Loughran-Hopkins: “The Philadelphia Fighter”

By Norman Marcus on April 23, 2012
Loughran-Hopkins: “The Philadelphia Fighter”
A brass plaque remembering Tommy stands at 17th and Ritner in his old neighborhood

So here are the lives and careers of two Philadelphia fighters. In many ways the men are stunningly different and yet the same…

When a person thinks about the best there is in the world, certain things come to mind; a car—Rolls Royce, a woman—mom, a wristwatch—Rolex. The list can go on and on. But when you think of the best professional fighters in the world, you want a “Philadelphia Fighter.” At least that was the thinking back in the day. A boxer from the “City of Brotherly Love” was considered a cut above the rest in the game. They were well versed in style, technique, condition and ring savvy. The same was said about lawyers, you didn’t want a guy from New York or Boston to represent you in your hour of need. You wanted a “Philadelphia Lawyer” to fight for you.

Well, the list of great lawyers is very long and many people will argue with you about your choice, but when it comes to boxing, it is way easier. Oh, the list is pretty long here too. I could fill many pages with the names of great boxers from this city. Lew Tendler, Joe Frazier, Bennie Briscoe, Joey Giardello, Bernard Hopkins (who trains down the street from me at the “Joe Hand Gym.”) There is one guy however; whose name, to those who know it, brings a silence to the argument in every watering hole in Philly—Thomas Patrick Loughran.

Tommy was called the “Philly Phantom” in the press, with good reason. He was a ring artist who spent as many hours shadowboxing and working out in front of his floor to ceiling mirrors as any ballet dancer. Now don’t get the wrong idea, Tommy was no powder-puff. He was a disciplined, well conditioned fighter, who not only packed a punch but could also use the ring as a weapon. He suffered with bad hands and a weak jaw throughout his career, but Tommy used to say “they have to hit me to hurt me and they can’t hit me.”

Loughran’s career stretched from 1927 through 1937. According to the” Boxing Record” he engaged in 126 bouts with a record of 89 wins, 25 losses, and 10 draws in the middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. His newspaper decisions were 32 wins, 7 loses and 4 decisions to total 169 bouts. He scored 10 KOs. He fought 12 world champions in that time span. Loughran served as Jack Dempsey’s sparring partner while the ex-champ prepared for his rematch with Gene Tunney in 1927. He captured and held the World Light Heavyweight Championship from 1927-1929, finally beating “The Cinderella Man” Jimmy Braddock in a 15-round decision to retain the Light Heavyweight belt. Tommy then moved up to the heavyweight division for more of a challenge and more cash. The Ring magazine rated him “Fighter of the Year” in 1929 and 1931.

Tommy took on all the contenders who were willing to meet him. The list reads like a “rogues gallery” of boxing legends. He fought Tunney, Carpentier, Greb, Levinsky, Baer, Schaaf, Risko, Uzcudun, and Sharkey. Loughran lost a bout for the Heavyweight Championship against Primo Carnera in 1934, but went the distance. “The Pream” as Carnera was called was 6” taller than Tommy and outweighed him by 84 pounds!

Loughran gave Max Baer such a boxing lesson in 1931 that Baer stated after the fight, “The only time I touched Tommy was when we touched gloves, at the start of round one.” Max was so impressed that he came around the day after the fight and asked Loughran for some boxing lessons. Once Tommy saw that Baer was serious he told him that he was telegraphing his punches. “You have to learn to short punch Max. Go see Jack Dempsey up at the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan.  Jack is the best short puncher in the business, he’ll take care of you.” Baer jumped in a cab and caught up with Dempsey in the lobby. The two became fast friends and the rest is history.

Loughran hung up his gloves in 1937 and became popular as a referee. When WWII began Tommy enlisted in the Marines. After the war he returned to South Philadelphia and his home at 1634 Ritner Street. The gym he had trained in was in the basement of that house.

He later got a job on Wall Street and started a successful 25-year career as a stockbroker and speaker on the banquet circuit.  I wonder if Tommy ever bumped into Gene Tunney (also a stockbroker at the time) during his years working on Wall Street. Imagine calling Tunney or Loughran on the phone and discussing your investments?

A brass plaque remembering Tommy stands at 17th and Ritner Sts. in his old neighborhood.

Bernard Humphrey Hopkins Jr. was raised in the Raymond Rosen Projects in North Philadelphia. At 13 years of age he was already in trouble with the law. When he was 17 he was incarcerated at Graterford Prison, a state prison just outside of Philly. He had been convicted on nine felony charges. One of the other inmates was a man who had murdered Bernard’s younger brother. Luckily this guy chose to stay in “lock up.” The two men never saw each other. Hopkins served five years of a 15-year sentence for armed robbery and swore never to return there.

The next 10 years on parole were tough for Hopkins. One infraction and he would go back to jail. He told people that in those days he never jaywalked, never tossed a gum wrapper on the ground, never did anything that might get him in trouble again. Unlike most ex-cons, he kept that promise to himself. He decided that the sport of boxing had the discipline and order that he needed to help keep him straight. 

When he got back to Philadelphia he began a new life. He worked out everyday at his gym. His diet was simple. Bernard to this day eats no red meat, no sweets, and no soda, which he calls “liquid crack.” He exists basically on soy, turkey, raw vegetables and the occasional buffalo steak, which is “free range” and low in fat. The champ hasn’t had any alcohol in 18 years except for a glass of red wine everyday which he claims is good for his heart. He considers his body a temple and credits his diet with his long success in the ring. He was quoted often as saying “If you get your body right, you get your mind right; whatever you do you have a fighting chance and you have a chance to be victorious. It is the message beyond sports, it is the message in everything.” Hopkins goes by the ring name “The Executioner.”

Hopkins started his professional career in 1988 as a light heavyweight, with a loss to Clinton Mitchell in Atlantic City. He didn’t fight again until 1990 when he fought as a middleweight and went on a tear, winning 22 in a row. He finally won the IBF belt in 1995, the WBC belt in 2001, and unified the middleweight title with the WBA belt later that same year with a victory over Felix “Tito” Trinidad. Tito was a big punching, potential first ballot Hall of Famer from Puerto Rico. Hopkins stopped Trinidad on a TKO in the 12th round. He then lost the middleweight unified championship to Jermain Taylor in a split decision. Hopkins also lost the rematch to Taylor by UD.

He then campaigned in the light heavyweight division and took “The Ring Belt” away from Antonio Tarver. Bernard was a champion again.

Here in short are the big victories for Hopkins over that seven year period:

Hopkins TKO12 Felix Trinidad 2001
Hopkins TKO9 Oscar De La Hoya 2004
Hopkins UD12 Antonio Tarver 2006 (The Ring light heavyweight belt)
Hopkins UD12 Winky Wright 2007 (Above 168-lb. limit)
Hopkins UD12 Kelly Pavlik 2008 (Above 168-lb. limit)—Pavlik was the undefeated lineal middleweight champ and the guy who KO’d Jermain Taylor, then beat him a second time. Hopkins beat him at super middleweight.

In 2008 he lost The Ring light heavyweight belt to Joe Calzaghe in Las Vegas in 12 rounds. Even though Bernard dropped Joe in the first round and gave him a real boxing lesson, he seemed to slow down in the later rounds. Five years earlier, I think Bernard would have won that fight going away.

On December 18, 2010, he fought for the WBC light heavyweight title. In this first fight against Jean Pascal, Hopkins got a majority draw in Quebec, Canada. Many felt it was a hometown decision for the Frenchman fighting in the French Province. A rematch was set up in Montreal, Canada on May 21, 2011. On that night Bernard Hopkins finally became the new WBC and again Ring Magazine light heavyweight champion.

On October 15, 2011, in their first fight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Hopkins fought Chad Dawson in a title bout. Bernard won the first round but in the second round Dawson actually picked Bernard up by a leg and flung him to the canvas. Hopkins dislocated his right shoulder. He wanted to continue the bout with only one hand but referee Pat Russell refused. Hopkins asked for a foul to be called on Dawson. The referee disagreed and awarded a TKO to Dawson in the second round. The Hopkins camp left the ring refusing to hand over the belts. Hopkins’ people appealed the ruling to the California Boxing Commission and the Commission found for Hopkins. It was declared a “No Contest.” Bernard retained his title and belts.

The two men are to meet for the second time on April 28,, 2012, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City to settle the matter. Hopkins is quoted as saying that “I’ll win big… I think it is more impressive for a 46-year-old man to beat a 26-year-old man for 12 rounds easily. That to me is more impressive than getting a knockout in the first or second round.”

Hopkins at 46 is now the oldest man to win a professional boxing title. He has surpassed George Foreman who had been the oldest at age 45.

So here are the lives and careers of two Philadelphia fighters. In many ways the men are stunningly different and yet the same. They were both active fighters, taking on an array of opponents throughout the years. Each of them competed in multiple weight classes and were successful most of the time. Both men were Spartan in their diets and training methods; their ring skills are legendary.

A lot has changed in the 75 years that span these two careers. The whole culture and geography of the planet are all radically different now but the dedication to the craft of boxing is the same. The pursuit of perfection by the “Philadelphia Fighter” is unchanged.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Tommy Loughran vs Micky Walker

James Braddock vs Tommy Loughran part 1

James Braddock vs Tommy Loughran part Two

Jack Sharkey vs Tommy Loughran

Tommy Loughran vs Carnera

Tommy Loughran vs Leo Lomski

Tommy Loughran vs Jimmy Delaney, II

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  1. The Nuck 05:30am, 04/26/2012

    I think Hopkins continuing to fight is silly. He has clearly slowed down to the point that his fights are so boring to watch from a fan’s perspective it’s ridiculous. I almost fall asleep watching him the last few years. I’ve heard he has a lot of rental property in Philly and took care of his money, as he is also part of Golden Boy if I’m not mistaken. Why does he continue on? Bc like most fighters he doesn’t have a clue what to do with himself if the lights and the cheers went away. Hang ‘em up Bernard!

  2. JimmyD 10:15am, 04/24/2012

    Great write up on the Philly connection Mr. Marcus. Philly is a blue collar city that prides itself on guys who overachieve or pull themselves up by the boot straps. Matthew Saad Muhammad is another name that comes to mind when talking about tough Philly fighters.

  3. mikecasey 03:34am, 04/24/2012

    Loughran was a marvel, Norm. He skates around Braddock as if poor Jim isn’t even there. A true boxing master as you say.

  4. AKT 05:13pm, 04/23/2012

    Jack Sharkey would have been disqualified in his fight with Tommy Loughran, had it been in today’s boxing. Holding whilst punching is a huge no-no, but he got away with it!

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 01:16pm, 04/23/2012

    Norman Marcus-You’re a very good writer but you’re a tad off base re: the Calzaghe fight…..has Hopkins slowed down in the later rounds in any subsequent bouts….how about this take on the outcome…..Joe Calzaghe had absolutely everything to do with Hopkins slowing down and even at one point had Hopkins looking for an easy way out….keep in mind that millions saw this bout and it’s way too early for a revisionist take on what happened here. Five years earlier?...again you’re entitled to your opinion.

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