign has been set up to raise the funds needed for the various costs and fees related to the purchase and placement of the gravestone. Anyone willing to contribute to the cause can make a credit card donation at
Those who prefer to make a donation by check or money order, should make their contribution payable to “Gravestone Fund / Fairhill Street Productions”, and mail it to:
Fairhill Street Productions / Philly Boxing History Gravestone Fund
PO Box 428
Sewell, NJ 08080

By Peter Silkov
Matthew Saad Muhammad: The Hard Road of a Warrior

When Matthew Saad Muhammad passed away on May 25, 2014, at the young age of 59 years old, it brought an end to a life that would seem to have been written by an over imaginative Hollywood scriptwriter. Saad’s life was one of incredible highs and just as devastating lows, in a world where the tribute of ’warrior’ is bestowed all too often, Matthew Saad Muhammad was one of life’s true warriors, both in and out of the ring. Unfortunately, fate often didn’t give him much of a choice. 

Born Maxwell Antonio Loach on June 16, 1954, in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, life was a battle from the start for Maxwell. When his mother passed away, Maxwell and his older brother were placed in the care of an aunt, who soon decided that she couldn’t support both children, and had the older brother take Maxwell into the city and then abandon him there. In later years, Saad would remember this incident vividly, ‘He took me out in the city, where I wouldn’t know where I was or how to find my way home, and ran away from me. I tried to run after him. I ran as fast as I could. I was five years old, and I was running for my life.  But I couldn’t keep up.’  

Maxwell was discovered by a policeman on the Ben Franklin Parkway and handed over into the care of Catholic Services. Unable to recall his name, Maxwell was renamed Matthew Franklin, and was adopted by a Portuguese family in South Philadelphia, after he had been in numerous foster homes.  Matthew found himself the victim of constant school bullying, at the hands of tormenters who would call him ’the orphan’.  Matthew decided to take up boxing as a teenager in order to defend himself against those who persecuted him because he was an orphan. It was to be another huge turning point in his life. After everything he had already been through in his short life, Matthew discovered that taking pain and punishment inside a boxing ring was almost second nature to him.

Matthew Franklin turned professional on January 14, 1974, scoring a 2nd round stoppage over Billy Early. In the true tradition of the Philadelphia fighter, Matthew was matched tough from the beginning of his career, fighting a mixture of fellow prospects with winning records, and some battle-worn old pros with vastly more experience than him. 

The 1970s and early 1980s saw something of a talent explosion in the often maligned and under appreciated light-heavyweight division. Perhaps at no time since the 1940s had the division been so filled with such a collection of crafty counter-punchers, speedy boxers, iron-chinned sluggers, explosive punchers, and some fighters who could do a good bit of everything. It was a time in which a fighter had to be a little bit special just to make it as a top-ten contender. 

In early 1976, in his thirteenth and fourteenth professional contests, Matthew scored point’s wins over two future world champions, Mate Parlov and Marvin Camel, but was out-pointed by Camel and held to a draw by Parlov, in rematches later that same year. At this point in his career, Matthew was an athletic and strong box-fighter, with a good punch, who concentrated more on his boxing skills, than his big punch; his next fight in early 1977 would change all of that.

On March 11, 1977, Matthew took on another future world champion, Eddie Gregory (who later changed his name to Eddie Mustapha Muhammad.)  After having Gregory on the floor in the first round, Matthew saw his opponent recover, and go on to win a close and disputed point’s decision. After this defeat, Matthew consciously changed his style to that of a far more aggressive fighter, rather than a counter-punching boxer.  This change of style would deepen as his career went on, and would be the source of both his greatest successes, and his eventual decline.

Four months after the defeat to Eddie Gregory,
Matthew faced the unbeaten Marvin Johnson (another future world champion) for the NABF Light-heavyweight championship, and a place near the top of the 175-pound rankings. Against Johnson, Matthew engaged in the kind of sizzling slugfest that would become his trademark over the next few years. After falling behind early, to the fast starting and aggressive Indianapolis man, Matthew came back seemingly from the brink of defeat to wear down and eventually overwhelm Johnson in the 12th round. It was a preview of things to come from Matthew. In his next fight, Matthew defended the NABF title against the dangerous Billy Douglas, and overcame being floored in the 5th round, to knockout Douglas in the 6th.

In his next defence of his NABF light-heavyweight title,
Matthew faced the big- punching Richie Kates, who had only recently given Victor Galindez two tough fights for Galindez’s WBA world light-heavyweight title.  Matthew seemed to be on the point of certain defeat, when Kates dropped him face-first to the canvas near the end of the 4th round. In a show of his amazing recuperative powers, he stormed back in the 5th and dropped Kates flat onto his face at the round’s end.  When the 6th round got underway, Kates was at Matthew’s mercy and staggering around under a hail of fists, until the referee stopped the fight. It was victories like this, where triumph was snatched from the jaws of defeat that gained Matthew the nickname ‘Miracle Matthew.’

Following the Kates fight, Matthew had two non-title fight wins, stopping Dale Grant in the 5th and Freddie Bright in 8 rounds, before taking on the tough Yaqui Lopez, in defence of his NABF title.  Lopez was a teak-tough box-fighter, who had already made three challenges for the World light-heavyweight championship; going the distance with WBA champion Victor Galindez in two very close fights, (the first of which many felt he should have won) and had also losing a close decision to John Conteh for the WBC light-heavyweight title.
 The fight was the kind of fistic war that was
becoming a trademark for Matthew, as the action went back and forth, at a terrific pace and intensity, with Lopez pressuring and Matthew using his jab to counter the Mexican’s scything attacks. In the 8th round, a Lopez punch drove Matthew reeling into the ropes; at that point, Lopez launched a tremendous two-fisted attack of about 30 plus punches. Matthew laid on the ropes and tried to dodge or duck some of the punches coming his way, but took many of them.  When it seemed that Matthew would surely crumble, he fought his way off the ropes, laughing at Lopez, and then launched a two-fisted attack of his own that shook up the Mexican.  Another trademark of Matthew Franklin’s warrior spirit would be his penchant for laughing when under the most severe of attacks. The round ended with Matthew on the attack and Lopez having to give ground. From the 9th round onwards, the momentum of the fight slowly shifted to Franklin. Although it was still tough and tightly competitive, Lopez had shot his bolt in the 8th round and by the 9th, his right eye was closing.  In the 11th round, a furious attack from Franklin worsened a cut over the left eye of Lopez, who by now could see nothing out of his closed right eye, and the referee Frank Cappuccino waved a halt to the carnage. It was just another day in the office for Matthew Franklin, from now on; every fight would be a war. 

Six months later, Matthew would face Marvin Johnson again, and this time it would be for the WBC world light-heavyweight championship. Since their first fight, Johnson had rebounded from his loss to put together a useful string of victories, which had culminated with him travelling to Italy, and winning the WBC world light-heavyweight championship from Mate Parlov, on a 10th round stoppage.
Four months later, on April 22, 1979, Johnson was going to make the first defence of his world title against the man that had beaten him previously in such a spectacular and exciting fashion. When asked in the run-up to this fight why he had chosen to pick such a hard opponent for his first defence, Johnson replied “Because he beat me.” 

This was the era when almost, without exception; world champions felt compelled to put their titles on the line against the very best and most dangerous challengers available. On the night, the crowd at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana, saw Matthew Franklin and Marvin Johnson, serve up one of the most savage and intensely fought world championship contests seen in modern times. This was a fight in which both men stood toe-to-toe and exchanged fistic bombs, in a fight where the momentum seemed to shift with every explosive exchange. The finish came in the 8th round, when both men stood head-to-head, throwing bombs at each other, something had to give, and two cuts opened up over Franklin’s eyes, sending blood coursing down his face. Instead of retreating, or looking for a breather by holding, Matthew launched a two-fisted attack at Johnson, which verged on the maniacal, as if all the anger and fear of his youth was being released in those punches. Johnson wavered under the assault, like a drunken man trying desperately to keep his feet, then he finally fell to the canvas, and although he regained his feet and beat the count, he could hardly stand, and the referee wisely ended the fight. Matthew Franklin was now world champion. 

One of the first things that Franklin did after winning the WBC title was to announce that he had become a Muslim and was changing his name to Matthew Saad Muhammad. The man, who had been abandoned by his family, and left with nothing at the age of 5 years old, was now on top of the world.  Now, everyone wanted to be Saad’s friend, or part of his new ‘family.’ After he won the world title, Matthew decided to search for his blood relatives. He offered a reward for any information that would lead to their whereabouts. It didn’t take long for the aunt who had abandoned him when he was five years old to come forward and reveal herself; unfortunately, she seemed more interested in claiming the reward, than renewing her relationship with her nephew.  Muhammad soon discovered that, even though he had realized his dream of winning the world championship, there are not always happy endings, especially when human nature is involved.

Over the next two and a half years Saad would defend his world championship successfully eight times. His defences were mostly exercises in Saad’s extraordinary heart, punch, and endurance over coming challengers who often seemed poised to overcome ‘Miracle Matthew.’  Saad was turning his slow starts into an art now, almost as if he needed to feel his own blood, or to be rocked and punished by his opponent’s blows before he could get properly started himself.

Saad’s first challenger was John Conteh on August 18, 1979. The talented Conteh was a former WBC world light heavyweight champion and used his slick boxing and artful jab to take an early point’s lead, and cut up Saad badly over the left eye.  However, Saad roared back in the later rounds, flooring Conteh twice in the 14th round and pulling out a close point’s decision. Conteh was granted an immediate rematch, partly due to his first showing against Saad, and partly due to the fact that during the first fight Saad’s corner men had used an illegal substance on his badly cut eye to stop the bleeding. The rematch, seven months later, was a disaster for Conteh, as a fired up Saad dominated him from the start, then overwhelmed him in the 4th round, flooring him five times, before the referee stopped the action. Two months after the Conteh fight, on May 11, 1980, Sad had one of his easier defences when he dismantled Louis Perjured for a 5th round stoppage. 

On July 13, 1980, Saad engaged in possibly the most savage, thrilling, and sapping fights of his career.  Saad met Yaqui Lopez for the second time, in a fight, which mirrored their first classic. Once more, Muhammad came close to defeat, never more so than in the 8th round, which was an almost eerie carbon copy of the 8th round of their first fight. Saad was hurt, then cornered into the ropes, and almost stopped, as Lopez unloaded a huge blitz of over 30 unanswered punches. Yet, just as in their first fight, Saad weathered the almost disturbing amount of punishment he was receiving, to fight his way off the ropes, and have Lopez in trouble at the end of the round. One of the most amazing sights of the whole fight was Saad literally laughing as he came back at Lopez. Perhaps it is not so surprising that after this round Saad slowly gained the upper hand in the fight. Lopez exhausted himself and perhaps Saad’s inhuman resistance to his punches, had broken something inside of him. Lopez did not win another round after the 8th and was finally stopped in the 14th round after being floored four times. 

Saad’s next defence was a much more straightforward performance against Lotte Mwale, with Saad winning by a 4th round knockout. Three months later, on February 28, 1981, Saad made his eighth defence of his title against the lanky Vonzell Johnson.  Johnson proved to be another troublesome challenger, landing often, and having the temerity to out-box Saad at times. The champion’s big punches eventually took their toll, as Saad walked through everything his challenger had to throw, until he finally caught up with Johnson in the 11th round. 

Despite the punishing nature of his contests, Saad remained a busy fighter and champion.  Just two months after disposing of Vonzell Johnson, the champion found himself defending his title against the canny and rugged Scot, Murray Sutherland.   Early on, Saad looked slow and sluggish and Sutherland started confidently. Things got even worse for Saad when a Sutherland punch split open his lip. Saad’s title seemed to be slipping away from him, until one of his patented right hands dropped Sutherland heavily in the 9th round. Although Sutherland seemed to just beat the count, controversially, the referee counted him out. 

Saad had what constituted as a short rest (presumably to let the cut lip heal) before re-entering the ring again five months later, against the short and dangerous Jerry ’The Bull’ Martin.  Saad again started slowly, he seemed to have made the slow start an art form all his own. Sure enough, by the mid-rounds, Saad was countering Martin’s rushes, and replying to ’The Bulls’ body attacks with wide lefts and rights to the head.    In the 11th round, two right hands from Saad staggered the exhausted Martin, and the referee Larry Hazzard stepped in and stopped the fight. It seemed as if Saad was truly invincible, it didn’t matter how slow he started a fight or how far behind he went in rounds; he always came back to win. The constant wars had become almost predictable. Saad must have felt it too, surrounded by the ever-growing number of admirers and hangers-on. Did Saad feel invincible?  Or did he always know deep down that one day the wave he was riding would come crashing down?

On December 19, 1981, Saad made the 9th defence of his world title against a sawed- off shotgun of a man (at five foot 6 and a half) named Dwight Braxton. Saad’s defence started even worse than usual when he was two pounds over the weight limit and had to go to the sauna to get off the excess poundage. Things didn’t improve once the fight started. Saad tried to jab and out-box Braxton, but the diminutive challenger was impossible to hold off. Within a few rounds, Saad’s face was bloodied from his challenger’s own brutal jabs, which were constantly tearing through his guard. Saad’s usual slow start had become a one-sided beating, only made competitive by Saad’s enormous courage, and refusal to quit.  Again and again he tried to mount attacks of his own and force the challenger back, but Braxton just grinned at him through his mouth guard and kept up his almost demonic assault. Saad’s brave, foolhardy resistance came to an end in the 10th round when a hook sent him down to the canvas. It wasn’t any harder than countless hooks he had already take in the rounds before, but it was that one punch too many that finally reduces even the toughest men to submission.  Saad beat the count, there was never anything wrong with his heart, but the well of miracle comebacks was over.  After Braxton landed just four more punches upon Saad, the referee stopped the fight.  Saad’s world title reign of thrills and brutality was over. Perhaps it was inevitable that the glorious victories would descend into a gory defeat. It seems there is a price that warriors like Saad have to pay. Sadly, it would get worse for Saad, much worse.

Blaming his weight problems for his defeat to Braxton, Saad tried to pull off another miracle eight months later, when he attempted to regain the title from Braxton. This time Saad could not be competitive. Pressed up against the ropes for most of the time, Saad took an unrelenting beating that was painful to watch. It was as if all of those miracle comebacks, in all those extraordinary fights, had finally taken their price from Saad. The referee mercifully ended the ‘fight’ in the 6th round. 

It should have been the end, but all too often is the case with many of boxing’s greatest warriors; it was just the beginning of the long slide down from fame and riches, and back to somewhere sadly reminiscent of where it had all started. 

The hangers-on and friends drifted away as Saad’s boxing career came off the rails.  The money soon went too, much of it with the departing entourage. Saad responded in the only way he really knew, by continuing to fight.  Saad was only 28 years old when he had his second fight with Braxton, an age where most fighters are at their peak, but Saad’s body had been through hell and back just too many times, and there was nothing left inside. Whatever made Saad the amazing fighter he had been at his thrilling peak was gone, burnt out. The next decade was a series of futile comebacks for Saad, fighting in obscure places against obscure opponents.  Always Saad said that his aim was to regain his world championship and that he just needed to put together some good wins in order to get himself back on track.  The good wins never came and Saad’s record for the final 10 years of his career was 16-11-2. Finally, when Saad retired, his troubles adjusting to life away from the ring continued mostly away from the public gaze.

In 2010, Saad walked into a homeless shelter in Philadelphia; it seemed to be the final fall for the proud champion. Once again, Saad displayed a kind of extraordinary courage that so few people are blessed with. Saad spoke out about his predicament, in the hope that it would bring attention to the plight of so many who have lived ordinary anonymous lives, only to find themselves cut adrift from society for a variety of reasons. In his last years of his all too short life, Saad emerged as a brave and articulate spokesperson on the plight of homeless, and joined forces with the Philadelphia ‘One Step Away’ street newspaper, to try and make a difference for the city’s homeless population.  Muhammad joined the “Knockout Homelessness” campaign, which brought publicity, awareness, and to benefit ‘One Step Away’ on their mission to end homelessness in the Philadelphia area.

It is hard to sum up the life of a man such as Matthew Saad Muhammad. He knew both great glory and terrible lows. He was a fantastic fighter with seemingly inhuman resources at one time, ultimately, he was simply a normal man who had the courage to go face to face with adversity all through his life and never quit. Perhaps the best epitaph for Saad is that he was an ordinary man who accomplished extraordinary things during his life and will never be forgotten by the countless people whom he inspired both in and out of the ring.
Copyright © 2014 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review: Two Ton: One Night, One Fight -Tony Galento v. Joe Louis

The Sunday Book Review by Peter Silkov
 "Two Ton: One Night, One Fight -Tony Galento v. Joe Louis" Written by by Joseph Monninger

Joe Louis and Tony Galento weigh in.
On June 28, 1939, Joe Louis defended his World heavyweight championship against Tony Galento, in what would prove to be one of the legendary ‘Brown Bombers” most famous battles. 

Tony Galento was one of  Louis‘s more outlandish challengers. Standing only 5’ feet 8” inches tall, and weighing usually something between 225 to 245 pounds, Galento was a full blown ‘character‘ who trained on beer, had a constant cigar gripped between his thick lips, and owned and ran his own bar in Orange, New Jersey.  Perhaps the most outlandish thing about Galento was that, despite his unconventional lifestyle and training habits, he really could fight. He was a natural, savage brawler, with a heart as huge as his belly and a punch to match. Galento was the kind of fighter who during the days of bare knuckle fighting could have been world champion. 

Galento ready to take Louis on.
Louis was already at the halfway point of becoming a legend when he defended his title against the barrelesque Galento and few gave the challenger much of a chance of defeating "The Brown Bomber."  However, on the night,  the fight proved to be a thriller and sensation, for the 4 rounds that it lasted. Galento lived up to his pre-flight boasts of doing the best he could to ‘Moider dat bum’; hurling his wide frame forward again and again, even as Louis’s slashing fists began to make a bloody mess of Tony’s pudgy face.  However, more than that, Galento’s wide yet powerful punches actually rocked Louis in the 1st round, and then dropped him in the 3rd.

Galento knocks Louis down in the 3rd.
For a couple of seconds in the 3rd round, it seemed that Tony Galento was on the threshold of pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the history of boxing, indeed in the sport itself.
“Two Ton: One Night, One Fight -Tony Galento v. Joe Louis” by Joseph Monninger is a riveting portrait of that night of June 28, 1939, when, for a few precious seconds, enthralled the thousands watching the world championship contest in person, plus the millions listening via radio. For those few precious seconds, Galento had the world at his feet, and the most coveted prize in all sports within his hands.

It was a night when a fighter with the nickname of “Two Ton,” who actually looked like he weighed two tons, came close to becoming Heavyweight champion of the world. 

Then Joe Louis got up. 

Referree helps Galento up.
First published in 2006, “Two Ton: One Night, One Fight -Tony Galento v. Joe Louis” gives us a marvellous portrait, not only of both boxers that swapped leather that night for the world heavyweight crown, but also of the people around them. We are given an at times mesmerizing glimpse of the world of 1939, a world where radio still ruled the airwaves, and boxing ruled the sports world.  Monninger’s narrative is stylishly sparse and to the point. He says a lot in paragraphs that are short, but flowing, hitting the target like a Joe Louis combination.

First published in 2006, “Two Ton: One Night, One Fight -Tony Galento v. Joe Louis” gives us a marvelous portrait, not only of both boxers that swapped leather that night for the world heavyweight crown, but also of the people around them. We are given an at times mesmerizing glimpse of the world of 1939, a world where radio still ruled the airwaves, and boxing ruled the sports world.  Monninger’s narrative is stylishly sparse and to the point. He says a lot in paragraphs that are short, but flowing, hitting the target like a Joe Louis combination.

Tony Galento after his fight with Joe Louis
Yet, it is Tony “Two Ton” Galento who is the real hero of this book, not Louis. In this book, we see Galento in all his beer sodden, blood splattered, wise cracking, glory.  It is hard to think of a more comprehensive and insightful portrait of the New Jersey brawler. These 208 pages, which include a nice selection of photographs, do a wonderful job of showing us why this fight thrilled so many at the time, and reached the status of one of the truly legendary battles to have been fought for the World heavyweight title. We also see why Galento was such a favourite with the public and the press alike, and how even in savage defeat, his performance against Louis consolidated his legacy.

Joe Louis reads the headlines after his victory over Tony Galento.

“Two Ton: One Night, One Fight -Tony Galento v. Joe Louis” is a book that, despite its relatively slim nature, manages to reveal a vast amount of information, about both of its two combatants, but also about the time in which both men lived and fought, and when boxing was the most important sport in the world, with the power to transcend all barriers.

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to 

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