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Historic fighters who rose through the weight classes

len harvey dan sullivan gipsy daniels boxing history
When there were only eight weight classes, rising through the divisions was an exceptional feat. Miles Templeton looks back at the historic fighters who managed it

WITH 17 weight classes it is now quite normal to find boxers competing at many different weights. For most of history there were only eight divisions and many boxers campaigned exclusively at only one weight. To step up into another division was a significant moment in a boxer’s career. It was very unusual for anyone to step down in weight as the disparity was just too great an amount to lose. To be a top fighter at three different weights was rare but there are some examples of men who did achieve this, one of the better ones being Ted Kid Lewis. He won his first British title in 1913 at featherweight. Within two years he became the world welterweight champion and during the 1920s, when he was past his peak but still a considerable force, he won the British, Empire and European middleweight titles and also boxed for the world light-heavyweight title.  

Georges Carpentier was famous for boxing at every weight from flyweight to heavyweight. He beat Lewis in hugely controversial circumstances in 1922 when the two met for the world light-heavyweight crown. There are a few British boxers who have also completed this feat, including Battling Joe Igo of Batley, and Len Harvey of Stoke Climsland, and they did so in great contrast to one another.

Harvey [pictured above left] was the best-known boxer in the UK during the 1930s. He boxed for the British title at all four weights from welterweight through to heavyweight and he fought in front of the largest crowd ever assembled in Britain. He turned professional aged 12 in 1920, when he was boxing for the Devon and Devonia Boxing Club in Plymouth. Although he was younger than most, it was not unusual for young boys to box for money before the war. They usually competed against each other at the bottom of the bill, but they were professionals nonetheless, and these contests rightly appear on their official records. The typical age for a debutant boxer back then would more usually be between 15 and 17.

In 1924, Harvey, then aged 16, had established such a name for himself that he was picked up by London manager Dan Sullivan, and he was brought to the capital, under contract to box exclusively at The Ring, Blackfriars. Right from the start his contests were 15-rounders and in quickly establishing a long unbeaten run, his career really took off. He made his first British title attempt, at welterweight, when aged 18 in 1926, when he boxed a draw against Harry Mason at the Royal Albert Hall. He won the middleweight title in 1929, the light-heavyweight title in 1933 and then later that year, 13 years after starting out at flyweight, he won the British heavyweight title. He later boxed John Henry Lewis for the world light-heavyweight title.

Battling Joe Igo, like Harvey, started out as a young boy in 1930. He came from Batley and he had his first few bouts at the Skating Rink in his native town. I have traced six contests for him up to 1932, of which he lost four. He then drifted away from the game for a few years before returning in 1937, as a young man, at welterweight. In the years leading up to the war Joe was known as a real tough guy who would give you plenty of problems in the ring, but he lost far more than he won. He boxed all around the north, in unfashionable places like Morecambe, Chesterfield, Scunthorpe and Sunderland, where boxing was held weekly but where the fans would never get the chance to see someone like Len Harvey. Igo ended his career in 1949, at heavyweight, twice swapping gloves with Don Cockell, who later fought the great Rocky Marciano.  

Harvey and Igo had strikingly different boxing careers, but they both boxed professionally at flyweight and at heavyweight, and they both boxed against an opponent who fought one of the all-time great heavyweight champions.

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