What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

By The Fight Film Collector on February 19, 2016
What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate
Whatever deal was made between whomever, Carpentier insisted he was never informed.

Between rounds Siki’s manager berated him for taking the fight to Carpentier, “What are you doing?” “He hit me!” was Siki’s answer…

Georges Carpentier vs. Battling Siki
Montrouge France
September 24, 1922
16mm Film Transfer
NFSA Archive Footage

On September 24, 1922 at Buffalo Velodrome in Montrouge France, the deal was allegedly for challenger Battling Siki to take a dive in his title fight with light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier. So said Siki. It’s hard to imagine why such an arrangement had to be made since Carpentier was a seasoned veteran with one of the best reputations of any boxer in the world. Whatever deal was made between whomever, Carpentier insisted he was never informed. Still, a dive needs only a diver to take place. Take the hit and take the fall. Siki however, believing that Carpentier was in on the fix, expected the fight to go easy until the moment of untruth. Having not received the memo, Carpentier was all business from the opening bell, and blew into Siki as one would expect from a champion. Upon receiving a slap when expecting a kiss, Siki got pissed off. Between rounds Siki’s manager berated him for taking the fight to Carpentier, “What are you doing?” “He hit me!” was Siki’s answer. No dive took place. When the fight ended after a flurry of punches in the sixth round, Carpentier was initially declared the winner on a foul.  Minutes later, Siki was instead declared the winner by knockout. The matter went to court.

Georges Carpentier, the famous French boxing champion and war hero, is most remembered in the U.S. as roadkill for Jack Dempsey in their 1921 heavyweight championship fight, boxing’s first million dollar gate. Carpentier’s fight with Dempsey came after campaigning around the world for more than a decade. From his professional début in 1908 at the age of 14, Carpentier not only fought internationally, but in every division from 126 pounds up. Carpentier was a technical innovator, a cagey ring stylist with great instinct, speed, and knockout punch. Though he grew to fight in the heavyweight division, the 6’ tall Carpentier never weighed more than a light heavyweight, and was too young and too small to be a credible challenger during the heavyweight championship reigns of Jack Johnson and Jess Willard—1908 through 1919. In 1922, at the age of 28, Carpentier returned to France still holding the world light heavyweight title, and was anxious to reestablish his reputation at home. 

Battling Siki, who was born Louis Mbarick Fall, was a Frenchman of Senegalese heritage who had been fighting as light heavyweight since 1912. His bout with Carpentier followed a two-year winning streak with a reputation as a wild man in the ring. He was described as having a “primitive aboriginal style that smacked of wild tribal life in the jungles.” Despite the racist choice of words, what the author was describing was in fact a boxer of extraordinary raw talent. Siki and Carpentier had similar styles. Both used a wide defensive stance and fought tactfully, often out of a half crouch. Carpentier may have been the faster and more accurate puncher, but Siki was a swarmer. With arms up high Siki would bore in, head down and open up with combinations.

The fight was evenly matched for the first two rounds. The fighters stalked, rushed and traded with one another in brief flurries. Carpentier fought confidently but coolly as he measured Siki. In the third round, the champion opened up, hurting Siki and knocking him down twice. But Carpentier paid a price. At the end of the round he told his corner that he had broken his right hand. Siki came back in the fourth and the tide quickly shifted. In masking his injury, Carpentier began holding back. The challenger attacked relentlessly. If there was a fix, Siki’s losing opportunity began fading toward victory. 

The alleged miscommunication continued for three more rounds. Carpentier fought defensively, but the punishment took its toll. In the sixth round as Siki drove Carpentier to the ropes, their legs became entangled and Siki hit Carpentier as Georges went down. Carpentier immediately gestured that he had been fouled. There was a brief commotion between the referee and Carpentier’s handlers. The referee, who had never bothered to count, declared Carpentier the winner by disqualification. The crowd didn’t buy it. Neither did the officials. Caught red-handed, the three judges intervened and overruled the referee. Battling Siki was declared the new light heavyweight champion. A newspaper report on September 28 dispatched to the Moree Gwydir Examiner summarized the events:

“The crowd clamored for the verdict, which was tardily given. Ultimately it was megaphoned that Siki had been disqualified. The crowd sighed with relief at the official rein statement of the popular hero, but nevertheless everywhere the word ‘Scandalous’ was uttered. The three Judges, Breyer, Bennison, and Pujut, however, shortly discussed and overruled the decision, and gave a verdict in favor of Siki’s knockout. Carpentier is still under the attention of doctors for fractured bones in both hands, and his face is badly battered, but he will recover after a few days’ rest.”

Despite the ruling, the matter went to the French Boxing Federation. After studying the fight film, with the aid of hearing impaired consulting “lip-readers”, they upheld Siki’s victory, on the grounds that Carpentier had been “knocked out and abandoned the fight. (The president) based his appeal on the evidence of the films.”

Carpentier was indignant. “He declared that the referee’s decision was correct. Siki placed his foot behind his ankle, then knocking him out as he fell. ‘I took him too lightly, but I am confident I could regain the title.’ A message from New York states that Tex Rickard is after Siki for Wills or Dempsey, and is sending a personal representative to Paris. Wills is anxious to meet him. Driscoll sent Siki an offer of £20,000 to meet Wills at Brooklyn. Siki said he would train on liquor and would be a furious battler when properly organized.”

Siki was embraced by the French public who regarded him as a hero, just as they did Carpentier. The Siki-Carpentier rematch was much discussed and even scheduled, but never took place. Carpentier continued boxing until 1926, and retired shortly after losing a courageous battle with future heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. Siki’s fall from grace was as steep as his rise. By many accounts he led a freewheeling lifestyle. His nightlife and drinking gradually took precedent over training. In March in 1923, in the first defense of his world title, Siki lost to Ireland’s Mike McTigue in a controversial decision. Siki moved to the Unites States, but the ex-champion was on the losing end in the majority of his remaining fights. Like so many boxers, he eventually spent more money than he made. Though said to be a fun loving person, Siki could also be an angry drunk. He was charged with assault on more than one occasion. On the night of December 15, 1925, Battling Siki was found dead on a New York street near Hell’s Kitchen. He had been shot in the back by an unknown assailant. The police reported the shooting as the result of a street fight.

The Video

This was a great, underrated fight, with both boxers giving their all. Like most early fight films, the better the print, the better view of the action. The video here is compiled from several sources. The majority of the footage comes from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. The image is very sharp compared to most I’ve seen. The only adjustment I made was correcting the film speed. Round 4 was not included in the Australian print, as well as the last portion where you see the judges overrule the referee, and the decision being “megaphoned” to the crowd. I found and inserted those sections from a 16mm print. I left all the source audio in place, rather than showing a silent video. The clip of Siki at the end with an entourage is likely from British Pathé News.

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Battling Siki -vs- Georges Carpentier 9/24/22 (Extended Footage)

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  1. Lucas McCain 01:57pm, 01/08/2018

    Great to see this bout at last.  My eyes may be playing tricks on me, but it looks as if Siki didn’t just put his foot behind Carpentier’s, but kicked his leg to knock him off his feet.  Carpentier holds the leg in the air and appears unable to put weight on it when he gets up.  Of course, very hard to tell with an old film, but the quality was still exciting to see.

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