Tuesday night’s private teacher consultancy lesson on fight history kept us in the 1920s to cover three more greats that shone in that era.
Harry “The Black Panther” Wills vs Luis Firpo (Heavyweight No Title Match) 11.09.1924
Harry Wills is regarded as one of the most egregious examples of a heavyweight boxer denied his opportunity to fight for the biggest prize in his profession. Wills fought most white heavyweight contenders of his era and exhausted the World Coloured Heavyweight Championship by not only winning it three times, but by defending it against the top contenders a ridiculous number of times. He apparently fought the great Sam Langford 22 times. Twice he almost got the opportunity to fight Jack Dempsey for the World Heavyeight Championship, but ultimately the powers that be – racist promoters and/or politics – prevent it from happening. Wills fought 103 times with a record of 89 wins, 49 by knockout. Wills was dedicated to his training but also got caught up in the cult of food fads. He apparently fasted for one month every year, believing it had rejuvenating properties. Wills lived to 69, dying in 1958 from diabetes
Wills was a slugger in terms of boxing style. He had a powerful right hand and was in superb physical condition for most of his career. The fight we watched saw him fight Luis Firpo – previously discussed two lessons back in his fight with Dempsey – to a 12 round no decision. However, the press gave it to Wills. Firpo was also a slugger and far less technical than Wills. During the highlights we watched, he seemed to be riding on emotion with little in terms of strategy, tactics or technique. He regularly rushed at Wills with what can only be described as big right haymaker that missed or just flew over onto Wills’s back. By contrast Wills clinched and set up powerful body shots. Round two gave us the main talking point of the fight that decided it for the Uniter Press at least. Whilst moving out of a clinch Wills hit Firpo with an overhand right that sent him to the canvas. Looking back at the footage, he appears to have set up this shot with a spleen punch.
Paolino Uzcudun vs. Harry Wills (Heavyweight No Title Match) 13.07.1927
By this stage Harry Wills was spent. His era was the mid-1910s up to the mid-1920s and after this bout he would fight five more times against opponents that were journeymen at best. This bout is often regarded as the one that “retired” him. Uzcudun, by contrast, was around his peak. Uzcudun would be slashed to ribbons by Max Schmelling in 1929, losing a unanimous decision. In 1933 he would unsuccessfully get his one and only shot at the world title against Primo Carnera. It is worth noting that he had an awkward style, another user of the cross-arm guard and very resilient. When a rising Joe Louis knocked him out in round four after working out his style, this would be the Uzcudun’s only knockout and his final match. Back in 1927, he fought Wills when he was denied the opportunity to fight in a tournament to face Dempsey. During this bout we noted Wills was using a high rear hand in a fashion reminscent of the Philly Shell. I noticed it because during my time training with TVP’s Tommy Thompson he advised it to be the sort of guard I should use and it is typically that of the counter-puncher. This guard had not been very evident in the previous fight we had watched and this time Wills was understandably very cautious. Uzcudun knocked him down in typical swarmer style with a volley of shots for a nine count. No sooner had Wills got back up than he swarmed again for the knockout.
Mickey Walker vs Tommy Milligan (World Middleweight Championship) 30.06.1927
The same year that saw the beginning of the end of Harry Wills’s boxing career was also the same year that Mickey Walker engage in one of the bloodiest battles of the gloved era. After this fight took place at Olympia, there were calls in Britain for it to be banned. Walker, a swarmer, took the fight to out-boxer Tommy Milligan who had been favoured to win. Walker and Milligan both began as welterweights and matured out of the division. Walker had been welterweight champion for four years, defending the title five times before losting it to Peter Latzo and going up a weight division. It wasn’t the first time he had attempted to gain the title. He had previously tried his hand against the great Harry Greb, but lost a humiliating points defeat before going back down to welterweight. However, one year later he won it in a controversial points decision against the legendary southpaw, Tiger Flowers. Walker is remarkable in the way that he was able to fight much heavier opponents. He tried his hand at the Light Heavyweight and even the Heavyweight world titles, never winning them but doing well in non-title bouts. He beat the Uzcudun and drew with future world champion Jack Sharkey.
In 1927 he was on top of his game and his opponent, Milligan, had won every other middleweight title, including the British, European and Empire belts. The fight was fairly even until it reached round six, although there wasn’t a lot of available footage for us to view of this round. Round seven saw Walker knock Milligan down twice, but the second time Milligan fought back hard. Round 10 saw Milligan knocked out with Walker catching him with a good long left hook clip to the jaw. Although he is generally considered to be an in-fighter, albeit with good footwork, this knockout was performed with Walker backing out of the clinch and even turning his back. Years later Joe Frazier would do something similar with his left hook.
Tommy Laughran versus James J Braddock (World Light Heavyweight Championship) 18.07.1929
One of Walker’s unsucccessful attempts for the World Light Heavyweight Championship was against Tommy “The Phantom of Philly” Laughran. Loughran had also defeated Peter Latzo twice in his defence of the Light Heavyweight crown. His many achievements included a draw with Gene Tunney, a win over Georges Carpentier and even one win and a draw over the legendary Harry Greb. After this particular bout he would go on to defeat future World Heavyweight Champion, Max Baer. Loughran’s division was clearly with the light heavyweights where he is regularly credited with being one of the best of all time. His one attempt at scaling up for the World Heavyweight Championship came in the form of a bout with Primo Carnera. Carnera’s career was marked with controversy and fixed fights due to his mob linked management. Loughran’s points defeat was highly questionable and Loughran believed he had done more than enough to win, saying that he would have had to knock out his giant opponent in order to sway the judges. Putting Carnera’s freakish strength and size to one side, this bout highlighted a clear problem with Loughran: his lack of knockout ability. Of his remarkable 121 wins, only 14 of them were by KO.
Tommy Loughran was a text-book out-boxer who relied on footwork to win. He was fast on his feet and worked as a counter-puncher. His fight with James J Braddock, who would later earn the title “Cinderella Man” for coming back after the steep decline his boxing and life would take following this defeat, was also a counter-puncher and forced to be the aggressor. With this in mind, Loughran clearly ran the fight. He worked completely on the outside using lateral footwork and angles, forcing Braddock to keep coming forward somewhat awkwardly storking him. This isn’t to say Braddock didn’t give the fight his all, indeed this would be his last really good performance before he came back from the brink in the heavyweight division to take the top prize, but Loughran achieved his goal in making a defensive fighter go on the front foot.