SUCCESS in boxing is largely due to hard work and talent, but sometimes other factors can give a fighter the edge. Boxing’s first three-weight world champion Bob Fitzsimmons, for example, famously credited the development of his enormous punch to time spent blacksmithing for his father. Today, the exceptional athleticism and footwork of Vasyl Lomachenko are said to stem, in part at least, from gymnastics and Ukrainian folkdance classes he took as a youngster. Over a century before Lomachenko, there was another world champion – from Canning Town in east London – whose dazzling skills were developed outside the ring. Long before his name ever graced a boxing bill, Tom “Pedlar” Palmer was part of London’s theatrical circuit. He and his brother Matt performed a novelty act that called on Tom’s remarkable acrobatic skills. As Matt chased him around the stage, Tom would duck, slip, sidestep and turn somersaults to avoid his brother’s punches, leaving the crowds in fits of laughter. It was only as he grew older that Palmer realised he was not just an acrobat but a really good boxer.
Fast-forward a few years to May 1893 and Pedlar was boxing for the first time at Covent Garden’s National Sporting Club. There, to the amazement of club patrons, he employed many of the eye-catching tricks he had used on stage, evading the attacks of his opponent Walter Croot with comically exaggerated movements. Palmer won the fight with a 17th-round KO and his defensive wizardry earned him the nicknamed “Box O’ Tricks”.
Two years later, Pedlar won the world bantamweight title (then 8st 4lb) from the brilliant Brummy Billy Plimmer in 14 rounds. In the next three years, Palmer kept his crown through five defences and drew with future Hall of Famer George Dixon at Madison Square Garden.