The Unstoppable Harold Mays

By Clarence George on June 12, 2017
The Unstoppable Harold Mays
Harold Mays won the Garden State's 175-pound amateur title before turning pro in 1924.

Harold was much in demand as a sparring partner for Primo Carnera, Paul Berlenbach, Joe Louis, and Gene Tunney. He was, in fact, Tunney’s favorite…

“A crafty and durable fighter.”—Scott Yaniga

Born in Gardiner, Maine, on January 20, 1905, heavyweight Harold Mays, a good-looking lad with an Eddie Munster do, won the Garden State’s 175-pound amateur title on March 24, 1924, before turning pro and fighting out of Bayonne, New Jersey, from ‘24 to ‘33, winding up with an official record of 32 wins, 11 by knockout, and 12 losses, none by knockout. There were also 11 newspaper bouts (7-4).

Although very much a ham-and-egger, Mays not only took on his fellow toughies but also the names of the day, including Leo Lomski, aka the Aberdeen Assassin, who won on points at Queensboro Stadium in Long Island City, Queens, on June 16, 1927; Yale Okun, who won on points at Madison Square Garden that November 25; Ernie Schaaf (“a wonderful scrapper”), who lost by newspaper decision at the 113th Regiment Armory in Newark, New Jersey, on April 30, 1928 (“the fight was a thriller”), but won on points at Braves Field in Boston that July 31; Charley Belanger, who won by unanimous decision at the Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on April 10, 1929; “Two Ton” Tony Galento, who was “barely” outpointed at Lakewood Arena in Waterbury, Connecticut, that July 26 (“It was an even fight,” said Galento’s manager at the time, Harry Kinney. “The referee decided that contest on a half-point margin. It was close, but a defeat.” Maybe, though other observers called the win “decisive”), and at Playgrounds Stadium in West New York, New Jersey, on June 19, 1931, but, “eager for revenge,” the stout slugger won on points at Newark’s “tub of blood,” Laurel Garden, on February 20, 1933 (New Jersey Boxing Commissioner George E. Keenen didn’t at all care for Tony’s “physical appearance or weight” — though only 5’9”, he came in at 227 — and suspended him until he shed a few pounds, which took several months); Paul Cavalier, who won on points in Garfield, New Jersey, on September 6, 1929 (at stake, the Garden State’s heavyweight title), and again, this time at the Garden, that December 27; Ted Sandwina, who was outpointed at the Garden that September 12; “the highly touted” Marty Gallagher, who was “decisively” outpointed at the Garden on February 28, 1930, before losing by newspaper decision at the Exposition Building in Portland, Maine, on June 23, 1931; Jimmy Braddock, not only outpointed but “trounced” at Playgrounds Stadium on June 5, 1930; one-time Canadian Mountie (or so he claimed) Jack Renault, who won on points at Liberty High School Stadium in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that June 30, but was in turn outpointed at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field on June 15, 1931; K.O. Christner, who lost on points in “a bad beating” at Heywood Arena in West Springfield, Massachusetts, that July 27; Jack Redman, who won by unanimous decision at the Armory in Indianapolis that November 17; and Frank Cawley, who said that “nothing would please me better than to meet Harold Mays,” but lost by unanimous decision at the South Main Street Armory in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on January 28, 1932.

Mays retired from the ring after knocking out Argentine Raul Bianchi, aka Elefantito, in the first at Rome’s Piazza di Siena on October 22, 1933.

Harold was much in demand as a sparring partner for Primo Carnera, Paul Berlenbach, Joe Louis, and Gene Tunney. He was, in fact, Tunney’s favorite (who also considered him the best of the new generation of heavyweights; indeed, his likely successor. Mays, however, “does not need rely on this recommendation to sell his fistic wares to the fans,” according to the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader of January 16, 1932. “He has made himself a headliner by graduating in the pugilistic school of hard knocks, taking on all comers and on nearly every occasion emerging from the ring victorious”). His popularity as “hired gun” was due, at least in part, to “his ability to mimic various opponents’ styles and his capacity for taking a punch,” writes boxing scribe Scott Yaniga.

Although “Bayonne’s heavyweight topnotcher” didn’t come even remotely close to Tunney’s expectation that he’d score the heavyweight crown, he was at least inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame on September 22, 1974, along with, among others, flyweight Kid Murphy; bantamweight Marty O’Brien (Frank Sinatra’s father); lightweights Tommy Roman and Young Joe Firpo (who was built like a bull); welterweight Jimmy Phillips; middleweights Joe Cavalier (Paul’s brother), Gummy Snyder, and Al McCoy (don’t let the name fool you — McCoy’s old man raised kosher chickens); heavyweight Roy Lazer; and amateur lightweight Frankie Huber, who became a Catholic priest after hanging up the gloves (as did Mays opponent Young Con O’Kelly, whom Harold first outpointed at the Arena in Philly on April 8, 1929, then beat by newspaper decision at the Exposition Building on May 5, 1931).

Harold Mays reportedly died in June 1973, age 68, in Roselle, New Jersey.

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  1. Tom Reinhart 04:50am, 06/16/2018

    Thanks for writing this. Harold was my maternal grandfather, and when I was a kid I thought he just sparred a little! It was only when I saw his scrapbook as an adult that I learned the truth. One major reason he never fulfilled Tunney’s prophecy was that he broke with his manager, I think his name was Jack Driscoll, and Driscoll sued him and basically blackballed him.

  2. Clarence George 04:55am, 06/14/2017

    Thanks very much indeed, Mr. Freed.

    Best,

    Marcel Hillaire

  3. Bert Freed 02:53am, 06/14/2017

    Mr. George. You are performing a public service by rescuing these forgotten fighters from the scrap heap of anonymity. Mr. Mays has quite a fistic legacy that is most worthy of the attention he received in your fine article. I truly enjoy hearing about these gents, so please keep the articles flowing.

  4. Clarence George 08:10am, 06/13/2017

    Thanks very much, Irish.  Yes, Harold was a skilled toughie, worthy of rescue from virtual oblivion.  A significant weakness, both literally and figuratively, was his hitting power.  Eleven KOs in 32 wins is obviously not impressive.  Sure, some feather-fisted fighters achieve greatness (Maxie Rosenbloom, for instance), but punching power is always a welcome asset.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:14am, 06/13/2017

    Clarence George-He “trounces” Braddock and beats Galento two out of three…..you can see why Tunney thought he was the goods! I’m glad he never fought Louis…..he earned the title “Unstoppable” and he deserves to be remembered in this gem of an article!

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