The British Champ Was A Handful
For Joe Louis But Never Got A Rematch. Why?
In a recent conversation I had the subject of Joe Louis’s bout against Tommy Farr came up. Farr was Joe’s first opponent after he had won the title by knocking out Jimmy Braddock, and it was expected he would do the same to the Welsh boxer. Tommy surprised everyone by extending Louis for the full fifteen rounds and looking pretty good while doing it.
It was Farr’s first fight in the United States. He had earned the title shot by scoring wins over Ben Foord, former champ Max Baer, and Walter Neusel. All of these bouts took place in London. Farr, who was from Tonypandy, Wales was an unknown quantity when he stepped into the ring with Louis on August 30, 1937. While his record was impressive he had not been seen by the American fans. Farr also got off to a bit of a rough start with the American press not being quite up to speed with the wisecracking New York reporters. In the end, and after a four day rain delay, promoter Mike Jacobs was still able to get almost 39,000 fans to show up at Yankee Stadium for the bout.
It turned out there was much more to Tommy Farr than expected. The Welshman turned in an excellent performance keeping Joe off balance with an educated left hand and and good combinations. He even rocked the champion a couple of times. He did something that was rarely seen against Joe Louis; he was able to be competitive with the left jab. Evidence of this can be seen in photos of Louis taken after the bout where his right eye is quite swollen. Of course, the Brown Bomber did pretty well with his own jab busting up both of Farr’s eyes, and in the end Joe won a unanimous decision,
There are fight fans who insist Tommy was robbed that night, but in watching clips of the fight and reading accounts of it I have no doubt Joe Louis deserved the decision. Even Farr never complained about it. But Tommy certainly showed himself to not only be a very tough and courageous fighter, he also proved to be quite the skilled boxer who was the ultimate professional. He remained cool and composed throughout the fight. While Louis won by a fairly comfortable margin, many of the rounds were close.
So, the question that is often asked is why didn’t Farr get another shot at the title? I’ve heard it said that Joe’s management wanted nothing to do with Farr after having seen Joe extended by him. I don’t buy that. I am confident Louis would have gladly given him a rematch.
Now this is where things get a bit interesting. After the Louis fight Tommy remained in the states, and five months later he fought Jimmy Braddock. Farr lost a close and controversial decision to the former champ in what would be Braddock’s last bout. Not long after this Farr, wth prodding from promoter Mike Jacobs, took on Joe Gould as his manager. The very same Joe Gould who also managed Jimmy Braddock.
I recently read Tommy Farr’s autobiography, a very enjoyable book, and in it he talks about how, with Gould’s encouragement, he traveled to Hollywood where he started partying with the big names in the movie industry. He spent time at the home of Bing Crosby. Became friends with Clark Gable and Victor McLaglen and many others. He even spent time with the ten year old Shirley Temple who wanted to hear all about the Louis fight.
Farr also made some lady friends while out west. He would arrive at a bar frequented by many of these stars early in the evening so as not to miss out on having time with them. I’m sure he wasn’t sitting there drinking ice water. Now, why on Earth would a fight manager want his charge spending time living it up, especially after he had become a hot commodity off of his great performance against Louis? Farr should have and could have returned to Great Britain where he would have received a hero’s welcome, racked up a number of wins, and worked himself back into another shot at Louis for a big payday. Most people agreed he was robbed against Braddock, so that would not have been an obstacle after he scored a few wins. A second Farr Louis fight would also have been a big attraction.
But instead, he took on Max Baer in a rematch. Farr, who was now not in the best of shape, lost a one sided decision against the man he had beaten quite handily just a year earlier. Max dropped him three times in the fight. He then lost decisions to Lou Nova and Red Burman. After these losses Tommy returned to Britain never to fight in the United States again.
In the course of a year the Welshman went from giving one of the greatest Heavyweight Champions the fight of his life to being handed the proverbial one way ticket to Palookaville. He had ended his relationship with the man, Joby Churchill, who had been with him from the beginning of his career and took up with a man, Joe Gould, whose now retired fighter, Braddock, owned ten percent of Joe Louis’s future purses. (The agreement with the Louis camp struck in order for Joe to get a title shot at Braddock). Gould now sends his new fighter off to the land of wine, women, and song instead of getting him into serious training for a campaign at another shot at the title.
Here’s my theory for why all that went on. While Louis and his team had no fear of losing a rematch with Farr, and knowing how Joe was, he most likely would have welcomed another go at it with Tommy. Joe Gould was afraid Farr may pull off an upset in a rematch. If that were to happen it would be a heavy financial hit for Braddock, and probably Gould. Joe Gould had a great motive for seeing Farr was removed form the picture, and I believe that is why he led Tommy down the road of self destruction.
Tommy Farr was a terrific boxer. A brave and dedicated fighter who deserved better. He showed what he was made of against Louis. It was his misfortune to have walked into the lion’s den. His great showing against Louis turned out to be a liability for him.
Farr would have just a few more fights in his homeland before WWII broke out. In 1950, in need of money, he made an ill advised comeback. The Tommy Farr story should have had a much happier ending. Instead, it is just another one in a long list of boxing tragedies. https https