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Boxers of Yesteryear - Tommy Farr

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A legend of boxing, does not have to be your favourite boxer. Nor even the best of their time. But someone who's story, or ring wars are inspiring long after they have retired and even died.

 

Thomas George Farr (12 March 1913 – 1 March 1986). Born in Clydach Vale, Wales and nicknamed "the Tonypandy Terror", he became British and Empire heavyweight champion on 15 March 1937. Prior to 1936, he had boxed in the light heavyweight division in which he was the Welsh champion.

 

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 By Daniel Ciminera 

 

A legend of boxing, does not have to be your favourite boxer. Nor even the best of their time. But someone who's story, or ring wars are inspiring long after they have retired and even died. These people become the reasons boxing was so exciting and drew me in like a moth to a flame when I was a child. I’m not very old, I’m only 25, so perhaps these people have more to do with my father’s influence on me as he was the one who got me interested in boxing, himself boxing for our country. Despite not being old enough to have seen most of these guys live, I was brought up watching tapes of them and being gripped as though I were ringside, throwing every punch along with them and screaming them on to victory. After all, that’s what boxing is all about right?

I would like to begin with Tommy Farr as I am from about 2 miles from where he was born and raised and he is still something of a local hero. Many gymnasia across Wales are adorned with some sort of image of Tommy, and he is held in the highest regard by all. He was a fighter who, not only gave his all inside the ring, but was a great example and role model outside of it too, always sure to spend a lot of time with his family.

Farr spent his early life, as did most people from the poverty stricken South Wales valleys, “down the coal-mine”. The whole area is built around coal mining. Farr hated this life with utmost passion and was later to describe boxing as “the lesser of two evils”. At the age of twelve, having left school already, Farr took part in his first official contest, over six rounds in Tonypandy. He won the fight via a points decision and his appetite had been well and truly whetted. He was nicknamed “The Tonypandy Terror” thereafter.

His professional record hosts 126 bouts, with 81 wins (24 by KO), 30 losses, 13 draws and 2 no contests, although Farr was also a keen “booth boxer”, fighting at fairgrounds and such. Including his “booth” fights, his total career fights amasses to 296. An astonishing number in comparison to today’s boxers, and given that his original retirement was at the age of 26, this is even more amazing! 

You could describe Farr as a journeyman, with ups and downs, and seemingly every time he’d build an unbeaten streak, he’d get beaten and be back to square one. However, his luck was to change in the mid 1930s, Farr managed to string together seven professional wins to receive a chance at the Welsh Light-Heavyweight title, outpointing Randy Jones to take the title and went onto another six straight wins. Then, just as with the rest of his career, he was to lose. He lost three times against Eddie Phillips, the last of which was for the British Light-Heavyweight title.

Farr then came back into favour winning eighteen contests straight, including wins against memorable opponents and former Light-Heavyweight champions, Tommy Loughran and Bob Olin as well as another renowned Welsh boxer, Jim Wilde. This gave Farr an opportunity to battle against Ben Foord in March 1937, to take both the British and Empire Heavyweight titles. He was by far and away the underdog in the bout despite his growing reputation in the sport. He used his awkward crouching style and jackhammer-esque jab to win an untidy affair. He had now proven he was good enough for the world stage.

Farr’s first venture onto this platform was just a month later (imagine that today) against Max Baer, in which he thoroughly dominated the favourite. In the early rounds, Baer played to the crowd (in a fashion not too dissimilar to that of “Apollo Creed” in the Rocky movies), acting as though he could remove Farr from the bout at any time he wished. When Baer eventually decided he was ready to end the match, he found he couldn’t get past the iron rod that was Farr’s jab.

No matter what Baer tried, he was met head on by the jab and that was the way the fight was to play out with Farr putting in the boxing performance of his career to take a points win. Two months later in June 1937, Farr fought and knocked-out Walter Neusel in superb fashion in the third round. This set Farr up for a dream bout with Joe Louis in the August of 1937, just weeks after Louis had taken the title from “The Cinderella Man”, Braddock, and amidst a world of controversy surrounding the title and Max Schmeling.

Before the two went head to head at Yankee Stadium, New York, in front of 32,000 spectators (a large number even today), Louis asked Farr where he had got the large amount of scars on his back. With a cheerful smile, Farr replied, “oh they’re nothing, I got those from fighting with tigers”, which reportedly is said to have terrified Louis. The fight gripped the South Wales valleys like no other had done ever before, and still hasn’t been rivalled to this day, it is said that every household in the Rhondda valley had stayed up until the 3am (UK time) start to listen on the radio, which had been relayed to the BBC via telephone.

There were even loudspeaker playings of the bout in church halls and public houses. The fight, as was agreed by all, was going to be a walk in the park for Louis. Nobody outside of Wales, gave Farr a chance at all. Apparently nobody showed this script to Tommy as from the first bell, he charged at Louis and stuffed two solid jabs into his face. This was to be the tone of the evening, much to everyone’s shock. However, while Louis was obviously the more “skilled boxer” and the more fearsome puncher, Farr kept coming forward and forward the entire fight with his low guard and was completely unphased by the champion, who literally had torn Farr’s face to shreds.

Farr eventually losing out to a close judges decision met by loud, emphatic booing from the crowd. They thought Farr had beaten Louis. As did the “Los Angeles Times”, printing “A courageous, tousle-haired man from Wales named Tommy Farr tonight made a bum out of Joe Louis and all the experts when he stuck the full fifteen rounds against the world’s champion to lose a close decision”.

In my opinion, the fight was close enough to be called a draw, however, perhaps the judges had been swayed by the fact that Louis’ punches had clearly been more damaging as Farr’s face was a terrible mess. Farr commenting that his face “looked like a dug-up road”.
Farr then had four more fights in America, including bouts against James Braddock and Max Baer. He lost all four before returning to the UK to win a further four fights, avenging an earlier loss against “Red” Burman. He then retired in 1940 at the age of 26.

In 1950, after 10 years of retirement Tommy Farr was facing bankruptcy and was forced to return to the ring to make some money, having 16 more fights and winning 11 of them, Farr also became the Welsh Heavyweight Champion in 1951 with a sixth round knock-out over Dennis Powell.

In his last bout, Farr was beaten in the seventh round by Don Cocknell, after which Tommy took the ring announcer’s microphone and sang the Welsh national anthem, which is seen by us all here in Wales as a fitting and emotional farewell to a roller coaster of a career of a great man.

Tommy Farr is rightly considered one of the greats in boxing and one of the greatest Welshmen in history. A fact of which he’d be very proud. Like he said after fighting Louis, “I’ve got plenty of guts….I’m a Welshman.”

 

 

 

 

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