On this day in 1916, Sept. 4, Freddie Welsh, the Welsh Wizard, successfully defended his world lightweight title with a 20-round decision over Chicago’s Charley White at Colorado Springs, Colorado. The big Labor Day bout was staged in a makeshift outdoor arena erected in a hollow four blocks from the center of town.
Born Frederick Hall Thomas in Pontrypidd, Wales, the man who took the name Freddie Welsh (that’s him pictured) won the British version of the world lightweight title at London’s National Sporting Club in 1910 with a 20-round decision over Packy McFarland and achieved worldwide recognition as the true lightweight champion when he out-pointed Willie Ritchie in a 20-round contest at London’s Olympia Arena in 1914.
Charley White was born Charles Anchowitz in Liverpool, England. In the fashion of the day, reporters identified his nationality as Hebrew. Raised in Chicago, he had two brothers who were noteworthy fighters. They took the names Jack White and Billy Wagner.
Based on their records, Welsh and White were evenly matched. Using BoxRec as a guide, Welsh entered the contest with a record of 65-3-6. Charley White, two years younger at age 25, was 60-6-3. But this was the no-decision era and won-loss records were best understood as approximations.
What made the match compelling, other than the fact that a title was at stake, was the contrast in styles. Freddie Welsh was a dancing master. He would come to be recognized as one of the greatest defensive fighters that the sport ever produced. Charley White was a slugger. He was renowned for his fearsome left hook.
The no-decision era was bursting with rematches. Welsh and White had fought three times before. All three bouts were close. The Welsh Wizard was accorded the newspaper decision in the first two meetings and the third match was ruled a draw.
Before the start of Welsh-White IV, a section of the grandstand collapsed. According to one report, two people died and 100 were injured but this appears to have been an exaggeration. Most of the out-of-town boxing writers made no mention of it in their post-fight reports.
The bout began in the late afternoon as the sun was beginning to set over Pike’s Peak. Welsh smartly fought with his back to the setting sun. Squinting into the sun, White never landed his signature punch with authority, except once in the twelfth round when Welsh was briefly in trouble. The outcome of the fight would spark a lively debate, but the bout itself was disappointing. On that assessment, there was full agreement.
The referee was Billy Roche, one of the sport’s best known arbiters. There were no judges. If the bout went the distance, as would be the case, it was agreed that Roche would name the winner.
At the end of the contest he hesitated and then raised Welsh’s hand. What followed next depends upon what post-fight report one chooses to believe.
Here’s an excerpt from a story that ran in the Boston Post:
“The crowd arose and showered everybody connected with the fight, including the newspapermen, with cushions. There never has been a scene at a championship fight such as followed today’s farce…A mob armed with pop bottles followed (Roche), but a gun drawn by…Roche’s bodyguard kept the crowd at bay…until the sheriff whisked him away.”
T.S. Andrews of Milwaukee, a syndicated boxing writer and the publisher of an early boxing record book, didn’t attend the fight. He was dissuaded by a threatened strike of railroad workers. However, he contacted a number of his colleagues who were ringside to get their perspectives.
According to Andrews, “nearly every Chicago newspaper man who was present claimed the verdict should have gone to White, or at the very least he should have received a draw.” However, ringside scribes from other cities, presumably less biased, leaned toward Welsh. Andrews’ conclusion: “It appears that Referee Roche gave a just verdict.”
Wading through old newspapers, one discovers that the no-decision era was full of such discrepancies. They drive us hobbyist historians nuts. But they also fuel our fixation in setting the record straight, a never-ending quest. Happy Labor Day. — AKL