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Saturday, May 28, 2011

1917-05-28 Benny Leonard W-TKO9 Freddie Welsh [Manhattan Sporting Club, New York, NY, USA]

1917-05-29 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY) (page 9)
Will Defend Title Monday Night Against Joe Welsh and Then Plans to Enlist in Army--May Meet Johnny Kilbane on July 4.
Up in Harlem last night a little mother sat patiently awaiting a telephone call from her son, a message that would bring joy or sorrow to the family circle. At last, toward the witching hour of midnight, the 'phone bell rang and Benny Leonard, new lightweight champion of the world, flashed to his folks the magic words:

"I knocked Welsh out in the ninth round."

Was there a celebration at the Leonard domicile? The answer is yes, and the followers of the fortunes of Benny were still going strong and keeping the neighborhood awake when many were rushing to catch the 6 o'clock subway train to work this morning.

And the neighbors who were kept awake did not begrudge their sleep. They had followed the career of Benny Leonard since Billy Gibson first took the lad under his wing several years ago. Benny never has failed, whether he was boxing in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland or the Far West, to immediately notify the home folks of the result of his battles. Last night was no exception, and all the neighbors who were not at the ringside waited up for the news. The new champion was no slacker; he fought all comers and was not afraid to tell the truth when he met defeat. Consequently the telephone company profited quite extensively when Leonard was a contender.

Benny Leonard, in private life, is Benjamin Leiner. He is a son of George Leiner and is a native born New Yorker, being therefore the first champion to come from the big town. Benny was born in Manhattan on April 7, 1896, and celebrated his majority only last month. He began his real boxing career when Billy Gibson saw him in a preliminary bout at an obscure club. The "Mayor of the Bronx" immediately saw the possibilities in Leonard and he secured the consent of his parents to manage the lad, who was then only 16 years old.


Billy Gibson, a Prophet.

Shortly after this, Gibson came to a group of newspaper sporting writers one afternoon and asked them to take a trip to the St. Nicholas Rink to see the next American who would hold the championship of the world. The boys thought Billy was too enthusiastic, but as Bill always had the reputation of being a good fellow, some decided to oblige him. What they saw impressed several, and while it was conceded that Leonard had a lot of faults, he pleased the experts with his agility and judgment of distance. It was true he could not hit very hard, but a lad of sixteen has not gained his full strength, and Billy told them to wait.

Gradually Leonard waded through the preliminary boys and invariably he was returned the winner of the short bouts. He never asked any odds; any match with the weights close enough suited him. All of a sudden it began to dawn on the fight promoters that Leonard was a real fighter. As he grew older and stronger he developed a punch, and being a lad who always lived clean, he had little to worry him. But the fight to the top of the ladder was not all peaches and cream. Benny had to take his lickings. Twice he was carried to his corner after the fatal ten seconds had been counted over him, and he lost "newspaper" decisions many times. But never discouraged by reverses, Benny always had in mind the ambition of his life, and that was to see his name billed as the lightweight champion of the world. A defeat merely stung him to greater efforts, for he was a student of the boxing game and would go over the battle he lost and find out where he made his mistakes.

Became Prominent in 1915.

In 1915 Leonard jumped into prominence when he knocked out Tommy Houck. Tommy was one of the best lightweight boys fighting. That year Benny had four knockouts to his credit, the victims being Jack Sheppard, Al Schumacher, Gene Moriarty and Joe Mandot. The last named win gave Benny a real reputation, and thereafter Billy Gibson decided that he meet only the topnotchers.

Benny at once made good. He started the 1916 season on January 1 by putting Joe Welsh away in five rounds in a Philadelphia ring. Five weeks later in Boston he met Phil Bloom and Phil took the count in eight rounds. Jimmy Murphy was the next victim of the rapidly developing right of the Harlem boxer, and then followed Sam Robideau, Shamus O'Brien, Eddie Andrews, Frankie Conifrey, Ever Hammer and Tommy Thorpe. In the intervals between these knockout victories, Leonard was busily engaged in no decision bouts in New York.

His meeting with Welsh last night was the third time he had faced the erstwhile titleholder, and the decisions were fifty-fifty up to the ninth round of the battle with the Pontypridd lad. Leonard also has met Johnny Dundee, who is a contender for the honors that rests on the Leonard brow, although Johnny Kilbane will probably be Benny's next opponent for the title. Leonard meets Joe Welsh in Philadelphia next Monday night.

Gives Credit to Manager.

Leonard said last night, after the fight, that he had no plans for the future. He declared that Billy Gibson deserved all the credit for his success. "Whatever Billy says goes," said Benny before leaving the Manhattan A. C. for his home, at 101 West 115th street, where his father and mother were awaiting his arrival. And father and mother, brothers and sisters were not the only ones to greet Benny. Neighbors came from blocks around and--for the sporting tickers had flashed the news even before Leonard's 'phone message reached the home district--several hundred persons were on hand when Leonard arrived.

Benny was carried on the shoulders of his admirers into the house, and after greeting his father and mother he had to recount the story of the fight as well as he could. Leonard is not much in the Bill Bryan line, as he would rather fight than talk, but he tried his best to give the home talent who did not have the $15 to pay to see him in the ring a good version of the victory.

"I was confident," said Benny, "when I entered the ring, and after the first two rounds I knew I had the title within my grasp. It was in the sixth round that I was certain. In this session I put a right swing to Welsh's wind and felt him crumble up under the force of the blow. "That was a good one," I remarked, half under my breath, and from that time on I played for the body.

Wasn't Rattled in Ninth.

"Welsh surprised me by his rally in the seventh and eighth rounds, but it was my opinion that his efforts were those of a man who was desperate, and I bided my time. In the ninth round I again turned loose that half-uppercut to the wind. This time Welsh wobbled visibly and I saw my chance. Some of the critics remarked that I immediately became excited and, losing my head, rained in punches at all angles, knowing I had the title in my grasp. Such was not the case. I was fighting at top speed, and that may have given the impression that I was anxious, but, believe me, I was measuring my blows to the best of my ability, and had a clear head at all times.

"If anything, I was taking even greater pains, for I knew what a perfect defense my opponent had. The blow that I tried for the jaw, and the one that sent Welsh down for the first time was perfectly timed, but by instinct Freddie ducked and it caught him on the temple. He reeled to the ropes and went down on one knee. When he pulled himself up I saw by the look in his eyes that he was practically out, and as I stood over him raining rights to his unprotected jaw I was in hopes that the referee or the seconds of the then champion would stop the bout. I do not like to punish a game man, and if there ever was a game boxer his name is Freddie Welsh.

"Yes, I was a little dazed when they told me I was the champion, for in the heat of battle I was thinking only of putting Welsh away and I did not realize what I had accomplished until I nearly lost both arms trying to shake hands with about 300 persons at the same time.

"Billy Gibson deserves a lot of credit for the victory. For the last two weeks, Billy, Jimmy Lee and myself have been going over the plan of the fight and I obeyed orders to the letter."

Gibson corroborated this later at a little celebration held for his friends.

Plans to Enlist.

Leonard will fight next Monday night in Philadelphia, where he meets Joe Welsh, one of the best lightweights in the Quaker City. A big delegation of the admirers of the new champion will make the journey, for Leonard has won his last five fights by knockout and when such a record includes the winning of a world's title, the boys can afford to spread a little. After this battle it is the intention of Leonard to enlist in the army. Matt Henkel of Cleveland was a spectator at the ringside and he immediately made Billy Gibson an offer for a match with Johnny Kilbane, at Canton, O., for July 4. Gibson will consider the terms today. Gibson said last night that he would re-establish the lightweight limit at 133 pounds, as that is the weight recognized in this country.

Welsh at His Farm.

Freddie Welsh was recovering at his farm at Summit, N. J., this morning, but he had nothing to say. Recently, in an interview with a Brooklyn Eagle representative, Freddie gave his views as to how a champion should defend his title. It was Welsh's idea that the ten-round bouts he was engaged in were only exhibitions; that he was not getting the champion's share of the purse for his efforts, and that it was only necessary for him to defend himself against the attack of his opponent, and not hurt his hands trying for knockouts when the bouts were no-decision affairs. When it is considered that Welsh paid part of $27,500 for the privilege to fighting Willie Ritchie in London, and winning the title, perhaps he was right. Ritchie was to get the money, win, lose or draw, and Welsh thought a champion was always entitled to a big purse if he was to place his title in jeopardy in a ring where a referee would give a decision. This view never made the Welshman popular in New York, and while there was nothing in the rules against the covering-up tactics he used, it was not real battling according to the fans.

Near a Riot When Benny Won.

The clean-cut win of Leonard came rather unexpectedly, and when the crowd realized that a New Yorker had won the world's championship, Bedlam broke loose. The rush to the ringside broke down the railings, chairs and press box, and the special police were powerless to check the avalanche of human beings tearing toward the ring. Hats were crushed, coats lost or torn, and even heads bumped in an endeavor to congratulate Leonard.

At that the crowd was slow to perceive what had happened. Welsh had been going along in his usual style, covering up and taking all of Leonard's punches on his gloves or arms, when Benny let go with the right to the body. Weakened from previous punches to the mid-section, Welsh virtually collapsed, and thus was a new champion made.

Pollok Rejects the Verdict.

There was a lot of friends of Welsh, including Harry Pollok, his manager, who raised a howl because Referee Kid McPartland did not count ten over Welsh. It was Pollok's and Welsh's claim that he had not been counted out, and that therefore he still retained his title. But it was all wrong, for when Welsh was released from the ropes he reeled across the ring like a drunken man, then fell through the ropes into the press box. He had to be carried to his corner, and it was fully a minute before he regained his senses. The referee might have counted two hundred and Welsh could not have responded. Leonard is the real lightweight champion, though the question may be debated for many weeks by letters from the Welsh camp. And Benny and Billy Gibson deserve the honors that it took five years of real work to win.

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