I’m always fascinated by the volume of boxing shows that prevailed in Wales in the early 20th century and their popularity in the towns and villages throughout the land – a reflection of the grip that the sport held on the country and its people.
With that in mind, I regularly have cause to thank Pontypridd local historian John Stone who – in the course of his research into his family history – repeatedly discovers then sends me obscure fight reports from the newspapers of the day.
The following account of Freddie Welsh in Tonypandy is one such example, taken from the Pontypridd Observer, dated 8 August, 1914. This was barely a month after Welsh had finally claimed the world lightweight crown with his win over Willie Ritchie in London.
Fred Welsh at Tonypandy Empire
“On Saturday, Fred Welsh, the lightweight champion of the world, gave exhibitions at the Empire Theatre. At both houses Welsh boxed three rounds with several smart local lads. Mr Harry Marks introduced the champion.
“As Welsh came on the stage loud cheers greeted him and the band played Mae Hen wlad fy Nhadau. Cries of speech came from all parts of the building. These were not responded to, but at the close Welsh gave several curtain calls.
“At the close of the first house our correspondent was favoured with an interview. Welsh stated that now he had gained his goal in the boxing world he had chased for years it and now he hoped to hold it for some time. During the holidays he is giving exhibitions at Weston-super-Mare, later in the week returning to the south Wales halls. As he is anxious to see about some personal business and in order to get some photos and particulars about his birth-place and parentage he intends making an extended stay in south Wales. Welsh intends returning to America in October. He told us that he does not know a local boxer who styles himself as his cousin. He wishes us to state this.
“The Marquee show on Saturday night attracted a fairly good house. The chief contest was between Billie Rowlands, Porthcawl, and Billy Phillips, Penygraig, over a 20 two-minute rounds course. Lewis Williams, Penygraig, challenged the winner. Mr Baxter was the referee. The result was a draw. The contest in itself was not in any way to compare with the Rowlands-Lewis Williams contest at the rink a fortnight ago. Rowlands did not appear to be in such fine form as on that occasion. This contest was disappointing.
“The best bout of the evening was a no decision six rounds between Dan Arthur, Porth, and Lewis Williams, Penygraig. For clean boxing this was one of the best exhibitions witnessed in Mid-Rhondda. A six-round contest between Joe John, Pontygwaith, and Young Garland, Porth, resulted in a win for John. The decision in this bout evoked loud laughter and shouts of disapproval.
“Mr Baxter introduced Tom Cherry, Southampton, who fought Jimmy Wilde at Swansea on Monday night. Wilde was also introduced. Lewis Williams, Pengam, also staged and threw out a challenge to Wales at 8st, which Lewis Williams, Penygraig, accepted.
“A six-round contest between Bob Jones, Abercynon, and Bob Roberts, Trealaw, resulted in Roberts giving in in the third round.
“There was a deal of discussion regarding who should be the referee in the big contest, the spectators being kept waiting a considerable time. We think that these matters should be settled before entering the ring so that those who pay for admission should get what they pay for and not have to wait for contestants and their seconds to take part in a wrangle. We were asked what about the seating as promised last week? We refer inquirers to the promoters.”