JIMMY WILDE’S two nicknames say it all about this incredible little boxer. Known as “The Mighty Atom” and “The Ghost with a Hammer in his Hand”, Wilde looked anything but a fighter. A physical freak, he stood 5ft 2 1/2ins and never weighed more than 7st 10lbs but had such astonishing punching power that he knocked out nearly 100 opponents. He had skinny legs, pipe-stem arms and a completely unorthodox fighting style. Persistently attacking opponents while holding his gloves at hip level, and bobbing and weaving as he moved in, he was a difficult opponent to pinpoint with a decisive punch. His own hammer blows came from all angles, usually while his opponent was trapped on the ropes or helpless in a corner.
Wilde is universally acknowledged as the first world champion of the flyweight division and the greatest 8 stone title-holder of them all.
Born in Tylorstown, Wales on May 15, 1892, Wilde worked in the local coal mines and began boxing as a boy to supplement his meagre wages. He fought in the miner’s clubs and also in the boxing booths that regularly visited the area. His first registered professional contest was in 1911 when he knocked out Ted Roberts in three rounds. In 1913 he fought more than 30 times, taking little out of himself because so few of the fights went the allotted distance. Having exhausted the opposition in Wales and northern England, Wilde descended on London. He knocked out promising Matt Wells’ Nipper in the first round at the famous Blackfriars Ring. He became a favourite at the old National Sporting Club in Covent Garden where he lost for the first time. Conceding nearly 10 pounds in weight and 10 years in age, he was matched against experienced Scot Tancy Lee for the British and European titles in January 1915. Exhausted by going for a knockout early on, Wilde was stopped in the 17th round.
A year later he became British champion by stopping Joe Symonds in 12 rounds and then claimed the world title by knocking out Johnny Rosner in 11 rounds in April 1916. He trounced Tancy Lee in a rematch and finally received worldwide recognition as the world champion when he knocked out America’s Young Zulu Kid in 11 rounds in December that same year.
During The War, Wilde fought while serving in the army and by the end of hostilities he had also won the Lonsdale Belt outright. He even defeated useful featherweight Joe Conn in a charity contest at Chelsea Football Club’s ground, Stamford Bridge. Much taller and over a stone heavier Conn was battered to defeat in 11 rounds.
In 1919 Wilde scored two magnificent wins over top-rated American bantamweights Joe Lynch and Pal Moore. In 1920 he toured America winning all 12 contests, five inside the distance. Now confident he could win a world title at bantamweight, he agreed to fight American great Pete Herman at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1921. It was a meeting that was cloaked in controversy and suspected skulduggery. Herman contrived to lose his title to Joe Lynch before he arrived in England and then declined to weigh-in before the fight, so Wilde refused to come out of his dressing room until he did. When Wilde was told that the Prince of Wales was ringside he said: “I can’t keep him waiting,” and entered the ring. Outweighed by well over a stone the Welshman was dropped three times and stopped in the 17th round by the highly accomplished American.
Wilde retired at the age of 29 but was persuaded to come back two years later and defend his world flyweight title against Filipino Pancho Villa at the Polo Grounds in New York in front of 23,000 fans.
His purse was a whopping $65,000. For a time he held his own but by the sixth round he was cut and struggling. The demon-like Villa poured in the punches in the seventh and the little Welshman finally crashed to the canvas unconscious. He was badly hurt and couldn’t return to Britain for a week.
Wilde retired and put his money into several businesses including a cinema chain and a café on Barry Island he called “The Mighty Atom”.
His final few years were tragic. In 1965 he was mugged on Cardiff station. He was beaten so severely he never recovered, lingering on for four more years in Whitchurch hospital until he finally died in 1969 at the age of 76.