Occupation, Prizefighter: The Freddie Welsh Story
Thursday, November 30, 2006
’Occupation: Prizefighter’ is the first biography of boxer Freddie Welsh, pound for pound one of the best fighters in history, who died young and broke in a squalid hotel room in Hell’s Kitchen.
Born Frederick Davies, in Pontypridd, he left his comfortable family life for the great outdoors of Canada to help improve his health. There he became a boxer, changing his name to Welsh as both a signifier of his nationality and to avoid bringing shame on his family.
Welsh became World Champion a fortnight before the outbreak of the Great War. The sport’s rules about title defence (and fee-earning) meant that he sometimes fought once a week as all-comers tried to wrest the title from him. His was an outstanding record and, with his sharp business sense and regular earning, Welsh was one of the first boxers to turn drama in the ring into cash outside it. He made his home in New York where he became a celebrity, mixing with actors, playwrights and gangsters. The paradoxes in his life were enormous: he appears in The Great Gatsby and in the writing of Ring Lardner; he took on the aristocrat-led boxing establishment in Britain; at the same he endured and succeeded in the brutal world that was boxing at that time. It was a way of life that was difficult even for wealthy men to sustain, and as Freddie’s ring career faded away, so did his money through bad investments and bad company.
Tough fights, big money, seedy associates: Welsh’s story is the prototype of that of twentieth century boxing, and its cost in human terms.