Jack Johnson working with Tuffy Griffiths (December, 1930)

A Backward Glance-1931, The Year in Boxing: Berg Stars in Chicago, Near-Riot in Philly, Canzoneri Returns Home

A week by week look at the boxing world in 1931 by Andrew Fruman.


The Whitechapel Whirlwind - Jack "Kid" Berg

Berg Retains 140lb Crown in Chicago

January 23… An appreciative crowd of almost 13,000 watched junior-welterweight champion Jack “Kid” Berg (138 ¼) gain the measure of Goldie Hess (137 ¾) in an action packed ten round title clash at the Chicago Stadium.

It was a high contact affair, with the relentless Berg never giving Hess a moment’s rest as he swarmed the Californian with a slashing attack from start to finish. The challenger, usually a slow starter, matched Berg’s hot pace in the early going, even staggering the Englishman on occasion, but was gradually worn down over the middle rounds.

With his tank seemingly heading towards empty, Hess made a stirring rally to win the eighth, but took the brunt of Berg’s assault in the ninth. Only guts held Hess up in the tenth, as the relentless title holder drove his exhausted opponent all over the ring with only the final bell preventing what appeared to be an imminent knockout.

After the battle, the winner declared he had his eyes on both the lightweight and welterweight crown. “I can beat them if they give me a chance,” Berg stated, adding that making weight wouldn’t be an issue.

The chief supporting bout was a non-title encounter between local star, Eddie Shea (127 ½), and featherweight champion, Chris “Battling” Battalino. The Chicago fighter took a comfortable decision, cutting Battalino on the bridge of the nose early, before closing the title holder’s left eye later on.

Battalino had no answers on the night for his opponent’s inside work, fighting a strictly rear guard battle and only managing to contain Shea by incessant clinching. It was a performance that earned the wrath of the fans, who serenaded the visiting man’s negative tactics with a chorus of boos as he left the ring.

Philadelphia Fans Storm Ring After Loughran Bout

Tommy Loughran

January 26… Philadelphia fight fans lost their cool after ring after announcer Joe Griffo informed the spectators that the ten round battle between Tommy Loughran and Jack Gross had been ruled a draw. It turned out that the card of Referee Frank Floyd had been filled out incorrectly and Loughran had really won, but the discovery was too late to prevent chaotic scenes that included chairs and other items being hurled about, along with local representative of the boxing commission Frank Wiener, getting slapped in the face by an irate woman.

Image Courtesy of Antiquities of the Prize Ring

“I’ve had a lot of rotten ones handed me here but this was the worst.” Loughran said after the bout, while labeling the decision as “crooked.” Still unaware of the official’s error, an angry Loughran declared that he would never fight in Philadelphia again.

The verdict was officially changed the following day by the commission, but the drama was not over. An infuriated Wiener announced that Loughran had been suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the sport of boxing.” Among his alleged transgressions, Loughran was accused of inciting the crowd to riot, along with becoming involved in an altercation with his opponent after the fight was over.

Homecoming for Canzoneri

January 26… Returning to the city of his youth for only the third time in his professional career, Tony Canzoneri (132) had the better of Johnny Farr (132 ¼) over ten mostly uninspired rounds at the Coliseum Arena in New Orleans. The fight was billed as a world title affair, though Farr’s only chance to gain the championship was through the knockout route as the agreed upon terms stipulated for no official decision to be handed out.

The bout was exceedingly tame early on, with Canzoneri, who had reportedly been suffering from a recent bout of the flu, only opening up in brief spurts against the defensive minded challenger. The capacity crowd frequently jeered the lacklustre proceedings, while Referee Jack Dempsey tried his best to urge the fighters to step up their intensity. So sparse was the action in the early going that the Times-Picayune reported that there were moments when the bout felt more like an exhibition, than a “sincere fight.”

Farr never came close to the required knockout, but he did show plenty of life over the second half of the contest, especially during the final three rounds. Perhaps sensing that Canzoneri wasn’t close to his usual dangerous self, the Cleveland fighter went hard at the champion down the stretch. The late push was enough to make the newspaper verdict reasonably close, though Farr still finished behind on the Times-Picayune scorecard by three rounds.

Other Boxing News for the week of January 22 – 28

January 23… Lou Scozza (167 ½) won a battle of light-heavyweight contenders with a final round stoppage of local fighter Tait Littman (165 ¼) at the Auditorium in Milwaukee. A capacity crowd watched Littman gain an edge through the early rounds, but Scozza came on very strong in the second half. The Buffalo fighter was pouring on the pressure when he sent Littman tumbling through the ropes with a right to the chin half-way though the tenth round. Littman staggered up at the count of nine, but the third man had seen enough and awarded the fight to Scozza.

January 23… Middleweight Nick Testo became the first victim of New York’s “no-foul” rule. The rule, which was brought into effect by the NYSAC the previous July, forces a downed fighter to be on his feet and battling within ten seconds – regardless of where he happens to be hit. The commission explained at the time of the rule change, that all fighters now have access to modern protective gear that has rendered punches below the belt harmless.

Ernie Schaaf

The unfortunate Testo (155 ½) would certainly have disagreed with the “harmless” tag, after being left incapacitated when cracked low by a left hand from Vittorio Levin (159) late in the second round of a scheduled ten. The ref’s count was at seven when the bell rang, but when Testo was unable to rise for the start of the third session, he was counted out while sitting on his stool.

The Testo incident took place on the undercard of Ernie Schaaf’s (198 ½) ten round split decision victory over Jim Braddock (180 ½). Schaaf, fighting with Jack Sharkey in his corner, secured the win with a furious finish that had the former light-heavyweight title challenger struggling at the final bell. There were still a number of vocal spectators that believed Braddock was entitled to the nod, though James P. Dawson of the New York Times felt Schaaf clearly deserved the decision. It was the second notable win in a row for the 21-year-old Schaaf, after having beaten Max Baer in his previous outing.

Image Courtesy of Antiquities of the Prize Ring

January 26… Only four days after beating Braddock at the Garden, Schaaf was back in action. Fighting in front of him hometown fans at the Boston Arena, Schaaf (200) handed out a ten round beating to youngster Dick Daniels (185) of Minneapolis. Schaaf used a steady left hand to keep the wide swinging Daniels off balance, while giving the smaller man a beating to the body with both hands.

January 26… Jack Johnson continued training in Chicago for his latest comeback attempt. Having recently applied for a licence with the Illinois State Boxing Commission, the former champion has reportedly trimmed his weight down to 228lbs after having ballooning all the way up to 278.

Image Courtesy of Antiquities of the Prize Ring

Dixon Stewart of the United Press caught up with Johnson, after the 53-year-old former champion had just finished a rigorous workout. “Old time fighters always talk about the good old days. I’m going to do more than talk.” Johnson said. “I’m going to stage a comeback and show up present day fighters.”

Johnson went on to give his thoughts on the current crop of heavies, supplying fodder for this edition’s quotes of the week (see below).

January 27… Max Schmeling arrived in New York on the liner Europa, and was quick to clear up any misconceptions on where he stood regarding the current heavyweight situation.  The German gave his thoughts on another meeting with Jack Sharkey, along with expressing an eagerness to defend his title against Young Stribling and Primo Carnera.

“I suppose I will again fight Sharkey. I would welcome another bout with him. But Joe Jacobs was in close touch with affairs here in America while I was in Europe. He is my manager. It is for him to look after the business. I support him in his acceptance of two matches for me.”

Schemling went on to say that he hadn’t been in the best condition for the title clash with Sharkey, but would be in top shape when he faced Stribling.  “Then I had about four weeks in which to become acclimated and get in condition.  Now I am in position to point myself to a bout for at least six months in advance.  There will be quite a difference.”

Quotes of the Week…

“Jack Sharkey is the best of a poor lot, and he’s getting the run-around. He’s the only one who has everything necessary – boxing skills, hitting power, defense, infighting ability and a willingness to take punishment.”

“Schmeling is a fluke champion, ready to be knocked out by the first second-rater he meets.”

“Stribling is nothing but a wrestler, who knows enough not to meet Sharkey.”

“Carnera is an overgrown clown. Boxing is in a terrible state when a man like Carnera can be considered a leading contender.”

- Jack Johnson’s thoughts on the current crop of leading big men

e-mail Andrew Fruman

See Also:

A Backward Glance-1931, The Year in Boxing: Baer Stops Heeney in Garden Mix-up, Carnera Booted

A Backward Glance-1931, The Year in Boxing: Schmeling-Stribling Sign, Len Harvey in the USA

A Backward Glance: 1931, The Year in Boxing

Tags: Battling Battalino Eddie Shea Ernie Schaaf Goldie Hess Jack Berg Jack Dempsey Jack Gross Jack Johnson Jack Sharkey Jim Braddock Johnny Farr Lou Scozza MAX SCHMELING Nick Testo Primo Carnera Tait Littman Tommy Loughran Tony Canzoneri Vittorio Levin Young Stribling

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