IT is a result that causes the reader to do a double-take – even 92 years after the event: February 25, 1928, Max Schmeling (Germany) L KO 1 Gipsy Daniels (Wales). Schmeling would stay unbeaten for the next four years, winning and successfully defending the world heavyweight title, only to lose it by split decision to Jack Sharkey in June 1932. In Schmeling’s 24-year pro career, only one other man – the great Joe Louis – put Max away inside a round. So who was this Welsh light-heavyweight who accomplished the feat?
Born William Daniels in Llanelly, South Wales, in 1903, he boxed initially as Young Daniels, then as Billy Daniels, before adopting the “Gipsy” epithet, even though he was not from a traveller background. It’s unclear how he got the name, but Jimmy Johnston, the famous American manager, liked to take the credit. He claimed that when Daniels entered his New York office in October 1922, the Welshman’s Romany appearance gave him the idea. In truth, Daniels had been using the name since 1920, although, it must be said, Johnston milked it for all it was worth with a clever, if crude, publicity stunt.
Kitting out the fighter in a multi-coloured handkerchief (which served as a bandana), a pair of brass curtain rings (improvised earrings) and another handkerchief tied around his neck, Johnston transformed Billy into “The Gipsy Prince” and summoned a photographer. Jimmy sent the contrived photo to the New York press, with an equally ludicrous backstory claiming Daniels was the son of a gipsy king. The trick worked as the story appeared in print across America.
In 1920, the 17-year-old Daniels was part of an ambitious project that aimed to find future champions. Horatio Bottomley – MP, financier and owner of the popular weekly magazine, John Bull – organised the campaign alongside Australian boxing journalist A. G. (“Smiler”) Hales. A camp was set up at Herne Bay, with the entrants put through their paces and the wheat separated from the chaff until only the best candidates, known as “The John Bull Boys”, remained. Before long the scheme collapsed, but it did uncover one future champion – Daniels.
Unafraid to give away weight, in November 1921, Daniels entered a heavyweight competition at the Blackfriars Ring. He went out in his second fight, but a few months later, boxing at his proper weight, he won a middleweight tournament at the same venue. That was in early 1922. Later that year, he embarked on his New York campaign, winning six of seven bouts in the Big Apple before returning to Britain.
Over the next few years, Daniels had a steady stream of fights, with only an occasional loss. On April 11, 1927, at The Ring, he outpointed Frank Moody over 20 rounds for the Welsh light-heavyweight title. Then exactly two weeks later, at the National Sporting Club (NSC), he outscored Tom Berry over the same distance to capture the British crown. That December, Daniels tackled reigning European light-heavy titlist Max Schmeling in Berlin, but lost on points. So, Daniels’ first-round KO of Schmeling two months later in Frankfurt was a big upset. Even without the benefit of knowing Schmeling would become world heavyweight king, BN called the feat “remarkable”. Strangely, Daniels’ form declined after that. He was stripped of his British title after rejecting the NSC’s meagre purse offer for a title defence, and he lost his Welsh crown in a return with Moody in August 1930. Although his best years were behind him, Daniels continued until 1938, and also toured the West Country for many years with a travelling booth. On the booths he met the young Freddie Mills and taught the future world titlist the tricks of the trade. Daniels moved to Plymouth during the war and worked in the dockyard. He died in the city on May 28, 1967, aged 64.