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Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Thursday, 11 April 2002 14:22 UK

3. Freddie Welsh

By Sean Davies

In contrast to the other great names of early 20th-century Welsh boxing, Frederick Hall Thomas came from a relatively wealthy background.

Freddie Welsh

Born an auctioneer's son on 5 March, 1886, his grandfather had been a renowned mountain fighter and Freddie found plenty of opportunity to practice his own fighting skills during his upbringing in Pontypridd.

At the age of 16 he travelled to North America seeking work and adventure, the first of many jaunts across the Atlantic.

On his second spell in America, Freddie spent six months riding the rails as a hobo, before landing a job with the Macfadden Institute in New York.

Teaching physical fitness and new age health treatments, Freddie met his wife Brahna Weinstein (who became known as Fanny Weston) and soon began a professional fighting career.

His talent was quickly apparent and, as his fame grew and he moved rapidly up the lightweight rankings, he took the fighting name Freddie Welsh.

Following a successful series of bouts in Britain, Welsh headed back to the States in 1906 to begin a long pursuit of the lightweight title.

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His skill in the ring was matched by a flair for publicity that saw him play on his vegetarianism, plan to take part in a trans-Atlantic balloon race, and concoct a story to the press that he had been kidnapped in Mexico!

On his return to Britain in 1909 he was greeted by enormous crowds in Cardiff and the valleys.

With Wales in the grip of a boxing golden age, in December 1910 he faced Jim Driscoll in Cardiff in one of the biggest sporting events ever staged in the country, Welsh winning a dirty, scrappy bout when his opponent was disqualified for butting in the 10th.

Freddie Welsh (left) v Jim Driscoll

"I can't say that I ever worried much about what people thought or said of me," said Welsh.

"I like to be liked, and have often wished that I could be as much loved as Jim Driscoll, say, but I have never been able to bow down to rules and regulations."

In 1911 Welsh was finally lined up for a title shot against Ad Wolgast, but on the eve of the showdown the champion was rushed to hospital with acute appendicitis.

It took three years for Welsh to get another chance, a protracted chase and huge purse guarantee finally tempting new champion Willie Ritchie into the ring in London's Olympia Theatre, where Welsh claimed a comprehensive points win over 20 rounds.

Billy Eynon's memories of Freddie Welsh v Jim Driscoll

Welsh returned to the States and embarked on an astonishing, exhausting schedule of fights against all the leading contenders.

Having been forced to wait so long for his chance, Welsh was determined to make as much money as possible from the belt and so controversially exploited the 'no-decision' rule that meant he had to be stopped in one of the 10-round bouts to lose his title.

Welsh outclassed most opponents in any case, but the punishing schedule - including 21 fights in his first year as champion - began to wear him down and injuries mounted.

The champion refused to slow down and he began to lose a number of newspaper decisions, notably to the fast-rising Benny Leonard in a big-money bout at Madison Square Garden.

The "Ghetto Wizard" would, like Welsh, go down as one of the all-time great lightweights, thanks to his superb technique, lightning speed, and a flawless fighting heart and mind.

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But Welsh prepared himself well for a rematch with 20-year-old Leonard in front of 15,000 at the Washington Park Sporting Club, Brooklyn, producing a glorious display to outclass the New Yorker over 10 rounds.

The time was right to quit, but Welsh's breathless schedule continued, while Leonard rebuilt his reputation with 17 impressive wins from 19 fights.

With the champion struggling to survive no-decision bouts against fighters he would previously have outclassed, Leonard was now generally regarded as the best lightweight in the world, and his backers eagerly put together the third showdown with Welsh.

Madison Square Garden
Welsh's first fight with Benny Leonard was at Madison Square Garden

The New Yorker, now 21, had learnt from their previous encounters and started patiently, targeting Welsh's body rather than his head.

By the eighth the 31-year-old champion's guard was dropping, and early in the ninth an overhand right caught Welsh near the ear, sending him reeling.

Leonard followed up furiously, knocking his opponent to the canvas three times before the referee finally stopped the bout.

There was controversy over the fact that the count was carried out when Welsh was still on his feet - but the fact that he was unconscious and draped over the ropes tended to settle any serious debate!

He retired a wealthy man, but unfortunate business decisions cost him his hard-earned fortune and he made an undistinguished comeback three years later.

High living contributed to the break-up of his marriage, and, after a number of health problems, Welsh was found dead in his Manhattan apartment in 1927, at the age of 41.

*For more on Welsh's remarkable life and career, see Andrew Gallimore, "Occupation Prizefighter" (Bridgend, Seren, 2006).



see also
Wales' pugilist princes
15 May 09 |  Boxing
Freddie Welsh in photos
25 Mar 10 |  Boxing
Driscoll v Welsh: 100 years on
11 Dec 10 |  Boxing
Wales' greatest US fight nights
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Cardiff's greatest fight nights
04 Jun 10 |  Boxing
Boxing & Madison Square Garden
04 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing world champions
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Blue plaque for 'Welsh Wizard'
18 Mar 09 |  South east
Wales' boxing history in photos
24 May 09 |  Boxing
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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