Gipsy Daniels (1903-67) was born in Llanelli under the name Billy Daniel, although erroneous reports also record his original moniker as Daniel Thomas from Newport.
He was one of 13 children born to DJ Daniel, who played rugby for Llanelli and Wales and won eight caps in the period 1891-9, including one in the famous 26-3 victory over England at St Helen’s in 1899.
It is likely that the young Daniel – who picked up an ‘s’ at the end of his surname somewhere along the way – had early experience in the boxing booths.
The first of his recorded 165 contests came in 1919. He had mixed results as he learnt his trade before heading to the US at the age of 19.
His swarthy complexion and dark eyes and hair would open up some unlikely avenues to success. The story that grew up is that Daniels walked into the New York office of legendary boxing manager Jimmy Johnston, who said: “Say, son, are you a gypsy”.
The Welshman denied this, but a promotional idea was born, and Johnston is said to have taken him across the street to Woolworths to buy a brightly coloured bandana and curtain rings for ear-rings.
Photographers and the press were then invited to meet Billy ‘Gipsy’ Daniels, King of the Gipsies, who had been imported from Wales to become the next heavyweight champion of the world!
Despite the colourful story, there is evidence that Daniels had used the Gipsy nickname before he crossed the Atlantic, but the angle was certainly pushed during his time in the States.
The hyperbole was backed up by the Welshman’s performances in the ring as he impressed in seven US bouts, including two at Madison Square Garden.
Daniels decided to come home in 1923, though, where he would compete at middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight in the highest class across the UK and Europe.
He would find great popularity and success, including a series of epic fights against Frank Moody and a 20-round victory over Tom Berry that won him the British cruiserweight title.
The most famous name on the Welshman’s record, though, was surely Max Schmeling.
Daniels lost a December 1927 fight against the German in Berlin, but in a rematch two months later claimed the greatest – and most surprising – win of his career.
Schmeling rushed out in the first round of their 25 February, 1928, bout in Frankfurt… and walked straight into a stunning KO punch from the unfancied ‘Gipsy’!
Daniels failed to capitalise on the remarkable win, though, as – for unexplained reasons – his career went quiet.
He was fighting less, the losses were mounting, and – perhaps over-playing the Schmeling result – he seems to have turned into more of a knock-out expert than a boxer.
There was one more huge domestic clash to come, though, as – on 4 August, 1930 – he met old rival Moody for the third time.
Both men were past their best, but 15,000 turned out to see them at the Welsh White City on Sloper Road, Cardiff.
The fans were rewarded with a superb fight, Pontypridd great Moody emerging as the victor.
Daniels would keep fighting, including in the boxing booths where he helped to mentor a young Freddie Mills.