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The story of a forgotten British champion

British champion Bandsman Blake
Larry Braysher
Miles Templeton tells the story of Bandsman Blake, a forgotten British champion

100 years ago the career of one of Britain’s earliest middleweight champions came to an end when Bandsman Jack Blake was knocked out in the second round of a contest at the Ring, Blackfriars by Albert Rogers of Mitcham.

It was his 62nd professional bout in a career that stretched back to 1910. Blake held the British middleweight title between 1916 and 1918 when he won, and then lost, to Pat O’Keefe of Canning Town. As the country was at war, Blake did not have a proper opportunity to cash in on being the champion and the loss in the rematch with O’Keefe was his first defence. Blake is perhaps best remembered for his contest, in 1914, with the British heavyweight champion, Bombardier Billy Wells, in a 20-round contest for Wells’ title at the London Palladium, Soho. This bout occurred two years before Blake won the middleweight title, and, on paper at least, a clearer example of a mismatch would be hard to find.

Both Blake and Wells were products of a system that produced many British champions at that time, for they both learned their boxing in the army, and when discharged, both men soon made their mark as professionals. Blake caught the eye of leading promoter Dick Burge, himself an ex British middleweight champion, and in March 1913 he fought at Burge’s venue, the Ring, Blackfriars, for the first time. The Ring was London’s leading small hall boxing venue until it was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1942, and Burge was the man who established the place. Promising provincial boxers, like Blake, were often snapped-up by the top London promoters for a 10-bout contract, and this is what happened to Blake that year. He had 11 consecutive contests at The Ring between March and November 1913 and he won the lot, most of them within the distance.

On New Year’s Day, 1914, he met the famous American middleweight, the Dixie Kid, in a 20-rounder at The Ring, and he won the bout convincingly. This led to Burge’s enthusiasm for his promising charge becoming rather over-optimistic. Negotiations were opened for contests with Georges Carpentier and with the leading Americans, Frank Klaus and George Chip, two men who had recently met each other for the world middleweight title. Much greater headlines were made when Burge challenged Wells to meet his man for the British heavyweight title.

Many promoters were excited by this match, despite Blake’s inexperience and size, and huge purse bids flew back and forth before the match was finally secured by Burge himself, with a bid of £850, a sizeable figure before the first world war. Wells had just been hammered by Georges Carpentier in one round and there were huge question marks over his ability to take a punch, especially to the body, and this is what led to Burge to believe that Blake could beat him. BN was less convinced, “Blake has not hitherto come up against any opponent endowed with the Bombardier’s speed or hitting power. Will he be able, or will he be willing, to continue his aggressive and bustling methods after he has been introduced to a few of Billy’s jabs?”

In the event, Blake put up a very decent fight, before succumbing to the larger man in four rounds. Upon entering the ring, Wells looked nervous and he took a real pasting in the first round due to Blake’s zip and energy. Blake was leading on points before Wells’ body shots started to slow him down. The coup-de-grace was delivered in the fourth round, leaving Blake spread-eagled on the canvas, out to the world.

After this bout, Blake sensibly stuck to his own weight class and his British title victory in 1914 showed just how good a fighter he actually was. After retirement he bought a large property in his hometown, Great Yarmouth, where he became a swimming instructor. He died in 1961, aged 70.

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