BOXING was the spectator sport of choice during the 1860s GOLD RUSH in the CARIBOO, but fans became disillusioned after Cariboo champion George Wilson was caught staging a fixed match with VICTORIA's Joe Eden. In 1884 world heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan brought boxing back to the province without throwing a punch; fight fans who filled Victoria's Philharmonic Hall were disappointed when the local coal miner scheduled to face the champion backed out. The crowd enjoyed the rest of the bill, however, and professional boxing continued to be a draw at the hall. At the turn of the century, "bare-knuckle" fighters began to be replaced by boxers wearing fist-protecting gloves. The second world heavyweight champion to come to BC, Jack Johnson, soundly defeated Victor McLaglen at the VANCOUVER Athletic Club in 1909 (McLaglen later became a Hollywood actor, winning an Oscar for his supporting role in The Informer in 1935).

Other world champs to fight in Vancouver were lightweight Freddy Welsh in 1913 and Jack Dempsey, who faced 3 challengers in one night at the Calvary Club on Granville St in 1931. Two world-renowned fighters came to BC in 1936: Barney Ross defeated local favourite Gordon Wallace (who once beat Billy TOWNSEND in an amateur match) on 11 Mar in Vancouver and Max Baer, who earlier fought his own brother in TRAIL, appeared on a bill at the Denman Arena on 19 Aug, the night before it burned down. Joe Louis fought exhibition matches in Vancouver and Victoria in 1945. Willie Pep, Joey Maxim and Archie Moore came to Vancouver in the 1950s and the most famous boxer of the modern era, Muhammad Ali, fought an exhibition in Vancouver in Jan 1972, returning in May to defeat Canadian George Chuvalo in a memorable 12-round decision. Vancouver's last world title bout of the 20th century was light-heavyweight champ Michael Spinks's 1983 knockout of Oscar Rivandeneyra.

BC's Champions

BC's only world champion is Jimmy McLARNIN, who won the world welterweight crown in 1933 and earned approximately half a million dollars over his career. Hector McDonald, a close friend of McLarnin's, won the Pacific coast lightweight championship in 1930 and also faced top locals such as Mickey Gill and Billy Townsend. Tommy Paonessa dominated the local bantamweight division in the 1920s and 1930s but turned down an offer from McLarnin's coach "Pop" Foster to join them on the US professional circuit. He remained in Vancouver to build a 60-year legacy as a coach, manager, referee and builder and was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. Victoria's Wes Byrnell built up a 136–0 amateur record in the 1930s before becoming a world-ranked light welterweight and later the trainer of the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Canadian national SOCCER team. Vancouver's Vic Foley, a Canadian featherweight champ, faced world champion Tony Canzoneri in a 1936 non-title match in Montreal. Foley, Townsend and Gordon Wallace were managed by former Alaska bootlegger Jack Allen. He and Al Princepe were Vancouver's most prominent promoters, responsible for organizing many of the city's world-class bouts.

Kenny Lindsay had title fights in the early 1940s with world bantamweight champions Lou Salica and Manuel Ortiz, losing to both in 10-round decisions. Jackie Turner, a N VANCOUVER shipyard worker, was an 8-time Golden Glove winner and a world-ranked flyweight for almost a decade. He lost two 10-round decisions to world champ Dado Marino in the 1940s before retiring to CAMPBELL RIVER. Amateur fighter Gordie Woodhouse was expected to succeed at the 1940 Olympics, but when the games were cancelled because of WWII he travelled overseas as a soldier and defeated some of the top boxers in Europe and in the service. In amateur boxing, the "Golden Boy" award for the province's top amateur boxer was inaugurated in 1939 with Phil Vickery taking the first honours. Frank Almond won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's Athlete of Year after he edged his brother Stan in a 1946 match for the Portland Golden Gloves. Eddie Haddad, the Canadian amateur lightweight champion based in ESQUIMALT, was a favourite in the 1948 London Olympics but was disqualified in the quarterfinals on a highly questionable decision. Vancouver fighter Bill Brenner, a national amateur champion who later went to the New York pro ranks, also participated in the 1948 Olympics.

International Boxing

Canada's most successful international showing in boxing came at the 1954 British Empire Games (see BRITISH EMPIRE AND COMMONWEALTH GAMES) in Vancouver. When the national team coach from eastern Canada couldn't make it to the Games, assistant coach Paonessa unofficially took charge and led the boxers to 2 golds, 1 silver and 2 bronzes, one of which was captured by BC light heavyweight William Misselbrook. Canadian champions from BC included Angelo BRANCA, Phil Palmer, Buddy Palmer, Al Chabot and Harold Mann. Mann's most outstanding achievement was winning the light middleweight gold medal at the 1962 British Empire Games in Perth, the only gold medal ever won by a BC boxer in a major international competition. He later started the successful Spruce Capital Boxing Club in his native PRINCE GEORGE, where he coached national champions including his son, Laurie, voted best boxer in Canada on 3 occasions, Jack Meda, the heavyweight bronze medallist at the 1970 Commonwealth Games, and Roger Adolf, future Lillooet chief. He also coached Marjan Kolar, an Edmonton light heavyweight who moved to Prince George and won the 1967 Pan Am bronze.

Local Clubs

The trophy for greatest contribution to BC amateur boxing, inaugurated in 1971, is named for Harold Mann, who was also a national team coach and a referee. One of the first winners of the trophy was Irving Mann, Harold's own coach and father. Perhaps BC's most important boxing builder was Bert Lowes, a national team coach who developed Vancouver's South Hill and Firefighters' boxing clubs in the 1950s and 1960s and became one of the world's top-ranked referees, overseeing matches at 3 Olympics. Lowes' top boxers included Canadian champions Winnie Schelt, Dave Wiley, Dick Findlay, Freddy Fuller, Franky Scott, Wayne and Tommy Boyce and Ignatz "Lindy" Lindmoser. The Boyce brothers won over a dozen Pacific Northwest gold gloves between them. Scott won a bronze medal at the 1966 British Empire Games and Fuller, who logged 339 amateur matches, was also expected to win a medal at the Games before sustaining a broken arm. Dave Brown ran a Vancouver club in the early 1950s that featured Canadian champions Lenny Walters, Jimmy Walters (no relation), Bobby Shires, Norm Jorgenson, Jerry Boucher, Hugh Meikle and Buddy Pearson. Brown went on to become the director of BC boxing in the Canadian Boxing Federation, a top-ranked referee and a World Boxing Council judge for 17 world title bouts. A top club during the 1960s was the North Shore Eagles, run by Elio Ius, a coach of the national team and patriarch of the family that included coaching brother Mel and 1970s Canadian champions Chris and David Ius. Chris joined fellow-Eagle and national champ Les Hamilton at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In the late 1970s, Vancouver's Astoria Club and New Westminster's Queensborough Club became dominant. Astoria, primarily run by George Angelomatis, produced Dale WALTERS, Tony PEP, Jimmy Worral, 1990 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Geronimo Bie and Manny Sobral, a Canadian welterweight champion and successful pro. With help from his wife Margaret, Pat O'Reilly ran the Hastings Community Centre Boxing Club from 1959–85, producing several successful boxers including his sons Patrick and Michael, both Canadian champions, but mainly focussing on less competitive concerns in getting kids off the streets. The early 1980s saw the emergence of BC's ultimate backwoods brawler, Gordy RACETTE. After Vancouver manager Tony Dowling taught him how to box, he became a successful pro, fighting Jimmy Young and Trevor Berbick, and was briefly bankrolled by Sylvester Stallone. Welterweight Jamie Ollenberger was a 2-time Golden Boy (1980–81) who posted a remarkable amateur career and fought for a professional ISBA title. Michael OLAJIDE had a chance at the IBF world middleweight title in 1987 and also fought top US pros Thomas Hearns and Iran Barkley. Olajide had won the Canadian middleweight crown in Vancouver in 1985, on the same bill as Tony Pep's Canadian featherweight championship win. The most popular BC boxer of the 1980s was Dale Walters, who took the bronze medal in the bantamweight division at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. His father Len, a member of the BC SPORTS HALL OF FAME had been a BC, Pacific Northwest, Canadian and US amateur champion in the 1950s. Nanaimo's Shane Sutcliffe became BC's next great hope by winning the Canadian professional heavyweight title in 1998 though he lost it a year later.
by Silas White