On This Day: Tommy Farr upset expectations against the great Joe Louis

Joe Louis boxing
How a brave ex-miner from Wales shocked the world by going the distance with the devastating champion Joe Louis

THE ‘Tonypandy Terror’ Tommy Farr, who wasn’t supposed to stand a chance, took everything but the decision from world heavyweight champion Joe Louis that upset expectations by going the full distance of 15 rounds at the Yankee Stadium on August 30, 1937.

Louis had no real problem piling up the points that gave him the unanimous decision of referee Arthur Donovan (13-2 for Louis) and judges Charley Lynch (eight for Louis, four for Farr and three even) and New York’s Billy ‘Kid’ McPartland (a former lightweight who fought Joe Gans and went on to become a well-known referee, he scored it 10-5 in Louis’ favour).

The ‘Brown Bomber’s first defence of the crown he won from the ‘Cinderella Man’ James J Braddock just two months previously found him up against much tougher opposition than anticipated.

24-year-old Farr earned his spot as a world title challenger as he followed up winning the British and Empire heavyweight title from Ben Foord, with victories over German Walter Neusel (via stoppage) and former world champion Max Baer.

The scalps of Neusel and Foord in particular greatly enhanced his reputation, as both opponents had previously seen off British opposition in Farr’s adversary, Jack Petersen.

About 10 million Britons stayed up in the middle of the night to tune in to the radio broadcast of the fight.

Why the Brown Bomber is the greatest

The former child miner not only stunned the experts, who had expected him to be vanquished in quick time (Louis was a 5-1 betting favourite), but thrilled a comparitvely small crowd of nearly 37,000 with the determined fashion in which he carried the fight to the explosive champion.

In the final stages of the fight long, jagged cuts opened under Farr’s eyes. “I couldn’t see him,” said Farr afterwards nursing a broken and swollen finger of his right hand.

“My face looked like a dug-up road after he’d finished with it. I’ve only got to think about Joe Louis and my nose starts bleeding,” he said at the time.

He became only the second man to take Louis to the 15-round distance.


Several legendary former champions at ringside were unimpressed with the fight: Jack Dempsey: “Fifteen years ago, against that sort of fighters, I would have sent Jack Kearns (Dempsey’s manager) out to do the fighting, and I would have stayed in the corner.” Jack Johnson was equally dismissive: “Give me three pork chops and a breath of fresh air, and I’ll challenge ‘em both!”

Louis victim Braddock offered: “I’d like another whack at the championship. If he had fought the same aginst that he did against Farr, Louis may never have taken the title. I may be bad, but not that bad.”

For those interested A Welshman in The Bronx: Tommy Farr vs Joe Louis by Graeme Kent looks at the six week period leading up to the fight.

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