Monday, 2 June 2014

Exclusive Interview - PART ONE: Martin Sax talks about the career and life of his grandfather, and Britain's youngest World champion, Teddy Baldock

I recently attended the Teddy Baldock statue unveiling on Friday 16th May in Poplar, East London where I met Martin Sax for the first time, although I have spoken to him many times since meeting him online two years ago. He gladly gave up his time, despite his busy schedule, to share the story of his grandfather Teddy Baldock with me. Teddy Baldock won the World Bantamweight title on May 5th 1927 and to this day is still the youngest British world champion of the modern era. He was one of Britain's finest boxers, and at the height of his fame was one of Britain's most celebrated sportsmen. Martin Sax talked me through the life and career of his grandfather. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as i enjoyed doing it.

Part two can be read here:

No Holds Barred: Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself Martin?

Martin Sax: Well, I joined the Royal Marines at seventeen and had a career with them for twenty-five years. When I was a young kid I had an interest in boxing; I would watch fighters like Frank Bruno, Barry McGuigan, Tony Sibson and Mark Kaylor. I always watched boxing on TV but there was no way my mum would take me down to the local boxing gym because she was dead against boxing, mainly because of what had happened to her Dad I think.

No Holds Barred: Twenty-five years in the Royal Marines! That must have been a very tough job?

Martin Sax: It definitely had its moments. I suppose as a young lad you look forward to new adventures and I’ve certainly been to quite a few places and done a fair bit with my life. I enjoyed it but at the age I am now and with a young family, it’s now about paying off my mortgage and I’m looking forward to moving on and doing something different.

No Holds Barred: Are you much of a boxing fan today?

Martin Sax: Boxing is my passion. The only reason I subscribe to Sky Sports is for Ringside and the Saturday night fights. I used to make up scrap books from the fights each week using newspaper cuttings etc. I love the historical side of boxing. As I did research for the book I helped write about my granddad, I’ve got to know a lot of people in boxing. A good friend of mine was Bob Longhurst, the British Boxing Board of Control official. He used to ask me if I fancied going to weigh-Ins for fights or press conferences. I also joined LEBA [London’s Ex-Boxer’s Association] as well. That was a great time of my life.

No Holds Barred: I heard that you’ve appeared on Prizefighter shows. How did that come about? 

Martin in uniform

Martin Sax: A few years ago a good friend of mine [ring announcer] John McDonald asked if I’d mind presenting the Prizefighter trophy in my Royal Marines dress blues uniform. It meant a ringside seat, so of course I accepted. I was based in London at the time so it was perfect to go to York Hall or Olympia etc. Most of the Prizefighter tournaments have a Marine present the trophy to the winner. I think I must’ve done about nine or ten of them.

No Holds Barred:
Did you ever take up boxing?

Martin Sax: Yeah, I started boxing at about twenty-one years old when I was in the Marines.
I began at Exmouth ABC and then moved to my local club Watchet ABC. I had a couple of fights as an amateur but I found making the weight and the discipline a bit difficult. I remember the first fight I had was at Butlins holiday camp in front of all of my mates and I knocked the guy out in the first minute of the first round. Barry McGuigan presented me with the winner's trophy and people came up to congratulate me. I felt like Champion of the World for weeks afterwards, at least until I lost my next fight! After fighting in the ring, I got my assistant ABA coaches award and became a coach at Minehead ABC.

No Holds Barred:
Did any other family members take up boxing?

Martin Sax: Teddy's father Ted was a professional who used to fight at the Wonderland Arena in the East End of London and his grandfather Jack was a bare-knuckle fighter. Obviously my Mum wasn't going to get involved in the sport because she had witnessed firsthand what had happened to her father and she felt that boxing was to blame.

Teddy as a young professional
No Holds Barred: Do you know much about Teddy's grandfather Jack's career?

Martin Sax: I really have very little information on Teddy's grandfather unfortunately, only snippets of information from when he was mentioned in the press alongside my grandfather.

No Holds Barred: How did you come to know about your grandfather's boxing past?

Martin Sax: My first memory of finding out about his career was when I was about twelve years old. My grandmother had just died so my mum had cleared out her flat and had come across a couple of old scrap books that my grandmother had made and kept. My mum gave me the books. They charted my granddad’s first trip to America and included photographs, newspaper cuttings etc. I was fascinated by it all. I was already interested in the sport and found out the grandfather who I’d never met had been a World champion, so naturally I wanted to find out more. So that was when I first found out about my granddad.

No Holds Barred: Did you know much about him growing up?

Martin Sax: My Mum never mentioned her dad’s boxing past, mainly because he had walked out of her life when she was just a young girl. As a father he had only ever been a failure, but to me he was a boxing hero.

No Holds Barred: When did you start finding out more about him?

Martin Sax: After I joined the Marines at seventeen, I think I had a certain amount of confidence so I wrote off to a lot of the newspapers asking if they had any information on my granddad in their archives. Some of them would send back some little snippets of information. My first big break was when I spoke to the late Harry Mullen, then editor of Boxing News, over the phone and explained to him who I was and asked whether he had any information of my granddad. He said he’d have a look and it turns out he had a portfolio of about seventy or so black and white photographs of my grandfather. He said to me if I wanted to go to London and have a look I was welcome to, so I got on the next train I could and went there.

No Holds Barred: Did he give you the photographs or make copies of them

One of Teddy's many
appearances in Boxing
for you?

Martin Sax: At that time nobody had laptops or printers really. There was a Ryman’s stationery 
shop just down the road and he allowed me to take ten photographs at a time to get them copied. I’d laser copy them then go back to his office. I think I managed to do them all in about two visits; to have those photos was just fantastic. After that, I started going to the Colindale Newspaper Library and read through every copy of Boxing, the forerunner to Boxing News, from 1921 to 1931. I photocopied every article I could find featuring my granddad then I put together a scrap book of all the photo stats in chronological order. Then I’d go through the national newspapers like the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch, which was a big boxing newspaper. I’d look through the news from about a week or two before one of his fights so I could read the build up to his fight and his training, then I’d read about his actual fight and the news in the days following his fight because it would have the after-fight reports. I’d put all of this in my scrap book in chronological order. I spent a long time in the library; I’d get there as soon as it opened, I’d miss having lunch, and the time would just fly by. 

No Holds Barred: There must have been hundreds of articles on your grandfather during that period considering how famous he was at the time?

The Mumtaz Mahal of the Ring
Martin Sax: Well, when you read through Boxing, from 1921 you see small snippets talking of a young, undefeated Teddy Baldock, then you see a sort of rise to fame. For example, in about 1925/26 he’d be in Boxing nearly every week, then you start seeing the slide where he wasn’t quite getting the results he was used to. He wasn’t the same fighter who had won the World title in 1927. Here’s another example of how famous he was: You can do a search for "Teddy Baldock"of a PDF document in the Express newspaper and you find all sorts of news about him. For example, there was a report about my grandmother and how she had gone to watch him fight at Premierland without him knowing because he didn’t agree with women watching boxing, and I think his parents had a bad car crash, and that made the Daily Express news because of who their son was. It’s quite amazing to see just how popular he was back in those days. 

No Holds Barred: He was born Alfred Stephen Baldock. Where did the name Teddy come from?

Martin Sax: His Father was called Edward and had boxed as Ted Baldock. He boxed at fairs and 
also fought a number of contests at the old Wonderland Arena, a legendary boxing venue that stood on the south side of Whitechapel Road in East London. I think matchmakers gave my granddad the name Teddy because his backers were people his father knew, so they probably gave him that name because it was the same name his father had fought under. In one of his early appearances at Premierland, he was billed as "The Mumtaz Mahal of the Ring" after the Aga Khan’s record breaking racehorse!

No Holds Barred:
Is it true that before becoming a boxer your grandfather was an apprentice jockey but was fired after he had a scrap with a stable boy?

Martin Sax: Yeah, I think it was at a stable in Epson. He was sent down there as an apprentice jockey but within a few days of being there one of the head stable boys had called him out, so to speak, and my grandfather ended up flattening him and so he was fired. I think at that point his father told him he’d blown it as an apprentice jockey so if he wanted to become a boxer they’d have to go get some professional training and I think that’s how he found the professional ranks.

No Holds Barred: He turned professional at just thirteen. Why did he make his debut so young? 

Martin Sax:
My granddad had eight siblings so the money he earned in the ring obviously went a long way to helping put food on the table in the Baldock household. Although he came from Poplar, which was a pretty rundown area of East London, the Baldock family wasn’t poor by East End of London standards but every penny counted nonetheless. It wasn’t a case that had my grandfather not fought they wouldn’t have eaten though. I think the reason he turned professional so young was because as a young kid he was brought up on the stories about his grandfather who had been a bare-knuckle fighter in his day and his dad who had also been a boxer. Also, at school my granddad had excelled at most sports like athletics and football and because of his father’s own interest in boxing he was steered towards that.

No Holds Barred: Did he have any amateur bouts before turning professional?

Martin Sax: I have never seen his amateur record, but I did read that he had won an East End Boys Championship at five Stone, so he must've been active as an amateur.

No Holds Barred: Do you think he may have benefited from a longer amateur career and perhaps turned pro at a later age?

Martin Sax: No doubt what amateur experience he had prepared him for the professional ranks. His father taught him how to box from an early age while growing up in the Baldock household and there were always plenty of opportunities to practice these boxing skills on the streets of Poplar. On one occasion, Teddy’s older brother came home having taken a beating from a kid from a nearby street. A few days later my granddad bumped into the kid and set the record straight. The boy’s mother turned up at the Baldock’s front door demanding an apology, but when Teddy stepped forward and she saw just how small he was, she gave her own son a clip around the ear for being bettered by a boy half his size. Maybe an extended time as an amateur may have given him a longer career as a professional. Those early years as a teenager fighting fifteen rounds against grown men must have taken their toll.

No Holds Barred: How would you describe his boxing style?

Martin Sax: Teddy was an old-school fighter competing in as many as a dozen fights a year.

No Holds Barred: After he lost for the first time in 1926 to George Kid Nicholson, he traveled to the USA to fight a dozen times in New York in just four months. Had the trip to the USA been on the cards all along or did his defeat make him take that decision?

Baldock, Mancini and Hood
before trip to USA in 1926

Martin Sax: He had already made the decision to travel to America a few months before meeting Kid Nicholson. Ernie Jarvis, the Millwall flyweight, had first given him the idea when, after their contest at Premierland, he said that he was going to try his luck in America. He said Teddy should join him. The fight with Nicholson was a chance to earn some extra money for the trip.

No Holds Barred: Why did he decide fighting in the USA was the right decision for him?

Martin Sax: He decided that fighting in American rings would help him to gain new skills and would therefore improve his ring-craft. If he was going to become World champion one day it would be an advantage to experience how the Americans fought. He heard that fight manager Ted Broadribb was taking Jack Hood and Alf Mancini to New York, so he approached Broadribb and made arrangements to travel with them. Both his Father and manager Joe Morris were against the idea, but he eventually convinced them to let him go despite him only being nineteen at the time.

No Holds Barred: He fought in some very prestigious arenas in New York, including Madison Square Garden, Broadway Arena in Brooklyn and the Pioneer Sporting Club. What sort of reception did he get from the boxing-mad New York fans?

Martin Sax: In his first fight at the Steeplechase Athletic Arena, Rockaway Beach, New York he only had three supporters: Ted Broadribb, Alf Mancini and Jack Hood. But as he left the ring he was given a standing ovation; his style of fighting had been an instant hit with New York fight fans. A local newspaper report read: "Wizardly boxing skills combined with blinding speed and aggressiveness marked the debut of Teddy Baldock. It will take nothing less than a champion to beat him".

No Holds Barred: He appeared on cards featuring such legends as Tony Canzoneri, Billy Petrolle, Maxie Rosenbloom, Phil Kaplan, Joe Lynch and even future World heavyweight champion Jim Braddock. Do you know if Teddy left a lasting impression on them due to his talents?

Martin Sax: Jess McMahon, the matchmaker for Madison Square Garden, had been at ringside for Teddy’s debut at the Steeplechase Arena. He had been so impressed that he immediately signed him up to appear at New York's famous fight arena on the undercard of Tod Morgan’s Junior Lightweight title defence against Joe Glick. Teddy was likened to a young Jim Driscoll, combining hitting ability with bewildering speed and baffling cleverness. Ring magazine described him as "the most sensational fighter sent to this country in many years". This praise was backed up when, at the start of 1927 Tex Rickard, the promoter at Madison Square Garden, rated Teddy Baldock twelfth in the bantamweight rankings which, considering he wasn’t European or British champion, was a great accolade. In less than four months he had taken part in twelve contests winning eleven and drawing one.

No Holds Barred: Fellow Londoner Alf Mancini also featured on many of the same cards as Teddy. Were they close friends?

Baldock and Mancini on
board Berengaria
Martin Sax: Alf Mancini, Jack Hood, Teddy Baldock and Ted Broadribb all travelled to America on Cunard’s RMS Berengaria. My Granddad shared a cabin with Alf Mancini. They also trained together and often boxed exhibitions for the Ship’s passengers. Alf Mancini was held up on Ellis Island due to a technicality with his visa so Teddy stayed with him until the problem was sorted out. They then both stayed with a German family in Woodhaven on Long Island just outside New York. When they were not in training they would often go to one of the many cinemas to watch a film and relax. During their stay they met up with Ernie Jarvis who suggested they put their money together to buy a car and drive to Philadelphia to visit the training camp where Jack Dempsey was preparing for his forthcoming fight with Gene Tunney. They ended up staying there for four days and saw the World Championship fight in which Dempsey lost the heavyweight title to Tunney.

No Holds Barred: Was it a common occurrence at the time for fellow Britons to travel to the USA together to fight?

Martin Sax: British fighters from that period would often travel to America to learn new skills and styles of fighting. If they performed well they could build a reputation resulting in a possible shot at a World title. It would make sense to travel together as they would be able to continue training and sparring during the passage. There were already a number of British fighters campaigning in American rings when my granddad arrived; among them was his former opponent and friend Ernie Jarvis, as well as Pop Humphries and Johnny Sullivan. When Teddy sailed to the States for a second time in 1929 to fight the famous Panama Al Brown, his travelling companions were Archie Sexton and Jack Harris. As luck would have it Packey O'Gatty, an experienced American bantamweight, was employed as the SS Leviathan’s fitness instructor and took on the role as my grandfather’s trainer. He was so impressed with his ring-craft that he took time to write to his friend and boxing celebrity: none other than the legendary Jack Dempsey. The first my granddad knew of this was when a letter addressed to him arrived at his Orangeburg training quarters. The letter started "Packey O’Gatty has written to me saying what a clever kid you are, and if Packey says that you must be the real goods". Dempsey went on to explain that he was busy film-making in Los Angeles, but intended to travel the 3000 miles to New York to watch the contest with Al Brown and, if possible beforehand, visit Orangeburg to watch Teddy train.
Teddy Baldock & Packy O'Gatty
sparring on Leviathan in 1929
No Holds Barred: The fight with Panama Al Brown was eventually cancelled, but did Teddy get to meet Jack Dempsey nonetheless?

Martin Sax: 
Martin Sax: I really couldn't say whether my grandfather met the great Jack Dempsey, it would really only be speculation. However, the extract below from his life story makes it seem that it was a strong possibility, perhaps not in 1929 while he was training to meet Al Brown in New York, but perhaps during his first visit to America in 1926: 

"With a roll of dollars in our pockets we decided to buy a car. I believe it was a bright idea of Jarvis’. It cost us ninety-five dollars, and we had our money’s worth out of it. As the brakes weren’t too reliable, it was safer to run it alongside the kerb to bring it to a halt. As we hadn’t got another fight for a few days we thought we’d run over to Philadelphia to see Jack Dempsey training for the coming defence of his title against Gene Tunney. Mancini drove, and I remember that Jarvis’ brother Joe came along to. Gus Wilson, who in days gone by had been trainer to Georges Carpentier, was in charge of Dempsey’s camp, and he made us very welcome. With him was Johnny Sullivan, the Covent Garden middle, and of course he was delighted to see us. We stayed there four days and saw the World’s championship fight in which the old Manassa Mauler lost his title in a downpour of rain. Although he lost and was obviously ring rusty, I thought Jack Dempsey, the greatest fighter I’d ever seen and I still hold that view, had he been given a warming-up fight and the ring hadn’t been so slippery, I’m sure he would have retained his title. How we got back to New York, I don’t know. We gathered a puncture on the way, and it is a wonder that we didn’t finish up in a heap. We kept the car for a while, until it wasn’t safe to drive for another mile, then we parked it by the side of the road one night, got out and tip-toed away. It was gone the next morning and we never saw or heard about it again."

This concludes PART ONE of my interview with Martin Sax. Be sure to come back to read PART TWO tomorrow as Martin details the life and career of his grandfather from his days as World champion, to his retirement and finally to last month's statue unveiling.


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  3. What a great story and a great fighter .Teddy Baldock the great , love it, My great grandfather was a well know London boxer Harry Duncan. and I too have done some research . have a dedidcated web site to him. please take a look ,hope you find it of interest.www,