Nipper: Book review

The 25 September, 2013, marks the 25th anniversary of the passing of one of Wales’ little-known boxing greats, Nipper Pat Daly.

Nipper Pat Daly and 'Professor' Andrew Newton

Nipper Pat Daly and ‘Professor’ Andrew Newton

The so–called ‘wonderboy’s’ remarkable story is one that should be known by every boxing fan, and Pat’s grandson, Alex Daley, has gone a long way to preserving the tale with his work on this outstanding book and accompanying website. As well as tracing his grandfather’s career in great detail, Daley offers fantastic context with information on opponents, plus enlightening insights into the era.

The ‘Nipper’ was born in Abercrave in 1913 to a Welsh mother and a London-born father of Irish heritage. The family moved to London when Pat was a toddler, and the youngster’s inherent boxing skills were soon evident.

He joined the gym of renowned boxing expert ‘Professor’ Andrew Newton, who soon spotted the boy’s talents and added professional know-how to natural ability.

In the foreword to the book, Pat’s youngest son Terry Daley says that the “core” of his father’s ability “were the tenets of correct footwork and an accurate straight left – from these flowed every other punch and move”.

It seemed evident to anyone who saw the boy in action that he was destined for a world title, a sentiment expressed by judges as shrewd as the great Jimmy Wilde and the leading boxing writers of the day.

Unfortunately, though, his family’s poverty and the ultimately exploitative management of Newton saw the boy pushed far too fast, far too soon.

Amazingly, he took his first professional fight in 1923 at the age of nine and he was rarely out of the ring after that. In 1925 he fought his first 10-rounder, and by 1927 he was contesting bouts over 15 rounds.

Almost all of his encounters were against much older fighters – usually fully grown men – and he regularly gave away a significant weight advantage.

Worse than all this, though, was the fact that the growing boy was repeatedly asked to boil down to pre-agreed weight limits for the professional ring. The boy’s intake of food and fluids were severely rationed, he was told to chew then spit out steaks and oranges, and there were regular reports that he felt weak and thirsty.

Despite all the difficulties the boy’s performances were phenomenal, guaranteeing his box-office appeal as both a novelty and as one of the country’s most attractive and fastest-rising prospects.

When aged 15 he defeated both the German and Italian national champions, at 16 he was the youngest boxer ever to be ranked in Ring magazine’s top 10 for a weight division, and it was only Newton’s desire to keep hold of Daly that prevented him travelling to the US for a world title shot at Battling Battalino.

But, despite the successes, the book convincingly builds the picture of overwork and mismanagement. In April 1928 he suffered his first heavy knock-out defeat against the formidable 20-year-old Young Siki.

That seemed just a blip as Daly’s superb form then continued, but the following year a severely weight-drained ‘Nipper’ suffered a similar heavy stoppage against 21-year-old Douglas Parker.

Again he recovered well, going unbeaten in 10 fights before four months later – in October 1929 – he faced the outstanding British champion Johnny Cuthbert.

Despite more weight problems, Daly totally dominated the first seven rounds of the fight. But his boy’s punches lacked the power to deter Cuthbert, and in the eighth he stopped the youngster with a brutal knock-out.

Newton had his prodigy back in the ring two weeks later, and eight days after that Daly suffered another knock-out loss, to the big-hitting Jim Ashley. The youngster was booked in for another four 15-round bouts in the next three-and-a-half weeks, but after the first of these Newton finally relented and gave his boxer two months off.

Daly was back to his gruelling routine in 1930, building to an April showdown with the formidable Seaman Watson – according to the author “probably the greatest fighter the north-east ever produced”.

The ‘Nipper’ again endured great problems making weight and was dropped heavily in the second round of a brutal contest. He fought on with remarkable tenacity and skill, but he was already damaged before the 11th – described as ‘the most tragic round of his career’.

Daly was dropped four times and hit repeatedly when he was weak and helpless, the referee and his corner failing in their duty to stop the contest.

Afterwards he suffered persistent dizziness and headaches and he stayed out of the gym for five weeks. He was then scheduled for a 15-round contest, but a doctor ruled him out with concussion.

The author makes the case that the concussion from the Watson fight may have come at a time when Daly was still not recovered from the concussion he suffered against Johnny Cuthbert in 1929.

When the ‘Nipper’ returned to the ring in June he was not the same man. His timing and footwork had gone, and he was dropped and stopped by weak-looking punches.

By January 1931 he was finished – at the age of 17 and after 120 recorded bouts that stretched over 1,102 rounds.

There were plans to take a few years out to allow his body to grow and recover, but suggested comebacks never materialised and Pat turned instead to coaching.

The ‘Nipper’s’ story is poignant and tragic on an individual level, but the author concludes with some fascinating thoughts on what it may have meant on the wider stage of British boxing.

The destruction of such a talent suggests that Britain’s lack of control and regulation over its growing fighters may have contributed to the dearth of world champions produced by the country after the golden years of the early twentieth century.

If this affected the UK as a whole, the phenomenon is perhaps particularly applicable to Wales.

The first Welsh world championsPercy Jones, Freddie Welsh and Wilde – had established boxing in the heart of the nation, thrilling a country that basked in their reflected glory. But after Wilde lost his title to Pancho Villa in 1923, Wales would have to wait 45 years for its next world champion.

Daly can only join the likes of Jack Petersen, Tommy Farr, Ronnie James, Dai Dower and Brian Curvis in the ranks of those who could or should have been king before Howard Winstone claimed his crown in 1968.

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