THE BRONX, New York City, July 2, 1935. The spectacular Yankee Stadium, home to the New York Yankees, was playing host to 48,000 fight fans there to witness a special amateur show refereed by ex-world heavyweight king Gene Tunney.
New York’s Golden Gloves champions were about to test their mettle against a British ABA team. Paul Gallico, the famous sportswriter who founded the Golden Gloves and helped organise this event, said the Brits were taken aback by the fanfare afforded to this amateur tournament. He wrote, rather patronisingly: “All our business with spotlight and music, cues and flags and what we call presentation makes them a little tired. They don’t do things like that in Merry England, and they don’t understand quite why we do.”
Gallico and the other ringside reporters expected an emphatic victory for the crack American team. They were in for a surprise. As the contests unfolded, the wins for the ABA team quickly stacked up. Britain’s top amateurs were trouncing their US counterparts – including (with hindsight, most remarkable of all) a resounding triumph by Cardiff’s Albert Barnes over future world featherweight champ Petey Scalzo.
But the New Yorkers believed they had an ace up their sleeve – the heavyweights. This was the age of the “horizontal British heavyweight” when Britain’s big men had proved repeatedly to be little match for their more robust US rivals.
The ABA team, however, had two superb heavies in Tony Stuart (London Fire Brigade) and Pat Floyd (Battersea and The Times). Between them they set up a virtual monopoly of Britain’s heavyweight honours, winning four ABA titles each and facing each other in six finals. Altogether they fought 16 times, winning eight apiece.
In the ABA vs Golden Glovers showdown, Stuart tackled Larry Green, 1935 runner-up in the New York Golden Gloves final, and stopped him in three. While Floyd, that year’s ABA champion, faced Jim Howell of Harlem, who’d beaten Green to win the New York Golden Gloves crown.
Pat, a skilful 6ft 6in technician who could hit with both hands, boxed well to earn Gene Tunney’s verdict. This, and Stuart’s win, were the icing on the cake in the ABA team’s eight-wins-to-three thumping of the Golden Glovers. Afterwards Tunney, along with fellow heavyweight legend Jack Dempsey, praised Pat’s performance and urged him to turn pro. But the Englishman – a committed amateur – wasn’t interested.
“I used to train at Joe Bloom’s gym,” Floyd later told Boxing News, “sparring with any pro who came in: Tommy Farr, Len Harvey, Gipsy Daniels, Danny and Packy Paul, Al Delaney, Robey Leibbrandt and the ill-fated Del Fontaine. Joe Bloom nicknamed me ‘the Mad Amateur’ because I boxed for free and paid my own expenses.”
Nevertheless, Pat would go down as one of Britain’s finest-ever amateur heavyweights, setting the seal on his fame when he came out of retirement at 35 to win the 1946 ABA title after a long layoff. Like Pat, Tony Stuart never turned pro. Floyd said of his great rival: “Tony was probably the best heavyweight I ever met. But for him I might have set a record for ABA titles.”
Later, Pat made his mark as an A-class referee, retiring on medical grounds before he could get a Star licence. He made an indelible mark on boxing, but admitted he regretted not turning pro.
Had Floyd and Stuart tried their hand in the paid ranks, British heavyweight kingpin Tommy Farr may well have had two serious domestic rivals.