Best Ring Performers Do Not Always Attain to Championship Honor

Damon Runyon

Washington Times/July 7, 1922

Many a fighter never becomes a champion because he doesn’t get the right break.

You may make the best mouse trap and the world will beat a pathway to your door, as the fellow claimed, but that doesn’t go in Fistiana.

It is frequently the case that there may be half a dozen men in the country who can beat the champion of their division, but who never get the chance to prove it. That is the case right now with the middleweight championship, and with two or three other divisions.

We told you the other day about how not every titleholder could point with pride to his line of succession—to his family tree, so to speak—winding up with Johnny Wilson. We come now to another case in point, the welterweight division.

We are willing to concede that Old Boy Jack Britton is the best welter-weight in the world. He has no greater admirer than the writer. But Old Boy’s title is one of those carrying a number of flaws, when you get right analytical.

Britton claimed the title in 1916 on the strength of beating Ted-Kid Lewis, the Englishman, in a twenty-rounder. Ted-Kid got the title in a back room from his manager, James Joy Johnston.

Ted-Kid was one of those 169-pound lightweights. So was Britton. Ted-Kid’s manager happened to look in a book on a rainy day and noted that nobody had said much about being welterweight champion for some years, so he claimed it with loud, shrill cries of glee.

He got a lot of publicity, observing which Britton’s manager, Dumb Dan Morgan, grew envious and covetous. They inveigled Ted-Kid and his manager away down South and twenty-rounded them right out of that title.

There were perhaps half a dozen men in the country with as good a claim to the title at that time as either Lewis or Britton, but they never thought of claiming, or at least no one paid any attention to their claim.

Lewis and Britton fought a regular schedule for the little for some years thereafter, Lewis winning it back once, and Britton finally cinching it with a knock-out of the Englishman.

It is a question who was the last welter champion before Lewis’ manager dug it up. Packy McFarland could undoubtedly have claimed it and held it when he was at his best, but no one attached any value to the title at that time.

Jimmy Clabby once claimed it in gingerly fashion, and was recognized by some. So did Ray Bronson. Back in 1908 Mike Twin Sullivan had a claim on it, and some recognized Joe Gans as the holder of both the light and welter titles when he knocked out the Twin. Gans never seriously claimed it, nor offered to defend it.

Before Sullivan, Honey Mellody beat Joe Walcott in fifteen rounds, and was generally acknowledged the champion, perhaps the last real, undisputed welter king until Britton came along.

The line of succession was undoubtedly jumbled up after the passing of Mellody. The Dixie Kid beat Walcott in 1904 on a foul, and some recognized the Kid for a spell. Clabby’s claim was based on a newspaper decision over the Kid.

Walcott won it by beating Rube Ferns. Ferns won it from Matthews, and Matthews got it on a foul from Mysterious Billy Smith. Britton has established a new dynasty of welters, yet Britton in the beginning horned in as a sort of pretender to the throne.

Leonard’s lightweight tree is clearer than any of the rest that flourish in the pugilistic grove.

It goes back in an unbroken line to the days of Jack McAuliffe, who retired, undefeated, the crown automatically reverting to the best man on the active list, Kid Lavigne.

Of Lavigne’s championship qualities there is no doubt. A pretender arose in the person of Jimmy Britt, of California, during the days of Joe Gans, Britt claiming the title because Joe refused to make weight, but no one ever took Britt’s claim seriously, and Joe afterward beat James with ease and aplomb.

From Gans to Nelson, on down through Wolgast, Ritchie, Welsh to Leonard, the title is quite clear. On back beyond McAuliffe it runs to ’68, when one Abe Hickman arose as the first claimant of the crown.

The featherweight title was conceded to George Dixon in 1891.

Dixon defended it in a number of battles, losing a four-rounder to Billy Plimmer in New York in 1893. It was claimed that this was not a title match.

In 1896, Dixon lost to Erne at 122 pounds, but reversed the decision in 1897. Later, in 1897, Solly Smith beat Dixon in twenty rounds at San Francisco at 120 pounds. Dixon still claimed the title, holding that the weight should be 118 pounds.

In 1898, Ben Jordan, of England, won a twenty-five-round decision over Dixon and claimed the title. Eddie Santry, of Chicago, stopped Jordan in sixteen rounds in New York, and filed on the crown, but later that same year Dixon beat Santry. On June 23, 1900. Terry McGovern whipped Dixon, and thus began a new regime.

McGovern was beaten by Young Corbett in 1901 at 126 pounds and Corbett was always satisfied with the thought that he was the man who licked McGovern. He paid scant attention to the featherweight title, and in 1904 Abe Attell claimed it.

Abe was beaten in five rounds in 1904 by Brooklyn Tommy Sullivan, but in 1908, Abraham stopped Tommy in four rounds in San Francisco, and from that time until his defeat by Kilbane, the present champion, Attell was the undisputed King of the feathers.

The bantam title, held by Johnny Buff, has been tangled up at various times, and the line of succession had followed twisting trails, but John’s papers are clear.

He won it in competition. Moreover, he seems to be a worthy successor to the best of those who have gone before him.

(Source: Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1922-07-07/ed-1/seq-13/#date1=1789&sort=relevance&rows=20&words=DAMON+RUNYON&searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=2&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=Damon+Runyon&y=18&x=11&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=3)

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