Darcy and Sands – Gone Too Soon

By Daniel Attias on January 18, 2014
Darcy and Sands – Gone Too Soon
Both lives were tragically cut short just as they were destined, it seems, for greatness.

The short yet amazing careers of both Les Darcy and Dave Sands resemble the beauty and ensuing emptiness of a shooting star…

Ernest Hemingway once said that “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

For two Australian boxing legends this rings especially true. The short yet amazing careers of both Les Darcy and Dave Sands resemble the beauty and ensuing emptiness of a shooting star; burned so bright yet gone too soon.

Darcy and Sands’ careers share many parallels, both were middleweights and both of their lives were tragically cut short just as they were destined, it seems, for greatness.

Les Darcy was born on October 3, 1895 in Stradbroke, near Maitland in New South Wales. Darcy was of Irish heritage and the son of a poor share-farmer.

He was called upon to provide for his family at a young age due to his father’s lack of employment opportunities and from his older brother being partially disabled. He was apprenticed to a blacksmith in 1910 and around this time he also made his first money inside the ring.

He was to show a natural talent in the ring as a mere youth and according to his record won a slew of fights before challenging for the Australian welterweight title against Bob Whitelaw at just 17 years of age.

Darcy would lose the fight on points over 20 rounds but his showing against a man ten years his senior was to pique the interest of promoters from the famous Sydney Stadium and from then on out Les Darcy was to begin a journey unlike any other.

Darcy fought Whitelaw three months later and won via knockout in the fifth round but by this stage the young man weighed above the welterweight limit, therefore negating his chance of obtaining the title.

On the July 18, 1914, Darcy fought his first fight on the big stage of Sydney Stadium against visiting American middleweight Fritz Holland.

Holland went on to win the fight by points over 20 rounds but the crowd on hand were so incensed by the decision that a riot ensued.

Around 2000 spectators stayed around following the bout, lighting fires and shouting “burn the place down.”

Darcy and Holland would meet again less than two months later and once again the bout would end tumultuously as Holland was to win via a disqualification in the 18th round with Darcy ruled to have thrown a low blow.

Darcy was the better fighter throughout the bout by all accounts but his insistence on trying to end the fight with a knockout was given as one reason for his wild and sometimes low blows according to numerous newspaper reports. The Sydney Morning Herald reported Darcy being ahead by a fair margin of points in their report of the fight on the 14th September, 1914.

“In the next round Darcy again hit low, and was cautioned. He again offended in the eighteenth round, and was disqualified, the referee giving the verdict to Holland amidst applause and some hooting. Darcy was so far ahead in points that he must have easily won the match had he not committed the foul.”

Darcy would lose just one more bout in his short-lived career, in a fight for the Australian version of the World Middleweight Title against visiting American Jeff Smith.

Smith had fought many top fighters in his day including Georges Carpentier and Mike Gibbons and later on greats such as Harry Greb, Gene Tunney and Tommy Loughran.

The fight ended in the fifth round when Darcy complained of being fouled. When the referee disagreed, Darcy’s corner threw in the towel.

Following the loss, Darcy would go on to win 22 straight including a rematch against Jeff Smith for the title as well as other wins over big names such as Eddie McGoorty, Mick King (for the Australian Middleweight title), Jimmy Clabby, George “KO” Brown, Harold Hardwick (for the Australian Heavyweight title), rematches against Fritz Holland, in addition to wins over Dave Smith, Buck Crouse and George Chip among others.

His first fight against Eddie McGoorty was a sublime performance and one that solidified his claims, in the eyes of many, to being the best middleweight in the world. Sydney’s Evening News was full of praise for Darcy.

“Darcy’s performance was brilliant in the extreme. More than one sporting writer, with McGoorty on the brain, endeavoured to account for the Americans defeat by declaring he showed a great falling off in form. This was not the case. The fact is Darcy out-boxed, out-fought and out-paced him.”

By this stage Les Darcy was proving to be one of the greatest fighters Australia had ever seen, but with the First World War now in progress and Australian men encouraged to enlist in support of the Motherland, pressure mounted from the government on Darcy to commit to the cause.

Darcy was seen as a hero to many young men in Australia and the thought was that if he was to enlist, many others would follow suit.

One such example of the pull Darcy would have had on enlistments among the youth, should he have decided to enlist himself, was shown in a letter to the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald which was published on Wednesday the 4th August 1915.


Sir, – If our champion boxer, Mr. Les Darcy, were to enlist I venture to say that fully two thousand young fellows would follow his example. Carpentier, the French champion immediately joined the colours on the opening of hostilities although he had the ball at his feet.

I am, etc., RICHARD WILLIAMSON, Armidale, Aug. 2.

Fight promoter Snowy Baker refused to give Les anymore fights until he had enlisted later that year and whilst many other well-known boxers were given permission to keep fighting, Darcy was not.

Darcy had stated numerous times he was happy to enlist and that all he wanted was five fights abroad to secure the financial future of his family but his requests were denied and he was refused a passport.

On October 27, 1916, Les Darcy boarded a ship as a stowaway bound for the United States of America.

Upon arrival, Tex Rickard had planned bouts for Darcy against fighters such as Georges Carpentier for the world’s light heavyweight title, among others, but Snowy Baker led a call for the Americans to refuse Darcy fights on the grounds that he was a “slacker” who was avoiding the war.

The American press and many people of influence in boxing circles followed Baker’s lead and Darcy wasn’t able to secure a fight.

He became a U.S. citizen and enlisted in the army after his attempts to fight fell through. He was given an opportunity to fight in Memphis and his enlistment was deferred so that he could train, but he collapsed before the bout could take place.

Darcy was admitted to hospital with septicaemia and endocarditis which stemmed from an infected tooth, his tonsils were removed but he developed pneumonia and died on May 24, 1917 at the tender age of 21.

The New York Evening World was to say that “Les Darcy’s death was the saddest event in the history of the boxing movement.”

His body was shipped home and he was mourned as a hero. The public had come to view his treatment, by not only the government, but also by fight promoter Snowy Baker, as nothing more than political posturing and Darcy came to be viewed as a martyr in light of the poor treatment afforded him in the years prior to his death.

Les Darcy’s story is one of hope, tragedy, betrayal and despair and the big question will always remain, just how good could the kid from Maitland have become? Sadly we will never know.

He finished his boxing career with a record of 45 wins and 4 losses and was inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.

Dave Sands (David Ritchie), like Darcy, was on the verge of greatness in 1952 when he was tragically killed in a car accident.

Boxing was in the blood for the Ritchie family, five of his brothers were boxers and his mother’s great-uncle, Bailey Russell, was a noted bare-knuckle fighter of his time.

He was born David Ritchie on February 24, 1926 near Kempsey in New South Wales, Australia. The Sands name was one that the fighting brothers adopted, starting with Dave’s older brother Percy in reference to “Snowy” Sands, a local railway guard and boxing fan.

His professional boxing career began at the young age of 15 and he’d fought 20 bouts, all at the Newcastle Stadium, before his 18th birthday. Six of his 10 career losses were to come in those early days when Sands was still learning his craft.

Big fights in Brisbane and Sydney soon followed as he began to make a name for himself in the fight game.

On the May 11, 1946, Sands fought for the Australian middleweight title against champion Jack Kirkham.

Sands showed off his fine boxing skills, footwork and punching power that night as he knocked Kirkham down seven times en route to a 12th round TKO victory.

The pair rematched a month later but Sands made even easier work of Kirkham knocking him out in the fifth round in a bout that The Sydney Morning Herald described as one-sided.

“CHAMPION Dave Sands (11.4), Newcastle, national middleweight titleholder, was not required to unfold even a good gymnasium display to retain his title by knocking out challenger Jack Kirkham (11.3) in the fifth round at the Brisbane Stadium last night.

Any alibi that Kirkham may have provided when he lost the title to Sands at Sydney on May 11 was quickly dissipated, for he never looked equal to making a fight of it. The crowd waited expectantly for Kirkham to do something worthwhile, but growing impatient at the commencement of the fifth round, they counted out the Victorian.”

Two months later Sands fought for the Australian light heavyweight title despite only weighing 162 pounds. His opponent was Jack Johnson, a man who had a pair of wins over the great welterweight and middleweight, Alabama Kid, but the disparity in size wasn’t to stop Sands from having things his own way with the referee stopping the fight in the fourth round with Johnson taking a battering.

Johnson was given a rematch four months later but lasted little more than two minutes before the referee had seen enough.

The wins piled up over the next two years.

Victories over O’Neill Bell, who had previously fought greats such as Jake LaMotta, Sugar Ray Robinson, Cocoa Kid and Fritzie Zivic, George “Wildcat” Henry and Alabama Kid led to Sands getting a shot at the Commonwealth (British Empire) middleweight title against Dick Turpin.

Sands travelled to the United Kingdom to face Turpin for the title but had a slate of bouts lined up as preparation.

The first fight however didn’t exactly go to plan as Sands faced Tommy Yarosz and was outpointed though Yarosz never hurt Sands throughout the fight.

There were to be four more fights before Sands faced Turpin and he was to make light work of those opponents.

The title fight took place on 6th of September 1949 and it was clear right from the start that Sands was the better man. It only took 2 minutes, 45 seconds for Sands to thoroughly dismantle and knock out Turpin.

The powerful Sands had Turpin in trouble right from the start and Sands himself said that he knew his punches were troublesome to the champion.

“Turpin did not hit me once and I knew after I hit Turpin the first time with my left that I had the fight won.”

Six months later back home in Australia, Sands would win a decision over Carl “Bobo” Olson. The fight was a close affair and it was clear that Olson, who would go on to become the world middleweight champion years later, was in the same class as Sands who was being touted as a future champion himself.

As the accolades poured in for Sands, as did the wins, and to find opponents worthy of a challenge in Australia he often fought men much bigger than himself. This was to culminate in a victory over Alf Gallagher on September 4, 1950 for the Australian heavyweight title.

The Illawarra Daily Mercury described the battering that the smaller Sands handed out to his opponent Gallagher.

“Gallagher received a terrific battering tonight. His left ear was cut in the fourth. In the same round, Sands opened an old cut over his left eye. Gallagher bled from the mouth and nose in later rounds and a purple lump rose under his right eye.”

1951 was another successful year for Dave as he won all but one of his bouts, a cut eye stoppage to light heavyweight Yolande Pompey. His biggest victory that year was a rematch against Olson in Chicago in a fight that was the first one to be broadcast coast to coast in the United States.

By 1952 many felt Dave Sands was entitled to his shot at the middleweight crown. He had a successful defense of his Empire middleweight title and one of the Australian heavyweight title but sadly on the 11th of August 1952, the 26-year-old Sands was killed in a car accident.

Once again a young man in his prime was taken before he had a chance to reach the pinnacle of his sport and Australia had lost another middleweight contender too soon.

“Bobo” Olson famously said, upon winning the world middleweight title, that if Dave Sands were alive then the title would have undoubtedly been his.

Sands’ career fight record stands at 87 wins, 10 losses and 1 draw.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Australian Boxing Legend Les Darcy 1916

Les Darcy vs George Chip Part 1 (1916).flv

Les Darcy vs George Chip Part 2 (1916).flv

les darcy kid genius PART 1

les darcy kid genius part 2

Les Darcy vs Jimmy Clabby II

Dave Sands (Australian Boxing Tribute)

Dave Sands W 10 Carl "Bobo" Olson II

Dave Sands v Oneil Bell Australian Boxing

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  1. nicolas 12:02am, 01/19/2014

    In regards to Australian fighter between Les Darcy and David Sands and Jimmy Carruthers. I wonder how many of those fighters if they had been given the opportunity, could have become world champions. I believe that even holding the Australian title for these fighters back then was something of great honor, as many, if not all could not make those journies to America or even Europe until the 40’s, and I don’t think that many Americans traveled to Australia also, Moore of course in the 40’s fought a fighter named Ron Richards, who though stopped by Moore, was not that easy a fight from what I have read. In many ways boxing is a far world wide phenomenon than it was back then, geography, and the travel by Jets that we now take for granted one could not have blamed the Australians, like they did with Darcy, calling him world champ Australian version, if they had continued to do so up till the times of Sands and Carruthers.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:38pm, 01/18/2014

    Where the heck is Raxman on this one? A really fine write up except for the glaring failure to mention Sands’ Aboriginal heritage….no doubt, at least in my mind, that his Mom blessed him with at least half of the genes that helped make him the world class fighter that he became.

  3. Clarence George 01:56pm, 01/18/2014

    Nicolas:  You’re misreading my post, and I don’t blame you.  It does indeed look a bit as though someone calling himself “Webpage-Design” posted a comment.  But that’s actually my link to the Jack Dempsey photo.

    I was reminded of Calderwood in reading about Sands because of how similarly they died.  And in thinking of Calderwood, I’m reminded of the actor Ian Bannen—he and Calderwood were both Scottish, and both died in car accidents in Scotland.  What can I tell ya, it’s how my mind works.

    By the way, I’m with those who think Cerdan would have beaten LaMotta in the rematch.  I don’t think he would have beaten Robinson, but what a fight!

  4. nicolas 11:00am, 01/18/2014

    to: Webpage-design: I have heard of Chic Calderwood, but wonder why is it people bring up his name. He was killed in a car crash like Sands, but unlike Sands got a crack at the light heavyweight championship, and got stopped in two rounds by Jose Torres. Also got stopped on numerous occasions. His name came up to me the first time when Pierre Foure of SOuth Africa was killed in a car crash, though after he retired I believe, who did have four cracks at the light heavyweight title against Bob Foster and Victor Galindez, but fought them in four 15 round fights, a pretty good accomplishment.

  5. nicolas 10:21am, 01/18/2014

    Another thought to me was what if both Marcel Cerdan and David Sands had not gotten killed. Perhaps as many feel Cerdan would have regained the title from LaMotta, and might he have given Robinson more trouble that Lamotta did in that fight, even possibly win. Also if Sands had continued and been middleweight champion, perhaps Robinson’s reign as middleweight champ the first time would not have been so long. Would this also perhaps have not made Robinson declared the best fighter pound for pound.

  6. Clarence George 06:38am, 01/18/2014

    Very good article.

    I’m a big fan of Les Darcy, whose name doesn’t come up enough when great middleweights are talked about.  I think he was Australia’s best, and it’s a tragedy for the sport that he died so young.  Pneumonia is an absolute bitch.  I had it myself a few years ago, and it almost killed me, despite the antibiotics pumped into my arm.

    Jack Dempsey was another one accused of being a slacker.  Reading Daniel’s article reminded me of a photo in one of my favorite books, Paul Sann’s “The Lawless Decade,” of Dempsey working in a shipyard while wearing patent leather shoes.  I was able to find it online:


    I’m also glad of the info on Dave Sands, who really wasn’t anything more than a name to me.  His death reminds me of that of Chic Calderwood, the really good light heavy killed in a car accident before he was 30.

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