Something a bit different

[Note: for reasons unknown to me, WordPress has filed this as a contribution of Tony Harris. It is in fact by Rafe Champion. NG]

One of my most interesting writing projects was to work with Ruth Park on a historical biography of the boxer and sporting icon Les Darcy. This involved some fascinating research into the events that led up to the row over conscription. It also involved a lot of research on Darcy’s fights which did not end up in the book due to lack of space and complaints from a senior officer in Penguin that the early manuscript had too much fighting in it. Doh!

Anyway, for the benefit of the cultured and discriminating Troppo readers who appreciate the finer things in life, including the sweet science of pugilism, here are some of the fruits of research on the fights of Les Darcy. The aim was to draw as much as possible on contemporary accounts.

THE FEEL OF THE STADIUM

No one unfamiliar with it can sense the atmosphere of a big prize fight – the early arrivals with their beer and peanuts to while away the weary wait in the bleachers; the milling, ever-growing crowds, cluttering up the long queues patiently shuffling towards the many entrances, the optimistic hangers-on, hoping for a free ticket from some influential acquaintance; the privileged few, very conscious of their briefs…The cries of the hot-dog vendors and piemen, the hooting of horns, the screech of brakes and clang of trams; and over all the glare of powerful arc lamps, illumining, through a haze of dust kicked up countless feet, a scene that only Hogarth could limn with justice…Inside, a sea of faces stretching tier upon tier to the furthest limits of the stadium until they touch the very roof; indescribable clamour of voices and laughter; sudden little eddies in that ocean of humanity marking where some point of honour is in dispute; an endless procession of champs, near champs, and challengers; two mighty roars as the gladiators clamber through the ropes…And then the deathly hush in the suddenly darkened amphitheatre: the brilliantly-lit ring, shining dazzlingly white in that vast circle of blackness, like a full moon seen through a rift in sombre clouds; two athletes, stripped to shorts and shoes, waiting for the fateful gong that will hurl them at each other like destroying angels. From the Cradle to the Grave, part 11.

LION OF THE STADIUM

‘Gee, this is great. I hope it keeps going!’
Darcy near the finish of the first Holland bout.

Several of the Sydney sportswriters thought it was not a fair thing to match the young Darcy, still only eighteen years of age, with such an experienced campaigner. At that stage Holland was unbeaten in Australia. In justice to the Stadium management, Holland was not a lethal puncher and would not do too much damage to the young man if he did take control of the fight. Many people felt that Darcy had been kept out of the Stadium too long. Again, in fairness to the management, the more common fault of unscrupulous promoters has been to throw young contenders into big fights too soon. The result is usually a frightful beating and possibly the end of a promising career.

Mick felt all right about it, and you know he was very protective of Darcy. He wouldn’t have let him fight anyone who’d make a wreck of him. But Darcy was mad to get a start in the big time and Mick was confident that Fritz was not a killer. He thought that even if he outclassed the boy, he’d just coast along nicely and win on points, and Les would get the chance of a return bout. Billy Hawkins, brother of Mick Hawkins who was Darcy’s constant companion and supporter.

Fritz Holland was the fighting name of the most skilful and cunning opponent who ever shared a ring with Les Darcy. Born Fred Creel in Jackson County, West Virginia his religious-minded Dutch parents ensured that he obtained a good education, including an introduction to the saxaphone and other musical instruments. He took to boxing early, like Les Darcy, and when he became serious in the game he changed his name because his parents did not approve of the sport. He was often called ‘the flying Dutchman’ on account of his speed around the ring. In the amateur ranks he beat most the leading middleweights of the time and he turned professional at nineteen.

I’ve always been a tradesman. In 1912 Tommy Burns, ex-heavyweight champion, had the idea of bringing a team of four down to Australia to fight the best south of the line. I was one of them. The negotiations were done first with the Olympia promoters and then Stadiums Ltd, and in 1913 we arrived. The idea was to clean up the bush bunnies and go home loaded. Well, we cleaned up each other, mostly, anyway. Fritz Holland.

Fritz Holland was the quaintest specimen you could imagine. He was all out of proportion, long skinny bent legs, a reach like a spider monkey’s and a round head with a fluff of hair. Everything that could happen to a boxer’s face had happened to his, a splathered nose, thickened eyebrows, and two wideawake ears. Sports writers tended to call him a gnome. But he was a fine man, never boasted (which is more than you could say of most of the other US glovemen) never whinged about decisions, trained in a businesslike way. Maurice O’Sullivan, brother of Winnie O’Sullivan, Darcy’s sweetheart.

Darcy had a difficult training routine. He was still working for the blacksmith Ford. He still had no name except among the men of the Hunter Valley and Newcastle. What he had cut no ice with big city promoters. So he had no properly rigged training quarters. At home in East Maitland he went out at four am and pounded the roads before beginning work at the forge between 6 and 7 am. He finished work at 6 pm, went home, had his bath and tea and went out to the shed behind the rented house at Brisbane Street to spar with Jack Burns and Les Fletcher, belt the big bag, do his body exercises and finally be massaged by Mick Hawkins at 10.30. Frankie Bruno, boxer.

When he was trying to sell Les Darcy as a contestant to Stadium management, Mick Hawkins told Snowy Baker that he could fill the Stadium with Darcy supporters. He was not believed. On the evening of the fight, Fritz Holland did.

I never saw a crowd like it. The railroad ran two special trains from Darcy’s home town and the northern coalfields to cope with the crowd. There were so many cops to keep the crowd in order that it looked like Chicago. But there was no disorder, not then, anyway. Fritz Holland.

More than 3000 late arrivals were unable to gain admission. In spite of the fact that Fred Holland was at that time unbeaten in this country, the up-country lad’s big army of supporters would, had betting been allowed as in the days of old, have emptied out, to use a racing phrase, on their man. In spite of the unexpectedly large house, no hitch occurred, a high tribute to the Stadium’s efficient staff and those who controlled the tram traffic; also to the fans themselves, who formed queues which extended for hundreds of yards in most orderly formation in direct lines to the entrance gates of the various portions of the house. Will Lawless, prominent spors journalist.

In his corner, Les was supported by Mick Hawkins, Eric Newton and Les Fletcher, hardly a match in craft and experience for the Holland team of Tommy Burns and two other seasoned American boxers from the touring party. Father Coady and Les O’Donnell had good seats near ringside and another interested spectator close by was Dave Smith, Australian heavyweight champion. People in the crowd were delighted to see the Australian flag in the Darcy corner, an emblem which became one of his trademarks in fights with opponents from overseas.

The special trains from the North arrived late and the start was delayed for nearly an hour, a trying situation for a youngster making his first appearance in a major arena. Darcy was unruffled and filled in the time playing a mouth-organ, another trademark.

At 8:50 the mightiest cheer that ever rent the air at the Sydney Stadium heralded the arrival of Darcy and his retinue of seconds. The reception was enough to unnerve the oldest campaigner in the game, but it had no apparent effect on the simple up-country boy, whose behaviour just then impressed us more than anything else. He had no nerves, and to our mind was capable of performing any feat in the boxing world. From that moment I tipped him as a coming champion. Will Lawless.

The usually clear and far-reaching voice of the Stadium’s announcer was almost completely drowned by the hum of the excited thousands. Reporters occupying their customary ringside seats had to ask a second time for the respective weights of the contestants – Holland; 11.2 1/2; Darcy; 11.1 1/4. The attendance was enormous, proving my oft-repeated contention that a contest having a local lad as one of the principals would prove the best of draw cards even against the best in the game. With the putting on of the gloves, followed by the customary handshake, the crowd, as if by some magic signal, became quiet [- so quiet that, as Gilbert and Sullivan had it, a fly’s footfall could have been distinctly heard.]A moment later a mighty roar of encouragement went up for Darcy when the battle began. Will Lawless.

Darcy jumped into the fray from the start, as was his fashion, taking the battle to the opposition with right and left. Holland had plenty of opportunities to show his defensive skills, and his offence as well, as the young man showed his lack of experience.

Les made a wild right swing for the body. Fred easily retreated, and with all his force uppercut his right to the country boy’s mouth; exactly the same kind of blow that put Albert Lloyd down and out on a subsequent occasion. The latter’s chin was evidently made of more brittle material than Darcy’s for, instead of hurting the latter, it only made him fight all the harder. Will Lawless.

The furious rushes of this boy, for such he was, impressed me. I had never experienced such intensity of purpose as I did with this unknown. Fred Holland.

In the second round it looked as if the new chum was going to settle the pretentions of one of America’s best middleweights in double-quick time. Holland appeared nervous and unable to cope with the strength of his rushing young opponent. However, he pulled himself together and near corners scored frequently with well-placed lefts to the nose, drawing blood. Will Lawless.

In the following rounds Darcy again forced, but only at close quarters did he do any damage. Holland, by a clever twist of his cunning old head, robbed his blows of much of their weight, and at long range, by clever footwork and blocking, he made Darcy expend a deal of force unnecessarily…The sixth opened well for Darcy, but finished so very much in Holland’s favor that many at the ringside made bets that the contest would not last the full journey. How little they knew of the wonderboy’s toughness and pluck! Even now Darcy was the stronger of the pair, and in the seventh was learning his lesson by way of bitter experience. He found a way of defending himself from those powerful uppercuts, and was also beating many of Holland’s left leads by blocking. Will Lawless.

Boxing carefully, Holland was piling up points with his left during the eleventh, but just on corners he went within an ace of being beaten, when a right cross got him squarely on the chin. Fortunately for the American, corners came to his rescue soon after. Fred used different tactics in the twelfth. He waited Darcy’s lead, jumped back, and, returning quickly, caught the Australian right off his guard, and swung with all his power rights to the body and head. Will Lawless.

The tide of battle ebbed and flowed as Darcy pressed continually. He appeared to gain in strength and Holland started to show signs of fatigue in the fifteenth round. One of the reasons for the frustration of the Darcy supporters at the decision at the end of the fight was that in the distant back rows it seemed that Darcy was all over his opponent. Spectators nearer to the action could see how many of Darcy’s blows missed the mark or were effectively blocked by Holland, while the latter piled up points with less spectacular punching, in addition to some “firstrate blows”.

Holland’s condition must have been excellent, for he came up for the sixteenth looking very well, all things considered, and after placing quite a host of lefts to the face, he put all his strength into a right uppercut that bumped Les squarely on the chin…By clever footwork in the seventeenth Holland made Darcy miss a lot and leave himself open for the right that pounded hard on the ribs or uppercut under the chin. Darcy proved an apt pupil. He was learning as he went along, and blows that Holland had no difficulty in landing early in the contest were now cleverly blocked or beaten in other ways. Will Lawless.

At the break after the eighteenth round Darcy remarked to his cornermen ‘Gee, this is great. I hope it keeps going!’

It was wonderful how fresh and strong the East Maitlander appeared when he came up for the nineteenth. He blocked left and right, and with a left hook to the chin dazed his man, who skipped out of further harm’s way…Fred backed from Darcy’s left leads in the last round and uppercut with his right. This performance he repeated several times…Fred was evidently determined to throw no chances away against his stronger opponent, and in the few remaining moments he was careful not to get close enough to allow Les to get in his deadly work below. The latter still had a knock-out punch, which, landing any way near a vulnerable spot in Fred’s then broken-up condition, might have won for Darcy at the very last moment. Will Lawless.

Referee Harald Baker without hesitation crowned the weary Holland victor. He was quite right but then came the raging aftermath, the boiling over of all those heated fans who had followed every punch of that epic fight. Holland ambled across the ring and shook the hand of the smiling boy. Both boxers were exhausted and left the ring. Then pandemonium broke out and I copped a flying bottle between the shoulderblades. Maurice O’Sullivan.

Unknown to the crowd, the Governor-General had attended the fight. Snowy Baker siezed him and hauled him into the office where he shoved His Excellency under a solid oak desk. Mr Baker was distraught, fearing he’d lose his stadium as well as His Majesty’s representative.

However, though a howling mob was tearing up the streets outside and stones rained through the broken windows and bounced off Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson’s “dugout”, his excellency remained cool. That night of July 18, 1914, the immortal Darcy seemed to feel the bitterness of defeat less than his supporters did. The row was so great nobody heard the bell. The referee, my brother Harald, had to yell at both boxers. Then hell broke loose as the miners stormed the ring, threatening the unfortunate Harald with every kind of disaster. Bottles flew through the air, ringsiders scampered for cover. Hotheads began tearing up newspapers and breaking seats. Fires flared up here and there. Fortunately the police, knowing the coalfields crowds were involved, had prepared. Police and firemen swept the rioters from their path and got inside. The powerful hose jets knocked rows of men from the high seating circles of the bleachers. Once the stadium was cleared, nevertheless, fierce gangs began stoning the building until not a window was left whole. Somehow I got the Governor-General out from under the desk and his car was brought around to a distant back street. He was, if I read his demeanour aright, delighted with the whole episode. Snowy Baker, allround sport and owner/manager of the Stadium.

I felt that he would wear himself out in five rounds, but after twenty of the hardest I had ever fought he was, after twenty minutes rest in his dressing room, as fresh as you could wish. While his men worked on his face, where I had landed some firstrate blows, he sat on his rubbing table, joking with supporters, grinning, and eating a pear. Fritz Holland.

Les and his associates set off from the Stadium to catch the 11.30 night steamer from Sussex St for Newcastle, arriving at East Maitland in time for Father Coady’s 6 a.m. mass which Les always attended unless he was fighting interstate.

On the following Monday Will Lawless wrote in The Referee:

Darcy is uncommonly cool, tough, and game, and, with proper handling, will make a great name for himself. He has a wonderful idea of the game, and will pick up the fine points quicker than any youngster we have ever known.

A return bout with Fritz Holland was set down for September 12th. His friends approached Billy Ford in the hope that Darcy could take two weeks off to prepare for the fight in Sydney and moves were afoot to obtain the assistance of Dave Smith as a tutor.

PREPARATION FOR THE SECOND FIGHT.

Bearing in mind the strength and endurance of his youthful opponent, the wily Holland got himself into perfect shape this time, and before entering the ring stated that in all his long career he never felt so well or so confident of being returned the winner. Darcy had to be content with doing his training at night time, after putting through a heavy day’s work at the smithy, and had no good sparring partners to help him through. This manner of training would have cracked up 99 per cent of men, but Darcy was much out of the ordinary. No amount of work seemed nearly enough. Will Lawless.

In the second bout the roles were practically reversed. Both fighters started strongly but Les Darcy was more disciplined then on the first occasion. His defence was impeccable and even the fresh Holland could not land point-scoring blows. Darcy for his part could not land a knockout blow as Holland defended with every skill he knew. After several rounds the trend of the fight was clear: Darcy was well ahead on points and Holland was not about to hurt him or make up any of the leeway. In fact he would need all his ringcraft, courage and fitness to last the distance. But he had other resources to draw on. To cut a long story short, Darcy fouled out after hitting Holland too low. There has never been a satisfactory explanation for this and Darcy was mortified by his error. There is a suspicion that Holland stood on tip toes to draw the low blow but the issue will never be resolved. Another suggestion is that Darcy actually threw the fight for the benefit of betting friends but that is totally out of character and Darcy was not known to have any association with the betting fraternity.

Asked by Will Lawless about his feelings compared with that of his first meeting with the formidable Holland – “Oh, altogether different,”, came the reply. “In my first battle I hardly knew what was going to happen. Of course, I expected a hiding, but it did not come off: or if it did, I certainly did not feel it.
“On that occasion I was quite annoyed with Holland for blocking blows that I fully expected to land. In my second contest I felt a great deal better and more confident. But he bewildered me so that the direction of my blows was somewhat out of plumb. It was this that brought about my disqualification, as I accidentally struck him low.
“You know that troubled me more than enough, and I couldn’t sleep for nights after seeing that cartoon of myself and Holland in a Sydney paper.
“Moreover, it made me careful in future, and I attended closely to everything Dave Smith told me, and I dearly wanted the third fight with Fred Holland, if only for the chance of redeeming myself with boxing followers.”
“When you get older trifles of that kind will not trouble you”, I remarked.
“I don’t know. I’ll never be too old not to feel ashamed if boxing followers thought I could do anything unmanly. Win, tie, or wrangle is no good to me. I will win or lose fairly and squarely.”

The two fights with Fritz Holland demonstrates the phenomenal rate of Darcy’s development, much due to the influence of Dave Smith. In less than a year, Darcy matured from a ‘basher from the bush’ to a polished performer ready to demolish leading contenders for the world middleweight crown, not to mention the top Australian heavyweights.

At some stage the Stadium management decided that they had to have Darcy released from his indentures so he could be full-time drawcard for them on the circuit.

Stadium management knew that with a drawcard like the immortal Darcy we could lure the best boxers in the world to Australia. A new world opened up. And we did. We brought such legendary figures as McGoorty, Clabby, Billy Papke, Cyclone Thompson, George Chip, Jeff Smith, Ray Bronson, Milburn Saylor, the Lonsdale Belt holders Matt Wells, Owen Moran, Jim Sullivan and a host of other ring greats whose names have been enhanced by time. We had to get Darcy released from work at the anvil so we got our solicitors to work. Snowy Baker.

Darcy did obtain two weeks leave to prepare for the Marchand bout. The Stadium had to pay the wage for a replacement. This arrangement persisted until the Stadium’s legal officer persuaded the smith that the contract of indenture was invalid.

Thus it was that Darcy could come to Sydney before the Marchand fight and make firm arrangements with Dave Smith.

THE MARCHAND FIGHT

The Marchand fight was important because Darcy, for all his improved showing in the second Holland bout, still had two losses out of two appearances at headquarters. Unlike Holland, Marchand had a killer punch, hence his nickname ‘KO’.

On the way to victory, Darcy had to survive a perfectly timed right hand to the jaw, the kind of punch that earned Marchand his nickname. Darcy survived this and went on to win with a knockout of his own in the fifth round. Already both Holland and Marchand had discovered the freakish capacity of Darcy to weather potentially knockout blows to the jaw.

To fight Les Darcy is like fighting a gorilla. He is terribly strong, made of iron. He could beat any middleweight in the world, and he could even beat Carpentier! Henri Marchand.

Being now freed from blacksmith work and having most of his time to devote to his new profession, a transformation took place in the coming champion. He is quicker to take advantage of openings caused through a flaw in the opponent’s defence, and has learnt sufficient to create such opportunities. In opposition to Fred Holland, Les made the mistake of continually hurling himself at his cleverer and more experienced opponent, with the result that Fred’s blows landed with redoubled force. Besides, Holland was always aware of the tactics to adopt against the lad, who never varied his methods of milling. But on this occasion it was entirely different. Darcy feinted nicely, brought his man over, and then did the correct thing in attack. Besides, by back-moving, a trick hitherto foreign to him, he made Marchand miss badly, and thus leave himself open for attack, which came quick, sure, and weighty, in the shape of well-timed rights or uppercuts. The youngster was in splendid form, and with every likelihood of further improvement a few months hence, if still under Dave Smith’s tuition, he will be a worthy opponent for the best middleweights in the game. Will Lawless.

As usual the Darcy party caught the 11.30 steamer from Sussex Street to Newcastle and arrived home to present his mother with his winnings the next morning.

GUS CHRISTIE

Gus Christy was a leading American middleweight with a reputation as a hard puncher and a rough customer, well versed in the dirty tricks of the trade. He had twice fought the rugged Eddie McGoorty to drawn decisions in ten rounds.

Both men started strongly but within two rounds it was apparent to Christie and everyone else that he was up against a very superior opponent. The crowd errupted in the second round when Darcy landed some good blows and it seemed that the fight could end there and then. In the third round Christie employed various less reputable strategies including a head butt which opened a cut over Darcy’s eye. Darcy’s defence, honed by practice with Dave Smith, prevented any further damage there for the remaining seventeen rounds. Christie also tried holding and hitting tactics, and wrestling. Darcy was too strong to be held and the referee let Darcy take care of himself in that area. When Christie resorted to the elbow he received a stern warning.

In the break before the final round (the 20th) Darcy’s towel man jokingly complained that he was getting tired of towelling. ‘Sit down and I’ll towel you,’ suggested Les.

Christie was a mean contestant in the ring but he earned some credit for generosity after the event.

‘Well, Les, you are no doubt a wonderful fighter; but say, was it not an almighty great quarrel we just had in there.’ Gus Christie

DYER

For Boxing Day 1914 Darcy travelled to Brisbane to meet Fred Dyer, the ‘Singing Welshman’ also called the ‘Welsh Wizard’ on account of his superb defensive skills. Up to 1912 Dyer was undefeated in 94 bouts in Britain, a world record at the time. The Brisbane Stadium management doubled the usual seat prices and still filled the house with fans eager to see the new sensation from East Maitland.

Darcy boxed steadily throughout, constantly forcing Dyer without seriously attempting to obtain a knockout decision.

It soon became evident that Dyer had made up his mind to direct all his attention to seeing the full journey through, and the contest thus lost most of its interest to the majority of the onlookers. To those who admire the fine points in defence, Dyer’s exhibition was certainly a treat, but it took much away from Darcy’s showing, and as a result a pile of money was lost by the good sports of the Northern capital when Darcy met the world-famed Eddie McGoorty seven months later. Will Lawless

In addition to superb defence, Dyer had another trick up his sleeve, wriggling and turning under a blow to take it on the back of his neck as an illegal ‘rabbit-killer.’ The tactic almost worked because a police inspector approached the referee at the end of the round and insisted that such a blow should not be allowed again.

JEFF SMITH

Les Darcy’s next match, four weeks later, promised to be the hardest by far and the very fact that he was matched with Jeff Smith shows that the Stadium management had no doubt about his class. Jeff Smith had a claim to the world title, indeed the match with Darcy was billed as a title challenge and Baker announced that if Darcy won he would receive a belt signifying the world middleweight championship.

So the boy from East Maitland was in line for a world title just a year after his first appearance in Sydney and five months (and five fights) after his initiation at the Stadium.

THE CONFUSION OVER THE WORLD TITLE

It has to be understood that Darcy appeared on the scene at a time when there was no international boxing administration or even an American organisation to oversight championships. In the middleweight division there was no settled champion for many years after the murder of Stanley Ketchel in 1910, shot down by a Missouri cowboy in a dispute over a woman. Ketchell was the agreed middleweight champion, though after a defeat in January 1910 at the hands of the world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson he announced that he was giving up the middleweight title. He changed his mind and successfully defended his title three times more but at the same time Billy Papke, a previous title-holder, claimed the title again by winning a bout, billed as a championship, staged in Paris in March 1910.

Papke beat various contenders in Europe, until in March 1913 he met Frank Klaus in Paris. Early in 1912 Klaus beat Jack Dillon and then won a match in Paris with Georges Carpentier. In the Papke-Klaus contest, Papke was disqualified in the 15th round. The reign of Klaus was short; twice in 1913 he was beaten by George Chip (Chipulonis, a Lithuanian from Pennsylvania, US). In April 1914 Chip in turn lost to Al McCoy who did not defend the ‘title’ for over three years until he lost at the first challenge, late in 1917.

This line of descent was disputed because Papke was in Australia when he claimed the title on the death of Ketchel. A Danish-American, ‘Cyclone Johnny Thompson’ challenged him and beat him in Sydney on February 1911. Thompson retired in October of that year, whereupon Papke claimed a second time that the crown reverted to him.

A number of strong contenders, among them Jeff Smith, Eddie McGoorty and Jimmy Clabby, challenged both the first and the second claim by Papke and disputed the alleged line of descent through Klaus and Chip to McCoy. They considered that their credentials were as good as those of Papke and at the very least a series of elimination bouts should have been held to give all the leading contenders a chance to claim the title.

Another complication was the rule in some US states that fights had to be restricted to ten or even six rounds. Some championship challenges were fought on the agreement that a KO was required for a result. This meant that strong defensive fighters were virtually impossible to upset over the short journey with no points decision allowed.

Also mention that Smith left the ring, reverted to his real name and prospered in business for many years. Was contacted by Niland and Park in 1963 but was not prepared to be interviewed on those distant events.

A full house assembled for this ‘championship’ bout, despite rumours that Les was not well, or possibly suffering from the effects of vaccination.

Smith was a confident, strong and crafty fighter with a reputation for irregular tactics, though he was only fouled out once in his career (the second Darcy fight). His trainer, Al Lippe, kept him back in the dressing room at the starting time in the hope that Darcy would become restless waiting at ringside. This was a useless tactic in the case of the calm and relaxed Darcy. Both men started strongly and all of Smith’s diverse skills were soon on display.

The contest was now most exciting. They seemed warmed up to their work in the fifth round, and although Jeff had landed many punishing blows, they had not the slightest effect on Darcy who fought back all the harder. In sheer desperation, Smith swung his left, missed badly, and for this mistake received a mighty downward wallop on the left ear, and Les was in the act of following on with his left when Smith shot out his right to the body. Whether this blow was unfair or not is impossible for me to say, as Darcy’s back was square on to where I was seated. Will Lawless.

Darcy was momentarily disabled by the low blow and his cornerman, Dave Smith signalled his disgust with the proceedings by instructing Les to withdraw. The referee declared Smith the winner by default although later Darcy claimed he would have been ok to continue with the bout.

With such an unsatisfactory outcome, both men were keen for a rematch but Smith’s manager wanted to promote another member of his team and so Darcy was next paired with Frank Loughrey, a strong and promising young American middleweight. In the event he was not in the same class as Darcy who demonstrated the burgeoning skills in attack and defence which arose from experience and the teaching of Dave Smith.

Darcy’s improvement, however, was not so much appreciated as was his leniency to an opponent who, it appeared, could have been knocked out at any time that the Australian wished. Thanks to the liberal use of water by the American’s corner, the going was made heavy, with the result that Frank, towards the finish, was slipping and sliding all over the ring. On many an occasion Darcy pulled his blows up short in order to prevent striking Frank when in a defenceless attitude, and often again did Les walk back and allow his man time to return to his corner to scrape his feet in the resin tin…The Australian was, of course, declared the winner, and the verdict was well received: but the spectators had not lost sight of the American’s plucky effort against overwhelming odds, and cheered Frank again and again as he wended his way to his dressing room. Will Lawless.

THE THIRD HOLLAND FIGHT

For the third meeting Darcy took more coaching from Dave Smith and continued with hard training. The two men met at the stadium on March 13, 1915 and this time Darcy made no mistake in a decisive victory..

“I WILL SURELY BEAT JEFF SMITH”

“When Jeff landed his rights to your jaw, did that daze you?”
“Not in the slightest. Only twice in my career have I felt a punch that hurt – the low one Smith delivered, and the one I received in the semi-final of my first journey at Newcastle.”
“Of course, you give Dave Smith all the credit for bringing you along so rapidly!”
“There is no doubt about that; but I must also say something in the way of praise of Jimmy Fitton, whose clever and fast boxing helped a whole lot.”

“Another man I must thank is Mike Hawkins. When we came to Sydney first, Mick, as trainer, was on a par with myself as a boxer, but as I have undoubtedly improved, so has Mick. In fact, I think he is a better trainer than I am a boxer.”

FRED HOLLAND’S OPINION.

Shortly after my interview with Darcy his latest opponent arrived, and when Les took his departure a moment or so later, but not before indulging in a friendly handshake with Holland, the latter got the floor and delivered himself as follows: “Well, I guess you people in this country think you have a good fighter in Darcy. Let me tell you that he is ten times better then you really think he is, and the only way to find out is to get in front of him in the ring. I don’t know the legitimate middleweight in the world he would not beat.” Will Lawless.

DEMLIN APRIL 3

A dull bout, TKO in five when the Belgian’s corner threw in the towel.

May 1 HOLLAND (fourth time) IN MELBOURNE five days after the landing at Gallipoli.

A bout especially desired by Wren (what was his share in the venture at that stage?)

A very dull affair, hooting by crowd and accusations of cowardice by the ref.

May 22 Jeff Smith return bout.

Darcy approached the return bout with Jeff Smith with savage intensity. He was determined to claim the belt which was on offer and he wanted to redeem himself in the eyes of his supporters who, like himself, were bitterly disappointed at the outcome of the first contest. Easter Monday was the chosen date but two months of delay ensued while Smith’s manager haggled with Snowy Baker, wanting two judges ringside as was the occasional American practice. This request was not conceded, and eventually the two met on May 22.

Both fought at a furious pace in the first round, and Smith was severely jolted early. He managed to land at least one excellent punch though it had no detectable effect on Darcy’s enthusiasm. He also hit low on one occasion and received a warning from the referee. Darcy maintained the pace in round two and Smith’s nerve apparently gave out. He struck another blow to Darcy’s groin and the referee promptly stopped the fight and nominated Darcy as the winner.

Stadiums Limited refused to pay Smith his share of the gate because his deliberate foul violated the terms of his contract for the fight. Smith took the matter to court but failed to obtain satisfaction.

Three weeks later Darcy fought Mick King, a rugged loud-mouthed scrapper from Western Australia. In mid-1914 he won the Australian middleweight championship and he then embarked on a program of fights with Jeff Smith (three times), Loughrey, Harold Hardwick (Australian heavyweight champion) and finally Les Darcy. He took a surprising points decision from Smith, witnessed by Darcy when he went over the wall from the Quarantine Station. Smith subsequently reversed the decision twice, all three bouts lasting the full distance of 20 rounds, as did King’s fights with Loughrey (which King won) and Hardwick (which King narrowly lost). The King camp would not hear any talk of defeat for their man, and everyone expected that Darcy would have to work hard for 20 rounds. Few were prepared for the measure of superiority which Darcy established from the beginning. Clearly the contest could have finished in round two but Darcy liked to give the crowd value for their money and he did not generally enjoy administering knockout blows. He gave an exhibition of speed and power without seriously damaging King until in the ninth round a Police Inspector stood up to stop the uneven contest and the King corner threw in the towel.

He is wonderful. I never thought it possible for a man to posses such strength, endurance and speed. Mick King

Darcy then embarked on a three-week spell of military training as a volunteer with the Light Horse at East Maitland. Then back to Sydney to train for a fight with Eddie McGoorty, the ‘Oshkosh Terror.’ Born Edward van Dusart at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, of Irish and Dutch descent, he took on the ring name of McGoortie when he turned professional in 1905. Six years older than Darcy he had arguable the most impressive record of any middleweight at the time, including the elusive Al McCoy (who, like George Chip, had managed to avoid meeting McGoorty). In 92 professional bouts he had never been knocked out but had himself scored 28 knockouts, mostly using a left hook. Three times the redoubtable Dave Smith succumbed to that left hook, twice in the first round. McGoorty had only three losses on his record, one on a foul to Jimmy Clabby.

The Darcy McGoorty fight was billed as a world championship and the admission prices were increased to two guineas for reserved ringside seats, one guinea, ten shillings and five shillings for the bleachers, rising in the dim distance against the walls of the stadium. Among the 15,000 spectators were the Premier of NSW, William Holman, the leader of the opposition, C.G. Wade, also a highly-rated American middleweight Billy Murray and his manager, Jack Kearns, soon to achieve fame and fortune as the manager of Jack Dempsey. Here and there were men in khaki and others in hospital blue dungarees, wounded men back from Gallipoli.

The evening was marred by some unseemly events. A rumour spread that the fight was a ‘schlenter’, a setup, with McGoorty backing Darcy to win. Snowy Baker warned both fighters that all bets would be off and the boxers would not be paid if there was any sign of malpractice in the ring. Then before the main event came recruiting speeches by Holman, Wade and a wounded digger. An element of the crowd began to hoot and catcall during the speeches, setting a disorderly tone for the following proceedings.

The fight proceeded at a scintillating page, with Darcy pursuing his man from post to post. Despite the overwhelming strength of the Australian, McGoorty fought like a tiger. Early in the fight he landed his killer ‘corkscrew’ left, the nemesis of three Australian heavyweights and many others before. Darcy did not slacken his pace but continued to better McGoorty until the bell at the end of the round.

Though the famous corkscrew left crashed to its mark on Darcy’s chin with all its old-time power, the psychological effect of its impotency was almost as unnerving as were Darcy’s own sledgehammer blows. From the Cradle to the Grave, part 8.

Ringside observers could see the amazed look on McGoorty’s face when Darcy continued after the blow. In his corner, the bemused McGoorty muttered to his seconds.

I hooked him good and hard and he only grinned!

Do it again!

Toe to toe in the second round the two men unleashed one of the most intense two minutes of punching and counter-punching ever seen in the Stadium. Shocked into silence by the intensity of the encounter, the scraping sound of McGoorty’s shoes could be clearly heard as he finally yielded and gave ground to the young Australian.

In the third round, the American indeed managed to ‘do it again’ with another potentially lethal left hand to the chin. According to reports afterwards, the disappointment of having his ultimate weapon laughed off by the Maitland boy nearly broke his heart. He could not win by a knockout, he could not win on points against the tireless Darcy assault, all he could do was dig in and try to survive for 20 rounds. In the fifteenth Police Inspector Jones at ringside called a halt as McGoorty was out on his feet, still game but unable to defend himself.

That boy’s the best fighter I ever fought. He’s the greatest fighter in the world. He’s hard to hit and harder still to hurt. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world could beat him. Eddie McGoorty

Les Darcy is the best man in the world. I bar no one, not even Jess Willard (world heavyweight champion). The man who can take Eddie McGoory’s left swing on the jaw without flinching would not be hurt by anyone. Fritz Holland

Note that Kearns wanted to take Darcy to the States for a fight with Gibbons and McCoy.

Two lacklustre engagements followed, against Kearns’ young fighter, Billy Murray and a return match with Fred Dyer. Darcy’s hands were in a bad way after thirteen bouts in as many months. Prolonged rest would have been desirable but after five weeks he went into the ring with Murray and allowed him to last the distance. He was not so generous with Fred Dyer whose seconds threw in the towel during the sixth round.

Two weeks after the Dyer encounter came a bout that promised to be his most testing challenge to date. Bill Clabby, unlike many Americans, was thoroughly at home over the ‘marathon route’ of 20 rounds. As strong and tough as Eddie McGoorty but more skillful, he was one of the few who had outpointed the Oshkosh Terror, and Mike Gibbons as well. The fight was billed as a championship and for publicity purposes the two fighters put on a sparring exhibition in a city theatre on Thursday before the Saturday evening event. Darcy contracted a heavy cold on Friday but there was no way that this would cause any change to his fighting program.

Darcy started against Clabby at his usual whirlwind pace and Clabby matched him for four rounds. In the fourth Clabby landed a powerhouse punch which might have ended the battle against anyone other fighter. Darcy was set back for a moment, then he redoubled his efforts. With Darcy making all the running he accumulated a big lead on points going into the eighth round, then he unsettled Clabby with a flurry of stinging punches and could have claimed victory with one well-directed blow. Amazingly, he apparently became over-excited and swung wildly ‘like a novice in a prelim’. Clabby ducked, held on to the end of the round, and came up fresh and smiling for the ninth. Darcy continued to build his lead on points, Clabby fighting with desperate skill and courage although clearly outgunned. Then in the fifteenth round, after an hour of battle, Darcy faltered, with failing breath. Clabby took has chance superbly and laid on a mighty blow, again setting Darcy back. This may have been the nearest that Darcy ever came to being knocked down. But, like Darcy in the fourth round, Clabby could not strike effectively again. Darcy held on with superb defence against Clabby’s desperate attack until he too tired, and both finished exhausted, with Darcy’s lead on points still well and truly intact.

Two weeks later Darcy met Billy Murray in a return bout at Melbourne. Darcy’s hands had healed significantly since their previous bout and Darcy only let the Melbourne spectators see six rounds. Kearns threw in the towel to save his boy from being counted out.

Darcy is the greatest boxer of any weight in the world. He might be beaten in a ten-round bout in America, but in a match to the finish, so man living – middle or heavyweight – could defeat him; he is so abnormally strong and such a tremendous puncher. Billy Murray

Meanwhile Eddie McGoorty was training in deadly earnest for the return bout with Darcy on the day after Boxing Day, December 27. He regarded this as a world title fight and he prepared himself as he had never before prepared for a fight. In addition to hard training he raised the hopes of his fans with quick-fire victories over Billy Murray, Mick King and a couple of second-raters, Joe Bond and Harry Reeve.

Darcy and Eddie McGoorty started their battle with unprecedented ferocity. In the first round McGoorty was forced to clinch, already bleeding from the fierce opening exchanges. Then he recovered with two fine blows, the second his trademark ‘corkscrew’ left, landed with all his strength. To no avail. The Darcy assault continued without relief. It was a tribute to McGoorty’s preparation and his spirit that he stayed on his feet. In the fifth round he went down for a count of nine. Strong, fit and game, he showed all his spirit to attack in the next two rounds, landing one or two good blows which only spurred the Australian to greater exertion. McGoorty went down and down again. In the eighth round McGoorty’s corner threw in the towel to spare Darcy the painful business of putting their man out of his misery.

I have no complaints. Les beat me fair and squarely. The weight factor had nothing to do with my defeat. He is much better than I thought, and I have no hesitation in saying that he would beat any middleweight in the world, and most heavyweights. Eddie McGoorty.

McGoorty was equally graceful in his tribute to the spectators who cheered him to the rafters as he made his weary way back to sponge down and recover from his battery. In a press conference with Will Lawless he stated:

Your people are great sports. Nowhere else but Australia have they time for a beaten man. Eddie McGoorty.

Less than three weeks later Darcy met the Greek-American George ‘Knockout’ Brown (George Contas). Darcy went into this fight as a light heavyweight, five pounds over the middleweight limit at 11 stone 11 pounds. Brown was a rugged customer with a good record of ‘no decision’ fights against the best American middleweights. He was especially skilled in the American style of ‘holding and hitting’ and was capable of frustrating aggressive opponents by repeated clinching and grappling. Darcy was psychologically ‘down’ for this fight after the effort and excitement of the championship tussle with McGoorty. He could not seriously damage the strong, grappling American but he scored freely whenever he could hold Brown at arms length, and he took a clearcut points decision after 20 gruelling rounds.

Snowy Baker next matched Darcy in a heavweight challenge against the Australian champion, Harold Hardwick who had dethroned Les O’Donnell in 1914. Hardwick was a strong and versatile athlete, well known as a rugby union footballer with Eastern Suburbs. In the 1911 Empire games he won a gold medal as a swimmer, then in the absence of other Australian representatives he entered the boxing and won gold in the heavyweight division. In the 1912 Olympic Games he shared a gold in a swimming relay and took two bronze medals in individual events but there was no boxing at those games.

Hardwick stood six feet tall and fought at 12 and a half stone. He was strong and as tough as they come, with tremendous stamina and a big heart, not a skilled fight but one who could stand and fight 20 rounds against most opponents. He was probably the hardest hitter of Darcy’s opponents up to date. Darcy forced the pace, as usual, and showed his experience against some of the cleverest overseas fighters by adopting American tactics of in-fighting, a style that Hardwick had rarely encountered. Still, in coming close to Hardwick he took a deal of punishment before his work on the Hardwick ribs forced his guard down and provided openings above. Darcy swung a heavy punch which missed; standing for a moment bemused, as though laughing at his own carelessness, Darcy took a mighty blow in the mouth, delivered with all of Hardwick’s weight and strength behind it. Two teeth snapped off at the gum. Darcy worked hard for an early finish, which came in round seven. Hardwick went down for a count but was too game to take rest on the mat. He rose on the count of one, then, immediately knocked down again, he struggled up on the count of three. When he went down for the third time the referee stopped the fight. Darcy then gave urgent instructions in his corner, sending one of his men to collect the broken teeth from the floor of the ring.

Some writers including Swanwick think that Les lost his temper in this fight, in fact he just wanted to finish quickly to get the teeth.

A month later Darcy met an old friend, helper and sparring partner, Les O’Donnell, the referee of a tournament at Newcastle four years before who had helped to build his reputation. The older Les tried valiantly to come to grips with Darcy but lacked the speed and the craft to last beyond seven rounds when the referee awarded a TKO. After this engagement Darcy rushed home to East Maitland to help out while his mother was seriously ill in hospital (?). He worked at home to prepare for the return match with Brown and with the worry over his mother’s health was down over six pounds from his weight at the Hardwick encounter. This fight again lasted the full 20 rounds with no knockdowns on either side. Many regarded it as a training canter for Darcy but in his weaker and worried condition he made heavy weather of it.

Baker had a contract to provide a series of six major fights in the second half of 1916 but opponents were becoming harder to find and the next two bouts were against second-raters. The Rumanium Costica looked like a good, fast worker in the gymnasium but in the arena he was completely overawed and outclassed by Darcy. He managed to avoid serious damage for three rounds as he hung onto Darcy at every opportunity. In the fourth round Darcy began to tire of the proceedings so he broke loose and landed some telling blows before Police Inspector Jones stopped the fight.

I go by boat now, Crouse he soon follow. Darcy knock him out quick, you see. Costica.

Buck Crouse, an American middleweight, tried to trick Darcy with a story that he was a good Catholic boy trying to provide for his family, and why should they knock each other about. Darcy agreed to go easy and in the first round he put up with a great deal of holding and hugging. In the second Crouse let go with a firstrate right to Darcy’s chin, obviously an attempt to land a knockout blow. Faced with this treachery, Darcy promptly put an end to Crouse in that very same round.

Next Darcy faced his great friend and mentor. Gentleman Dave found that his business enterprises did not prosper and, needing money, he returned to the ring. [This must have been in his mind when he ceased to be the lad’s manager]. They fought in Sydney in late June and the return match was in Brisbane in August. Smith showed all his skills and battled gamely but could not hold his brilliant protege beyond twelve rounds in the first encounter and eleven in the second. As explained elsewhere, the trip to Brisbane, or more precisely the trip back, was a journey of ill omen for young Les as it threw him into the close company of Tim O’Sullivan.

Soon after the second Dave Smith match came the return bout with Jimmy Clabby who had become a warm friend of young Darcy. Possibly for that reason, or possibly because the weight of many urgent matters tormented the young man’s thoughts, Darcy did not show his best form, beyond loosening a couple of Clabby’s teeth. The match lasted 20 rounds but the crowd showed impatience with the absence of any sensational activity which they expected from their local hero and the two men were even counted out on some occasions.

Possibly the most interested spectator was George Chip, previously world middleweight champion until shocked in the first round by Al McCoy. Chip was one of an American touring party under the management of Jimmy Dime. They were held up on arrival due to lack of passports; the US at that stage before entering the war did not require passports for entry and the tourists presumably thought the same rules would apply down under. American writers had great expectations of Chip.

Of all the many Darcy has been up against, he has never faced a man of Chip’s ability, and it looks as if the downfall of the hero of the hour in Sydney and Melbourne is in sight.

Jimmy Dime and George Chip were as merry as sandboys after the Darcy Clabby fight. They both agreed that Darcy would have to improve considerably to have any chance against Chip. Will Lawless.

The absence of film cover could conceal a great deal from people who had to rely on eyewitness accounts.

Chip started confidently and showed fine style but by the end of round one it was clear that he was not in Darcy’s class. The fight lasted into the eighth round because Darcy liked to give the full house some value for their money, then he put Chip down for the count of ten.

That was Les Darcy’s last fight in Australia, and indeed his last fight. A return bout was scheduled with Chip but a few days before that, on the eve of the first conscription referendum, Darcy stowed away on a freighter out of Stockton to travel to the US.

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8 Responses to Something a bit different

  1. That’s 9,2080 words Rafe. It’s in my ‘in’ tray. I’ll get right back to you! Looking forward to it!

  2. Jim Steel says:

    Thanks for that, Rafe – I enjoyed it immensely.

  3. Les is like Ned Kelly (without the murderous rage). Without fear, physically tough as nails, protective of his mum, and concerned about his honour.

    Then again I think Oscar Wilde was like Ned Kelly whcih (to use the words of Groucho Marx) isn’t saying much for me!

  4. Rafe,

    I just looked up Les Darcy in Wikipedia and it’s pretty desultory. I think Wikipedia needs your help!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Darcy

  5. Rafe says:

    Thanks for that Nicholas, I will add another task to the list. It helps to have the fight stuff on line, that can be linked.
    It would also be good to put some extracts of our book on line. Some publishers don’t like this because they don’t realise that it promotes sales rather than undermining them.
    There are some angles to the Darcy story and other events at the same time that need to be written up. Like the story about the telegram (original, in colour) which I found in the Holman file (a mistake in filing) at the State archives. It was sent from London to warn the State Government that some stunt was being organised by dissidents for the opening of the harbour bridge.

  6. Thank you very much for posting this, Rafe. I have been meaning to read the book and it keeps moving around my house (I have a lot of books) and now that I’m incorporating Les Darcy into my WWI research, I can’t find it. Well, I only started looking today and so there’s hope…
    Les Darcy’s story is something every Australian should know inside out and we should undertake our own journey to explore the duck’s guts of what happened to Les Darcy and how so much pressure, dare I say coercion, was put on him to enlist while he was still underage, especially when enlistment was supposedly “voluntary”. I really admire how he put his family first, and how his mother and then father stepped in and took up the fight but he paid a very heavy price and to what extent that contributed to his early death is hard to tell.
    I wanted to put in a link here to Ruth Park’s account of researching Les Darcy with her husband D’Arcy Niland. There are some ripper references in there, too, regarding the plight of the researcher back in the day long before Google, and needing to resort to the public library and reel-to-reel or microfiche to conduct a search. It now takes a few minutes to put together what was then perhaps a life’s work.
    On a personal note, my grandparents, Eunice Gardiner Concert pianist, music critic and eacher at the Sydney Conservatorium and her husband Bob Curtin were close friends of Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland. Indeed, a night or two before D’Arcy Niland passed away they’d attended a soiree at my grandparents’ home to give one of her colleague’s students, Gerard Willems, some performance experience. My mother was Eunice Gardiner’s pupil and that was the night she met my father. Being a yooung student, she was quite intimidated about meeting Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland but for my father is was a way of life which is now starting to read like something out of an Australian cultural history journal. I thought you might appreciate that little family story.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena Curtin

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