The life and tragic times of the remarkeable Battling Siki.

                       Battling Siki 

(ED. NOTE -- In previous issues, we've introduced you to the interviewing
talents of Mr. Thomas Gerbasi, he of Cyber Boxing Zone notoriety. Here,
again thanks to his kind submission, we present a capsule biography of the
rather amazing life and times of the man known to boxing history as Battling

By Thomas Gerbasi

[He] was dangerous and terrible now; he was the negro springing along the
forest path. The sudden smell of blood, the hallucination of victory, the
dark disfigured mask which had taken the place of the fair white face had
unlossed in him the savagery of his race, dormant since the dark and distant
centuries. . . . The referee, whose face had gone very pale, raised above
the crowd the black arm of the new champion.

Though he has not gone down in boxing annals as a great fighter, Battling
Siki is remembered for having one of the fight game's most intriguing and
tragic stories.

Born Baye Phal on September 16, 1897, in the port of St. Louis, Senegal
(then called French West Africa), Siki moved to France while still a
teenager. It is rumored that he was taken to France by a French actress who
took a liking to him and made him her servant. In any event, Siki soon
changed his first name from Baye to Louis, and by age of 15 began a career
as a prizefighter.

From 1912 to 1914, fighting strictly in France, Battling Siki compiled an
unimpressive record of 8-6-2. With the outbreak of WW I, Siki then enlisted
in the French army, where his bravery in battle earned him both the Croix De
Guerre and the Medaille Militaire.

Siki resumed his boxing career in 1919 after leaving the service. With
new-found vigor, Siki won 43 of 46 fights in the ensuing four years, drawing
twice, and losing only a 15 round decision to Tom Berry in Rotterdam.
Lightheavy weight champion at that time was Georges Carpentier. Carpentier's
manager, Francois "General" Deschamps, attended Siki's June 1922 win over
Marcel Nilles and decided Siki was a "safe" opponent for his champion. When
the bout was held on September 24, 1922 in Paris, France, Siki became the
first black fighter in seven years to fight for a boxing championship.

Carpentier (173 1/2 pounds), fighting on French soil for the first time in
three years, was a heavy favorite against Siki, and his popularity produced
the first million franc gate in French boxing history. Forty thousand people
packed the Buffalo Velodrome to see their idol in action, and Siki, an
awkward slugger, seemed to be a perfect foil for Carpentier's homecoming.

Siki followed the script for the first three rounds, being dropped twice by
the champion. Carpentier even told his manager and trainer after the first
round "I'll get him whenever I want to." But Siki (174 lbs), using his
trademark "windmill" style, sent Georges to the canvas late in the third,
and from that point on, he controlled the contest.

Siki shook off the champion's blows, telling him "You don't hit very hard,
Mr. Georges," and Carpentier took a thorough beating over the next two
rounds. In the sixth, a right uppercut sent Carpentier down and out. But
referee Arthur Bernstein claimed that the challenger had tripped the French
hero, and he disqualified Siki at 1:10 of the sixth round. The French crowd
roared its disapproval, and the three judges at ringside, fearing a riot,
reversed the decision twenty minutes later, rightfully naming Battling Siki
the new light heavyweight champion of the world.

Immediately after the fight, Siki told the Associated Press "You had better
cable Mr. Rickard tonight that I am willing to fight Dempsey right away."
But there would be no shortage of offers for the new champion's services.

Dave Driscoll, matchmaker for Ebbets Field, reportedly cabled a $100,000
offer to Siki to fight heavyweight contender Harry Wills on October 12,
1922. But the offer was actually $20,000. Siki's manager, Charlie Hellers,
responded with a demand for 1,100,000 francs for Siki to take on Wills.

Tom O'Rourke of the Polo Grounds offered Siki $45,000 to meet Wills, or
$30,000 to meet American light heavyweight champ Harry Greb. Greb responded
that he would fight Siki "anytime, anywhere, for any reasonable amount of
money. I have had three offers already to meet Siki, and to all of them I
have replied that I am ready to talk business as soon as he signs a

Marty Killilea, manager of world middleweight champion Johnny Wilson, also
threw his hat in the ring, offering Siki $50,000 to fight Wilson in Boston.

Even former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson wanted to get into the act,
challenging Siki to a match. This fight never happened, though the two later
fought a six- round exhibition in Quebec in 1923.

And what about the current heavyweight king, Jack Dempsey? When told of
Siki's challenge, Dempsey's manager, Jack Kearns, smiled. "We're always
ready to accommodate any ambitious young man. If he is sincere in his
statements that he wants a crack at the world's heavyweight title, why
Dempsey will accommodate him gladly, either in this country or abroad."
Dempsey himself responded "I'm ready for them all."

But it was not all roses for Siki, the new champion. Carpentier's manager,
Descamps, appealed Siki's win on September 26, claiming that his man had
been fouled. But two days later, the decision was upheld. And while an
appearance by Siki stopped traffic in Paris for more than an hour, he could
not escape ridicule and racism, even from his own handlers. Newspapers
called him "Championzee" and "Child of the Jungle." A French publication,
The Intransigeant, ran a story with the headline "Siki would give half his
winnings to become white." And the biggest insult came from his own manager,
Hellers, who said in a New York Times headline "Siki is a Gorilla." And he
wasn't finished. According to Hellers "Siki has something in him which is
not human. A long time ago I used to think that if one could find an
intelligent Gorilla and teach him to box, one would have the world's
champion. Well that's what I found in Siki. There's much of the monkey about
him." Siki's response: "A lot of newspaper people have written that I have a
jungle style of fighting -- that I am a chimpanzee who has been taught to
gloves. This kind of thing hurts me. I was never anywhere but in a big city
in all my life. I've never even seen a jungle."

But despite that moment of introspection, Siki seemed to disregard the
negative cruelty of the press, and instead drowned his sorrows in his new
found celebrity. He walked the streets of France with a pet lion on a leash,
and he was also known to fire pistols in the air to enduce his two great
danes to do tricks. He was also fond of drinking, flashy clothes, and white
women (both of Siki's wives were white).

Not surprisingly, this lifestyle would wreck havoc on his boxing career. He
finally signed for his American debut, a November 30, 1922 match against a
tough black fighter from Baltimore, Kid Norfolk. The fight would be held at
Madison Square Garden. But it wouldn't happen until a year later.

In the interim, Siki traveled to Dublin, Ireland to take on Mike McTigue on
St.Patrick's Day, 1923. Needless to say, Siki lost a 20-round decision and
the title to Mc Tigue. Observers do state that McTigue deserved to win and
was not the recipient of a hometown decision. Three months later, Siki lost
again, this time being disqualified against Emile Morelle. This defeat cost
Siki the light heavyweight crowns of Europe and France. The ex-champ
rebounded with two knockout wins in France, and finally, on November 20,
1923, Siki made his American debut against Kid Norfolk.

Siki dropped a 15 round decision to Norfolk, and a month later he lost
another decision, this one to Jack Taylor. (Taylor was no slouch -- he
fought 3 close fights with Sam Langford and later beat Max Schmeling.)
Siki's moment in the sun had passed, yet he continued fighting in America,
usually against non-descript foes. His last chance for ring redemption came
on March 13, 1925 against Paul Berlenbach. It was not to be. Siki lost in
the tenth round, and 1925 proved not only to be his last year in the ring,
but his last on Earth.

Siki's out of the ring antics brought him more attention than his fights,
and he seemed to revel in the attention. Siki claimed that he trained on
"liquor and late hours", and his only sparring used to be in street brawls.
This caught up with him on December 15, 1925. Early in the evening, Siki
left his home on 42nd Street, telling his wife, Lillian, that he was going
out "with the boys". Around 2:30 am, after a bout of heavy drinking, a
policeman spotted Siki, who was a bit unsteady on his feet. After assuring
the officer that he was on his way home, Siki staggered away. Four hours
later, the same officer found a man lying face down on the ground. Upon
further investigation, it was discovered that the man was Battling Siki. He
had been shot twice in the back at close range, and he died at the scene. A
.32 gun was found across the street from the murder scene, but the killer
was never captured. According to Lillian Phal, her husband had been
threatened by a man named Jimmy over a debt of $20. But we will never know.

Battling Siki was remembered by his wife as "a good boy, he was just
mischievous. He would never harm anybody." Georges Carpentier, the victim of
Siki's greatest triumph said "It seems a pity that an athlete of such
magnificent gifts should have met with this end. The time has passed when
boxers can indulge in drinking and carousing and be champions. I only hope
poor Siki's fate will be a lesson to aspiring pugilists."

Siki's wake was held in Harlem, and the former champion was viewed by 400 to
500 people. His funeral took place at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and the
service was presided over by the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell. According to
Rev. Powell "No man ever came out of Africa who had a more dramatic life or
had a more tragic ending. A lack of proper preparation or a noble purpose
were the two dreadful mistakes of his life. Our civilization is perhaps more
to blame for these mistakes than he was."

Battling Siki is buried in Flushing, Queens.

His final ring record was: 63 wins, 21 losses, 5 draws, 5 no-decisions. He
lost 4 fights on fouls. He was kayoed just twice, at the end of his career.
Siki scored 35 knockouts in his 63 wins.

(Mr. Gerbasi is associate publisher of our favorite Web boxing site, the
Cyber Boxing Zone. Again, our heartfelt thanks to him for taking up the
standing offer to submit original works and/or research articles to The
BAWLI Papers.)

                             BOXING'S PUGILISTIC PYGMY

(Independent on Sunday, January 10, 1999)
By Andrew Longmore

For a dyslexic boy who left school with no qualifications and a label saying
'scrapheap' around his neck, the Pugilistic Pygmy - as Don King called him -
has come a long way.

You can only say "We'll take the Hungarian kid" in an accent from the Bronx
or the Walworth Road. Otherwise, it sounds like a bad line from On The
Waterfront. Not that Frank Maloney was worrying much about the pastiche.
With a show to stage and his main challenger out with a dislocated shoulder,
the Hungarian Kid had saved the day. One phone is put down in the attic
office on Bloomsbury Square, another is picked up. "We're back in business,"
Maloney shouts down the receiver. "Tell 'em the fight's back on." Boxing, a
land of permanent crisis.

Maloney put on 28 shows in Britain last year -- "even made money out of a
few" - and four more, in the United States, Uganda, South Africa and France,
which made him the busiest promoter in the game. His schedule over the next
month is equally hectic: Bethnal Green (16 January), Ipswich three days
later, Crawford Ashley v Henry Wharton on 6 February in Halifax and a couple
of testimonial nights, one for Alan Hudson (of Chelsea, Stoke and England),
and another for Herol "Bomber" Graham.

Only then will he take himself off to Lennox Lewis's training camp in Pocono
Resorts, Pennsylvania, for the grander business of unifying the heavyweight
championship of the world. There, he says, he will lose a stone and a half
by going into training himself and use his spare time to polish his campaign
for the Mayor of London elections in May 2000. He pops out from behind his
desk to show me the outlines of the manifesto, all neatly sealed in a dark
red folder: "Education, Health, Sport." For a dyslexic boy who left the
Sacred Heart school in Camberwell with no qualifications and a label round
his neck saying "scrapheap", Frank Maloney has come a long way.

His teachers thought the milk round or HM prisons were the most likely
career options. Now Maloney is invited into schools to lecture errant
children on keeping to the straight and narrow. A council house in south
London has been swapped for a five-bedroomed detached house in Chislehurst
at the swankier end of the 0181 telephone range and a touch of Tory law and
order policy has been grafted on to solid old Labour credentials. "A
right-wing socialist," he grins. "That's what I am. But I'm unpolitical,
really. I just want to be the People's Mayor." Maloney expects the
patronising smile. He has made a very decent living out of being

When I first met Maloney in 1986, the pioneering spirit was already evident.
He was bringing boxing back to Lewisham Town Hall for the first time in 60
years and had hooked up with a big white heavyweight called Danny Moull,
whose one distinction other than a solid punch and a certain B movie suavity
was in beating Gary Mason as an amateur. Moull was a computer analyst in the
City and had once been on Chelsea's books. Only thwarted ambition and
boxing's peculiar lure drew him into believing Maloney's bluster about great
white hopes. Moull was beaten that night and lost his next two fights as
well before Maloney himself took over his training. His next fight was his
last. "He came back to his corner at the end of the third and said he'd had
enough, so I stuck a pin up his arse and told him to get back out there. He
did, he won and that was that. He packed it in."

Maloney had better luck with a 6ft 6in Olympic gold medallist who arrived at
Heathrow Airport one morning in 1989 and, for a reason neither Maloney nor
Lennox Lewis can fully explain to this day, chose the little Londoner as his
trusted ally on the road to fame and fortune. The unlikely chemistry has
survived boxing's unique ability to curdle friendships. Even Don King, that
arch manipulator, has had to concede Maloney's worth. The Mental Midget of
old has become my "little pal from England", a shift of allegiance which is
only partly attributable to the fall of Mike Tyson and the growing pulling
power of Lewis in a dangerously threadbare heavyweight division. The
seraphic smile of the former Sacred Heart choirboy unnerved King. While King
ranted at the Pugilistic Pygmy, Maloney went to bed to watch his Millwall
tapes. A Don King doll now holds pride of place on the windowsill in
Maloney's office and a deal on a permanent partnership is close to

"He's the ultimate," Maloney grins. "All those insults were great for me.
They moved me from being a 5ft 3in boxing manager into the world's
spotlight. People still ask me how I can keep talking to him, but this is a
business built on hype and propaganda and showmanship. I've got quite close
to Don over the last few months. He sent me a contract recently, pages of
it. I read the first page and got someone else to check it for me. Then, I
rang him back. I said, 'Don, the offer you made was fantastic, but you told
me slavery died over 200 years ago and you also told me only black guys were
sold into slavery. I'm a little white guy and we're moving into the next
Millennium and you're still trying to put me back into slavery'."

But Maloney knew that years of haggling and evasion were over the moment
King arrived in London to do business. "Before then we had always had to go
to the States," Maloney said. Lewis-Holyfield was made.

Conversation with Maloney hovers dangerously close to the edge of the
absurd. Ideas swirl around and then vanish like smoke. Some are potentially
brilliant (hiring the first woman MC through an ad in The Stage), some
crackpot (persuading the Euro-sceptics to sponsor one of his shows), others
plainly mischievious. Recently, he persuaded King to become US patron of
Coventry rugby club. His name is there on the programme masthead, plus a
little fanfare by King, all bombast and Churchill quotes (penned by Maloney
himself, as it happens). Maloney did some publicity before the game against
Bedford and the club had its biggest gate of the season. Mere coincidence,
of course, that Bedford happens to be Frank Warren's club. And Coventry won
13-12, an apt metaphor for the shifting alliances on the ring apron. There
was a time when Maloney made the tea for Mickey Duff and was happy to be
seen in the company of such movers and shakers as Frank Warren. "Now I'm
their equal," he says. While Warren is due in court this month for a costly
and potentially ruinous legal battle with King, Maloney will be helping to
prepare Lennox Lewis to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the
world beneath the great chandelier in Madison Square Garden.

His own involvement in such a momentous sporting occasion still requires the
odd pinch. "The Garden, that was a masterstroke by Don. The first big fight
I ever saw was Ali-Frazier at the Garden. I saved my pocket money and sat in
the cinema all night, open-mouthed. Now I'm actually going to walk out under
them spotlights, flags waving. I can't believe it." Lewis moved into camp
yesterday with the team which has served him since 1992: Manny Steward, his
trainer, Harold Knight, Courtney Shand and Al Gavin. Denis Lewis, Lennox's
brother, handles the commercial side. It is a tight-knit community and it
will need to function efficiently to insulate Lewis from the suffocating
forces at work in such a pressurised campaign. Evander Holyfield, the old
warrior, has been there before. Lewis, for all his experience, has not.
Maloney is undaunted.

"I see Lennox knocking him out in six or seven rounds. He's too big, too
strong and he wants to win too badly. I've studied all the tapes and I
honestly don't think Lennox can lose." He waits for reality to catch up.
"Don't get me wrong, anything can happen, of course. But there's something
in the destiny of this fight which says Lennox cannot lose. In 1989 I said
he would become the greatest sportsman Britain has ever produced and that
his name would rank alongside Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano as
one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. This is the fight which will
do it."

Only mention of his own relationship with Lewis prompts a momentary bout of
reflection. It has changed, he says. "We get older and do different things."
How often does he call? "As little as possible and I mean that in a nice
way. Lennox knows that when I phone him I want him to do an interview. I
usually speak to his answerphone."

And Maloney has not forgotten who does the fighting. "I'm still employed by
Lennox Lewis, not the other way around. I'm employed by all my fighters.
Just because I sit behind a desk doesn't mean anything." There are five
generations of the family, from his 93-year-old mother down to a new baby
granddaughter to enforce the humility. But 13 March in New York will be a
night of destiny for the little man as well. "The minute they put the belt
round him and say. 'and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Lennox
Lewis of Great Britain'. No matter what anyone else does to me after that,
they can't take that moment away from me."