Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Peerless Jim

In the late Seventies and early Eighties, I used to drink in the Royal Oak in Cardiff. There was boxing gym on the on the first floor, and the front bar was crowded with fight photos and memorabilia but dominated by a huge photograph of the legendary Cardiff boxer "Peerless" Jim Driscoll.
When he died in 1925, its reported that 100,000 people lined the streets of Cardiff and that the funeral procession was over over a mile long.

Driscoll learned his trade in the boxing booths and won the British featherweight title, but the legend was really forged in the USA where he travelled next.

This was the era of the no-decision in America, where the rules stated that if a boxer was not knocked out then the fight was declared to have no result. On the night of February 19th 1910 just ninety-eight days after his first fight in America, the Driscoll stepped intothe ring against the reigning featherweight champion of the world, Abe Attell, a true great who had held the title since 1901.

The reporters all gave the verdict to Jim Driscoll, who claimed that Attell had agreed to be bound by the newspapers decision. An agreement Attell did not recall.

Nat Fleischer when commenting on the fight said 'Driscoll was easily the best. The Welshman easily outpointed Atell and virtually took his title away from him. He definitely proved, as far as I am concerned, that he was the best featherweight in the world'.

The Police Gazette said, "Jem Driscoll gave Abe Attell an artistic trouncing, luckily the law forbade the rendering of decisions, otherwise Driscoll would have taken the featherweight title away with him." While Tad Dorgan wrote, "Abe Attell found his reign as premier featherweight boxer in the world had come to an end. ...At the National Athletic Club on East 24th Street the little Briton opened the eyes of the crowd and closed one of Abe's. ..there was no question as to which was the better man."

Harry Shaffer has noted that, "at this point in his American tour Driscoll was as great a draw as any fighter, most entertainers, and far greater than the heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson."

This makes what happened next all the more remarkable. When the representatives who were handling Driscoll's affairs in America, went to see him at his hotel they had great plans, but they found Jim all packed, ticket in hand. He was ready to sail for home to keep a promise to take part in an exhibition bout at the Park Hall in Cardiff, in aid of his favourite charity, the Assault at Arms Committee, which supported Nazareth House, where the Sisters of Nazareth cared for scores of orphans. Driscoll kept his promise appearing, as always, for free.

He was to return to America only once, in the Spring of the following year, on the promise of a championship fight, but that was not to be, "Attell proving as elusive outside the ring as Driscoll was inside", and he returned home already suffering from the early stages of the lung disease that would take his life at the age of 44.

Which is why, in a way, this is a story for my own 44th birthdday today

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