Australia’s Forgotten Boxing Involvement – Middleweight Championships (1910-1917)

For anyone who is confused about the middleweight title claims of a certain Les Darcy, we go back to the untimely death of Stanley Ketchel.


The title was highly contested and it split into two versions, a bit like what happened when the WBC and WBA came into being. Here Raymond Swanwick explains the confusion caused by Ketchel’s murder. An excerpt from Swanwick’s book, Les Darcy, Champion of Champions.

(For readers not familiar with Fritz Holland, he was one of the most experienced American middleweights at the time):

“And one of the cleverest boxers in that class. He was not in the world rating simply because at that
Time the middleweight division held a brilliant constellation of stars including Billy Papke, George
Chip, Al McCoy, Mike Gibbons, Jack Dillon, Frank Klaus, Jimmy Clabby, Eddie McGoorty, Jeff Smith,
Gus Christie, Billy Murray, Georges Carpentier and several others of such outstanding ability that for three years 1910-13. The world middleweight championship was in dispute with so many contenders claiming it. Klaus beat Papke (who had claimed the title after Stanley Ketchel’s death) in Paris in March
1913, and this was claimed but not unanimously admitted to be a fight for the world middleweight
Championship. Then George Chip beat Klaus by a knockout in five rounds in Pittsburgh and then Al
McCoy knocked Chip out in Brooklyn in April 1914, and claimed the title.”

(Note: He did not defend the title at any time from that date until after the death of Darcy in 1917)

The problem with the above title claims and fights, is that before Frank Klaus beat Papke in 1913, Billy Papke went to Australia and he fought New Zealand middleweight, Dave Smith on the 26th December 1910 at Sydney Stadium and Papke lost by disqualification but Smith wanted to win his next bout against Jimmy Clabby before claiming the middleweight title.

Dave Smith then made good of this by defeating Clabby on points and then claimed the title.

Australia's Forgotten Boxing Involvement
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Papke did fight Smith not long after the Clabby fight but by fight time Billy had been pigging out on meat pies and pavlova both famous Aussie foods, a pavlova being a big merengue pie with lots of cream and fruit on it, well actually I don’t know that for sure but I do know he was said to be at least a stone over the middleweight limit and Papke refuses to get on the scales and therefore no chance of fighting to get his title back which was a shame for Billy as he beat Smith by TKO in the 7th.

In 1912 Dave Smith went to America and because he was away from Australia the Americans did not recognise him as champion which may have upset Eddie McGoorty because McGoorty knocked Smith out in one round at Madison Square Garden but this is a moot point because both men were fighting at Light Heavyweight. The tour of the USA was however a good one for Dave Smith as he gained a newspaper decision over the famous Battling Levinsky, McGoorty was however determined to get Smith’s title, so much so that he followed Smith all the way back to Australia.

Once back in Australia Dave Smith’s career was looking good, he defeated the well known Aussie light heavyweight, Les O’Donnell in three fights and the hard nut aboriginal Jerry Jerome in two fights, two against O’Donnell were by KO and both times he beat Jerome by KO as well as beating the famous heavyweight Bill Lang who Gregory Speciale knows well (Lang had fought Langford and McVey).

Anyway, all this was just leading up to the Australian debut fight by the great knockout artist Eddie McGoorty who was scheduled to a rematch with Dave Smith at Sydney Stadium on the first of January, 1914 in a fight billed as for the middleweight championship of the world and both fighters trained very hard to get under the middleweight limit, both men entered the ring at exactly 158 pounds.

Dave Smith was an intelligent man but somehow he really should have avoided this fight at all costs, after all he was knocked out in a single round with a single left hook, McGoorty’s famous “corkscrew” punch. McGoorty was glaring at Smith with ice cold fury as he entered the ring and he went straight at Smith as if he wanted to knock Smith out faster than he did in their first fight when he did it in just 78 seconds, this time it took Eddie longer…

A whole 90 seconds into the first round Eddie took the title with another savage single left hook. McGoorty was an instant sensation to the Sydney crowd who went off and McGoorty was instantly praised by some as the best fighter from America they had yet seen, (yes they had seen, Jack Johnson, Sam Langford and all the other great Americans already).

As for poor Dave, he still had not learned, he went in against Eddie just three months later but he did learn something from those first two fights, he was still knocked out but this time he lasted ten rounds. Unfortunately for McGoorty his last fight before this third Dave Smith fight he faced another famous American, Jeff Smith on 14th of March 1914.

McGoorty was awarded the decision after 20 rounds but the Sydney crowd was enraged, they almost rioted and booed and booed, not long after the fight ended the judges were forced to reverse the result and they awarded the fight and the title to Jeff Smith. Jeff was surely pleased and this must have been one of his career highlights.

Jeff Smith had two successful defences, beating challengers Pat Bradley four weeks after the McGoorty fight, Bradley he knocked out in 16 rounds and then 6 weeks after that he beat the great Jimmy Clabby on points over 20 rounds.

Australia's Forgotten Boxing Involvement
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Jeff Smith’s next fight was his defence against Australian Mick King on 28th November 1914, this fight was highly controversial and after the full 20 rounds Mick King was awarded the decision and the Australian became the new champion.

Smith was furious and he was given an immediate rematch, King was obviously a very good fighter just to have gone 20 rounds with Smith but on the 26th of December (Boxing Day) Jeff Smith got his revenge and his title back winning the decision over a disappointed King but once again King had proved his skill and toughness by once again going 20 rounds, in fact the two fought again and once again Mick King proved that his chin was just too strong and went the distance again.

Anyone ever tell you Mick King wasn’t tough just reply that King went 40 rounds with the great Jeff Smith going to the canvas just once (in the 3rd round in their 2nd fight).

When I call Jeff Smith great there is a reason, first of all his record is amazing, he had more fights than any five fighters of our time put together not including Julio Cesar Chavez. Another reason is that of all the opponents of Harry Greb’s career, Harry picked Jeff Smith as his toughest opponent and we should all know who Harry Greb is, no need to mention his one hundred and eighteen fights that had a result losing just three of those or the other 150 plus fights he had that were the No Decision bouts that they used to put on in the United States.

Anyway Greb has one of the greatest resume’s and records in boxing history alongside that of Maxie Rosenbloom or the incredible Sam Langford all of whom had almost 300 fights or more.

Smith then faced maybe the greatest fighter he would ever face in his long long career, at least in my opinion, on the 23rd of January he faced the legendary phenom Les Darcy in a controversial fight, in this fight Darcy claimed a foul, a low punch that appeared to many in the crowd to be low but opinion in the press was seemingly divided and the ref seemingly didn’t see it, the crowd were up in arms and so was Dave Smith who was in Darcy’s corner and Smith threw a towel in but Darcy refused to quit and fought on until the bell sounded.

In the raucous uproar that followed the crowd were on the verge of another of their famous riots and the referee awarded the fight to Jeff Smith by disqualifying Darcy.

The fight had started well for Smith who most thought had won the first round and also the second although Darcy had started to come on strong, by some accounts I have read it seems that from the beginning of the 3rd Les Darcy had started landing some solid blows and was giving Smith some real trouble until the claimed foul in the 5th, whatever did happen that night it is certain that Smith used every trick he had ever learned to keep his title but the press and fans demanded that Smith give Darcy a rematch as soon as possible, Smith then fought heavyweight Harold Hardwicke who was not a great fighter but it was well known that Harold possessed massive power and had a punchers chance, Smith won that over a 20 round decision.

His next fight was the highly anticipated rematch with Darcy. On the 22-5-1915 Smith met Darcy again in Sydney, in this fight Les Darcy showed true glimpses of genius and great improvement from the first fight and he pummelled Smith and showed no mercy until in the second round a clearly desperate Jeff Smith appeared to hit Darcy low and this time everyone including the referee saw it and the Les Darcy took the title after Smith was disqualified.

The Sydney Stadium management were furious with Smith and rightly or wrongly they refused to pay Jeff for which Jeff later took them to court to dispute that.

Les Darcy never lost another fight as now he had begun to reach his peak, Darcy defended his title 9 times and to top that off he won and held the Australian Heavyweight title until his tragic death at age 21. Along the way he defended against former champs McGoorty twice and George Chip and Mick King twice also against Jimmy Clabby, Alex Costica, Fred Dyer and Billy Murray and also defeated such fighters as Dave Smith, George K.O. Brown, Harold Hardwicke, Buck Crouse and Les O’Donnell…………… all before he turned 21……. Yeah not a bad effort for a kid eh!

(Special mention to New Jersey boxing historian Gregory Speciale, with out him this piece couldn’t have been put together. Top image source and credit:

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