IF you celebrated your first birthday before World War II, you may have hazy memories of a late ‘40s boxing scene brimming with colour. It was the era of Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, Jake LaMotta, Marcel Cerdan, Ezzard Charles, Rocky Graziano, an ageing Joe Louis and a peak Sugar Ray Robinson. There were just eight weights then, with one world champion at each. Last month, Britain lost a tangible fighting link to that era with the passing of former Sidcup light-heavyweight Jock Taylor, age 93, on May 22. Though Jock never reached world level, he did win two fights out of two against a boxer who did – Don Cockell.
Jock lacked a well-connected manager, so making it as a pro was an uphill struggle. Nevertheless, he battled to No. 2 contender position in the Boxing News light-heavyweight ratings. The reigning British champ then was world titlist Freddie Mills, who’d won the British crown by defeating Len Harvey in 1942. But Freddie never defended the title in the seven years he held it, much to the chagrin of Taylor and other domestic prospects.
However, Mills was well aware that he might be called on to defend against Jock. He sat ringside for one of Jock’s fights at Croydon Civic Hall. What he would have seen that night was a fighter not unlike himself: a fearless, come-forward crowd-pleaser with remarkable strength and a devastating punch. Taylor, of course, never reached the heights of global star Mills, but he had a career to be proud of, albeit one that could have been even better with the right manager guiding him.
He was born Frederick Ernest Taylor in Sidcup on August 2, 1925. “Jock” was a nickname bestowed on him by his elder brother. He took up boxing aged eight and after a string of schoolboy bouts he left the sport, only to return a few years later when World War II was raging.
From age 16, Jock boxed regularly on shows across South London, often facing grown men. Grenadier Guards, police constables, firemen and military PTIs all wilted under the whirlwind attacks of this remarkably strong and aggressive teenager, and many were KO’d or rescued by the ref.
But just as Taylor’s amateur career was taking off, he was talked into turning pro by local amateur matchmaker Rex Manning, who vowed to take Jock to the top despite having no managerial experience.
Taylor made his paid debut at age 17 – a one-round KO win in Watford in June 1943. After two more contests he was called into the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, where he served for three years, taking part in services bouts even though he’d turned pro.
Jock won the Air Arm’s 1945 middleweight title with a one-round knockout and left the forces the following year to pick up his pro career. From this point he fought at light-heavy, even though that meant conceding half-a-stone or more to many opponents (his natural fighting weight was around 11st 12lbs/166lbs and there was no super-middleweight then).
Over the next few years, Taylor tackled some of the best British boxers of his day, including Don Cockell, Johnny Williams, Ginger Sadd, Albert Finch, Al Marson, Reg Spring, Ernie Woodman, Pat Stribling and Ron Pudney, beating several of them.
When Taylor suffered a one-round defeat to Vic Phayer (Woolwich) in May 1951, he knew it was time to retire. Though just 25, five years of hard fights against bigger men had taken their toll and he was not the force he had been. Jock lived in Sidcup and Dartford for many years, before relocating to East Sussex in his late 70s. This was when I met him, and he became the first interviewee and chief source of inspiration for my book, Fighting Men of London. For that and for the privilege of knowing him, I’ll always be grateful.