Lee Savold: Heavyweight Champion of the World

By Clarence George on January 3, 2016
Lee Savold: Heavyweight Champion of the World
Lee Savold met Joe Louis at the Garden on June 15, 1951, losing by sixth-round KO.

While James J. Braddock “hit the jackpot when it was found that his tootsies fit the champion’s shoes,” Savold wasn’t so lucky…

“Champions of little worth.”—A.J. Liebling

If anyone could say he boxed for a living, it would be Lee Savold.

Born in Canby, Minnesota, on March 22, 1915, but fighting out of St. Paul, “The Battling Bartender” fought from 1933 to 1952 (though out of the ring in 1949), winding up with an official record of 100 wins, 72 by knockout, 38 losses, 10 by knockout, three draws, and one no contest, an average of eight fights a year. More, with apologies to Yosemite Sam, he was the meanest, toughest, rip-roarin-est, Edward Everett Horton-est hombre whatever packed a boxing glove. Hell, he fought everybody. Everybody and his brother.

On the cover of The Ring at least four times between 1940 and 1950, Savold was among the Bible of Boxing’s top 10 heavyweight contenders seven times between 1939 and 1950, the year he was ranked second, fighting guys like Maurice Strickland, knocking him out in the third at the Coliseum in Des Moines on December 4, 1939; Billy Conn, who won by unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden on November 29, 1940; Solly Krieger, outpointing him at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on July 22, 1941; Larrupin’ Lou Brooks, knocking him out in the sixth at Delaware’s Wilmington Park that September 17; Buddy Knox, stopping him by sixth-round TKO at the Armory in Paterson, New Jersey, that December 2; Bill Poland, knocking him out in the ninth at Scott Stadium in Toledo on July 21, 1942; Jimmy Bivins, who won by unanimous decision at the Garden that November 27; Gus Dorazio, outpointing him at the Auditorium in St. Paul on December 15, 1944; Kid Riviera, knocking him out in the third at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri, on November 7, 1945; Elmer Ray, who won by second-round KO at Ebbets Field on August 28, 1946; deaf Fitzie Fitzpatrick, who won by unanimous decision at Los Angeles’ Olympic Auditorium on January 28, 1947; Tiger Ted Lowry, against whom he drew at the Stadium in Fall River, Massachusetts, on August 7 that year; Gino Buonvino, knocking him out in the first at the Garden on March 19, 1948; and Buddy Walker, knocking him out in the first at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium that May 4.

Savold twice lost to Sonny Boy Walker, outpointed on July 22 and August 12, 1936, both times at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium. Harry Bobo also beat him twice, first by split decision on May 26, 1941, then by second-round KO that August 12, both times at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. He stopped Lou Nova by eighth-round TKO at Griffith Stadium in DC on May 25, 1942, and knocked him out in the second at Wrigley Field in Chicago on August 9, 1943. Tony Musto, all 5’7½” of him, beat him by split decision at Griffith Stadium on August 21, 1942, but lost by unanimous decision at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium that September 17. Tami Mauriello twice beat him by unanimous decision at the Garden, first on October 30 that year, then on November 5, 1943. Eddie Blunt also beat him that year, on October 5, by split decision at the Armory in Akron, but got knocked out in the first at the Arena in Cleveland 17 days later. He beat Al Hoosman by unanimous decision at St. Nicholas Arena in New York City on December 3, 1945 (Hoosman’s first official loss), but lost to him by unanimous decision at the Garden on January 7, 1946. He lost to Phil Muscato by split decision at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium on March 11, 1947, and again by unanimous decision at the same venue that April 16.

The one-time farm boy, and later bartender, three times fought power-punching Lammin’ Lem Franklin, who knocked him out in the second at Marigold Gardens in Chicago on March 20, 1939, Savold returning the favor in the 10th at Chicago Stadium on February 15, 1943, in a “sensational fight,” and again in the eighth at the same venue that April 16. He beat Joe Baksi by split decision at the Garden on March 10, 1944, but lost to him by unanimous decision at the same venue that May 26 and again by majority decision at Wrigley Field that August 7.

His no contest took place at Chicago Stadium on March 1, 1946, Savold uncharacteristically unwilling or unable to engage tough Chilean Arturo Godoy.

Joe Gootter, one-time sports editor at Paterson, New Jersey’s Evening News, once referred to Savold as another Cinderella Man. But while James J. Braddock “hit the jackpot when it was found that his tootsies fit the champion’s shoes,” Savold wasn’t so lucky.

Following Joe Louis’ retirement from the ring on March 1, 1949, after knocking out Jersey Joe Walcott in the 11th at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 1948, the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) announced that they would recognize the winner of Lee Savold-Bruce Woodcock as heavyweight champ. Savold, who’d lost to Woodcock by disqualification at Harringay Arena in London on December 6, 1948, stopped him by fourth-round TKO at White City Stadium in London on June 6, 1950, thus gaining championship status, at least as far as the BBBofC was concerned. Rather ridiculous, given that Ezzard Charles had won the vacant National Boxing Association World heavyweight title by beating Walcott via unanimous decision at Comiskey Park in Chicago the year before, on June 22, 1949. On September 27, 1950, Louis challenged Charles for the title at Yankee Stadium, Charles winning by unanimous decision. Following his win over Woodcock, Savold met Louis at the Garden on June 15, 1951, losing by sixth-round KO. Reason then reascended its throne, and the BBBofC recognized Charles as champion.

Savold’s reign may have been as illusory as it was brief, but he wasn’t of “little worth,” as A.J. Liebling would no doubt have referred to him. 

He last fought on February 13, 1952, at Philly’s Convention Hall, Rocky Marciano retiring him in the sixth. It was an awful performance by both men. While Marciano did damage when he landed, most of his shots missed wildly. In fact, he did more damage to his reputation and career than he did to Savold, who gave an Oscar-worthy interpretation of a punching bag. Marciano biographer Russell Sullivan called it a “fiasco.”

Lee Savold died in Neptune, New Jersey, on May 14, 1972, age 57. He was inducted into the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012.

No one, except maybe his wife and kids, ever seriously considered Savold Heavyweight Champion of the World. Still, to paraphrase Gootter, he was someone who meant business.

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Lee Savold - Bruce Woodcock II (Highlights)

London (1949)

Paramount News 1949 Issue #56

Joe Louis vs Lee Savold

This Day in Boxing February 13, 1952 Marciano Stops Savold

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  1. Bob 05:36pm, 10/25/2016

    Savold ended up in Vietnam during the late 60,s. If I remember correctly, he was in the merchant marine

  2. Clarence George 09:30am, 01/04/2016

    Thanks for the 411, Eric, which I didn’t know.  A good sign is that Razor was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014.

  3. Eric 09:19am, 01/04/2016

    Clarence…Last I heard, Scott, was doing much better. At one point in his life, Hall was arrested for second degree murder. Don’t know where or when the incident took place, but according to the story/video, Hall and another man got into an altercation outside a strip club. Hall decked the man and the man reached for his gun and attempted to shoot Hall, Hall wrestled the gun free and shot the other man. The second degree murder charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence if I remember right. The beer/soda incident as well as the murder story can still be seen on Youtube. Hall was actually in the WCW when the beer/soda thingie occurred. Hall actually seems like a stand-up fella, hope he works things out.

  4. Clarence George 09:05am, 01/04/2016

    Quite right, Mike.  Savold has been inexcusably dismissed, and I just didn’t want to let that pass.

    If I remember right, Eric, Hall, aka Razor Ramon, was a complete drunk at one point.  I understand, however, that he’s now sober and doing well.

  5. Eric 08:44am, 01/04/2016

    In all fairness to Savold, the relentless, smothering attack of Marciano, along with those bone jarring punches would take the fight out of most fighters. Speaking of the WWE, I remember when someone threw a cup of beer at Scott Hall while Scotty was in the center of the ring working the mic. True to form, Scott Hall,  never one to pass up a beer in his day, didn’t miss a beat and continued working the mic like a real pro.

  6. Mike Casey 08:37am, 01/04/2016

    All the fights Lee Savold had and he hardly gets mentioned. Thanks for mentioning and remembering him, Clarence. Like so many others, Lee wasn’t that fashionable and unfortunately slips between the cracks these days.

  7. Clarence George 07:48am, 01/04/2016

    My own opinion, Eric, is that Savold didn’t throw the fight, at least not in the traditional sense.  But he certainly didn’t give it the old Stillman’s Gym try.  A real “homber,” as Daffy Duck would say, he was nevertheless rapidly approaching 40, in the ring since ‘33, and I think pretty much had it.  He also liked his beer, as “Chicago Tribune” sportswriter David Condon informed his hapless readers in one of the most mean-spirited obits I’ve ever read.  He also used the opportunity to gratuitously attack Tony Galento.  Even got in a dig at Johnny Paychek (a name he misspelled).  I refused to give the guy any ink in my article.

    Speaking of rowdy fans, the WWE has had increasing problems in this regard.  Most recently, some fool lobbed a bottle at Sheamus’ head.  I ask you, where’s the decorum?

  8. Eric 06:49am, 01/04/2016

    Looks like Savold was only a year younger than the Brown Bomber when they met and just a few days shy of 37 when he met Marciano. Russell Sullivan in his book, “The Rock of His Times, wrote that the poor showing by Savold and his refusal to put up much of a fight led some to believe the Marciano fight wasn’t on the level. Sullivan goes on to write that Marciano would say that he had never given another a fighter a beating as severe as the one he had given Savold. Savold sustained a bashed and bloody nose, his lips were split open, his right eye gashed, and flabby, out of shape body was beaten a bright pink. The nine thousand fans in Philadelphia booed throughout the bout and even when Marciano’s hand was raised in victory. Philly? Worst town on earth to turn in a bad performance. Hell, they even booed Mike Schmidt. hehe.

  9. Clarence George 07:29pm, 01/03/2016

    Thanks, Beaujack, and always glad when you visit.  Great post, as usual.

    Mauriello was the first to stop Woodcock after the Yorkshireman had scored some 25 wins in a row, I think all by stoppage.  Very impressive those guys, all of ‘em.

  10. beaujack 06:56pm, 01/03/2016

    Clarence, another great piece of a worthy fighter of yesterday, Lee Savold…His name brings back to me fond memories of those long ago days when I saw Savold get stopped by Elmer Ray at Ebbett’s Field. Savold when young had a great left-hook from an orthodox position. Later on we saw Savold against Tami Mauriello and Joe Baksi at MSG. The quartet of Lee Savold, Tami Mauriello, Joe Baksi, and Lee Oma fought each other many times at MSG. I recall seeing Bruce Woodcock from Britain fighting Tami Mauriello also at MSG…Wonderful days for me, as the next day [Saturday] I would go to my favorite haunt Stillman’s Gym on 8th Ave, where for 50 cents I would see the greatest fighters of those days training…AH. NOSTALGIA !

  11. Clarence George 01:33pm, 01/03/2016

    Giving Savold his due is exactly right, Irish.  Unlike today, when everyone and his fourth cousin eight times removed is acknowledged as some sort of “champion,” the BBBofC’s recognition of Savold perhaps meant at least a little something.  Perhaps very little, but still.  Even more importantly, he was a rugged fighter deserving of some attention.

    Yes, I think Woodcock had a bad gash over one of his eyes.

    I close with these immortal words (which, to my dismay and distress, no one but me seems to remember):

    “I’m sure you recognize this lovely melody as Strangers in Paradise.  But did you know that the original theme is from the Polovetsian Dance No. 2 by Borodin?  So many of the tunes of our well-known popular songs were actually written by the great masters—like these familiar themes…”

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:45am, 01/03/2016

    Clarence George-Giving Savold his due! The Woodcock “Title Fight” was clearly a big deal in London with a large crowd in attendance. Hard to figure the ending….looks like Savold landed a nice combo at the end of the round and that was that….no indication that Woodcock was cut or was he?

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