History | Dec 28 2018

Young Stribling – A Life Less Ordinary

Eric Armit tells the incredible story of “The King of the Canebrakes”, Young Stribling
Young Stribling

AS usual, over the Christmas period there was a plethora of films for our entertainment. All the old favourites were dusted off to keep us awake after we had overindulged in festive fare. One of the films was a light comedy entitled, A Life Less Ordinary. It was pleasant enough, but there was nothing in the plot that really justified the title. However, it did set me to thinking of a life that would certainly fall into that less ordinary category.

When I was doing research last year for an article on unbeaten runs in boxing, I included Young Stribling at No. 20 in the list of fighters with the longest unbeaten run at any time in their career. His run started after his loss to future world light-heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran in May 1927 and lasted until being outpointed by future world heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey in February 1929. It stretched to 56 contests made up of 55 wins and one draw. That, in itself, is far from ordinary, but Young Stribling crammed those 56 fights into just 21 months and fought in 19 different states.

What he achieved in that 21-month spell is only one part of an extraordinary life that saw Stribling boxing exhibitions at the age of five, being an outstanding high school basketball player and turning professional as a featherweight just after his 16th birthday. He went on to be able to claim he had one of the shortest-ever reigns as a world champion and to be the only former State featherweight champion to fight for the world heavyweight title. In a 253-fight career he scored 224 wins, 129 by KO/stoppage, lost just 13 times, with only one of those losses coming inside the distance, and he died at the age of 28.