Saturday, February 13, 2016

Boxing History: Thomas 'Pedlar' Palmer: The Box O' Tricks

Remembering...Thomas 'Pedlar' Palmer
September 25, 1876 - February 13, 1949

Thomas ‘Pedlar’ Palmer was one of the cleverest and most scientifically adapt boxers ever to come out of Britain.  He was one of the earliest East End boxing celebrities, and his life story reads like a novel, with him rising from poverty to fame and riches by the time he was 20 years old, and then losing it all.  Palmer’s fall from stardom and success was as quick as his rise.

Palmer was born in Canning Town, London, on September 25, 1876.  His father had been a very useful bare-knuckle fighter and Palmer showed from an early age that he was a natural talent for fighting.  Although he made his official professional debut in 1891, while aged 15, Palmer had a number of fights previously to that, mostly with bare knuckles, that has not been recorded.

After turning professional, Palmer soon showed himself to be an outstanding talent.  He had great speed with both his hands and his feet, and his cleverness and dexterity in the ring gained him the nickname, ‘The Box O’ Tricks.’ 

On May 1, 1892, while still not 17 years old, Palmer won the British 102 pound title,  (this was before the official introduction of the flyweight division into boxing) with a 17th round knockout of Walter Croot.  Palmer became one of the biggest stars in British boxing and a darling of the National Sporting Club, which was then the centre of British boxing.

After making several successful defences of his British 102 pound title, Palmer moved up in weight to the bantamweight division, and on November 25, 1895, defeated Billy Plimmer on a disqualification in 14 rounds, to win the British version of the World Bantamweight championship.  Plimmer was disqualified when his brother entered the ring, just as Billy was dazed and in trouble from a Palmer attack.  Palmer became the first boxer to win a world title via a disqualification, and also at the age of 19 and 2 months, the youngest boxer ever to win the Bantamweight world championship.

This was a time when England and America had their own World bantamweight champions, and opinion was divided over who was the superior.  But, Palmer’s successful defences of his title over the next 3 years, over top men such as, Johnny Murphy, Ernie Stanton, Dave Sullivan, and Billy Plimmer (again), gained support for Palmer being the true number one in the bantamweight division.

During this time, Palmer gained the reputation for living as fast a life outside of the ring, as he did inside of it.  He enjoyed the nightlife, gambling, drinking, and womanizing, and eventually this devil-may-care lifestyle away from the ring, would have implications for his career inside of it.

Palmer’s world came crashing down on September 12, 1899, when he traveled to America to fight America’s top bantamweight, ’Terrible’ Terry McGovern in New York.  After having a distracted training camp in which he was troubled by the continual harassment of the American journalists, and having trouble making the weight, Palmer was demolished by McGovern in the 1st round, losing his world title, and much of his former prestige.  Although Palmer would carry on boxing at the top level for another 6 years, and would still produce some memorable performances and victories, his best years were behind him after his defeat by McGovern.  He was never quite the same mercurial boxer again.

Palmer won the British Bantamweight title (billed at the time as the English 116 pound title) on May 28, 1900, with a 15-round point’s win over Harry Ware, but then lost the title back to Ware five months later, when he was out-pointed over 20 rounds.

Palmer’s form became patchy as the 1900s progressed, with him going 16-8-3 in the 27 contests he had after losing his bantamweight title to Ware.  Yet during this time, Palmer still produced some flashes of brilliance to defeat fighters such as Digger Stanley, George Dixon, Spike Robson, and Harry Ware.

In 1904, Palmer traveled to South Africa and won the South African featherweight title, when he out-pointed W.J. ’Watty’ Austin over 20 rounds.  One of Palmer’s last great performances was on March 20 1905, when he challenged Joe Bowker for the British featherweight title, and also the British version of the World featherweight title, and was stopped in the 12th round of a thrilling contest.

In 1907, Palmer’s world collapsed completely when he was jailed for 5 years for manslaughter, after an altercation with a fellow passenger on a train ended with the death of Robert Choat from a blow to the head.  Palmer was imprisoned until 1911, and then made a brief return to the ring, but most of his former brilliance was long gone, and after wins over mediocre opposition, he was stopped in 4 rounds by old foe Digger Stanley on November 19, 1914.  Palmer fought just once more after the Stanley defeat, when on March 10, 1919 he met another veteran, Jim Driscoll, and was stopped in the 4th round.  Palmer’s final ring record is 46(5koes)-14-4, although he is likely to have had many other contests which have not been recorded.

Palmer died in Brighton, on February 13, 1949, at the age of 72 years old.  

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1 comment:

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