Legacy: Triumph and Tragedy of Randy Turpin

By Ben Hoskin on January 29, 2013
Legacy: Triumph and Tragedy of Randy Turpin
Turpin had reached the pinnacle of his craft with a victory over the 128-1-2 Robinson.

Without his tour de force, this magnificent country may well have been deprived of some of the world’s most transcendent athletes…

Boxing and tragedy have been waging a symbiotic exchange since records were kept for this finest of sports. The very nature of the fistic art determines the character of its protagonists. Tough, combative athletes giving up a portion of their very essence each time they step into the lion’s den produce more individuals inclined to dance with the devil with their lives away from the glare of publicity their vocation affords them. It is a tragic irony that despite the enthralling performances many boxers provide audiences worldwide within the ropes, their private lives are littered with unsavory and sometimes murderous intent. There can be no simple explanation for this higher than average recidivism as each man is different. Perhaps the future will shed light on the endorphins boxers create having a detrimental effect on their ability to sometimes see reason. It could also be argued the very nature of the sport renders its cast powerless to differentiate what happens inside the ring to what happens out of it. The central character of this piece was a pioneer of his time who reached the lofty heights yet left this life at far too young an age amid much supposition and hearsay.

If ever a name was ordained to be put up in lights it would surely be that of Randolph Adolphus Turpin. Randolph was the third boy in the Turpin clan, after Lionel and Jackie, arriving June 7, 1928. Born to a black Guyanese father and a white English mother, Randy, as he was to be better known, entered the world in an England where the native Anglo-Saxons made up virtually the entire population. Unlike the United States where black families were abundant and could rely on each other for support, the Turpin’s were quite alone as the only mixed race family in their neighborhood. In fact it has been argued they were in fact the first mixed race family in the whole county of Warwickshire, which is an incredible reflection of society in the United Kingdom at that time.

Despite Lionel Turpin fighting in the First World War as part of Britain’s Empire forces, it didn’t allow his three young boys to escape the bullying that is inherent when young kids see someone or something different. Despite mum, Beatrice being English, the boys brown skin was a point of difference to their peers and it soon became apparent to the Turpin brothers that they had to fight fire with fire. Eldest brother Lionel Jr., better known as Dick, was the first of the boys to join a local boxing club in Leamington Spa. Being eight years older, Dick was physically too big for young Randy to spar with, yet the experience of watching his elder brother in the gym and turning professional in 1937 galvanized Randy to join the Leamington Boys Club at the age of twelve.

Whilst this article mainly focuses on Randy, it should be noted that Dick the eldest and Jackie the middle brother both had very good careers in boxing. The gene that spawned such a talented family could have come from dad, Lionel, yet Jackie was once reported as saying mum, Beatrice, was the source for their fighting instincts. Coming home on leave from the navy one time, Jackie had opted for a couple of swift alcoholic beverages before getting home. Intoxicated, happy and full of lustrous lungs, the middle Turpin woke the street up with a bawdy ballad. Unfortunately a neighbor twice Jackie’s size was about to give him a whipping till Beatrice administered a slippery dig from his blindside and knocked him out! An incredible statistic is the fight records of the lesser-known brothers. Dick finished up with 77-20-6 record and Jackie ended with an 82-35-8 ledger! Dick also was the first colored boxer to win a Lonsdale belt with a British title (middleweight) and also won the Commonwealth strap. He was well ranked in European circles, narrowly missing out on a tilt at the European title with a draw and narrow loss in a final eliminator with Tiberio Mitri. The stars had certainly aligned for the third edition of the fighting Turpin family!

Randy soon showed remarkable aptitude in the amateur ranks. He tore through his opponents, compiling a 95-5 record, which is an incredible statistic for that day and age. The amateur system after the Second World War was brimming with talent. Men that were battle hardened after serving in a vicious conflict that had seen many of their comrades die or maimed had no better outlet than to release their inner demons with combat within the squared circle. Randy won three British junior titles then in 1945 won the senior ABA welterweight title. The following year he backed that up and took out the ABA middleweight title, an amazing feat for an eighteen-year-old boy. Perhaps his finest achievement as an amateur was his devastating ninety second kayo of Harold Anspach that helped Great Britain to a 5-3 victory over the United States in the annual amateur match-up between the nations.

Randy turned to the professional ranks three months after his eighteenth birthday. No one boxer had quite captured the British public’s imagination upon entering the paid ranks as Randolph Turpin. His stellar amateur pedigree had bestowed almost mythical status upon his broad shoulders. This was the man who would deliver a world crown to the hungry British community. Turpin was an anomaly for his time. He possessed an incredible physique for the age, hugely muscled from lifting weights in the gym. Modern-day thinking would dismiss the bulking up of a fighter as it diminishes the elasticity of the arms and reduces speed, yet Randy embraced his muscled figure and used it to his advantage. His style of fighting was revolutionary at the time with the use of the shoulder rolling away from his opponents lead, yet a modern-day superstar has incorporated it into his repertoire of defensive tricks! Randy was a beast of a man in the gym too. He didn’t cut corners in sparring and had nasty intent with each session. Jackie, his eldest brother, reported that Dick the eldest sibling would spar but with Randolph it always turned into a fight! His course was set.

Although a huge debt of gratitude was owed to our close allies for the losses they sustained in aiding our cause against the Nazis, there was an underlying feeling of resentment, particularly amongst the British male populace, with the treatment the American G.I.’s enjoyed whilst stationed in the U.K. “Over-paid, over-sexed and over here” was a common thread with the returning British troops regarding their American counterparts. If there was a hero to restore some British pride, then Randolph was the individual to look up to.

He didn’t disappoint on his pro debut either with a technical stoppage of Gordon Griffiths with two knockdowns in the first stanza. Randy was off and running. He went on an unbeaten nineteen run streak, which included an impressive second round kayo over Welsh champion, Tommy Davies (40-19-5) in only his ninth fight and a hugely commendable points victory over the grizzled veteran Vince Hawkins (72-4-1) who was a former British middleweight champion. Whether it was the hullabaloo surrounding Turpin’s ascension to the higher echelons of British middleweight action at such short notice, assuaging his temperance from the hard graft required of a professional athlete, or just fate’s cruel hand evening the ledger, but Randy suffered two reverses in his next three contests. Both defeats were at the hands of solid if not spectacular pugilists. Albert Finch (28-4-1 coming in) outpointed Randy over eight rounds and future French champion and European title challenger scored a spectacular fifth round technical stoppage over Turpin. Close observers of the Turpin family attributed these setbacks on the tumult in Randy’s personal life, which included an arrest for assaulting his wife (later quashed), yet the distractions caused would undoubtedly impact on his preparations for contests. However, defeats in this most unforgiving of sports are part and parcel of the boxer’s journey, and the mark of a man is how he reacts to adversity.

Randy had to convince the British public he had the appetite to regain their trust and more importantly their aspirations. He did that and more with an incredible winning streak. Twenty-one victories followed over a mixture of British, European and American fighters. Included in the list were avenging defeats over Albert Finch and Jean Stock. Not only had he beaten them, he had made a real statement of intent by stopping each in the fifth stanza. The bonus in besting Finch was picking up the British Middleweight title, Randy’s first championship as a professional. In doing so, it stopped the hoodoo Finch had over the Turpin family, as he’d beat Dick twice earlier that year of 1950. He also beat the terrifically talented Tommy Yarosz with an eight-round disqualification. Randy’s opponents were being ratcheted up in class with diligent increments, allowing him to become accustomed to the ring intelligence the international fighters could afford him. His crowning moment thus far in his career came with a brutal forty-eight second demolition of Luc van Dam for the European Middleweight strap. Randy had announced himself on the world stage. Being the champion of Europe allowed him a pathway for a tilt at the world title, though there was a formidable obstacle in the way in the form of Walker Smith, otherwise known as the uber-talent, Sugar Ray Robinson! A successful defense of his European title resulted in a sixth round stoppage of Jan de Bruin was then followed up with an hors d’oeuvre warm up over Jackie Keough.

The stage was set for a contest against the living legend Robinson at Earls Court, London on the 10th of July 1951. Sugar Ray was a phenom in his and any era of boxing. For sure he is the greatest welterweight of all time and a good argument can also add the middleweight accolade too. It is a given that light-middleweight would have been dominated by him if it existed also! He defeated a who’s who of the boxing fraternity including boxing hall-of-famers Jake LaMotta, Carmen Basilio, Gene Fullmer, Carl Olson, Henry Armstrong, Rocky Graziano and Kid Gavilan.

Picture the scene. The recognized greatest boxer the world has ever been privileged to embrace comes to England to lace up the gloves against Leamington’s upstart. The “Leamington Licker” he’s known as, though not because he’s an incredible “beater” of men! It’s derived from his remonstrations with his elder brothers. “Don’t take advantage of me because I’m the lickle’ist” was his plea to brothers Dick and Jack and the name stayed. Nobody but the most devout Turpin followers gave Randy a snowball’s chance in hell and the oddsmakers had him a huge underdog. It’s been mentioned that Sugar Ray was on a grand tour of Europe, earning easy money and extravagantly allowing his many hangers-on a pleasant junket. A legitimate superstar and consummate pro like Sugar would never have allowed this to happen. The Exhibition Hall saw the twenty-three-year-old Turpin wrest the middleweight title from the living legend with a unanimous fifteen-round decision. The verdict had the 18,000 capacity crowd standing up and singing “for he’s a jolly good fellow,” followed by a standing ovation all the long walk back to the dressing room. Randy Turpin had reached the pinnacle of his craft with a victory over the 128-1-2 Robinson.

What should have been a long reign over his peers was diluted by the concessions agreed to when making the original Robinson match. Instead of today’s practice of making a voluntary defense of an alphabet strap and perhaps then proceeding with a mandatory, depending on the clever machinations of manager/promoter, the 1950s had only eight world champions and returns were set in stone. The opportunity of being allowed to challenge Sugar Ray came with a caveat. If the unthinkable happened a return was demanded.

Whilst Randy was feted across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, he had to do it all again in the city that never sleeps, sixty-four days later. With the Polo Grounds in New York packed to the rafters with an incredible 61,437 paying customers generating $767,626, it was to be a sobering experience for young Randy. It was a record attendance for a non-heavyweight fight. The Licker gave a good account of himself, proving more than nuisance value, but Robinson wasn’t regarded as the greatest boxer alive for nothing. Sugar attacked downstairs far more in the second installment, probably after realizing his success in that area towards the end of their first battle. Turpin’s incredible physique was getting worked over, enabling Robinson to get those large shoulders of his opponent to drop just that fraction for concussive overhand rights. Randy’s fitness and sometimes “clever” use of his head during clinches sustained him for several rounds. In fact the eighth stanza saw Sugar sustain a deep and badly cut eye. Many scribes at the time felt it so serious the contest should have been halted for a technical stoppage yet championship fights involving superstars can allow for a certain amount of latitude in such situations. Robinson was in dire straits with the laceration and desperate measures were required to extricate himself from his parlous position. He proceeded to attack Randy with his vast armory and the tenth round finally bore fruit for the ex-champion when a hail-mary right-hander put the Englishman down on the canvas for a count he just managed to beat. How he managed to beat the count was testament to his courage as his head snapped back with the delayed reaction finally reaching the soles of his feet a fraction of a second later. Robinson attacked the champion with all he had, yet many of his punches were missing by the merest of margins as Randy weaved from side to side, mainly from exhaustion but also by rote. To be truthful, if some of those spiteful punches had landed the intervention of the referee, Ruby Goldstein, would have been null and void yet it was felt the stoppage eight seconds from the end of the round was a little premature. For sure Sugar Ray was in the ascendancy yet recent events may have influenced his decision. George Flores’ death in the ring eleven days previously may have been a factor, yet in all truth if Randy had been allowed to continue it was likely he would have received grievous injury.

His reign as the world champion was over and those lofty heights were never to be revisited but life and boxing would continue for the man from Leamington. He took a well deserved five months off after his defeat but got back into the winner’s circle with two warm-up victories before he challenged the tough as teak Don Cockell for the Commonwealth and British light-heavyweight title. Eleven action-packed rounds later saw Randy’s hand held aloft as he stopped the man who would later go nine rounds for the heavyweight title before being stopped by Rocky Marciano. Turpin’s next fight saw him annex the Commonwealth Middleweight strap against George Angelo with a fifteen-round decision. His belt-collecting continued with another points victory over Charles Humez for the European middleweight crown. This also doubled up as an eliminator for the World crown against Carl Olson as Robinson had decided to retire. What should have been an assignment he was well capable of succeeding in saw Randy beset by domestic strife and arguments with brother Dick. He hadn’t been training as a professional should and consequently his last attempt at regaining his world title ended in a wide margin decision loss, also being dropped in the ninth and tenth rounds. The drama wasn’t over for Randy as he was arrested for an alleged assault on a twenty-four year old woman. Although the case was dropped, a settlement was reached in a civil court. It was a portent of serious problems to come!

He lost his European middleweight title in a disastrous round when Tiberio Mitri caught him with a left hook under his right ear, which affected his balance forcing the referee to intervene. With heavy hearts his legions of fans in the British Isles thought they had seen the last of one of their country’s warriors. The Turpin flame hadn’t yet been extinguished. He regained the British and Commonwealth light heavy titles with a stunning two-round demolition of Alex Buxton at the end of 1956. The remainder of his career slowly went off the boil with three defeats to men he would have accounted for easily had he been in his pomp. There were still highlights remaining, including winning the Lonsdale belt outright with another stoppage of Buxton and a successful defense against Arthur Howard. A sign of his decline was evident as he was put on the canvas three times en route to a points decision. A final and comprehensive reverse with a second round kayo at the hands of Yolande Pompey was testament to his diminution in the ring. This was 1958 and Randy had just turned 30. He had two more contests five and six years later, both coming by knockout, yet both bouts were not licensed by the British Boxing Board.

Finances had become a problem. In this Turpin was not alone as it was a situation that had encumbered many before and after him in this, the most unyielding if vocations. Retirement brought the stark reality that the massive paydays of his younger years had been squandered. Whether it was through bad management or a lavish lifestyle that couldn’t be sustained, Randy found himself in a dark place. He took to wrestling to earn an easy quid yet the remuneration involved was but a modicum of the desired amount. The British government in all their temperance pursued him for unpaid back taxes from years gone by. It was not within the government’s insensate modus operandi to allow one of her most storied subjects some leeway in his times of struggle. The kudos and financial impetus he brought to the country in his prime was replaced by opprobrium as far as the tax man was concerned. The great man’s final venture, a humble transport café was repossessed and he had to file for bankruptcy. May 14th saw Randy receive a final demand from the accursed taxation department for a final settlement. Three days later saw Randy took his then seventeen-month-old daughter, Carmen, into his loft bedroom and allegedly shot her before shooting himself dead. Thankfully Carmen survived but the story doesn’t end with this tragic finale. Why would a man who adored his little girl commit such an abhorrent act? Obviously the insensitive demands of the Inland Revenue can drive a sane man to drink but to such a final execution? There has always been an underlying seam of unpleasant rumor surrounding this great fighter’s demise, much like another from the same era, Freddie Mills. Whilst it is impossible so many years later to find closure, it was reported in some circles that Randy was owed a considerable sum of money from people who ran his affairs whilst in his pomp. Nearly fifty years down the track some may ask is it important to look for answers to this apparent brainstorm that blighted his reputation. It surely must be considered as his legacy has been dulled to such an extent that his name is never considered when the local boxing experts of the day in the U.K. are quizzed on these shores’ finest boxers.

Was Randy Britain’s greatest ever world champion? For sure he broke down the color barriers that ostracized the black population of the United Kingdom. He was the vanguard of fighting heroes from Britannia’s shores in that respect. His deeds galvanized the minorities from his land in such a way that it enabled them to appreciate they weren’t just cheap imported fodder but valuable and pertinent citizens. This could well be his lasting legacy but his story is incalculably more relevant, especially when considering the history of boxing in the last fifty years in Britain. Without his tour de force, this magnificent country may well have been deprived of some of the world’s most transcendent athletes. Greats such as Conteh, Honeyghan, Benn, Eubank and Lewis may have chanced their arm elsewhere and a poorer world that would have been, being deprived of such fistic genius. Forget the fact he held the middleweight world championship for only sixty-four days, remember he overcame the finest human being who ever laced the gloves up. Even more incredible is coming to terms with Lionel Turpin having three boys with such talent. Agreed, his premature death and shocking injury to his daughter is unforgivable but was it his hands that committed such treachery? It appears such a long time has passed that we will never know yet it is important to appreciate the feats Randolph Adolphus Turpin achieved in the squared circle and his incredible victory over the finest, Sugar Ray Robinson.

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  1. andy 11:13am, 12/07/2015

    Hi,wondering if anyone can help. Im trying to find Randolph Turpins amateur record,with names of his opponents. A dear friend of mines father allegedly beat him in a contest before he turned pro,hope someone out there can help, thank you.

  2. Ray Ray 10:33am, 10/30/2013

    As far as British boxers are concerned, i think Randy’s story would make for a great movie.

    Not a hollywood ending by an means, but at one point being on top of the world, to several years later being the worst you could ever feel. Very tragic.

  3. Ben Hoskin 10:44pm, 02/01/2013

    Gimpel, granted the hook may have been sugar-coated but did you see Randy’s laces trip him and cause his apparent cerebral stagger?

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 01:25pm, 01/31/2013

    Ben Hoskin-No hard feelings mate….but Tiberi’s hook did more than effect his balance it just plain knocked him out and that’s the name of that tune!

  5. Ben Hoskin 12:25am, 01/31/2013

    Jethro, I wasn’t trying to elevate Randy above other British greats in terms of ability. For mine, Lennox is the greatest British boxer of the modern age, only superceded by Jimmy Wilde in an all-time list. I was purely throwing out the notion that the path he trod enabled future black fighters to make a success of themselves in the ring.  As far as as a pioneering role model for his fistic achievements, I’m quite convinced his legacy has no equal. I probably didn’t express my point more eloquently in that champions can be great not only with their feats but also by being great role models. Randy was certainly a prototype in that respect.

  6. Jethro Tull 12:14pm, 01/29/2013

    Was Randy Turpin Britain’s greatest ever world champion?

    No. Simple as that.

    Ranking a fighter the greatest on the basis of out of the ring achievements is simply wrong.

    Such fighters as Lewis and Honeyghan must rank well above him, as must Joe Calzaghe and Carl Froch but that’s another story entirely.

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