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WHEN ARTIE CAME TO TOWN
By Harry Otty
Liverpool, England is a city that is like no other, yet has a strange familiarity about it. A city based around a port that has developed over the years of hard knocks, poverty and night-time air raids to be a place of warmth and humour whilst still retaining a somewhat hard and cynical edge. As far as heroes are concerned, Liverpool has few that are talked about or accepted with any great deal of reverence. The biggest thing to come out of the city, besides the all-conquering soccer team of years gone bye, has been the phenomenon known as the Beatles. Yet, despite world-wide acclaim and adulation, it took their home city many years to finally acknowledge the 'Fab Four' with homage in the shape of a monument or plaque.
As a fight town Liverpool can compete with any other small city in the world for boxers of world class. World champions in the form of Paul Hodkinson at featherweight and John Conteh at light-heavyweight, (both, interestingly enough, hailing from the same amateur gym in Kirkby) may not have set the world alight - though Conteh is surely one of the finest boxers produced on these shores - they were regarded as being worthy of a place amongst the cities fighting elite.
Hogan 'Kid' Bassey and Dick Tiger were both based in Liverpool immediately prior to their careers catching light and if you want a trivia question, both world champions once lived in the same house in the city. Many local fighters from the heyday of the Liverpool Stadium are still talked about today and their names invariably crop up when great fights are remembered and re-hashed. What if the dancing master that was the much-loved featherweight Nel Tarleton had been blessed with two healthy lungs instead of just the one? What if Alan Rudkin had contested a world title in his own back-yard or Ernie Roderick had met anyone but the non-stop onslaught of leather that was Henry Armstrong for the worlds welterweight championship? Names such as Conteh, Tarleton, Roderick, Rudkin and Harry Scott are talked about as much as many lesser-known pugilists from 'the Pool'. Men like Dom Volante, a regular at New York smokers in the 1930's. For fight fans that were paying to watch the sport in the 1950's there appears to be one abiding memory that seems fixed in the collective consciousness of Liverpool stadium goers. With a reverence that is usually reserved for names such as Louis, Dempsey or Robinson one man is remembered for what he displayed in less than two complete rounds of fighting , (actually 155 seconds all told) and this guy wasn't even from England, let alone Liverpool. His name was Artie Towne.
The reason so many fight fans here remember him is that in 1955 Artie came to town un-heralded and unknown. Who was this guy and how long was he going to last against our better middleweights? After a two-year hiatus and his better days possibly behind him it seemed, at the time, that Towne had been brought over as cannon fodder for our top middleweights in much the same way that another American non-entity with a spotty record had been shipped in several years before. The problem on that occasion was that Lloyd Marshall was used to being told what to do or was given some hint as to what the plot was. But, someone made the mistake of taking him and his record at face value and figured that Freddie Mills would be just too good for him. Oops! (They learned their lesson for next time as there were big plans for Don Cockell).
What was known about the comebacking veteran was that he had been a professional since 1944 and had shared the ring with some outstanding fighters. Joe Curcio, Henry Brimm, Bert Lytell and Sam Baroudi amongst them. He had also, prior to his short retirement, been a part of the Sugar Ray Robinson party. Towne or Henry Johnson or Sonny Tufts or whatever name he decided to fight under, proved to be yet another highly skilled performer with devastating power in both hands. In boxing parlance the New Yorker was used as a 'policeman' for Ray Robinson and was often matched with fighters that were prospective opponents for the 'Sugar man'.
Towne laboured as a fighter for many years, plying his trade up and down the east-coast of the United States and knocking out opponents with monotonous regularity. Although he was active and fighting anyone who would get into the ring with him Artie still found it tough to earn a living and this lack of interest from fellow professionals resulted in 24 months of inactivity, before embarking on a comeback in 1955. After going four for four, including three knockouts, the veteran headed for England and while relatively unknown in the UK, Towne was ranked number five in the United States. Unfortunately I was not around in 1955 to witness the middleweights appearances in our fair city, but the handful of fight fans that I know who were regulars at the live boxing and were there on those two nights are unanimous in their praise for this apparently unheralded commodity.
Scotlands Willie Armstrong, who had won and relinquished the Scottish middleweight crown, was to be Townes first opponent. The Liverpool Echo carried the report the next day.
"We did not see very much of Art Towne, the American middleweight, at the Liverpool Stadium last night for he was only in the ring for 112 seconds. It took him just that length of time to dispose of the Scottish champion Willie Armstrong, who must have thought he had stepped into a whirlwind. The first punch was landed by Armstrong and it forced Towne backwards, as much off-balance as from the power of the punch, but he had to pay dearly for his success."
Liverpool Echo, July 15th 1955
A right cross dropped the Scot for a brief count, but he was soon down again as a second right hand cross and two rapid lefts forced him to take a second count. A blistering left hook awaited Armstrong as he gamely stepped back into action, sprawling him the canvas. A barrage of punches forced the bewildered fighter back into his own corner and the referee to intervene.
"Armstrong was never allowed to settle down." Reported the local press. "Towne, by virtue of shifty movements, hit him from every angle. There has been much speculation as to his next opponent and much relief to hear that he is headed for Berlin." In fact Towne remained in the city for the next month as a match with former British middleweight champion Johnny Sullivan had been arranged. The Preston born 22 year old had won the vacant British and Empire crowns with a first round count out of Gordon Hazell at Harringay in 1954. In his two fights prior to meeting the American, Sullivan had been beaten by Hans Stretz on points and had lost his titles to Pat McAteer on a ninth round disqualification. He was determined to alter his run of form and was not worried by the New Yorkers vaunted punching power as he had yet failed to last the distance in over 80 fights. All of that was about to change.
"Three lefts then 'crack', that right did it again."
Liverpool Echo, August 12th 1955
The punch scrambled Sullivan's senses so much that he made the rookie error of getting up at four instead of taking advantage of the brief respite. As he recalled in the dressing room after the fight, "I made the mistake of getting up too quickly after the knockdown." Another right dropped him immediately, this time for a longer count. Another fast right and two left hooks bounced Sullivan off the canvas again and Towne nearly tripped over his prone body as he made for a neutral corner. Sullivan struggled to his feet, but a vicious onslaught from the black American forced referee Ben Greene to call a halt with the former British champion hanging through the ropes and barely 43 seconds on the clock. One local reporter said of Arties power and speed, "…it was like he had five arms with a flash point at the end of each." Adding that, "Townes punching power will be talked about for months." He was definitely right about that. Despite a disappointing third appearance in Liverpool a year later, when he beat light heavyweight Sam Langford over ten rounds, Artie Towne is still talked about nearly 540 months on.
** (Anyone with additional info on Artie Towne and his career or otherwise please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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