IN AUTUMN 1909, boxing in Great Britain changed for the better. Two unique institutions, both still around today, were introduced to the sporting public for the first time.
The photograph shows Freddie Welsh of Pontypridd boxing against Johnny Summers of Canning Town for the British featherweight championship at the National Sporting Club in Covent Garden. The bout took place on November 8 that year, and it was the first British title contest for which the Lonsdale Belt was awarded. Later that year Tom Thomas defended his middleweight title in a belt contest, and in early 1910 Jim Driscoll did the same at featherweight. The first three fighters to be given the Lonsdale belt, therefore, were all Welshmen.
Sitting at ringside, in the press box which can clearly be seen, was John Murray, the first editor of BN. At the time the publication had only been in circulation for a few months and the report of this contest can be read in its 15th edition. Excluding the second world war, when BN appeared fortnightly and with the odd gaps appearing, notably when its offices were bombed out during the blitz, and various occasional printers strikes during the 1950s and 1970s, BN has appeared every week since.
The Welsh v Summers contest was an excellent one, with Murray remarking that “It was a great fight, a wonderful fight. From some points of view not a particularly pretty fight to watch perhaps, but from others an amazingly pretty one. The latter point of view is that which should be taken by one who appreciated all the niceties of the game. There was no standing right away and exchanging of smashing blows, nor was there much pretty long-range sparring to speak of, but there was any amount of perfect expenditure of effort, that perfect timing of pace and distance, which goes to make the perfect boxer. The issue lay between science and stamina as opposed to pluck, strength and endurance. The acme of science, wonderful staying power, and speed on the part of Welsh, and a fair amount of pluck, and simply superhuman strength and endurance as owned by Johnny Summers”.
As well as being the first ever belt contest, this was also the first British title contest reported by [i]BN[i], and it is interesting to see just how journalistic methods have changed compared to today.
Summers had won the title almost exactly a year before when he beat Jack Goldswain. All British title contests took place within the hallowed confines of the National Sporting Club when these two met, and with one of two exceptions this did not change until the sport became more commercialised during the 1920s, when the Club found that it could not compete with the purses being offered by more enterprising promoters.
A couple of days before the bout, Welsh, who had been training in his native town, Pontypridd, took a motor car over to Gilfach goch and he had to jump out of the vehicle as it skidded on a greasy road, damaging his leg. There was some concern that this might impact upon his ability during the contest, but these fears were unfounded, he boxed majestically.
Welsh had moved to America some years before and it was in that country that he had learned his trade. His style was very different to that of Summers, who had also experienced American rings on a tour during 1907 and 1908, and his style and methods were new to a British audience. One can see the referee, Tom Scott, perched in his chair directly in-between the boxers. In those days the referee at all National Sporting Club contests officiated from outside the ring and his decision, a casting vote, was only given if the two judges disagreed.
Elsewhere within the UK the referee was the sole arbiter, and it was his choice whether to get in the ring or not. So much has changed in 113 years, but much is still the same.