Monday, November 16, 2015

Panama Joe Gans: A Champion Denied a Crown

By Peter Silkov

Panama Joe Gans was one of the most talented fighters of the 1920s, but through a mixture of bad luck and the colour bar, which existed during this time, Gans was denied the chance of fighting for a world title.  Panama Joe was born Cyril Quinton Jr., on November 14, 1896, in Barbados.  When he was a young child his family relocated to Colon, Panama, but life was to be far from easy, especially after Quinton’s father died when Quinton was just 10 years old.  Quinton was soon getting into trouble on the streets as he tried to find money to help his mother feed the family, and things grew worse when Quinton’s mother met a new man, a stepfather whom Quinton despised.  Soon Quinton was living more on the streets than at home and mixing with a gang of petty thieves. 

When he was 12 years old, Quinton was caught by police stealing fish from a local market, and was placed into a detention centre where he would remain for the next 4 years.   

However, far from being the ruin of him, the detention center would turn out to be a positive influence upon Quinton.  The centre was run by the church, and while he was there, Quinton learned to read, write and most important of all, to box. This was the first place where he found that he was naturally gifted with his fists, and started to dream of making his fame and fortune as a world champion boxer.

Upon his release, at the age of 16, Quinton was soon participating in ’smokers’ unofficial fights, which usually took place in the back rooms of saloons.  It was while fighting in these ’smokers’ that Quiton first took on the name of Panama Joe Gans, after the late legendary World lightweight champion, Joe Gans. 

Quinton soon outgrew the ’smokers’ and in 1914 began his official boxing career.  He quickly became a big attraction amongst the Panama fans, and within a year was fighting main events scheduled for 15 and 20 rounds.  Quinton developed into a boxer worthy of carrying the name of Joe Gans. He was a brilliant all-round boxer with skill, speed, and a knockout punch.  But, as his boxing career developed, he would find that his ability, along with his colour, would prove to be his biggest obstacle to reaching the very top, and gaining the world title in which he dreamed.

Starting his career as a lightweight, Quinton soon developed into a welterweight.  His success soon found him forced to take on middleweights, and even light heavyweights, and for much of his career he would often give away weight to his opponents.  It was often the only way that he could secure a fight. 

After winning the Lightweight and Middleweight titles of Panama, Quinton had exhausted his competition in Panama and in 1917 moved to America, basing himself in New York’s Harlem.  In 1918, Quinton was conscripted for a time in the United States Army, reporting to Camp Upton, in Yaphank, NY.  When his boxing background was discovered, Quinton was put to work training the coloured recruit’s in the finer points of boxing.  During his time at Camp Upton, Quinton came to know the camp’s main boxing instructor, Benny Leonard, who had just recently won the World lightweight championship.  The two men would often spar, to keep Leonard trim. Leonard took Quinton under his wing, and taught him some invaluable tricks of the trade that he began to put to good use when he was discharged from the Army at the end of 1918.    

Part of Quinton’s reputation was made in 1919 when he drew praise for his work as a sparring partner for World heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, when Dempsey was getting ready for his title defence against Billy Miske.  Quinton gave Dempsey some of his hardest workouts, despite giving away 40 pounds to the heavyweight champion.

From early 1919 until October 1922, Quinton went 47-2-4 in 53 recorded bouts against an impressive array of top middleweights, and light-heavyweights.  His victories during this time included wins over top fighters such as Jeff Smith, Jamaica Kid, Frank Carbone, Allentown Joe Gans, Jackie Clarke, George Robinson, Tiger Flowers, Nero Chink, and Jack Blackburn. Quinton’s only defeats during this time were disputed newspaper decisions to Jock Malone and Mike Mctigue.   

Despite his success and popularity with the American fans, Quinton could not secure a world title shot, and found himself avoided by top white middleweights such as George Chip, Mike O’Dowd and even Harry Greb, all of whom would not meet him in the ring.  Many boxing people at this time viewed Quinton as being the uncrowned Middleweight champion of the world.  The fact that he never got a chance to challenge for the world’s title, is an indictment of the racist atmosphere of those times.  Ironically one of Quinton’s victims, Tiger Flowers, would himself gain a shot at the World middleweight title in 1926, and beat Harry Greb for the title.  Unfortunately, Flowers was an exception to the general rule of the time. Indeed, he was the first coloured world champion since Jack Johnson lost the World heavyweight title in 1915.

Instead, Quinton had to be content with winning the ironic ‘coloured’ Middleweight championship, which he won from George Robinson on October 8, 1920, after he out- pointed Robinson over 12 rounds.  Quinton would defend this title a number of times over the nest few years, often against other coloured contenders who, like him, were avoided by the top white fighters.

In 1923, Quinton went from being seemingly unbeatable, then his form noticeably dropped after he had suffered a bout of pneumonia, and went a moderate 9-5 in 1923.  Quinton suffered a second, near fatal, attack of pneumonia in late 1923. Although he recovered, defying doctors who had told him he would never box again, and returned to the ring in 1924, the illness left a permanent mark upon Quinton. He was never the same fighter he had been previously.

Quinton lost his Coloured Middleweight championship to Larry Estridge, on June 26, 1924. He then lost a rematch against Estridge two months later, with only his courage taking him the distance in both fights.  It was downhill for Quinton from there on, he went 4-8-2 in his remaining 14 contests, before finally hanging up his gloves in 1928.  He retired with a final record of 72(43koes)-20-7.  One of the most talented fighters of boxing’s golden era, yet, a victim of the times in which he lived. That and his misfortune to lose his athletic ability to illness while still his prime. 

Cyril Quinton died on June 28, 1968, at the age of 72.  He had long since been forgotten by most boxing fans, except for those who had seen or read about him during his heyday. Many considered Panama Joe Gans to be one of the finest fighters of his time.  A true champion who was denied a crown.

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

1 comment:

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