GEORGES CARPENTIER, known as “The Orchid Man”, came from a different era. In order to take his first paid fight, aged just 13, he walked 100 miles to Paris and won a four-round decision.
Even now, many years after his death at the age of 81, Carpentier remains France’s biggest boxing idol, jointly with the ill-fated Marcel Cerdan. His achievements fully justify that exalted status.
He boxed in every division then extant, from flyweight up to heavy, and possessed a devastating right hand, which he landed with great speed. He also had what Boxing News called “debonair good looks and suave charm”, which contributed greatly to his popularity at a time when boxers were often considered brutes.
He made boxing respectable and was actually the crowd favourite when he challenged the menacing Jack Dempsey for the world heavyweight title in 1921. That was also due to their respective World War I records: while the Manassa Mauler avoided active service, Carpentier had served as a lieutenant in the French aviation corps and held the Croix de Guerre.
The reigning world light-heavyweight king, Georges at 12st 4lbs conceded 16lbs – rumours had the difference much greater – but wobbled the champion with rights in round two before the bigger man reasserted himself and retained in the fourth.
Interest in the Jersey City fight was so great that Tex Rickard built a huge wooden bowl, with some 80,000 spectators cramming into the cauldron-like structure under a blazing afternoon sun.
Carpentier was not fazed, as befits one who had been contesting titles for many years, astutely managed by Francois Descamps.
He was only 15 when he beat Charles Ledoux to become French bantamweight champion. In October 1911, still only 17, he came to London and knocked out Young Joseph for the European welterweight crown. He would notch many other big wins in the UK capital, becoming very popular with British fans.
In February 1912, a month after his 18th birthday, Carpentier flattened Jim Sullivan in two rounds for the vacant European title up at middleweight. He kept growing and in 1913 became continental king at first light-heavy, then full heavyweight. He had not left his teenage years.
War brought a five-year break but when Carpentier returned in 1919 the Frenchman was as good as ever, and in 1920 he became world champion by knocking out Battling Levinsky in four rounds in Jersey City.
Following the unsuccessful Dempsey challenge, he scored two knockout wins in London, including a first-rounder over much smaller Ted Kid Lewis (just 11st 3lbs) in defence of his European heavyweight sceptre, before putting his world title at stake against Battling Siki in 1922.
A raw but strong man from Senegal, Siki battered the over-confident champion into a shocking sixth-round KO defeat, and while Georges boxed on until 1926 his glory days were over.
In retirement he ran a cocktail bar in Paris and was always a welcome, charismatic presence at major boxing shows.