NATIONALITY can be a contentious issue in boxing. When a leading fighter has lived for a long time in a place outside their birth country, fans will invariably debate which nation can rightly claim the said boxer. It happened with Bob Fitzsimmons, boxing’s first three-weight world champion, who was born in Cornwall in 1863 but emigrated to New Zealand at age nine. Fitzsimmons never boxed in Britain and learnt the game in Australasia. Official sources, and many fight fans, call Bob a Brit, but there are those who, understandably, consider him a New Zealander.
A more recent example is that of London-born Lennox Lewis, who moved to Ontario, Canada, when he was 12. Lewis boxed for Canada in the 1988 Olympics while holding dual British and Canadian citizenship. When he moved back here to start his pro career, some British fans rejected the assertion that he was a Brit, especially in light of his spell with the Canadian Olympic team. But as he marched from victory to victory, collecting world titles and world-class scalps, resistance to his claim abated.
Back in 1949, a similar quandary arose over the nationality of a talented featherweight from Australia called Eddie Miller, who was to face reigning British and Empire titlist Ronnie Clayton. “Can Miller Claim Two Crowns?” pondered a Boxing News headline. Although Miller’s fight with Clayton was for the Empire title, our writer suggested that should Eddie win, he might return to Australia claiming the British crown as well. This was because, by birth, Miller was a Brit.
Eddie was born in Blantyre, Scotland, in May 1917 and moved to Australia with his parents as a child. He turned pro with no amateur experience in 1936, and boxed exclusively in Australia for the next 11 years. But in 1947, as the reigning Australian featherweight champ, he came to Britain hoping to challenge for both British and Empire honours. He brought with him his birth certificate and informed the British Boxing Board of Control that he was really a Scotsman.
That May and June he handily beat four opponents in British rings, impressing our fans with his ringcraft. “If skill were the only factor governing the fight game, then Eddie Miller would be unbeatable,” enthused BN’s Geoff Bardsley. “Miller represents boxing as a fine art, and only an ardent connoisseur of fisticuffs can really appreciate the supreme artistry of this pugilistic craftsman.” Having seen Miller up close, British promoting supremo Jack Solomons tried to match him in London with the reigning world 9st (126lb) champ, Willie Pep, but to no avail.
Eddie then went back to Australia, but returned to Britain in July 1948. His form this time was less impressive. He drew with and lost to future European lightweight king Elias Ask, drew with tough Guyanese lightweight Cliff Anderson, but then outpointed Liverpool’s Frankie Kelly and South Africa’s Tony Lombard in a final eliminator for Clayton’s Empire crown.
Boxing News picked Miller to beat Clayton, and in the early rounds of their August 1949 clash at Liverpool Stadium, Eddie looked set to do just that. But as the fight progressed the 32-year-old Australian began to tire, and in the 12th his title dream ended when a left to the solar plexus put him down and out. Afterwards, Miller announced his retirement from boxing. His title tilt had come too late.
Teddy Lewis, the popular Dagenham lightweight of the late 1940s and early ‘50s, served as a sparring partner to Miller each time he came to the UK. In an interview for my book, Fighting Men of London, Lewis told me: “I sparred with Billy Thompson, the British lightweight champion, Tommy Barnham, George Daly and the top Americans that came over here, like Dado Marino, the world champion, but Eddie Miller was the cleverest man I ever boxed with.”