By Miles Templeton

IN A recent article on Tom McCormick, I told the story of how he won and lost a British title in Australia in 1914. At this time, the National Sporting Club (NSC) in Covent Garden ran boxing with an iron rule. They were the unofficial governing body in the UK in the days before the Board of Control, and it was the NSC who standardised the eight weight classes and instituted the Lonsdale Belt for the champions of those classes in 1909. To contest a British title, and to fight for the belt, a boxer had to agree to fight within the hallowed portals of the NSC, in front of their members and guests. The most important contests at the time could not, therefore, be watched by the general public.

Unsurprisingly, after the Great War, with the increasing commercialisation and popularity of the sport, leading boxers and fight fans generally were no longer prepared to put up with this and the days of the NSC were numbered.  The organisation, in its original form, became defunct by 1929.

There were some early champions, and promoters, who bucked the trend and quite a few British title bouts took place elsewhere, without the approval of the NSC. The winners of these contests could not claim the belt, but they are generally accepted as British champions to this day, and McCormick was one of the first.

The welterweight division, of which McCormick became the champion, was the ‘naughty boy’ of the boxing world at the time because it had already produced two British champions who won their titles outside the confines of the Club before Tom did so on the other side of the world. Arthur Evernden was the first when he took the title after a contest at the Ring, Blackfriars, against the reigning champion, Young Joseph, in 1911. Joseph wanted to earn as much as he could as champion and the ‘yobs’ down at the Ring where prepared to pay him more than the ‘toffs’ at the NSC.

Evernden then sought contests in Paris, where the pay was good, and he did not defend his title.  It was next contested at Liverpool Stadium in 1912 when Johnny Summers beat Joseph by decision. Eventually Summers and Evernden met to sort things out and they fought each other at the NSC. As far as that institution was concerned things were back on track. Then Summers went to Australia and lost to McCormick and the Club were unhappy all over again.

In April 1914, Pat O’Keefe, who had beaten Harry Reeve for the middleweight title two months before, defended his title for the first time at Premierland in London’s east end. Once more a commercial promoter with big bucks took on the Club directly, offering better terms, and O’Keefe was happy to oblige, beating Nichol Simpson in the process. The war followed, and when the title was next contested in 1920, Ted Kid Lewis won it by beating Johnny Bee at the Holborn Stadium. Eighteen days later the NSC staged their own middleweight title bout when Tom Gummer beat Jim Sullivan. Much to the annoyance of the club, Gummer then defended his title at Sheffield, losing to Gus Platts.

The real damage was done by Bombardier Billy Wells, the biggest name in British boxing at the time. He was not prepared to fight for a small purse in front of 1,100 people at the Club and the general public, who adored him, agreed. He had won the belt outright at the Club during the war but when he next defended it, against Joe Beckett in February 1919, he did so at Holborn Stadium in front of a large crowd.

The NSC did its utmost to regain control in the 1920s, but they were swimming against the tide.   Thankfully, the Lonsdale Belt did not sink into obscurity when the Club folded.  To this day it remains the most coveted belt in the sport.