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The original celebrity boxer

Edwin John
Larry Braysher
The case of Edwin John proves that the phenomenon of the celebrity boxer is nothing new, writes Mile Templeton

THERE seems to be a trend these days towards the celebrity boxer. With the rise of the YouTube star, backed up by some TV and media personalities also looking to break into the professional game, most would think that this is a modern phenomenon. There have been similar cases throughout boxing history, however, and Edwin John is one of them.

Edwin John was always billed from Chelsea, and he was a very promising middleweight back in the early 1930s. Chelsea had, for many years, been the stamping ground for London’s Bohemian elite and John’s father [pictured above right with Edwin centre] was a leading figure in this free-thinking, artistic and unconventional movement. He was also the most well-known, and highest-paid, painter of his day and he regularly transported Edwin and his siblings around the countryside dressed as a gypsies, and in a traditional caravan. It is no wonder then, that when Edwin matured he would be drawn to a similarly unorthodox calling. He chose boxing, and it greatly annoyed his father, who wanted him to go to art school.

As the son of such a well-known public figure, Edwin’s boxing career attracted press interest right from the start. His trainer was Johnny Thomas of Clerkenwell, a seasoned ex-pro of more than 150 contests, who knew the game inside out, and Johnny turned the raw novice into a very promising fighter in no time at all. Unsurprisingly, John made his debut at Paris, the centre of Bohemianism, in February 1931 and he boxed a draw against a local lad in a six-rounder. When he returned to the UK he teamed up with Thomas and six months later, after a crash course in the finer points of the art, he was ready to make his British debut. He made his base at Croydon, and he fought most of his early contests there.

His opponent for contest number two was Ted Giles, a Croydon hard man. Giles was veteran of more than 30 contests, most of them over 12 and 15 rounds, and he was a top-of-the-bill performer in London’s lesser-known small halls, but young Edwin stopped him in eight. The following month John repeated the feat, this time over 15 rounds, and he was soon boxing at the major venues, including the Blackfriars Ring and the Royal Albert Hall. He outpointed the seasoned Australian, Leo Wax, at the Ring, and then boxed a 12-round draw against the Eastern Counties champion, Seaman Harvey. Although his father hated his involvement in the sport, he did attend some of Edwin’s contests to support him. By 1932 Edwin was starting to look like he might be a threat at championship level and after knocking out Hartlepool’s Jack Strongbow in four rounds at the Royal Albert Hall, he then fought two men at the pinnacle of the British middleweight division.

The first of these was Jack Hyams of Stepney, an outstanding talent and the BN report for their contest, over 15 rounds at the Royal Albert Hall, stated that, “Hyams has had far more experience, in English and American rings, and his extra knowledge enabled him to overcome the straighter hitting of the artist-boxer. John has a wonderful left hand but does not use his right correctly or know how to get out of awkward situations. He battled away determinedly enough but Hyams was just that much too good for him.” Hyams later became Southern Area champion at both middle and light-heavy and he boxed for the British middleweight title in 1937.

John then had the courage to climb into the ring with the formidable Jock McAvoy. This proved to be his last contest and it was an unpleasant experience throughout, with the Rochdale tearaway picking him apart before referee Jimmy Wilde stepped in after six rounds.

After 18 contests, of which he only lost four, Edwin John settled down to a more suitable calling, he swapped one canvas for another and became a noted water-colourist. He died in 1978, aged 73.

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