Jimmy Slattery Gone But Not Forgotten

Jimmy Slattery Gone But Not Forgotten – August 25th marks the birthday of ring legend Jimmy Slattery.  “Slats” was born in the First Ward of Buffalo, New York in 1904.  He had a very up and down ring career with his biggest enemy being himself — it was both a blessing and a curse that he was a complete natural in the ring.  Slats had it all; the movement, the timing, unbelievable speed, quick reflexes and many more natural talents.  He compiled a record of 114-13 with 51 wins by knockout and is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Jimmy debuted professionally at the Broadway Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.  He was ripe at 17 years old and actually would not have been able to fight as a pro if it were known that he was under 18.  His trainer Red Carr had applied for his professional boxing license by moving his birth date back a year to get him licensed.  Jimmy looked so young and gangly that he was initially refused entrance when the doorkeeper took a look at the rail thin teenager and said “You’re no fighter” and sent him away, figuring it was a local kid trying to get free entrance as happened so often.  Slats was not deterred though, scaling a six foot fence with his ring bag and climbing on top of the adjacent building to crawl through a window and clutch a rafter beam, crawling across to the nearest balcony to finally reach safety and go down to the locker rooms to get ready for his ring debut.  He couldn’t be late – he was first up!  In front of 3,000 raucous Buffalo fight fans Jimmy easily tore into his opponent, who was debuting under the tutelage of the well-known trainer Jimmy Duffy.  The spectators were very impressed by the speed and footwork of the skinny Irish lad, with the newspapermen saying that he won every second of every round.  Jimmy was instantly in love, getting $40 for the fight – a full week’s pay for a grown man on average.

Due to his age, Jimmy’s home would be the Broadway Auditorium in Buffalo for the coming years.  At this time in New York you were limited to six round fights if you were under the age of 21.  This rule was enforced to protect the young fighters from hurting themselves in longer contests.  Jimmy would prove to be one of those exceptions to the rule, however, as he blasted through the competition in the six rounders.  Soldier Bartfield, Johnny Griffiths and Willie Loughlin are examples of guys that Slats easily handled as a teen that many thought would be too big of a step up too soon.  This kid was a phenom, compiling an amazing record of 38-0 before the veteran Joe Eagan proved too much for him to handle in January of 1924.

It was immediately following that first loss that Slattery’s dedication to training was brought into question due to him being known as a party animal that loved to drink and stay up all night dancing. Against Eagan, he looked sensational as usual for the first three rounds and then suddenly he was breathing heavily and gassed out for the second half of the fight, finishing on his feet but looking like a rag doll.  It was viewed that his conditioning — not punishment endured in the ring — contributed to the loss.

All would be forgotten rather quickly though, when the very next month Slattery engaged Young Stribling in a huge battle of wonder kids. Both were 19-year-old phenoms that were limited to six rounders in New York but had been beating a vast array of contenders and ex champions (or, as some would argue, true champions in the case of Stribling in reference to the Mike McTigue debacle the previous year).  The fight was the hottest ticket in town, with the teens having a combined win-loss record of 111-5, not counting newspaper decisions.  Despite only being a six rounder it lived up to the hype as Slats showed his blazing fast hands and surprising strength in the clinches despite his lanky frame to take the decision.  It was a big win for him because Stribling went into the fight as the favorite and had a title rematch scheduled the the very next month with Mike McTigue.

 Slattery’s star would rise to epic proportions from fights like Sergeant Jack Lynch where he dominated every minute of the fight to the delight of the 16.5k fans in attendance.  The lauding was so heavy for Slattery that motion picture distributors were opting for his highlight reel to show in the movie theaters, not the main event that night.  He was now a bonafide star.

The star would fall after this point for various reasons, ranging from poor performances such as the shocking knockout loss to welterweight Dave Shade to his binge partying, now more than just a rumor.  Once he turned 21, he went from six rounds to 15 in the blink of an eye. His first title fight, which he was rushed into due to being the “hot phenom that couldn’t lose,” was against the much larger, much stronger man (emphasis on man) Paul Berlenbach. Slattery got knocked down five times and was stopped in the eleventh round.  He tried his best to rise to manhood so fast but it seemed that everyone including Tex Rickard wanted him to stay the superstar kid, as Rickard even ordered Jimmy to shave the beard he had grown before the title fight.  This is the first time on record this writer knows of a fighter being ordered to shave for a fight.

He always had a large crowd of backers in Buffalo where he was groomed and had so many fights as a hometown favorite, but many said he never reached his full potential because he always relied on his natural God-given abilities.  Some said he had the fastest hands of any fighter, middleweight to light heavyweight, that ever stepped in the ring.

The remainder of his career post-teenager is a wonderful story of ebbs and flows just like a great fight.  Slats would go on to win the NBA version of the light heavyweight title and then the New York State version of the light heavyweight title, but it should be noted that he was never the undisputed light heavyweight king.  Regardless he was a huge figure in the sport and was known as a top fighter throughout his entire career, racking up wins against fellow International Boxing Hall of Famers Maxie Rosenbloom, Jack Delaney and Young Stribling.

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