Boxers 2, Strongmen 0

By Mike Silver on April 18, 2013
Boxers 2, Strongmen 0
By the third round Paul was gasping for air and “wheezing like a wounded rhinoceros.”

Anderson was a sight to behold. He looked like a human tank as he entered the ring with his 58-inch chest, 22½-inch biceps, and 36-inch thighs…

It is not surprising that champion athletes in strength sports like weightlifting or the shot put might get it into their heads that they could use their incredible strength to achieve success in the prize ring. Such was the case with Olympic gold medal winners Paul Anderson and Bill Nieder.

Paul Anderson is a legend in the sport of weightlifting. In 1955 the 5-foot-9-inch, 320-pound strongman won the world weightlifting title with a clean and press of 408.5 pounds. No human being had ever done that before. One year later he won a gold medal in the super heavyweight class at the Melbourne Olympic Games. His Olympic triumph combined with an astounding backlift of 6,270 pounds earned him the title of “World’s Strongest Man.” He is still considered the greatest power lifter of all time.

Anderson lost his amateur status because he had accepted money for some of his strength exhibitions, thereby barring him from competing in the 1960 Olympic Games.  A Russian weightlifter broke Anderson’s 1956 record and took home the gold medal.  Anderson, in a demonstration to prove he still owned the title as World’s Strongest Man, gathered witnesses to watch as he lifted the same weight as the Russian three times in quick succession! 

Three years after winning Olympic gold Paul Anderson, the World’s Strongest Man, decided to add the heavyweight championship of the world to his already superlative list of athletic credentials.

On April 25, 1960, Anderson, trimmed down to a svelte 290 pounds (he went as high as 370 while competing as a weightlifter), took the first step on his road to a world boxing title. He made his professional boxing debut in Charlotte, North Carolina against a preliminary boxer named Atillio Tondo (3-7). The bout was scheduled for six rounds.

Anderson was an awesome sight to behold. He looked like a human tank as he entered the ring with his 58-inch chest, 22½-inch biceps, and 36-inch thighs. The Georgia strongman outweighed his opponent by 94 pounds and probably could have benched pressed him with one hand and then heaved him into the seventh row. But this was a different ballgame so Paul had to play by the rules.

The great weightlifter came out punching and managed to floor his much lighter opponent three times. But every time Atillio was knocked down he got up. By the third round Paul was gasping for air and, as one newspaper reported, “wheezing like a wounded rhinoceros.” At 2:52 of the third round Anderson asked the referee to halt the bout.

Not content to end his brief boxing career with a loss, Anderson went to the post three more times. He knocked out two obscure opponents and then lost to one Billy Walters (6-5-1). In the fourth round Anderson confused Walters with a dumbbell, picked him up and threw him to the mat. He was immediately disqualified.

In 1961 Paul and his wife Glenda founded the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a residential home for troubled youth, in Vidalia, Georgia. It was supported by his speaking engagements and strength exhibitions. Paul passed away in 1994, at the age of 61, from kidney failure. Through private and public donations the home continues its mission. 

“When you throw an iron ball it doesn’t come back to you.”—Olympic shot put champion Bill Nieder

One year after Anderson’s disastrous professional boxing debut another Olympic gold medalist and legendary strongman was about to enter the professional prize ring for the first time. Bill Nieder was the 1960 Olympic shot put champion.  He won the gold medal by hurling a 16-pound iron ball nearly 65 feet, setting a new world record. 

To say that Nieder was uncommonly strong is an understatement. His prodigious feats of strength included holding, at arm’s length in front of his chest, a barbell weighing 300 pounds! He was also reputed to have killed a cow with a single blow. When asked about this by a Sports Illustrated reporter Nieder responded with, “I’d rather not talk about that.”

As it turned out Nieder might have been better off fighting the cow.

The 26-year-old Olympic champion stood 6’3” tall and weighed 242 pounds when he won the gold medal. Three months training for his boxing debut brought Nieder’s fighting weight down to 216 pounds. His opponent was a six-foot, 198-pound preliminary boxer named Jim Wiley who sported a 6-15-3 (1 KO) record.

Wiley had been KO’d nine times but most of his opponents were legitimate professionals including several recognizable names. Despite his dismal record Wiley was far more experienced than Nieder whose press release claimed he knocked out six amateur opponents.

The Fight

The bout took place in Philadelphia’s Alhambra arena, an old theater that had been converted into a boxing venue. As reported in the May 29, 1961 issue of Sports Illustrated, Nieder was severely overmatched: “At no time in the two minutes the fight lasted did Nieder throw a worthwhile punch, but worst still, and sadly, he had not the faintest notion how to defend himself…In the ensuing melee Wiley hit the incredibly hapless Nieder at will, or would have but for the collisions and entangling misalliances.”

Nieder was knocked down but bounced up at the count of one. Wiley then landed a right that sent his startled opponent through the ropes and out of the ring. For a few moments Bill was out of sight, disappearing below the first row of spectators. Finally, aided by a few ringside fans, he made it back in but stumbled over the middle strand “and went flying into the ring much as he had gone out, as though a film of the fight had been reversed.” By the time he clambered to his feet, the count had been completed.

Jersey Joe Walcott, the old champ who’d been involved in preparing Nieder, put in a few positive words. “The kid got fighting heart,” he said. “But he shouldn’t have been fighting for another three or four months.”  Nieder was embarrassed but philosophical about his only experience as a pro boxer: “I have no one to blame but Ole Bill Nieder…I want one more fight to prove to myself this isn’t a fluke. Patience and relaxation is the key. It’s a matter of conquering the mind. You know, when you throw an iron ball it doesn’t come back at you.”

As for Jim Wiley, some fool got the notion that he was now ready for some serious competition. In his very next fight he was matched against the murderous hitting heavyweight contender Cleveland Williams. The fight lasted all of 44 seconds.

Bill Nieder did far better outside of the ring. He was employed by the 3M Corporation for many years and was instrumental in developing artificial athletic turf, which is now standard at all major track meets.

On May 8, 2011, Bill Nieder’s name appeared in newspapers across the country. At the age of 77 he helped subdue a passenger attempting to enter the cockpit of an American Airlines flight headed to San Francisco.

(Mike Silver is a boxing historian and author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” (McFarland Publishing)

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

the Apostle Paul

1960 - Bill Nieder - Shot Put - Rome Olympics

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles


This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. danR 07:39pm, 02/18/2015

    “But this was a different ballgame so Paul had to play by the rules.”

    Well you’re no fun!

  2. Pina Tondo 09:21am, 05/09/2013

    great story of boxing history… that’s my Dad…Attilio Tondo… so proud of him…his courage, confidence and strength…love you Daddy!

  3. Eric 02:29pm, 04/21/2013

    @NYIrish, Damn I hadn’t thought of this guy in a long time, but sorry, Tommy “Slick” is a nickname just like Epic Beard Man. The guy’s real name is Thomas Brusso. Anyone remember “Amber Lamps?” teehee.

  4. NYIrish 12:57pm, 04/21/2013

    Thanks Eric for your speedy and detailed response.

  5. Eric 08:13am, 04/21/2013

    BTW, the name of that B-Movie made about the EBM event was titled “Badass.” It looks horrendous and probably deserves to show up at 3AM on some obscure channel that specializes in “movies” like this. Only wish Tommy Slick could have gotten a little money for this obvious rip-off if this crap film even made money. Mr. Slick looks like he could use the money.

  6. Eric 08:05am, 04/21/2013

    @NYIrish, The guy on the bus was named Tommy Slick originally from Chicago. He became known as Epic Beard Man. He’s a Vietnam vet and in later interviews you can see the guy has some issues. One of his lines in one vid had him saying, “I went Vietnam on the muther.” The guy is hilarious but clearly he’s not all there. There are numerous vids of the guy on YT besides the infamous bus scene. One where he was accosted by a group of Oakland PD at a ballgame. They even made a totally PC movie about what happened. The guy playing EBM’s role is that Mexican actor out of “Machete” and “Desparado” and he helps an elderly Black man who is being harassed by White skinheads on the bus. Amazing how Hollyweird distorts REALITY with REELITY. You would actually think they have some kind of weird agenda going on.

  7. NYIrish 07:38am, 04/21/2013

    Reading the comments on this great piece brought to mind the viral youtube of the “old” tall grey headed guy on the bus who beat the hell out of the young thug with a series of long left jabs. If anyone might know who that old pug was it would be someone in this crew. Not interested in a name but somebody might know a little about his background.

  8. NYIrish 07:16am, 04/21/2013

    Great read. Thanks !

  9. Eric 04:04am, 04/21/2013

    I don’t know but Milo at the time was pretty old to be fair, don’t now Judo Gene’s age at the time, but I’ve heard LeBell was the real deal when he was young. Legendary martial artists like Chuck Norris, and the phenomenal Benny “The Jet” Urquidez have commented on how tough a man Gene LeBell was. Benny Urquidez’s was versed in several martial arts and was a pretty good boxer. Benny would often spar with professional boxers, the great kickboxer was MMA’s finest warrior long before MMA existed. I’ve loved boxing since I was a kid back during Frazier-Ali I, and part of that appeal was viewing the heavyweight champion as the baddest man on the planet. Being heavyweight boxing champion I’ve learned does not guarantee you’re “the baddest man on the planet.” Boxer James Warring was mildly successful in MMA but Warring was also a former kickboxer as well as a cruiserweight boxing champion so he wasn’t a one trick pony. Art Jimmerson, another cruiserweight, entered the first ever UFC wearing one boxing glove and Royce Gracie promptly submitted him in seconds. I’m not putting down the fine sport of boxing, in fact I love boxing, but in the past boxing had a way of disrespecting all other forms of “fighting” or martial arts, and claiming it was superior. Remember when they were thinking about making a Rocky Marciano vs Lou Thesz matchup. Now Thesz was an old school wrestler who could REALLY wrestle and wasn’t an entertainer like you see in “rasslin” today. In a Sports Illustrated article, Marciano is out of character and pretty arrogantly talks about how he’ll easily bat Thesz all over the ring. Marciano was a helluva fighter and had a helluva punch, fantastic conditioning, but REAL wrestlers are some of the most supremely conditioned athletes on the planet even more so than boxers. If this was a staged event like most of those ridiculous Dempsey, Moore, Ali vs some beer bellied entertainer/wrestler sure the boxer would win, but Thesz was the real deal.

  10. Mike Silver 04:31pm, 04/20/2013

    Thanks Pete. I too love these offbeat stories. Eric, re: the miserable showing of Frazier on “Superstars”.  As we know Frazier was a fantastic athlete in his own sport. He had no weightlifting technique, never swam, and probably never owned a bike. The majority of world-class athletes from other sports who tried to succeed in boxing have failed. Boxing requires an amazingly complex combination of coordination, strength, power and stamina—not to mention psychological toughness.  Boxing (not fighting) is not something someone does naturally—it takes years to master it. A world-class boxer’s muscles are highly refined for his sport—in the same way an accomplished ballet star’s muscles are refined specifically for his art. It takes years to develop the neuro-muscular habits required of a world-class professional boxer. It is much more difficult and complex than hauling a weight overhead or putting one foot ahead of another in a footrace.
    BTW, I would bet that the LeBelle vs. Milo Savage boxer vs. wrestler match was staged—we are talking pro wrestling in the 1950s. I would not trust the result of any of those mixed matches in the 1950s or 60s. Poor Milo probably just needed a quick and easy payday.

  11. Eric 10:58am, 04/20/2013

    Ken Norton also appeared on “Superstars.” Coincidentally, I believe he was on the segment which included “strongmen” Brian Oldfield and actor/bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno. Lou Ferrigno did suprisingly well in many of the events so much so that he would be offered tryouts for some professional Canadian football teams. Oldfield outlifted Ferrigno easily in the weightlifting competition, Oldfield was a super athlete and Ferrigno was pretty athletic as well competing well in the bicycling, baseball hitting and other events. Boxers haven’t proven to be very good athletes outside of boxing whether it is competitions like “Superstars” or “fighting” other combat athletes like in MMA. I remember seeing Judo Gene LeBell many years before MMA ever existed defeat boxer Milo Savage rather easily in some “mixed match” of combat or martial arts. Norton lifted about 220lbs overhead during “Superstars” and I believe Quarry did about 200lbs, I’m pretty sure Quarry failed on 210lbs. Frazier, was a pretty poor athlete, his swimming attempt is the stuff of legends. Also, Mike Tyson always said he was a poor athlete and after seeing Mike shoot hoops on YT, I can agree. Great fighters aren’t always great athletes and vice versa.

  12. peter 05:27am, 04/20/2013

    Mike, I love these little golden nuggets that you dig up and lovingly polish into uniquely Silveresque articles. Keep digging them up!...I remember watching the “Superstars” mixed-sports competition on TV and being so disappointed with Frazier while watching him struggle to lift that barbell over his head. Later in the show, I was even more shocked while watching Frazier’s poorly-planned bicycle-race attempt. He raced out like a sprinter and was shot after only 100 yards. He was easily overtaken by everyone in the field and he came in dead last. Jerry Quarry, a lesser athlete, also competing on the show, fared much better…Thanks for a great article, Mike!

  13. Eric 05:23pm, 04/18/2013

    Olympic weightlifting and/or putting the shot both take not only strength but speed, coordination, and athletic ability. However, that great strength and skill doesn’t always transfer over to a boxing ring. I vividly remember watching Joe Frazier attempt to press a modest weight of 170lbs over his head in the Seventies “trash sport” known as the “Superstars” in the weightlifting event. Frazier,  clearly was out of his element and obviously had never touched a barbell in his life judging by his attempt. He did manage to get the bar overhead but never locked it out. He was beaten by pole vaulter Bob Seagram, who himself WON the event by lifting ONLY 170lbs. It seems that in the early Seventies a lot of athletes were eschewing the iron for beer and cigarettes. Huge Brian Oldfield, a shot putter from the Seventies had made some noise about entering the boxing ring but I don’t believe anything ever materialized from it. Oldfield was 6’5” weighed about 280lbs without an ounce of fat on him and routinely beat world class women sprinters in short distance runs. He gave Lynn Swann a run for his money in the 100-yard dash in the aforementioned “Superstars” competition. I just don’t see how another athlete from another sport would be arrogant enough to think he could just waltz in and beat someone who put in years and years of training. Boxers themselves aren’t above this kind of thinking. Look at James Toney and Ray Mercer and their little MMA fiascos.

  14. Mike Silver 03:49pm, 04/18/2013

    Thanks guys. I enjoyed writing this story. Lou Costello was a great boxing fan (and who hadn’t “done some boxing” in those days). He also was involved in the management of fellow Jerseyite Vince Martinez and some other pros as I recall.

  15. Mike Casey 12:53pm, 04/18/2013

    Yeah, I see the resemblance, Clarence. Lou might have gone a couple more rounds!

  16. Clarence George 12:44pm, 04/18/2013

    By the way, when I first saw the photo, I thought this was going to be about…Lou Costello!  Pretty strong facial resemblance, and he had done some boxing.

  17. Mike Casey 12:22pm, 04/18/2013

    Lovely story, Mike, telling of two very painful lessons! Nice to know that Paul and Bill put their experiences behind them and fared well thereafter. (Jersey Joe was obviously some years ahead of his time in ‘taking the positives’ out of a hopeless situation!)

  18. Clarence George 12:15pm, 04/18/2013

    Loved it, Mike.

    I remember Anderson very well.  His photo (along with one of a wonderfully murderous-looking Hetty Green, the fat guy who had to be buried in a piano case, and the two fatties on motorcycles) is an emblem of the old-style “Guinness Book of World Records”—a chunky paperback filled with photos as they were meant to be (in grainy black-and-white).  Don’t hold with the newfangled version myself—a cumbersome hardcover, glitzy, and I don’t like it.  Didn’t know that Anderson boxed (sort of), and I’m glad of the info.

    And thanks for introducing me to Nieder, of whom I’d hadn’t heard, despite his heroics of a couple of years ago.  Reminds me of little-known actor Ronald Rich, who portrayed Blofeld’s bodyguard, Hans, in “You Only Live Twice.”  I seem to recall that, though in his 70s, he fended off a street attack a few years ago.

Leave a comment