ONE of boxing history’s fiercest rivalries wrote one of it’s most ferocious chapter on September 7, 1908 as the middleweight champion of the world, Stanley Ketchel, was knocked out in the twelfth round at Jeffries’s Vernon Arena in California by Billy Papke.
Both 21 year olds entered the ring in pristine fighting condition, but the fight ended as one of the bloodiest in ring history.
Ketchel – already a decision winner over Papke that June – was a clear favourite with the crowd. When Papke entered he walked briskly to Ketchel’s corner and cordially greeted him with a handshake and smile, but when referee James J Jeffries called time and Ketchel walked to the centre of the ring, extending his hand for the shake, Papke ignored the hand and sailed into Stanley with the kind of savage impetuosity that earned him the ‘Illinois Thunderbolt’ nickname.
The fight was practically over thereon.
It was merely a question of how long could the champion last after such a shocking start. Papke tore into Ketchel with such fury that he was lifted off his feet no less than four times in the first session.
Ketchel was fighting on instinct. Already a defeated man, dazed, bleeding and staggering around the ring fighting for his survival.
Yet, like the champion he was, he fought back with incredible resolve and for the next three rounds held his own.
Ketchel’s right eye was closed from the second and for the last three rounds he reeled around the ring like a drunk, practically blinded.
By the time the end came both boxers were covered in blood.
The fight was scheduled for 25 rounds.
The pair would battle four times in all: Stanley Ketchel exacted harsh revenge in their third meeting by knocking out Papke in 11 rounds and outpointing him in their last contest for an overall 3-1 series win.
The third fight was so overwhelming that one Martin Carter, a farmer from California, dropped dead at ringside when Papke was knocked out.