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The ‘worst boxers ever’ were better than you think

Miles Templeton explains why it's not always best to judge boxers by their records

I FREQUENTLY see articles posted online about who is the worst boxer of all time. Some of the authors seem to think that the number of career defeats is all that is needed to define this. A national newspaper recently described Peter Buckley as the world’s worst boxer based simply upon the fact that he lost on 256 occasions. Buckley was a good journeyman and could be quite a handful for many an aspiring champion. To call him the world’s worst boxer is extremely insulting. Another name that often appears on these lists is Arnold Kid Sheppard (pictured) of Ferndale, South Wales. Arnold lost 187 times in a career which lasted from 1925 to 1939, and for his name to be included is scandalous. Arnold had 115 victories and he beat champions along the way, including Pat Butler of Leicester, the British welterweight champion in the mid-1930s. Arnold fought against more champions than some boxers have contests these days and he must be extremely high up on any list of boxers who fought the most rounds. Most of his 352 bouts were over 10, 12 or 15 rounds. Early last year, I wrote an article on the British boxers who had had the most fights and at the time I stated that Arnold took part in 338. Recent research that I have been doing on boxing in Wales in the mid-1920s has revealed 14 more.

Ferndale, a small mining village, is right at the head of the Rhondda Fach valley. If one continues up over the mountains going north, then one arrives at Aberdare. Most of the traffic, however, heads south, down the valley to Porth and, ultimately, to Pontypridd and Cardiff. I suspect that Arnold had come to the area for work in the pits. A succession of strikes and industrial disputes within the coal mines at this time meant that money was short, so Sheppard turned to his fists to survive. After a handful of contests, he was matched over 15 rounds against Ginger Jones of Ammanford at the Workmen’s Hall in Ferndale. Jones went on to become the Welsh featherweight champion and was good enough to box an eliminator for the British title. In 1925, he was yet to attain such heights but, having lost only one of his eight fights, he was a good match for young Arnold. It is a sign of just how much the sport has changed that two such good prospects should be matched in such a small village. That was the way boxing was back then – no padded records, no ‘home’ and ‘away’ fighters, and a large crowd of miners cheering on their local hero over the championship course. In the event, the boxer, Jones, triumphed over the fighter, Sheppard, on points.

In the spring of 1927, Sheppard made the move to London, from where he quickly established himself as a top-of-the-bill performer. He made the odd foray to his home patch, but the bulk of his contests took place in English rings. Many years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting George Merritt, another 1930s favourite and a plain-speaking cockney. He remembered meeting Sheppard 10 times, although I can only trace eight of them. All eight went the full distance of 12 rounds and George won them all. He paid testament, however, to Arnold’s skill and tenacity, and he said that in every one of these contests he had to pull all the stops out to get his win.

Sheppard had far too many bouts, of course, and they took their toll. By the early 1950s, his health was suffering and he spent some time in a nursing home, from where he contacted Boxing News to make a plea for his old opponents to come and visit him. He could only have been in his mid-to-late 40s. So, let’s respect men like Peter Buckley, Kristian Laight, Dean Bramhald and the many fighters like them of earlier years, including Arnold. The worst boxer ever? Don’t make me laugh! They were all highly skilled and they knew the game inside and out.

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