William Samuels

William Samuels was an infamous Swansea brawler, boxer and booth owner of the late nineteenth century.

A former strongman, acrobat and circus performer, he achieved much local notoriety, but his greatest claim to fame comes from an encounter with legendary bareknuckle heavyweight champion of the world, John L Sullivan.

Boxing historian Lawrence Davies said of Samuels: “William Samuels was the first real boxing showman of any real note in south Wales….

“They say he was always laughing, good spirited, always had a penny or a peppermint to give to a child, yet he could easily blow his stack in the blink of an eye and be rolling up his sleeves moments later.  He sounds like a handful, but was a man who I don’t think you’d forget too easily.

“The stories of Samuels’s time read quite like the film ‘Gangs of New York’, just with bare fists or gloves rather than shillelaghs or stilettos.”

The Welshman’s encounter with the formidable Sullivan came when the latter was visiting Cardiff and, on New Year’s Day 1888, was sparring at the Philharmonic Hall on St Mary’s Street.

The champion offered £100 to anyone who was able to last three rounds with him, and the redoubtable Samuels took up the challenge.

The Swansea man managed it, although he admitted that Sullivan carried him for much of their brief encounter.

Samuels called Sullivan “the finest man that was ever in a ring, and the hardest hitter”.


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