The night Johnny lost his teeth: Johnny Summers v Johnny Basham

Marking the centenary of Johnny Basham v Johnny Summers, when Basham won the British welterweight title – but lost most of his canines.

Teeth (Photo: Dauvit Alexander, Flickr)

Teeth (Photo: Dauvit Alexander, Flickr)

By 14 December, 1914, 25-year-old Johnny Basham was a veteran boxer with over 60 fights to his name on an increasingly impressive record, but it was only on this date that he got the chance to compete for his first major title.

Facing him was the reigning British welterweight champion Johnny Summers.

The rugged 31-year-old, who had been fighting professionally since the age of 17 and had well over 100 bouts behind him, had held the title for two-and-a-half years and was a big favourite going into the showdown.

Born in Middlesbrough, Summers had been raised in Canning Town and would bring plenty of local support to the National Sporting Club, his loyal fans confident in the granite-like nature of their fighter’s chin and the power-punching advantage he was believed to hold over his opponent.

I am sorry to say that that is where my teeth and I went our various ways!

The pre-fight predictions looked likely to be played out as early as the second round.

The challenger was leaning forward with a left that went badly off target, prompting Summers to sway to the right and smash a left hook into Basham’s mouth.

The Welshman went down heavily but somehow got up at the count of nine and survived the round.

From that moment, though, Basham put on a masterclass, bewildering the champion with his boxing skill and taking complete control.

The brave Summers kept ploughing forward, confident that his opponent lacked the power to really hurt him.

He would be proved badly wrong in the ninth as Basham landed a beautifully timed right hand to the jaw. The champion just about beat the count, but was out on his feet and stopped soon afterwards.

In the immediate aftermath of the bout, Basham claimed that he had not really been hurt in the second round and that some of the obvious mouth trouble he experienced was due to the fact that his teeth had been loosened by a sparring partner in the build-up.

I am thundering sure I swallowed a couple

A more accurate description of events seems to be contained in the account he gave to the Empire News in 1929, though, as quoted in Alan Roderick’s book Johnny!: Story of the Happy Warrior:

“Up to this time, I had boasted a set of teeth that would have served well for any dentifrice advertisement,” said Basham.

“But I am sorry to say that that is where my teeth and I went our various ways!

“Some were scattered about the ring, one or two went in the sawdust tub, one I spat out as I fell, and I am thundering sure I swallowed a couple.”

Despite the dental trauma, it’s possible that the evening did plenty of good to Basham’s long-term health.

He was a professional soldier, and when he returned to his barracks in Wrexham he was given a hero’s welcome that may well have helped keep him out of the full horrors of World War I, his superiors keen to exploit his fame for propaganda purposes.

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