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Nat Dresner – Edinburgh’s Mr. Boxing

Nat Dresner
From staging Scotland’s first British and European title fight to setting attendance records, Nat Dresner made remarkable strides in his six years as a promoter, writes Alex Daley

TODAY, Glasgow is widely seen as the spiritual home of Scottish boxing, but in the 1920s, when the sport first flourished north of the border, Edinburgh was the nation’s boxing epicentre. This was largely thanks to the ambition and entrepreneurial flair of one pioneering promoter – Nat Dresner.

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Leith around 1880, Nathaniel Dresner was the son of a Baltic boot importer and pawnbroker. Nat started his career in theatre management, and branched out into boxing properly in 1922. His rise within the sport was meteoric.

In his first year as a promoter, Dresner staged sell-out shows at Waverley Market, a roofed fruit and veg market in Edinburgh City Centre, each time drawing thousands of spectators. That November, Nat booked the reigning world light-heavyweight champion, the legendary Battling Siki, for an exhibition bout at the market. The bout fell through, but the show made headlines anyway. Prince George, Duke of Kent, whose Royal Navy ship was berthed at Port Edgar, was ringside to see local favourites, Alex Ireland and George McKenzie, score emphatic wins over Liverpool’s Billy Mack and Londoner Fred Bullions respectively. Ireland and McKenzie, both managed by Dresner, were destined to win British titles, and Ireland a European crown.

On 2 January 1923 – less than a year after entering the fight business – Nat achieved a major, almost unthinkable, coup when he staged Scotland’s first British and European title fight; that it was contested by two Scotsmen was the cherry on the cake. At the time, England – particularly London – had a virtual monopoly on staging championship contests. The event, at the Industrial Hall on Edinburgh’s Annandale Street, saw lightweight champ Seaman Hall of Peebles see off challenger Johnny Brown of Hamilton over 20 rounds, in front of 12,000 fans. Nat had shrewdly staged the match just after the Powderhall Sprint Race, an athletics event that drew tens of thousands of enthusiasts to Edinburgh.

In November 1924, Dresner tempted the great Ted Kid Lewis into defending his British and European welterweight titles at the Industrial Hall. A crowd of 20,000 (there were 2,000 disappointed latecomers locked outside) saw Scotland’s Tommy Milligan carry off Ted’s titles with a 20-round points win. The show set an indoor boxing attendance record for Scotland, which I believe still stands.

Nat took every opportunity to spread boxing to a wider audience. In contrast to the London-based National Sport Club, which barred women from its promotions, Dresner reserved a portion of ringside seats for exclusive use by women at all his shows. He also offered the unemployed a reduced admission rate if they produced their ‘dole’ cards. On the other hand, he was keen to accommodate members of the Scottish nobility: the Marquis of Clydesdale was employed as a regular timekeeper at ringside and Sir Iain Colquhoun of Luss was the MC at Nat’s major shows.

Dresner was also a savvy marketer who understood the value of branding. Referee George Smith, who worked as a programme seller at Dresner’s promotions, told boxing author Brian Donald: “We were all immaculately dressed by the promoter in white woollen jumpers with ‘Nat Dresner’ inscribed back and front in bold green letters. Everything was meticulously planned.”

In six short years, Dresner had made enormous strides in the sport and appeared to be just getting started, but ill health intervened. Nat died on 31 March 1928, aged 48, after a two-year illness. A fortnight before his death, he had left his sick bed to attend his final promotion, when an all-Scottish British and European title clash between Milligan and Alex Ireland drew 10,000 fans to Waverley Market. His mantle would now pass to other promoters, but Dresner’s place in Scottish ring history was assured.

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