IN my last column I looked back on a memorable victory for a British ABA team over a group of America’s elite amateurs in a special show at Yankee Stadium in 1935. The Brits were lauded for their triumph over the “Golden Glovers”, especially the two heavyweights, Pat Floyd and Tony Stuart. With an emphatic win each they had made vital headway in eroding the humiliating “horizontal British heavyweight” tag that plagued our big men.
I wrote about four-time ABA heavyweight titlist Pat Floyd, but spatial limits prevented me from saying more about his great rival and friend, the fighting fireman Tony Stuart. Like Floyd, Stuart won the ABA heavyweight crown four times and between them they dominated the division in the decade before World War II. It’s intriguing to ponder how these two would have fared as professionals, but they both turned down all offers to go pro.
They did, however, share gym rings with leading pros. As prominent British sportswriter Ben Bennison wrote of Stuart in 1937 (the year of Tony’s fourth ABA title win): “He is probably the most travelled amateur and the richest in boxing knowledge. Whenever a possible champion requires to be tried out, Stuart is the man to tell the best or worst.”
Max Baer and Tommy Farr both used Tony to prepare for important fights, as did “The Blonde Tiger” Walter Neusel, a German titlist and top-notcher on the European heavyweight scene. Neusel had beaten world-class men like Larry Gains, King Levinsky and ex-world light-heavy champ and world heavyweight title challenger Tommy Loughran.
In November 1936, Walter was in Britain for his much-hyped first fight with Ben Foord, a dangerous South African who, like the German, was a big draw on our shores. Walter set up camp at the Star & Garter in Windsor, a pub topped by a boxing gym that was the preferred training base of many champions. Astutely, Neusel brought in Stuart as a sparring partner, but got more than he bargained for.
As fight scribe Charles Darby recalled for Boxing News: “Neusel went in with obvious intent of showing who was the boss. Two heavy clouts shook Stuart’s head, and a right uppercut took the friendly smile from Stuart’s face. But that was as far as Neusel was allowed to show who was the pro and who was the ‘mere amateur’.
“A real English left hand was driven into the German’s face like a ramrod time after time… Neusel went all out to drop the London fireman but was treated to a barrage of lefthanders and thudding rights… Stuart cracked home a right to the jaw that sent the German blonde across the small space to collide with a bunch of excited spectators holding on to the ropes for dear life… Although Neusel outpointed Foord in the tough fight that ensued a week later at Harringay, it was not a patch on the short bout of ‘sparring’ with Tony Stuart in the gymnasium at the Star & Garter, Windsor.”
Two months later, Tony was back at the Star & Garter to help Neusel prepare for the third bout in his trilogy with Britain’s Jack Petersen. Petersen lost for the third time, but in his gym wars with Neusel, once again Stuart shone. This time Tony made headlines when he floored Neusel with a left hook in front of the sporting press. “This was the first time that I had ever seen Neusel knocked off his feet in England,” remarked renowned Daily Mirror columnist Peter Wilson.
At the height of his success, Stuart was reportedly offered £1,000 – a large sum in the 1930s – to turn pro, but he would not be swayed. Boxing, he said, was a sport to him. He would stick to fire-fighting as a profession.