Tommy Farr the Tonypandy Terror

By Norman Marcus on May 15, 2015
Tommy Farr the Tonypandy Terror
There was a strong demand for a rematch with the Brown Bomber but it never happened.

Mayor La Guardia had surrounded the ring with police. The cops had a hard time controlling the crowd, who felt Farr had been robbed…

The year was 1937…

Tommy was born in Blaencldach, Wales, United Kingdom. He took his ring alias from the small coal town of Tonypandy nearby. The striking miners there had rioted and fought pitched battles with the mine owners, over the usual things, working conditions and pay. The fighting got so bad in 1910 and 1911 that British Home Secretary Winston Churchill had to send in troops to restore order among the terrorized town folk.

Born into poverty, Farr was one of eight children. His mother died of consumption (tuberculosis) when he was only nine years old. Just a few months later, his father George was killed, buried alive in a coalmine accident. Being the oldest boy, Tommy went down to work in the same mine that had killed his father. After all, he had to help support his brothers and sisters. Three years in those mines however, made learning the skills of a boxer look easy to him. He left the blackness of the mine for the square ring.

Farr started to work at local fairs and carnivals as a strongman. He was a big lad and the local toughs would pay a shilling to put up their hands against him. The girls loved to see their guys duke it out in those days. Today the PC police probably wouldn’t allow such goings on. But the world has changed since then, more the pity.

Now getting into a boxing ring with Tommy Farr soon struck terror into more than the local toughs. He began to be called the Tonypandy Terror on the sports pages of major city newspapers. By 1937, Thomas George Farr had moved up from the light heavyweight division where he had become the Welsh champion. He soon beat Ben Foord to capture the British and Empire Heavyweight title. Tommy then took on and defeated the number two ranked German heavyweight at the time, Walter Neusel. A decision over Max Baer quickly followed. These two key wins, sealed the deal for Promoter Mike Jacobs. He gave Farr the chance to challenge Joe Louis on August 30, 1937 at Yankee Stadium, for the heavyweight title. Fifty thousand people paid big money to see if the Welshman could knock out the Brown Bomber from Detroit, Michigan. This fight turned out to be as rowdy and controversial as Tommy Farr himself.

Tommy was a very smart fighter who knew all the tricks of the trade. Farr liked to attack his opponent. He could box or mix it up with the other guy in the ring. Joe Louis was more a boxer-puncher who liked to defend and counter punch. The Brown Bomber had good skills. If you were not careful, Joe could send you home early for the evening.

Farr had a bad training camp for this fight. The press wasn’t impressed by what they saw and predicted that he’d only last 5 rounds against Louis. A decade later Farr told sportswriter A.J. Liebling, “The American press didn’t like me… Robbed me of fifty or sixty thousand quid, they did.” The fight went the full 15 rounds which was rare in a Louis fight. Referee Arthur Donovan described what he saw of Tommy Farr in the ring that night. “Slipping, swerving, ducking and rushing, he glided around the ring and kept Louis on his toes for the entire 15 rounds. He circled away from Joe’s deadly left, made him miss often enough and as the battle progressed he actually gave his supporters hope that he might accomplish the incredible and gain the championship.”

To the fifty thousand fans watching the fight, Farr was landing punches at will. The crowd just went wild. In round 6 Farr landed a right hook to the champion’s chin. You could hear that one land three rows back! “You’ve got him Tommy” the excited fans screamed. But the punch landed a bit high, just missing the button. The champ backed up but didn’t go down.

Referee Donovan was in the ring and saw a different fight. He said, “The crowd didn’t see that Farr’s impressive right hand often arrived no further than an inch from the champion’s chin as the challenger was jerked up by a cutting jab… As the fight wore on Farr was still there punching freely and moving fast while he took some savage close quarter punishment” from Louis.

So the referee and two judges saw a different fight than the one the crowd did. Judge Charlie Lynch scored it 8-5-2, judge Billy McPartland scored it 9-6-0, and referee Donovan scored it 13-1-1 for Louis in a UD15. It was one of the toughest fights of Louis’s career. Donovan’s lopsided score all the more bizarre, after he had walked over to Farr’s corner and congratulated him with a handshake on a great performance.

Mayor La Guardia had surrounded the ring with police. The cops had a hard time controlling the crowd, who felt Farr had been robbed. There were more boos and foot stomping after the decision was announced. The judges and referee had to be escorted from the ring by the boys in blue.

There was a strong demand for a rematch with the champ but it never happened. You see in the interim, Farr lost a SD10 to Jimmy Braddock at the Garden in New York. He then lost a rematch with Max Baer, whom he had beaten earlier in London on points in 12 rounds. The first Baer fight got him the shot with Louis. He was featured on the January 1938 cover of The Ring Magazine. The second fight with Baer, at New York’s Garden in 1938 ended in a UD15 win for the Livermore Larruper. That spelled an end to Tommy Farr’s chances at another title shot. Promoter Mike Jacobs, who owned ten percent of Louis, was taking no chances on losing his money machine. Neither Farr nor Baer ever got into a ring with Louis again. Both men chased the title for many more years but it never happened.

Tommy Farr fought on until 1953. When he retired his record was 84-34-17 with 24 KOs.

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  1. Jim Crue 06:56pm, 05/16/2015

    Jacobs guaranteed Braddock 10% of his profits from Louis’s fights. How he manipulated the money who knows but Joe’s management was pretty wise. There is a great profile written by Budd Schulberg in the late 1940’s or 50’s about Jacobs. Money was Mike’s God

  2. Magoon 05:47pm, 05/16/2015

    What I remember is that James J. Braddock agreed to put his championship on the line against Joe Louis in exchange for a percentage of all his future purses. Maybe Mike Jacobs brokered the deal?

  3. Jim Crue 03:05pm, 05/16/2015

    Mike Jacobs did not own 10% of Joe Louis.

  4. Lindy Lindell 07:12am, 05/16/2015

    Norm, What is your source that Jacobs had 10% of Joe Louis?

  5. peter 03:26pm, 05/15/2015

    Thank you for this interesting time-capsule. Tommy Farr always caught my imagination. There is a book store in England that sells every boxing book known to man. I used to know the name of it but forgot. I bet there are many books devoted to Farr. He was always a fan favorite.

  6. nicolas 10:34am, 05/15/2015

    Arthur Donovan in an interview I believe in the early 50’s, and I think with an Australian news paper suggested that many caucasians were troubled but the number of black champions at this time, with Henry Armstrong, Joe Louis, and John Henry Lewis, the light heavyweight champ at the time, and this might have contributed to feeling of many there that Farr was winning. Even I have read that when Max Schmeling went into the ring the second time with Louis, as their names were being announced, Schmeling got a bigger cheer from the audience, despite all the bad press Schmeling might have received. Also of course without benefit of TV screens that are now around stadiums, I always wondered what the fans at that time were seeing. I do know a gentleman who had gone to see Sugar Ray Leonard fight Randy Turpin and Joey Maxim, and he said that they were able to see the action.

  7. Eric 09:48am, 05/15/2015

    You have to wonder how in the opinion of two judges the fight was somewhat close at 8-5-2 and 9-6, but the third man in the ring scores it a lopsided decision at 13-1-1.

  8. Kid Blast 09:06am, 05/15/2015

    Ah, another history lesson from Norm. Thank you.

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