Sunday, 6 May 2012

Ring News 24 talks to Alex Daley about his book "Nipper: The amazing story of boxing's wonderboy"

Ringnews24.com: How did you come to know about your grandfather's boxing past? 

Alex Daley: I had always known he was a boxer but as a kid growing up it didn’t really interest me as preferred football. I knew he had been a famous boxer many years ago but that was about it. Perhaps had he been a famous footballer I’d have taken more of an interest. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens or early 20s that I really started to read up on his career and discovered just how exceptional he was and my interest grew from there.

Ringnews24.com: Did your family ever speak to you about him and his career?

Alex Daley: No, not really. Nobody suggested I should write a book about him or anything. I just kind of took it upon myself one day to learn more about him. I didn’t grow up hearing tales about him or anything like that. I discovered more about him on my own.

Ringnews24.com: Can you tell us a bit about his career? Why did he become a professional so early?

Alex Daley: Back in those days the sport was very poorly regulated. The British Boxing Board of Control as we know it today was created in 1929 and even then it was very slow to take effect and get a grip on the sport so pretty much anything went. There were very few rules governing the sport and there was nothing to stop kids in their early teens or even younger from entering into professional contests. Around the age of 8 or 9 Nipper went to a boxing gym in Marylebone where he lived which was run by one of the most famous trainers and managers in the country, a man called professor Andrew Newton. He started taking boxing lessons and it quickly became apparent that he had an exceptional gift for boxing. His first contest was a paid fight. He would have been fighting early on in 4 or 6 round fights for only a few shillings and he’d fight for “nobbings” which were coins thrown into the ring by spectators if they appreciated the boxing on display. The kids would divide the money up and that’s how he got paid.

Ringnews24.com: Spectators threw coins into the ring? That’s incredible. Did anyone ever get hit by any coins?

Alex Daley: I haven’t read about anyone being hit by coins but you would imagine it would be pretty hazardous. This happened pretty early on in his career when his purses would have been very small and he’d fight for nobbings on top of that. Later on he earned bigger purses.

Ringnews24.com: Did he want to become a boxer or was he perhaps forced into it?

Alex Daley: No, he wasn’t forced into it. I think he had to nag his dad to take him along. He wanted to learn to box and loved the sport. I don’t think he was that concerned about the money at the time. I think he just loved beating other guys in the ring and the money was a nice by-product of that.

Ringnews24.com: Was that quite a common occurrence at the time? 

Alex Daley: Yeah, it was quite common. Look at some other names around at the time like Len Harvey who I think turned pro at around 11 or 12, Jack “Kid” Berg was 14 or 15 I think and Teddy Baldock was about 12 or 13 too. My grandfather was slightly younger than those guys when he started out so it was pretty unusual but not an exception.

Ringnews24.com: Presumably he didn't have much of an amateur career considering he became pro so young? 


Alex Daley: No, he didn’t have any amateur fights at all. Obviously he sparred a lot in the gym and did a lot of training but his first bout was a professional one.

Ringnews24.com: Why didn’t he have an amateur career, even just a short one?

Alex Daley: I think it would have been good for him to have been an amateur and would have probably benefitted him to have been an amateur until he was 16 or 18. I think he said himself if he could have done it all over again, he wouldn’t have become a professional until he was 18. But, it wasn’t such a big deal back in those days for people. Kids could have pro fights very early on and nobody would really object and I guess his manager thought it was a good idea to get him earning money from the off.

Ringnews24.com: How would you describe his boxing style? 


Alex Daley: He was a brilliant boxer with a piston-like straight left as they called it then. We’d call it a left jab today. He had phenomenally fast hand speed and footwork. He was great at long range boxing which was his forte but press reports I’ve read say he was an expert in-fighter too, so he could do it all. The thing is a lot of guys who get described as being brilliant boxers can be a bit boring to watch. They can be a bit negative or always fight on the back foot. Nipper was very exciting to watch. He was an aggressive, attacking fighter as well. He knew every trick, feint and move in boxing and despite his young age he had a really cool head and brilliant boxing brain. He would often get compared to a veteran. He had this baby face as he was just a kid, but he had this ring sense of somebody a lot older than him. The only thing that was missing from his arsenal was a knockout punch because he would win most of his fights on points but I think that had a lot to do with his age and the fact he was fighting guys a lot older and naturally stronger than him. I think in time he would have developed a knockout punch.

Ringnews24.com: Nipper often fought as many as 20 bouts or more a year. Why did he fight so regularly? 


Alex Daley: That was more or less normal at that time. Boxing was far more popular in Britain back then. If you consider how popular football is today, boxing had a similar popularity back in the 1920s. There was a great demand for it. Also, there wasn’t satellite TV etc back then so people went to live sporting events more often. I mean there were boxing shows put on in towns all over the country regularly. So they needed boxers a lot more and as a result some fighters would often fight almost every week sometimes. It was a bit unusual for somebody as young as Nipper to fight at that age though. Typically a 15/16 year old, as he was in 1929 when he had 33 fights, wouldn’t be having that many fights in a year and certainly not 15 round fights so that was unusual. But, for older guys it wouldn’t have been unusual.

Ringnews24.com: Do you have any theories as to why boxing popularity has dwindled in recent decades?

Alex Daley: I think probably because of a number of different things. The popularity of cinema initially. “Talking pictures” as they were called back then had started up and they were very popular. Also, the rise of other sports had an impact. Sports like football started to become more popular. Also, sports which aren’t around so much today like speedway were extremely popular at one time. All-In wrestling was very popular in Britain too and athletics was also very big for a time. So these things took fans away from boxing. Also, living standards for working class people were improving so young guys didn’t have to go out and box to earn money as there were other options open to them. So I think all of these things combined led to the decline of boxing’s popularity. Another thing was that in the early 1950s there was an entertainment tax introduced by the government. I can’t remember how much it was but it was extremely high. A lot of the boxing was operated on small profit margins so a lot of promoters couldn’t afford to make a profit anymore and went out of business so that also killed boxing off a little too.

Ringnews24.com: At just 14 years old he served as a sparring partner to the legendary middleweight Mickey Walker who was preparing for a title defence against Scotland's Tommy Milligan. How did that come about?


Alex Daley: Walker’s training camp was near Hampton Court, so Nipper went along to spar with him but his manager Jack Kearns, who was a big name in the boxing World at the time, said he wasn’t going to allow a 14 year old to spar the World middleweight champion. Nipper’s manager had to negotiate with him a bit to get him to change his mind. Walker came over to see what the issue was and said that he would spar with the kid last to speed him up but he’d better be fast. So my grandfather sat there and watched Walker spar with his usual sparring partners. I suppose most kids would have been in awe of such a great boxer but Nipper was actually looking for flaws in Walker’s game and he spotted something. Apparently Walker had a signature move where he would sway backwards; make his opponents miss and then land a counter right hand. My grandfather noticed he would leave himself exposed when doing this. When Nipper got in with him, he feinted with his left hand, Walker drew back defenceless and Nipper followed through with a perfect right cross and smacked Walker on the chin. I don’t think it hurt Walker because of the size and age difference but Walker stopped sparring and patted him on the back.

Ringnews24.com: How famous was Mickey Walker back then?

Alex Daley: Walker was an icon back in the 1920s especially when you consider how popular boxing was back then and considering there were only 8 weight classes and one World champion at each weight. Walker was a hero all around the World, so his arrival in Britain was a huge event and him defending his title here was probably the biggest sporting event in Britain of the 1920s. So it was a great honour for a 14 year old to spar with him.

Ringnews24.com: Do you know if Walker was amazed at how good Nipper was for his age? 

Alex Daley: Yeah, apparently Walker and Kearns were very impressed with him. I’ve got a cutting from “Boxing”, the forerunner to “Boxing News”, saying that Kearns turned up to his gym in Marylebone to watch him train and sang his praises to the press and actually wanted to take Nipper back to the USA but my grandfather’s manager wouldn’t allow it.

Ringnews24.com: By the time he was a teenager he had already beaten many of Europe's finest boxers, many of whom would go on to win domestic and European honours. Why didn't Nipper receive a title shot of his own? 


Alex Daley: Well, he was growing all the time so was moving from one weight class to another. He came very close to a British flyweight title fight with a guy called Johnny Hill. He’d already beaten the number one contender at the time, Bert Kirby. They were in negotiation apparently but I’m not sure Hill actually wanted to fight him. Before the fight could even be signed Nipper was already a bantamweight. By the time he reached 16, he was considered the number one contender for the British bantamweight title which was held by a great fighter called Teddy Baldock. My grandfather had already beaten the previous title holder Alf Kid Pattenden and pretty much every bantamweight of note in the country. So really he should have had a shot at Baldock but the board of control at that time introduced a new rule restricting the age of British title challengers so that dashed his hope of challenging for a title. He was allowed to fight 15 round fights but suddenly wasn’t eligible to challenge for titles. I’m not sure about the situation in Europe and whether he could have challenged for a European title though. He did challenge the European champion at the time but he didn’t seem to want to fight my grandfather.

Ringnews24.com: Do you think it was easy for fighters to avoid a fight with Nipper because of his age?

Alex Daley: No, not by that time because he was so well respected I don’t think that would have washed. He was beating national champions at the time. He beat the reigning champions of Italy, Germany and Belgium so I don’t think the excuse that he was too young would have been believed.

Ringnews24.com: It was a terrible double standard by the BBBoC to not allow Nipper to fight for a title but would allow him to fight the top names in the sport.

Alex Daley: Yeah, it was. There was a need for some new rules so at face value it was a sensible rule. But not when you’re allowing him to beat all the top names at the time but not allowing him the honour of fighting for a title.

Ringnews24.com: Why did they introduce the new rule regarding the age of title challengers?

Alex Daley: I’m not exactly sure why. I can only imagine the sport was wildly out of control so they were introducing rules to properly assert their authority but perhaps some of the rules just weren’t properly thought out. I know boxing publication “Boxing” were up in arms about it saying how Nipper was the best boxer around and beating all of these great fighters but suddenly he can’t fight for a title.

Ringnews24.com: At 16, he received a World title offer. Why didn't a World title fight materialise? 


Alex Daley: A fight against Battling Battalino, an American who had just won the World featherweight title, was talked about. By then Nipper was ranked in the World’s top 10 by the Ring magazine and his fame was spreading across the Atlantic. An offer arrived but his manager told him he wasn’t going to allow him to go to the USA to fight for it. I don’t think he ever gave him a good reason why but I know my grandfather believed that his manager was concerned about losing him to an American manager.  He didn’t have Nipper under a proper contract so I think he did fear losing him to a manager in the USA.

Ringnews24.com: Was there no way for Nipper to get out of his contract with the 'Professor'? 


Alex Daley: Well, they actually went to court over it in the end. When Nipper finally left his manager he took him to court but the judge found the contract wasn’t legally binding and I imagine his manager knew that. It was basically a hand written contract that Nipper had signed at a very young age.

Ringnews24.com: So Nipper could have probably left his manager all along?

Alex Daley: Yeah, as it turned out I think he could have probably done as he pleased because I don’t think the contract was legally enforceable but he didn’t know that at the time as he was just a kid and I imagine he had a great deal of trust in his mentor and wouldn’t have gone against him.

Ringnews24.com: Why did Nipper retire so young? Was he simply too worn out for the sport having fought so many bouts in such a short time?

Alex Daley: I think all of the work he had done in the ring and the strain of making weight certainly took its toll. He had a very strict diet to try to make weight which was at a time when his body was naturally trying to grow. Also, in one particular fight he had concussion but was put into the ring so that wasn’t good for him. I think he just couldn’t keep producing the ring performances he was famous for and perhaps he knew he wasn’t going to win a World title at that point so that probably helped him decide too. When you look at his last few contests, they’re all wins but not the level of opponents he had fought in his prime and when you read the ring reports they say he was a shadow of his former self. I guess he was burnt out by the age of 17.

Ringnews24.com: Did he ever plan to return to the ring? Why didn’t he?

Alex Daley: Yeah, that was always his plan. He never said he was retiring and that was that. I’ve found various references to him getting ready to get back in the ring. I think he would have been at middleweight and probably ended up at light heavyweight. But it never happened. I think he must have realised the old magic was no longer there.

Ringnews24.com: What did Nipper do after he retired? 


Alex Daley: By the time he finished boxing in the early 1930s, the great depression had just hit and millions were unemployed. So I think he just found work doing whatever he could like labouring. By the late 30s All-In-Wrestling was very popular and he did that for about 2 years I think. Later he ran an Irish dance hall and some other odd jobs. But one thing he always did was train boxers. It was always his dream to find somebody who could become World champion that he should have been himself. He never quite found that person but for most of his life he trained boxers.

Ringnews24.com: Did you ever get to talk to him about his amazing career? 


Alex Daley: No, unfortunately I was only 7 years old when he died. I vaguely remember him but I never spoke to him about boxing because I wasn’t interested in boxing at the time.

Ringnews24.com: Have family members and friends spoken to you about him?

Alex Daley: Yeah, when I was researching the book I spoke to family members about him and tracked down a few people who knew him and managed to learn more about him.

Ringnews24.com: Why do you think he isn't as famous in boxing circles as other contemporaries of the time? 

Alex Daley: Well, he never won a World title. When you remember other fighters of the time, most of them did go on to win World titles. Also, aside from the real hardcore followers of the sport, how many modern fans have heard of great boxers of the 1920s like Ted “Kid” Lewis or Jack “Kid” Berg? I suspect some people have heard his name but not so much about his career. Also, unlike somebody like an author whose work we can enjoy forever, a boxer’s performances from that long ago are all lost when his career is over. Occasionally you might find some grainy footage but it never really does them justice.

Ringnews24.com: What inspired you to write a book about him? 

Alex Daley: The more I researched about his career and the more I read up about him, the more fascinated I became and thought this is such a terrific story it needs to be told. In the end I thought I had to get it down in a book.

Ringnews24.com: Did you have any previous experience as an author? 


Alex Daley: This was my first book. The last few jobs I’ve done have involved writing so I had a little bit of experience but I had never attempted anything like writing a book before.

Ringnews24.com: How long did it take to write your book? 


Alex Daley: I suppose the research took longer than the actual writing. It’s hard to say really. Initially, I was doing it at weekends and took some time out of work. I suppose I could say it took a year to actually write it and then there was a lot of rewriting involved. I started it, finished it and then I went back and read some of the early chapters and thought they were awful so I rewrote most of those until I was satisfied with it.

Ringnews24.com: It must have taken a lot of time to do the research. Can you tell us about how you went about doing much of the research?

Alex Daley: I searched around online for information and resources but the bulk of my research was done at the British Newspaper Library. I was introduced to a guy called Miles Templeton who is a British boxing historian. By the time I contacted him I had already done a lot of research and had tracked down a lot of the records of Nipper’s opponents, but I was missing quite a few. To really write about him I needed to know what his own opponents had done in their careers too and Boxrec doesn’t have all of their records. When I spoke to Miles he said he could pretty much give me the lot [all of Nipper’s opponents’ records] so he was a great help.

Ringnews24.com: With the success of your first book, do you plan to write more boxing books?


Alex Daley: Yeah, I’d definitely like to. It’s just very time consuming. It’s difficult to find the time for it. I think I will write another book, possibly on the history of boxing or some element of it but I’m not sure when that would be. I’ve got a few ideas in mind.

Ringnews24.com: How can we check out your work?

Alex Daley: You can read my book “Nipper: The Amazing Story of Boxing’s Wonderboy” which details my grandfather’s career but also covers the sport in between the two World wars which is a fascinating period. I’ve tried to bring it to life as much as possible. If you’re interested in getting my book you can do so by going to www.nipperpatdaly.co.uk. Also, if you have a general interest in boxing history you can check out the website Miles Templeton and I are working on which is www.boxinghistory.org.uk. Eventually we are going to have every British champion’s record on there. You can find a lot of the post-war records online but many of the earlier records are impossible to come by.

Ringnews24.com: Thanks for talking to us Alex. It’s been a pleasure.

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