Monday, October 30, 2017

On This Day: Mike "Twin" Sullivan Remembered

By Peter Silkov


Mike ‘Twin’ Sullivan was a clever boxer who fought many of the top fighters from lightweight to middleweight, of the 1900s and early 1910s. The twin of Jack Sullivan, who was a formidable fighter in his own right, Mike, was born on September 23, 1878, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and began his paid fighting career in 1901.

Throughout his career, Mike fought name fighters such as George ‘Elbows’ Mcfadden, Jack Blackburn, Joe Gans, Rube Smith, Harry Lewis, Honey Mellody, Jimmy Gardner, Dick Fitzpatrick, Belfield Walcott, Jimmy Clabby, Paddy Lavin, Dixie Kid, Young Loughrey, Jack Dillon, Stanley Ketchel, and Kid Henry.

On April 23, 1907, Sullivan out-pointed Billy ‘Honey’ Mellody over 20 rounds, to win recognition by the California State, as the World welterweight champion.

Sullivan gave up his welterweight title in late 1908, and thereafter, fought as a middleweight. His final contest was in 1914, when he was knocked out in 4 rounds by Roddy Macdonald.

Mike ‘Twin’ Sullivan’s final record was (35-7-14, 18koes).

Mike Sullivan died on October 31, 1937, aged 59.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

On This Day: Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor Remembered

By Peter Silkov

When people talk about the greatest fighters of the 1980s, the names usually mentioned are those of Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, or Thomas Hearns. However, there were many other great fighters who were active during what may well have been one of the last ‘golden eras’ that the sport of boxing will experience. One fighter, whose name was mentioned in the same breath as those of Leonard, Duran, and Hearns during the early 1980s, and who for a while looked as if he had the ability to eclipse the success and fame of all three previously mentioned men, was Arron “The Hawk” Pryor.

Aaron Pryor came from a difficult and often traumatic childhood, and discovered boxing as a teenager. Pryor used his talent as a boxer to achieve wealth, fame, and success, only to then self-destruct, and see everything he had built and achieve collapse around him. He ended up back on the streets of his childhood with nothing except a bad eye and a life threatening drug addiction.

Pryor was one of the most charismatic, and controversial boxers of his time. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 20, 1955, into a dysfunctional family that struggled with poverty and various abuse issues. Pryor was a fighter who seemed to have talent to burn, and burn it he did. Style-wise he was a fast, free swinging, boxer-fighter. He fought with the kind of pace and aggression which provoked comparisons with the legendary Henry Armstrong. He would come forward, throwing punches with both hands from all directions, and as a fight went on, he only seemed to get stronger and faster. In addition to this, Pryor could also box with great skill. Along with these attributes, Pryor had a swashbuckling attitude, he didn’t just want to win his fights, and he wanted to entertain. He would disdain his boxing skills and go toe-to-toe with his opponents, often taking punches he didn’t need to in order to underline his superiority. Fans quickly took up his chant, ‘Hawk Time’, at his fights, with every contest, he became more popular.

Some purists frowned at Pryor’s approach in the ring. The fans, however, loved it. After a great amateur career, which saw him just miss out on a place in the 1976 Olympic Games, and compile an amateur record of (204-16, Pryor turned pro in late 1976, and started demolishing opponents with impressive ease. Although he was climbing up the lightweight division with every fight, Pryor found that the top men in the 135 division were not eager to meet him in the ring. So, Pryor moved up to the light-welterweight division and on August 2, 1980, he knocked out Antonio Cervantes, who had been a great world champion in his own right in the 4th round, to win the WBA world light-welterweight championship.

What followed would be 5 years of brilliance, chaos, and ultimately self- destruction. Pryor would never lose his world title in the ring, instead he was gradually stripped of recognition as world champion by the various world boxing bodies, as his life spiralled out of control.

In all, Pryor made 10 defences of his world title, with his crowning moment being in his 6th defence in November 1982, when he defended the title against the legendary Alexis Arguello. In a fight that has been recognized as one of the greatest fights of that decade or any decade in fact, Pryor displayed the true extent of his ability for perhaps the first and only time of his professional career. In this fight, Pryor showed clearly that he had the possibility of greatness.

After he had bludgeoned Arguello into a 14th round knockout defeat, the talk was of Pryor fighting the likes of Duran, or Leonard, in what would have been huge fights. Yet, just as he had truly arrived, and was at last gaining the recognition that his talent and hard work deserved, Pryor’s world started to crumble. Although he would make 4 more defences of his world title, including beating Arguello for a second time, in reality, it was all down hill for Pryor after the first fight with Alexis.

With Marshall Terrill, Pryor details his climb to the top, and then the devastating fall back down to earth. His story is an often harrowing one, which shows the true ravages and dehumanization that comes with drug addiction. But, what might have been a great tragedy, in the end, turns into an uplifting story of redemption. As Pryor shows that the strength and will power, which made him a success in the first place, could also lead to his recovery from his addictions.

Aaron Pryor is an example of the human spirit, and all the conflicting facets that make human beings so complicated. We see once more how one man can be so talented and dedicated, and yet at the same time, how that same single-mindedness that took him to success, could also undo everything he had achieved. Aaron Pryor’s final professional record is (39-1, 35koes).

During his peak years as a fighter, Pryor was often compared with one of the greatest fighters of all time, ‘Hammerin’ Henry Armstrong, due to his frenetic, nonstop, all-action aggressive fighting style. There were similarities in their lives outside of the ring as well, with Armstrong also having some hard times with addiction after his boxing career ended, but eventually finding redemption through a new faith in God.
Armstrong became an ordained minister after recovering from alcoholism, and Pryor himself became an ordained deacon at the New Frendship Baptist Church, and dedicated himself to good causes and spreading the anti-drug message. Pryor also kept his ties with boxing, training both amateur and professional boxers, and touring the world giving personal appearances where he would discuss his career and life in and out of the ring. Living in his hometown of Cincinnati, Pryor made a new life with wife Frankie, and their children Aaron Jr, Antwan, Stephan, and Elizabeth. Both Stephan and Aaron Jr. have had solid professional boxing careers of their own, and were trained by their father.

Aaron Pryor died on October 9, 2016, after a brave struggle with heart disease.

The Boxing Glove book review of Aaron Pryor's authorized biography, "The Flight of the Hawk"

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

On This Day: Willi Besmanoff Remembered

By Peter Silkov

Willi Besmanoff was a tough and game heavyweight boxer, who fought many of the division's top fighters during the 1950s and 60s. Born William David Besmanoff, on October, 4, 1932, in Munich, Bayen, Germany. Besmanoff was of Jewish heritage, and at the age of 11 years old, he was imprisoned in a concentration camp in Buchenwald, Germany. His salvation was that his mother renounced her Jewish faith and converted to protestant. At 13 years old, Willi worked at a bakery, where his boss suggested he take up boxing.

Besmanoff turned professional in 1952, beginning his career as a light-heavyweight, but moving up to heavyweight by the late 50s. In 1956, Besmanoff would move to America, where he would have many of his fights. Besmanoff fought fighters such as Alex Buxton, Bob Baker, Archie Mcbride, Alex Miteff, Yvon Durelle, Roy Harris, Willie Pastrano, Pat McMurty, Archie Moore, Harold Carter, Mike Dejohn, Zora Folley, Eddie Machen, Sonny Liston, Tom McNeely, Marty Marshall, Howard King, Pete Rademacher, Alejandro Lavorante, Muhammad Ali, Bob Foster, Amos Johnson, Dave Zyglewicz and George Chuvalo.

Willi never became a top contender or gained a world title shot, but he had the reputation as a very tough, value for money fringe contender, who always gave his all in every fight.

Besmanoff’s final fight came on August 1, 1967, when he was stopped in 3 rounds by Dave Zyglewicz. Besmanoff retired with a final record of (51-34-8, 19koes).

Besmanoff, who learned to bake when he apprenticed at a bakery, would go on and open several bakeries around the U.S.

Willie Besmanoff died on October 20, 2010, aged 78 years old.

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

On This Day: Kid Charol Remembered

By Peter Silkov

Kid Charol, which translates as Patent Leather Kid, is a legendary figure in Cuban boxing history, and regarded as Cuba’s first boxing star. Born, Esteban Gallard, on January 11, 1901, in Sagua La Grande, Cuba.

The popularity of boxing exploded in Cuba after Jack Johnson’s ill-fated defence of his World heavyweight championship against ‘white hope’ Jess Williard in Havana, on April 5th, 1915. While the fight with Willard ended in a disastrous (and controversial) defeat for Johnson, along with the loss of his world title, the event itself caused a feverish breakout in popularity for boxing amongst the Cubans, especially amongst the young men who suddenly saw a way to escape from the poverty in which most of them lived.

Little is known about Kid Charol’s early years, but he would have been 14 years old when Johnson fought Willard in Havana, and it's not hard to imagine that, like many other Cuban men, he was inspired to take up the sport after seeing all the publicity that surrounded the build up and aftermath of the Johnson vs Willard match, especially when seeing how a coloured man like Johnson could lift himself up to riches and fame through boxing.

It is not known precisely when Charol had his first fight, and it is likely that he took part in at least some of the ‘semi-professional’ contests which became so popular in Cuba at that time. His first appearance as a professional in a verified contest was in 1922, and his talent was clear from the beginning. Charol was soon generating rave reviews from anyone who saw him fight. Fighting as a welterweight, and later a middleweight, Charol had the kind of talent that allowed him to do anything in the ring. He was an all-round boxer, with strong technique, speed and punching power. In many ways, the kind of prototype that would be used as a model for so many of the Cuban greats in the years to come.

Charol’s actual professional career was relatively short, lasting just seven years, due to his tragically early death. Yet he fitted in a lot of fighting in those seven years, although despite many invitations, Charol never fought in America. Instead he stayed in Cuba and South America, becoming a huge draw wherever he fought. On March 15, 1924, Charol won the Cuban middleweight title, by knocking out Rafael Fello Rodriguez in the 5th round. Charol would never lose this title in the ring, and was soon regarded as untouchable amongst his fellow Cuban middleweights.

Charol's ability was such that he soon had to take on light-heavyweights in order to stay active, as many fighters were not inclined to meet him in the ring.

Kid Charol pictured with Kid Tunero (right)
The names on Charol’s record included Enrique Ponce De Leon, Kid Campilo, Clemente Sanchez, Rafael Fello Rodriguez, Jimmy Finley, Homer Robertson, Bearcat Reid, Alex Rely, Peter Sung, Larry Estridge, Ricardo Alis, Panama Joe Gans, Alberto Icochea, Luis Galtieri, Mario Bosisio, Michele Bonaglia, Ko Brissett, and Dave Shade.

Despite his ability, Charol never got to fight for a world title. This is undoubtedly at least partly due to the racial atmosphere of the times, when coloured fighters were often avoided by the world's top contenders and champions (who were often white.) The fact that Charol was so good was also a reason why many of the world's best never faced him. At the same time, Charol didn’t help his cause by refusing to travel to America to fight. Yet perhaps his disinclination to go to America was down to the racial atmosphere that he would certainly be aware existed there at the time.

Indeed why would Charol want to go to America when he was already a hero in Cuba and all around South America. Eventually Charol moved to Argentina to live, where he became an adopted hero with the Argentine fight fans.

Unfortunately, Charol's health started to fail by 1926, when he was still barely at his athletic peak. Possibly exacerbated by his love of the nightlife, and burning the candle of life at both ends, Charol had contracted tuberculosis.

With the brave stubbornness of a fighter, Charol continued to fight even as his condition worsened. Before his last fight, against the brilliant Dave Shade on April 30, 1929, Charol had to drag himself up from a hospital bed. Yet he still managed to secure a 12-round draw with a man whom many at the time regarded as being the uncrowned middleweight champion of the world.

Kid Charol II at the grave of Kid Charol
This was Charol’s final appearance in the ring. He died less than 5 months later, on October 7, 1929, three months before his 29th birthday.

Despite his early death, and abbreviated career, Charol would inspire a generation of future Cuban boxers, including Black Bill, Kid Chocolate and Charol’s own protégé, Ramon Castillo ‘The Cuban Baron’.

Charol’s final verified record was (53-3-10, 34koes) he was only beaten three times during his professional career, and was never stopped. 

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Friday, October 6, 2017

On This Day: Terry Downes Remembered

By Peter Silkov

Terry Downes, who passed away yesterday at the age of 81 years old, was one of Britain’s most exciting and popular fighters. A middleweight who fought with a slam-bang American style, which earned him the nick name of “The Bashing Dashing Smashing” Terry Downes. There was never a dull moment when Terry Downes was in the boxing ring.

Outside of the ring, Downes was a personable and witty character, who became known for his dry sense of humor, and down to earth honesty.

Downes was born on May 9, 1936, in Paddington, London, and started boxing as an amateur in London. When he was 15 years old, Downes moved with his parents to America, and joined the Marines. It was while boxing in the Marines that Downes adopted the aggressive, all-action style of American boxing. Downes would go on to win the U.S. All Services amateur title before returning to London and turning professional in 1957.

With his swashbuckling style in the ring and colourful personality outside of it, Downes was an instant hit with the fans. He did however suffer an early setback when in his 3rd professional fight, when he was unwisely matched with future middleweight and light-heavyweight world champion Dick Tiger, who was having his 29th contest. Tiger, who was viewed more of an ‘opponent’ at this stage of his career, stopped Downes in 6 rounds.

However this was to be just a minor setback for Downes, and he was back in the ring just three weeks later. This was an era where a defeat did not mean the end of a prospects career, as fighters took their setbacks with an acceptance not seen today, and bounced back as soon as they could.

Downes went on to win 14 of his next 16 contests, and then on September 30, 1958, he won the vacant British middleweight title by stopping Phil Edwards in the 13th round.

However, after winning the British title, over the next 12 months Downes career stalled, as he lost to both Spider Webb and Michel Diouf on cuts stoppages. If Downes had a major flaw as a fighter it was his propensity to cut during fights, especially on the nose.

Then on September 15, 1959, Downes lost the British middleweight title to John McCormack, when he was disqualified in the 8th round. This fight had also been for the Commonwealth middleweight title, which McCormack already had in his possession.

Downes remained determined though, and these setback simply seemed to strengthen his resolve to reach the top. He ended the year by getting his career back on track when he regained the British Middleweight title and also winning the Commonwealth middleweight title.

After notching up a further run of five victories, including a defence of his British middleweight title, and an impressive 10 rounds points victory over future world champion, Joey Giardello.

Downes traveled to America, on January 14, 1961, and challenged Paul Pender for the World middleweight title. This was to be the first of a three fight series between Downes and Pender, with each fight bloody and action packed. In their first encounter Downes fought hard, but was stopped on cuts in the 7th round.

Six months later, the pair fought again for Pender’s World middleweight title, this time in London, and this time Downes proved to be too strong and forced Pender to retire on his stool after 10 rounds. Downes was world middleweight champion, Britains first middleweight champion since Randy Turpin's legendary victory over Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951.

Downes reign as World champion lasted nine months, then on April 7, 1962, he traveled to America to make his first defence against Pender, and lost his world title after the awkward and clever Pender beat him on points.

Terry would put together another run of victories, including a 10 rounds points win over a still useful at 41 years old, Sugar Ray Robinson. Yet despite these wins Downes did not secure another shot at the world middleweight title.

Eventually Downes moved up to light heavyweight and challenged Willie Pastrano for the World light heavyweight title on November 30, 1964. Downes gave his usual all-out action performance against Pastrano, and after 10 rounds was well ahead on points, but then in the 11th Pastrano, not usually known for his punch power, dropped Downes twice, and although Downes beat both counts the referee stopped the fight. Terry Downes never fought again, saying that he wanted to quit while he was still on top.

In his retirement, Downes found work as an actor, both on stage and in films, and he also made money by investing in property and a chain of betting shops. He also became a fervent supporter of a number of charities.

Downes’s final boxing record was 35(28koes)-9.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

On This Day: Kid Tunero Remembered

By Peter Silkov

Kid Tunero was a brilliant boxer-puncher, in the true Cuban mould. Born, Evelio Celestino Mustelier, on May 19, 1910, in Victoria de las Tunas, Cuba, Tunero turned professional in 1929, aged 19 years of age. Tunero would be one of the outstanding middleweights of the 30s and 40s, but found himself avoided by many of the top white contenders, with his colour often being used as an excuse, but quite often it was really his ability that frightened away a lot of possible opponents.

Although he had this obstacle throughout his career, Kid Tunero would still manage to fight an impressive array of fighters during his career, many of them were suffering from the same prejudices and political intrigues as Tunero himself. Some of the top fighters whom he met during his career include Marcel Thil, Gustave Roth, Erich Seelig, Jock McAvoy, Anton Christoforidis, Ken Overlin, Holman Williams, Ezzard Charles, and Jean Stock. For much of his career Tunero fought in Europe, where he was extremely popular with the European boxing fans.

Despite the politics of the times, Tunero did manage to receive two shots at the World middleweight title. This happened at least partly due to Tunero’s popularity with the fans, and partly due to the fact that the champion who Tunero met on both occasions, Marcel Thil, was the kind of fighter who didn’t duck anybody.

Tunero actually fought Thil three times. In their first meeting on January 16, 1933, Thil’s NBA and IBU world middleweight title was not on the line, as both men weighed over the middleweight limit. This was just as well for Thil, as Tunero beat him on points, over 12 rounds. Nine months later the two met again, and this time with the world title at stake, and Thil won on points, after 15 rounds.

Tunero gained his second and final shot at the world title on July 13, 1935, with Thil once more out-pointing him over 15 rugged rounds. Tunero would continue to fight at the top level for the remainder of his career, always winning more than he lost, until the last few years of his fighting career. In his last official contest, on August 14, 1948, Hankin Barrows held Tunero to a draw over 10 rounds. H e retired with a final official record of 96(34koes)-32-16.

After his fighting career ended, Tunero became a boxing trainer, and amongst the fighters he trianed were Jose Legra and Angel ’Robinson’ Garcia. Tunero died on October 6. 1992, aged 82.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On This Day: Barbados Joe Walcott Remembered

By Peter Silkov
Joe Walcott stood just 5' feet 1" and a half inches, but was one of the most formidable fighters pound-for-pound, of his era. He was known as the "Barbados Demon" and fought like one too. He was fast and powerful, with a tremendous punch in both hands, and immense stamina and durability. Walcott never weighed more than 150 pounds, yet, he fought top fighters from the lightweight to heavyweight divisions.

Walcott’s outstanding opponents included fellow greats such as George "Kid" Lavigne, "Mysterious" Billy Smith, Bobby Dobbs, Joe Choyniski, "Philadelphia" Jack O’Brien, Sam Langford, "Young" Peter Jackson, James "Rube" Ferns, Joe Gans and Dixie Kid, amongst others.

Walcott’s all-action, aggressive fighting style, and his willingness to meet anyone regardless of weight, made him one of the most popular fighters of his time.

In his first attempt at winning a world championship, Walcott was stopped in 12 rounds by George "Kid" Lavigne, for the World lightweight championship in October 1897. Then, in December 1898, Walcott was out pointed in 20 rounds by ’Mysterious’ Billy Smith, in a battle for Smiths world welterweight title.
Walcott finally won the World welterweight title on December 18, 1901, when he stopped James "Rube" Ferns in 5 rounds. He retained this title until October 19, 1906, when he lost on points over 15 rounds to Billy "Honey" Melody. Walcott had previously lost via a foul after 20 rounds, to Dixie Kid on April 29, 1904, and Dixie Kid had claimed the World welterweight title after this victory. But after the Dixie Kid moved on to the higher divisions, Walcott had regained recognition as the Welterweight champion.

Shortly after fighting a 20-round draw with the great Joe Gans in September 1904, Walcott accidentally shot himself in the hand, and did not fight again until 1906. He was never quite the same fighter afterwards, having lost some of the punching ability in his injured hand. After losing his world title to Melody, Walcott fought on for a number of years, with decreasing success, and never got another world title chance.

Walcott’s final right record was 95(61)-25-24.
Sam Langford and Barbados Joe Walcott
Like so many other greats of the ring Walcott ended his ring career with little money left to show for his exploits. In later years, he worked as a janitor at the legendary Madison Square Garden and lived in a tiny hotel room. Walcott died in 1935 after being hit by a car. He was often hailed by those who saw him fight as the greatest fighter pound for pound of his time.

Long after Walcott retired many fighters would name themselves after him, including Jersey Joe Walcott, (real name Arnold Cream) who called himself after his idol, "The Barbados Demon" Joe Walcott, and took his name all the way to the Heavyweight championship of the world.
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