Battle of the Swarmers (diary entry)


Tuesday night’s teacher consultancy/fight history course continued with Henry Armstrong taking us through the lighter divisions of the 1930s. After gaining the World Welterweight Championship from a courageous Barney Ross, Armstrong dropped a weight division within a few months to challenge for the World Lightweight Championship. This time his opponent was Lou Ambers.

armstrong vs ambers 1Henry Armstrong versus Lou Ambers 1938 World Lightweight Championship

Lou Ambers, “The Herkimer Hurricane”, changed his name from Luigi Giuseppe d’Ambrosio for fear his mother would find out he was boxing. He first learnt how to box in a church basement gym. The Great Depression forced his family to close their restaurant business. Ambers worked in a furniture factory but started fighting in amateur “bootleg” matches. After entering the professional ranks he won 32 of his first fights before being recognised as a contender for the lightweight title. During his formative boxing education he was a regular sparring partner of Tony Canzoneri who won the world featherweight, lightweight and lightweight title. Canzoneri is noted to have been Ambers’ hero and he was to fight him for the vacant World Lightweight Championship. Barney Ross had vacated this particular title when he was fighting in the welterweight division. The first time a points-decision went to Canzoneri. During the intermediate time before he tried again he knocked out Tony Scarpati who would later die from his injuries. His second attempt at the world title was a success and he defended it twice, including a third bout with Canzoneri as well fighting a total of 18 other non-title bouts losing three and drawing once, before facing Armstrong for the first time. He was at the peak of his career when Armstrong, then the holder of two weight category world title belts, challenged him for the lightweight crown.

Ambers was a tough and resilient natural lightweight with a strong chin. He was an aggressive but intelligent swarmer.

Armstrong was the main aggressor in their first clash from the outset. He put the pressure on and scored a knockdown towards the end of round 5 with a right to Ambers’ jaw and the bell saved Ambers.

The theme continued in the next round with Armstrong dominating and scoring another knockdown. Ambers got up at eight and was at Armstrong’s mercy again.

However, Ambers fought back hard and by the end of round 10 Armstrong had cuts to his eyes and inside his mouth. The referee tried to stop the bout but Armstrong said he would “stop bleeding”.

He went into round 11 without his mouthpiece in a plan to swallow his own blood.

Armstrong put the pressure back on, but in round 13 Ambers came back with a late rally.

By the end of 15 Armstrong had won on points, but the crowd were angered by the result.

Henry Armstrong versus Ceferino Garcia 1938 World Welterweight Championship

Ceferino Garcia has the record for most wins by any Filipino boxer in history. He fought 164 times, won 120, 76 by knockout, lost 30 times and drew 14 times. Garcia was he eldest of six children and was a feared streetfighter by the age of 17 in Cebu City. He was also supposedly a skilled blacksmith but was working in a bakery when he first signed with a boxing promoter. Garcia is credited with being the first boxer to popularise the bolo punch, although fellow Filipino, Macario Flores, is noted to have used it in a match in 1924. Later the Cuban Kid Galivan would make it his signature punch. There is speculation that it is derived from the various Filipino martial arts such as Panantukan although there are equivalents in Savate, Lethwei and Slavic martial arts as well as other boxing arts. Due to his preference for outside boxing and hard punching power, Garcia might be considered to be a boxer-puncher.

Henry Armstrong fought Garcia the first time in his first defence of the welterweight title. Armstrong generally dominated with his swarming style and in-fight tactics, but Garcia did a good job at keeping him away in the first, third, fourth and sixth round. In round six he hurt Armstrong with an overhand right that he tried to follow up with but to no avail. Apparently he damaged his hands in rounds three and six. Armstrong dominated right up to the 15th round when Garcia caught him again with a stunning right that was not enough to put him away. Armstrong finished with a swollen shut left eye and, along with his swollen fists, Garcia had cuts above both his eyes on his cheeks thanks to Armstrong’s in-fighting.

Undeterred by this defeat, Garcia would win the NYSAC World Middleweight Champion the following year and defence. He would then face Armstrong again in 1940 in a 10 round bout that California recognised as the World Middleweight Championship. However, NYSAC did not recognise it for their title.

armstrong vs ambers 2Henry Armstrong versus Lou Ambers 1939 World Lightweight Championship

After losing to Armstrong Lou Ambers would win 10 more fights before they met for a rematch.  This was another decision that was met with controversy. However, this time Ambers won the bout and it was felt that Armstrong was being dealt the injustice. He lost the bout due to being penalised for landing low blows in the second, fifth, seventh, ninth, and eleventh rounds. Retrospectives on the fight are interesting. Firstly, there is the argument that Armstrong put on a better performance this time around and should have been awarded the victory.

James P Dawson from the New York Times famous said: “The title was not won on competition alone but on fighting rules and ethics. Four of these rounds Armstrong won on competition alone without a doubt…. On this observer’s score sheet Armstrong was the victim of an injustice.”

However, others credit it with being Lou Ambers’ last great performance. He fought hard inside with Armstrong, leaving his opponent with cuts on his face.

Lou Ambers would then go on to win five more non-title bouts before meeting a colourful ex-carnival boxer and slugger called Lew Jenkins who would prove to be his nemesis, winning the title from him and then retiring him in the rematch. Incidentally Armstrong knocked out Jenkins in round six between these two bouts. His story is far from over.