WHILE grainy, colourless footage shot with archaic cameras can never do justice to the likes of Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney and Joe Louis, at least we have glimpses of their fighting lives preserved on film. So spare a thought for the countless boxing heroes who preceded the age of film and photography. Without visual proof of their existence, from a modern perspective their careers can seem like fairytale legends, akin to the stories of Greek mythology. Unlike the protagonists of those ancient Greek fables however, these men were real. To know about them we rely on written accounts. But how many modern fights fans have the time or tendency to leaf through decaying centuries-old newspapers in search of nuggets of information about bare-knuckle boxers?
One writer who does is Lawrence Davies, and his efforts have spawned three meticulously researched books on Welsh pugilism. The first, Mountain Fighters, explored the lives and times of those bare-fisted hard men who fought on the mountains of Wales when prize-fighting was an illicit activity. The second, Jack Scarrott’s Prize Fighters, focuses on an influential boxing booth showman who assisted such legendary figures as Jim Driscoll and Jimmy Wilde on their paths to glory.
Davies’ latest tome is even more ambitious. The Story of Welsh Boxing: Prize Fighters of Wales (Pitch Publishing) starts in the early 1700s, when pugilists fought with sword and staff, and concludes over a century later. The book charts the exploits of fighters you’ve probably never heard of – men such as “Paddington” Jones, Jack Rasher, Ned Turner and William Charles – and it reveals some fascinating stories.