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TOMMY FARR
Tonypandy, Rhondda

British & Empire Heavyweight Champion

Born 12th March 1914, Rhondda

The Tonypandy Terror


Joe Louis

'My face looked like a dug up road', were the words Tommy Farr was to use when describing how he looked after taking the legendary Joe Louis the full distance of 15 rounds in their heavyweight title clash. To this day Welshmen still talk of the great fight Tommy put up against the Brown Bomber, and will forever remember.
 

First fight at 12
Tommy Farr, like so many of his fellow countrymen, was born into poverty leading to the inevitable job of working down the coalmines, before his teens. In those days of appalling conditions in the mines and poor pay no-one liked working there but Tommy particularly disliked it. Boxing was his means of escape, a decision he was to later describe as 'the lesser of two evils'. So he followed the route that Jimmy Wilde & Jim Driscoll had taken before him; he joined the boxing booths. At the tender age of 12, already having left school, he engaged in his first official fight - a six round points win over Jack Lord set Tommy on his way.

Welsh title win
Tommy didn't set the world alight in his early career. He decided to try his luck in London, this did not work out for him either having only one fight, against Eddie Steel, which he lost. On his return to Wales at last fortune smiled upon him, putting together seven straight wins he then took the Welsh Light-Heavyweight title with a points win against Randy Jones. Another six wins (making it 14 straight) led to the first of 3 meetings with Eddie Phillips, all of which Tommy lost. The last of these 3 meetings was for the British Light Heavyweight title which was lost over 15 rounds. After this fight Tommy was to reach a turning point in his career.

British & Empire Champion
During a string of 18 fights without defeat Tommy Farr beat ex-World Light Heavyweight Champion Tommy Loughran and Bob Olin, another former light heavyweight champion. Even with his growing reputation Tommy was not expected to defeat Ben Foord in a challenge for the British & Empire titles in March 1937. The fight wasn't a classic but Farr's crouching style and consistent scoring with the left hand secured the titles. After a somewhat mixed beginning to his career Tommy was now British & Empire Heavyweight Champion and ready to mix it with the best the world had to offer.

Stepping up to World class
The next opponent for Farr was Max Baer the great former World Heavyweight Champion. Understandably, Tommy was the underdog; Max Baer was going to beat him and beat him easily - or so Max thought. Tommy turned the odds upside down with a great display of boxing, while for the most part Max Baer played to the crowd. Mistakenly, Max thought that he could finish Tommy Farr whenever he so chose. When the time came that Max thought he would now put an end to the Welshman's challenge he found himself in a real fight. By now Tommy had established a commanding points lead and was not about to give it up. Max moved in for the kill; Tommy jabbed him - Max threw big right hands; Tommy jabbed him - Max tried to box; Tommy jabbed him. Tommy was fighting a great fight dancing, crouching, bobbing and weaving, jabbing and when Max did manage to get in some good punches Tommy fought back An absolutely tremendous performance saw Tommy Farr take the points verdict in his best win yet. With another superlative performance Walter Neusel was dispatched in only 3 rounds leading up to the epic battle with the great Joe Louis.

Louis taken full distance
Making his first defence of the World Heavyweight title, which he had taken from James J. Braddock, the Brown Bomber was expected to deal with Tommy Farr more than comfortably. Louis himself saw the fight as nothing more than a warm up for stronger opponents who would undoubtedly challenge him. No-one outside of Wales gave Tommy the slightest chance of winning. America was looking forward to a convincing and early finish to the fight. Tommy Farr had not read the script ! Before a crowd of 32,000 in New York, Tommy Farr gave the Brown Bomber the fight - and fright  - of his life. Back in Wales it is said that almost every house in the land was listening to the fight on the radio that night. At the bell battle commenced with Tommy unexpectedly taking the fight to the champion. Louis was strong, powerful and a fearsome puncher, surely these were not the tactics for Tommy to adopt ? While respecting the champion Tommy bore forward continuously and for 15 rounds war was waged between the two great men. The fight was close with Louis cutting Tommy up badly in an enthralling battle. At the end Louis was declared the winner and still Heavyweight Champion of the World. Tommy Farr had lost but had won the respect of the world and earned a place in boxing history. He was still only 23 years old but had been involved in more than 200 fights, including boxing booth bouts, when he faced Louis.

 

There is a popular story told in Wales, that when Louis noticed the scars on Farr's back at the weigh in, (which were a result of Tommy's days in the coal mines) and asked him how he had got them, Tommy is said to have replied, " Oh, they're nothing, I got those from fighting with tigers !"

Tommy Farr was celebrated throughout Britain, a charismatic and popular figure, he later returned to America for 4 more fights all of which he lost on points. Upon his return to Britain he was stripped of the British title for not defending it when requested to do so by the British Boxing Board. Tommy fought four more bouts, all wins, before retiring in 1940. 
 

Ten year retirement
Although Tommy Farr was a wealthy man when he retired in 1940, he was facing bankruptcy when he made a comeback ten years later, at 36 years of age. He regained the Welsh Heavyweight title but finally ended his career, 3 days short of his 39th birthday, when Don Cockell beat him in 7 rounds in Nottingham. After his defeat  Tommy took the ring microphone and sang the Welsh national anthem - a fitting finale to his career.

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