Tommy West (1870-1929) is one of the forgotten greats of Welsh boxing and a man who could have been the country’s first world champion.
Born and raised in Cardiff Bay, West spent most of his career in the US and challenged for the world middleweight title in 1898 and 1901, and the welterweight crown in 1902.
If he perhaps lacked the skills of some of the other early stars of the Welsh boxing scene, he made up for it with formidable toughness and determination.
His remarkable record highlights bouts against seven world champions and five men who would make the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota.
The first of these showdowns was in Maine in 1892 when he faced ‘Mysterious’ Billy Smith – a man who has been called ‘the dirtiest fighter who ever lived’. West held him to a draw, eight months before Smith went on to claim the world title.
In New York in December 1896, West stepped in as a late replacement against Joe Walcott. The Welshman should have won but a controversial draw was the result. West got his revenge three months later, hammering Walcott to claim a decisive victory.
The Cardiffian’s first world title shot came on 18 December, 1898, but he lost to Tommy Ryan in the 14th round in New York.
West went unbeaten for the next two years, his record showing another draw with Smith. Amongst the more colourful results on his roster was a disqualification victory over middleweight contender Jack Bonner, who was ruled to have put mustard seed oil on his gloves.
Future light-heavyweight champion Jack Root became the only man to beat West in three years, but the Welshman was still able to secure a 4 March, 1901, title rematch against Ryan.
West dropped the champion twice in the second and was reportedly close to a stoppage win, but a bloodied Ryan battled back and broke the challenger’s nose.
The Welshman lasted until the 17th round of a bout described by Ring magazine as being amongst the 20 greatest of all time before his cornerman Terry McGovern threw in the towel to end the carnage.
Just over three weeks later, West was knocked out by future heavyweight champion Marvin Hart in the 16th round.
Perhaps feeling the effects of such gruelling contests, the Welshman would never reach the same heights again.
He returned home for his only fight in Britain, a June 1902 bout against Walcott at the National Sporting Club.
The encounter was supposedly for the welterweight title, but both men were overweight and Walcott romped to an easy win.
West returned to New York where he worked as a trainer, promoter and sports writer.