Seeing Double: The Krays and Boxing

By Robert Ecksel on September 29, 2016
Seeing Double: The Krays and Boxing
The Krays made their mother proud. Reggie, especially, could do no wrong in her eyes.

When push came to shove, the Marquess of Queensberry and his fusty old rules were less help than hindrance…

I recently watched “Legend,” the new film about the Krays. Reginald and Ronald Kray were identical twin brothers who terrorized London during the Swinging Sixties. They were the most feared gangsters of their generation and had a hand in murder, armed robberies, arson, hijacking, bookmaking, protection rackets, shakedowns and assaults.

Reg and Ron were brutal hoodlums, but they were brutal hoodlums with style. Once described as the most dangerous men in Britain, they were West End nightclub owners of considerable renown and vaguely charming if not urbane. They lived a life of fast cars, fast women, hot blood and easy money, and left many broken noses in their wake.

“They were the best years of our lives,” wrote Ron Kray in his autobiography, “My Story.” “They called them the swinging sixties. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were rulers of pop music, Carnaby Street ruled the fashion world… and me and my brother ruled London. We were fucking untouchable.”

The twins mixed with politicians. They mixed with mob bosses. They hobnobbed with Frank Sinatra, George Raft, Judy Garland, and Diana Dors. They hired Eric Clapton to play at one of their clubs.

“I believe that Ron and I were predestined to become known,” Reggie once wrote, “either by fame or infamy.”

Ronnie was the cerebral one, the Apollonian twin, the Kray who plotted violence with the precision of a surgeon wielding a scalpel. He was later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.

Reggie ran hot. He was Dionysus on steroids. Prone to violent outbursts for no discernible reason, he was the twin without impulse control who punched first and didn’t ask questions later.

In the film “Legend,” the dual role of Reg and Ron Kay is undertaken by Tom Hardy, one of the great actors of our time. The movie is jazzy, a big film about two big subjects, and Tom Hardy is brilliant.

Boxing makes a brief appearance in “Legend,” a nod to Reggie and Ron’s favorite sport.

But that was it.

Lace ‘em up

The Krays fought amateur. The Krays fought pro. They were never champions, but did alright around the edges.

The twins frequented boxing booths when they were young. They earned a few shillings here and there fighting one another, but their formal training began at the Robert Browning Youth Club in South London. Reg and Ron took the #8 bus from Bethnel Green to Camberwell three times a week. Their “old man” paid for the boxing lessons.

“The first famous people we ever met were boxers,” Reggie said. “Ron and I used to spend a great deal of time in the company of boxing champions, including household names like Sonny Liston and Joe Louis.”

At the age of 12, the twins met Rinty Monaghan and Freddie Mills.

They met Jack Kid Berg. They met Ted Kid Lewis.

In 1948 Reginald Kray won the London Schoolboy Boxing Championship. He won several other schoolboy titles as well.

“I could punch hard with either hand,” Reggie said, “so much so that I broke eleven jaws that I know of it.”

The Krays were happy to use their fists, but “Ron and I usually had a knife on us.”

“Ron has a very kind side to his nature, even though he’s a complex character, often contradictory and eccentric,” wrote Reggie in his autobiography, “Born Fighter.” “I’ve known him to be vicious when necessary. He is completely fearless.”

“I never felt sorry for anyone who got hurt,” said Ron. “They deserved it, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. We’ve both been violent in our time, but we never liked it.”

The Krays turned pro on July 31, 1951, at The Arena, Mile End, in London, England. Reg debuted at lightweight. Ron fought at welter.

Reggie won his first fight on points and had six more fights in quick succession, one in August, one in September, two in October, one in November and December, at which time his pro career ended (7-0, 2 KOs).

Ron’s record is somewhat less distinguished. He knocked out his first opponent. He won his next three fights, before losing two fights, two months after his debut, ending his career with four wins and two losses, with all of his wins coming by way of knockout.

Their ring careers were over because Reg and Ron had been drafted—and it was not a good fit.

“It was deep-rooted in Ron and me at a very early age to be rebellious. That rebelliousness served me well. I have always been anti-authority.”

The Krays didn’t like the army.

The army didn’t like the Krays.

Reg and Ron complained about everything. They said they had headaches. They said they couldn’t sleep. They said they considered suicide.

No one bought the ruse. The twins continued to misbehave and were court-martialed twice for assaulting officers.

The Krays’ military career, like their boxing careers, ended abruptly. Their contribution, such as it was, to the cultural zeitgeist had only just begun—and the Krays brushed shoulders with boxing royalty.

Henry Cooper was their friend, as were Rocky Graziano and Archie Moore. So was Barney Ross.

“He was short, thickset, and had a broken nose and grey hair,” Reggie wrote. “He always wore dark glasses.”

In 1966 Reg visited the legendary Jimmy Wilde.

“A male nurse let us into the ward and took us to see the great man himself. He had twinkling blue eyes and a warm handshake when we met him… He was the greatest fighter Wales ever produced.”

Recalling his pal Maxie Rosenbloom, Reggie said, “Sad to say, he died in an American lunatic asylum not even knowing who he was. He had no idea he had been world champion.”

Boxing was special to the Krays, but business came first, and second, third, fourth and fifth.

“Discipline in and outside the firm was enforced by Ron and me by persuasion, reason, and by the fact that we were better at violence than the others were,” wrote Reggie. “We had mastered both boxing and street fighting. In boxing, obviously there are rules and regulations. In street fighting, there are no rules. Anything and everything goes—head butts, kicking, biting, using knees and gouging with the thumb.”

When push came to shove, the Marquess of Queensberry and his fusty old rules were less help than hindrance.

The Krays were sentenced to life in Parkhurst Prison in 1969 after being convicted of murdering Jack “The Hat” McVitie. Ronnie was also convicted in the shooting death of George Cornell, who reportedly called him a “fat poof.”

A decade later, Ron was transferred from Parkhurst to Broadmore Hospital, a high-security psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane at Crowthorne in Berkshire, England. He was described at the time “as a near moron in good physical condition but mentally dull. There are occasional glimpses in his behaviour of a latent violence.”

Ron Kray died in prison in 1995 of a heart attack at 61. Reggie died in 2000, from bladder cancer at the age of 66, after 31 years in jail.

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  1. raxman 10:25pm, 10/04/2016

    Eric - you want to check out a bio pic about a short of stature but viscous, ruthless and terrifying real life 80’s Scot gangster, then check The Wee Man (also released as Gangster, I believe - that to me sounds like a USA title ) its about a real life hard man Paul Ferris who despite his physical size was a dead set tough cutn!!!
    personally I find the limited availability of hand guns in the UK (compared to other countries) make for an even more frightening crim - something about blades, iron bars, and all sorts of handy man tools modified into weapons (aka tools) that leads to a viscousness not encountered in an underworld where the ease of firing a bullet takes the imagination out of the old ULTRAVIOLENCE

  2. peter 10:05am, 10/03/2016

    The Krays were mentioned in a Ray Davies’s song a while back—a song heralding good old England.

  3. Eric 09:26am, 10/01/2016

    Irish…Most “our” leaders have been carefully vetted by the powers that be IMO. Guarantee that most have skeletons in their closet and can easily be “pressured” into going along to get along. There is some politician out of Lousiana that is currently involved in some prostitute scandal. Seems a string of these prostitues in a local brothel have been murdered. Righteous people don’t usually gravitate towards politics unless out of sheer desperation. We are being led by the dregs of society. It has gotten a lot worse since, Mr. Smith went to Washington. Going to go catch some rays and get my Vitamin D, catch ya later, mate.

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:15am, 10/01/2016

    Bill Maher said he would vote for Hillary if she was dead….no surprise there….just dig up Ted Kennedy and the Walking Dead would vote to give him back his Senate seat….oh yes they would.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:09am, 10/01/2016

    Which reminds me, Ted Kennedy exposed his winkydink dik to Paul Anka’s wife at a dinner party no less…..think about that for a minute….who does that kinda’ shit? “The Lion of the Senate” who left Mary Jo Kopechne to drown…that’s who

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:39am, 10/01/2016

    Eric-One of the deadly serious issues in this country is the extremely high number of Walking Dead that are able to rise to power in this great republic. It’s one thing when these self loathing, mental defectives finally give up and off themselves, but an entirely different matter when they attain power and are bent on taking the rest of us down with them.

  7. Eric 08:20am, 10/01/2016

    Irish… I don’t trust any census we are given. I almost guarantee that the Los Angeles metro is much larger in population than the number we are being told. No telling how many illegals reside in the greater Los Angeles area alone. Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, etc., same deal.  Hell, we’ve been given the 11 million figure for decades now, truth be told, that number is more than likely between 30-35 million. It is nothing more than population replacement. I could get into a detailed discussion about social engineering but I would once again ruffle some feathers. And who needs the aggravation on a Saturday. haha. This truly started with the ‘65 Immigration Reform Act.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:08am, 10/01/2016

    Eric- Pop quiz…..what percentage of the population currently residing in this great nation and reaping all the benefits bestowed upon them just by virtue of the fact that they are here….hate this country? Hint: the answer is more than 50% ....the question is how much more.

  9. Irish 07:43am, 10/01/2016

    Irish…Remember the scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly where Eli Wallach tells the guy if you’re going to shoot, shoot, don’t talk? Excellent advice from Tuco. If you know a confrontation is unavoidable, never understimate the first strike. First choice should always be walk away, don’t ever engage in a pissing contest with some fool, this gives him the opportunity to “sucker punch” you while you are talking.

  10. Eric 07:36am, 10/01/2016

    I was visiting Glasgow in ‘85 and a couple of Scottish lads said I looked like a Cockney. hehe. I had no idea what a Cockney was, but it sure didn’t sound like a compliment. Only much later did I bother to actually find out what the hell a Cockney was, hmmm, no problemo with that call, mate. Always amazed at how tiny some of these feared mobsters and legendary criminals are in physical stature. I think the twins are listed at 5’7”-5’8"ish, dese guys terrorizing people is the equivalent of Tom Cruise playing the fictional, Jack Reacher. Clyde Barrow was listed at 5’7” and a buck twenty five. Guess dem little fellers got sumtin’ to prove and all.

  11. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:27am, 10/01/2016

    Eric-The last one was meant for you. How many times have you seen a white guy in a confrontation with a “minority” get sucker punched while he was still running his mouth? I’ve seen it plenty of times. That’s basically what’s happening right now on the streets in England….in a nutshell!

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:18am, 10/01/2016

    The answer is no…..had a buddy named Luis Gonzalez who was stationed on a base in England in the late Fifties. The favorite past time for him and his buddies when on liberty was to throw back a couple and then find some Teddy Boys to beat the fuk out of. He brought back a girl from the Midlands as his bride….the spitting image of Liz Taylor!

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:09am, 10/01/2016

    Ranked #10 WBC and #8 IBF….who the heck is Kid Granai?!

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:58am, 10/01/2016

    You got that right about Tom Hardy, who should have had the lead in “The Revenant”. Mumsie in the photo above looks like a jolly sort…..wouldn’t mind giving her a poke myself.

  15. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:48am, 10/01/2016

    Just touching gloves at the beginning took everything out of Dimitrenko….doesn’t change the fact that Parker “KOd” him with a kidney punch when he was clearly down.

  16. Eric 07:31am, 09/30/2016

    Would have loved to have been able to ask each of these fellers if it was worth it. Both went to prison in their mid 30’s and never tasted freedom again. One thing to ponder, would the Krays have made the same impact in the London of 2016?

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