As the countdown continues to Joe Calzaghe’s super-fight with Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas on 19 April, I’m doing some features on six Welsh boxers who have hit the limelight with mega-bouts in the USA.
The full list will eventually be found by following this link - news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/box...
Major Welsh fights in the US are rare beasts, but not in the case of Freddie Welsh.
My problem with the Pontypridd man has been in deciding which of his myriad of monster matches across the Atlantic to select.
Bouts against Packey McFarland, Abe Attell, Ad Wolgast and Charley White could all qualify as super-fights, but I’ve gone for his third encounter with the great Benny Leonard at the Manhattan Athletic Club on 28 May, 1917.
Welsh – or Frederick Hall Thomas, as he was then known – made his first foray across the Atlantic at the age of 16, and was a regular on the inter-continental cruise ships.
The majority of his career was spent in the US, as he began a long, colourful, nine-year pursuit of the world lightweight title, the second most-coveted prize in boxing after the heavyweight crown.
Champion Willie Ritchie was finally lured into the ring in London’s Olympia Theatre on 7 July, 1914, Welsh comprehensively winning a 20-round decision.
The new champion 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 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.
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.
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.
Follow this link for more on Freddie Welsh – news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/box...
For more on Welsh's remarkable life and career, see Andrew Gallimore, "Occupation Prizefighter" (Bridgend, Seren, 2006).
I’d love to hear any of your, stories, thoughts, possibly even memories, of Freddie Welsh here…