Almost Deja Vu

When, Floyd Patterson, defended his heavyweight world title against, Pete Rademacher, in 1957, there were some pretty unusual circumstances involved. The most obvious one being that it was, Pete Rademacher’s first professional contest, and nobody had ever (nor has since) fought for the heavyweight championship of the world in their very first fight. So it was deemed as unique, but it wasn’t quite as unique as they thought, because something pretty similar had already occurred 40, years earlier back here in merry old, England.

As in any war a soldier’s morale is vitally important, and the powers that be will often go to a lot of time and trouble to help the soldiers keep their pecker up, and entertainment was their key. Of all the recreations on offer, boxing was top of the list. Whether it is just the usual in-house boxing championships, inter regimental contests, or celebrity bouts, it didn’t matter. Boxing always has, and still does play an important role in boosting the morale of our armed forces today, and so it was during, WW1.

In 1917, towards the end of the, first world war, in the sleepy east Sussex town of, Seaford, the soldiers stationed at the army camp there were treated to a sunlit afternoon of sensational boxing, and one of the bouts on the card that day is clearly mirrored by the, Patterson v Rademacher, fight. But before I mention any of the boxers or the fight itself I think it’s worth mentioning one of the esteemed referees that were in attendance there. He was, Arthur Frederick Bettison, (1862-1926) the ex ABA lightweight champion of, 1882, and an International Boxing Hall of Famer. In 1891, he co-founded the, National Sporting Club, and refereed hundreds of their fights which included most of the best loved world champions of the time. He was a strict no nonsense kind of man and ruled with an iron fist, he once stopped a title fight because the spectators were too noisy and refused to restart it until everyone had stopped talking! Basically he was the best boxing referee in the world at the time, and even though this was only exhibition boxing in a seaside army camp, it is commendable that he should go to the time and trouble to oversee the program.

In the blue corner of the main bout of the afternoon was the rugged self-proclaimed heavyweight champion of the world, Frank (Paddy) Slavin, and in the red corner was the reigning amateur heavyweight champion of the world, Ernest Vivian Chandler, and boy what a couple of wild, colourful and intriguing misfits they were.

Frank Slavin, was one of the most durable fast moving heavyweights of his day. Even before he won a title of any description he was a celebrity bareknuckle superstar in his own right; people would pay a fortune just to go and see him, and every week he would stand in the ring like a giant no entry sign for any up and coming young hopeful with dreams of boxing stardom. But, Mr Slavin, had aspirations much higher than this, he wanted to be rich, and he wanted to see the world. In order to achieve this he packed up the bareknuckle fight game and put the gloves on, and lo and behold his very first gloved opponent was none other than the up and coming first triple weight champion of the world, Bob Fitzsimmons, and he even managed a hard-fought draw with him. And this was only the start of his remarkable, long lived and illustrious career, before going on to become the heavyweight champion of, Australia, New Zealand, and England, he also claimed he was world champion, but this is shrouded with doubt, although he did fight for it!

Surprisingly, not so much is known about his enigmatic opponent, Captain Ernest Vivian Chandler, save to say he was the black sheep of a very industrious family and was supposed to have been the reigning amateur heavyweight champion of the world at the time, who later went on to fight the great, Jack Dempsey. I won’t say they were bosom buddies but these two men can’t have been strangers to each other because, Slavin, was a fitness instructor at the Seaford, camp where, Chandler, was stationed and it would have been almost impossible for the two men not to have met.

So basically, like Patterson and Rademacher, you had the amateur heavyweight champion of the world facing the ex-professional heavyweight champion of the world, only in this ground breaking instance it was the amateur that won.

After the war the old champ; whose spirit for adventure was still strong, moved to Canada and tried his hand at gold prospecting in the famous, Klondike gold rush, but died destitute in, 1929. Ernest Chandler, on the other hand seemed to achieve the impossible by becoming a very public figure yet still somehow managed to fly beneath the intense media radar that usually surrounds high-ranking sports people. However, his sudden and somewhat macabre death in, 1936, did manage to raise his profile, and more than a few worried eyebrows with the good people of the blood donor brigade.

His good friend, Sir Harry Preston; a mega-rich hotelier and boxing promoter, was serious ill and in need of a blood transfusion. Chandler; ever the gentleman, volunteered to give his blood to save his pal’s life, but sadly this benevolent lifesaving gesture was done in vain, Sir Harry, died anyway. But, Ernest, never found out, because before the news of his friend’s death could reach him, he too died. In an ironic twist of fate he died from an infection caused by the blood donation he had made to his friend. The tiny needle wound in his arm had turned septic and he died from blood poisoning. If that’s not bad enough, when Ernest’s brother, Samuel received the news of his younger sibling’s untimely death, the shock was too much for him and he dropped dead on the spot.

Wow, and I thought I was unlucky!