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The Bensch Family - by Ron Jackson

In late 1930’s the good looking Tommy Bensch looked like one of the best rospects
to be unearthed in many years. However, bad hands and the enforced inactivity brought about by the Second World War destroyed his chances of making it to the top.

Tommy who was born in the Orange Free State town of Brandfort on March 11, 915
grew up on the diamond diggings at Bloemhof where his uncle enjoyed matching the nine-year-old Tommy with other youngsters in boxing matches.

His father was unable to make a decent living on the diggings so he moved to Johannesburg and found work on the gold mines.

At the age of fifteen Tommy began to box as amateur at the Sparta club and under the guidance of Eddie Pierce who won bronze medals at the Empire and Olympic Games and as a professional won the South light heavyweight title.

Tommy was a promising amateur but unfortunately broke his hand at the 1936
Olympic Games trials and after this setback decided to join the professional ranks as a middleweight.

He made his pro debut on August 1, 1936 in Johannesburg and scored a points victory over Jack Pienaar and in his second fight outpointed Barney Kieswetter the South African middleweight champion in a nontitle fight over six rounds.

Even though he never weighed more than a light heavyweight he took on heavyweights and won against Jan van der Walt, Archie Smith, Willie van Rensburg (twice), Johnny Labuschagne, Jim McKenzie and Tom Porter.

Rather foolishly he took on Porter without any taping on his hands and even though
Porter was knocked out in the first round he did irreparable damage to his right hand. After this fight he could never punch with full power and gradually changed to a defensive and cautious boxer.

In November 1938 Tommy won the Transvaal heavyweight title on a fifth round disqualification against Jim Pentz and in his next fight outpointed Dave Carstens the 1932 Olympic light heavyweight gold medallist over 12 rounds to take the vacant SA heavyweight title.

In 1939 he once again outpointed Carstens in a non-title fight but lost to
American Buck Evertett and Canadian Al Conquest.

In the meantime Ben Foord the former SA heavyweight champion who had won the British and Empire heavyweight titles with a third stoppage of Jack Petersen in August 1936 had returned to South Africa after a long and successful campaign against some of the best heavyweights in the world.

Foord then challenged Bensch for the SA heavyweight title on January 20, 1940 and it was expected that the 57 fight veteran would be too big and experienced for the smaller and younger champion.

The confident Foord had neglected his training whereas the blond champion was
trained to peak fitness and after a nervous start won a clear-cut decision over his fancied opponent.

Unfortunately after this outstanding victory Tommy remained inactive
until November 1945 due to the war.

In his first fight after the victory over Foord he met the former SA light heavyweight champion Nick Wolmarans in a bout billed as for Bensch’s SA heavyweight title. However, this was not recognized nationally. In a return match for the title on March 9, 1946 Wolmarans outpointed Bensch to become champion.

Tommy had only two more fights in 1946, losing to Johnny Ralph and highly rated American Buddy Scott, with both losses coming inside the distance.

Bensch had lost his speed and with continuous hand problems he decided to retire from the ring to finish with a record of 13 wins and six losses.

After retiring from the ring Tommy worked as a barman at the Grand Station Hotel in Jeppe for more the forty years and also trained a few fighters.

Tommy was a teetotaller and his bar which was known as “Tommy’s Bar” became
a rendezvous for boxing personalities and other leading sportsmen.

Some 18 years ago long after Tommy had retired I spent an evening at his home in
Kensington chatting about his boxing career. He was 76 years-old at the time.

While we were chatting I let the tape recorder run and this was the fascinating
tale:

Ron: As amateur did you have a lot of fights?

Tommy: I had a lot of fights as a junior and in 1930 and 1931 I won the Transvaal
championships and also won a few fights as a senior, but then thought this business is no good and decided to turn professional and had my first fight against Jack Pienaar in 1936 at the age of 21.

Ron: When you started out at what weight did you fight as a pro?

Tommy: I started out as a middleweight and in October 1937 I fought Archie Smith
at the middleweight limit, but then I said to Dolf du Plessis who trained me in Mayfair that I was too heavy for the middleweights and this business of pulling weight was no good and I wanted to fight as a heavyweight. He said you are off your head. Anyhow there were four of us who had to fight an eliminator for the vacant SA heavyweight title. Dave Carstens beat Nick Wolmarans and I beat Jim Pentz. Even though I only weighed just under 75 kgs I then went on to beat Dave to become SA champion. What a fight, he was a tough nut and ripped me to pieces in the infighting and after the fight I looked a sight and I could not go on honeymoon. We subsequently had a return fight over ten rounds and I had learnt from the first fight and won comfortably.

Ron: Tell me about the fight with Ben Foord.

Tommy: After he returned from England Foord challenged me for the SA title. When I spoke to Tiny St John Dean about taking the fight he said that Foord was a former Empire champion and that I should not take the fight as I way only a middleweight. He said give up the title and challenge for the middleweight title. I said to him why should I give up the title as I got the title fighting for it and I will defend it.

Ron: He was a big man.

Tommy: Yes he was a big fellah, but it was a much easier fight than the Carstens fight. I decided to just box him and won comfortably.

Ron: Can you remember what your purse was when you fought Carstens for the title?

Tommy: It was less than one hundred pounds.

Ron: What was the biggest purse you ever received?

Tommy: It was in my last fight against Buddy Scott the American and it was about
300 pounds, which was a lot money those days.

Ron: Tell me about your fight with the American Buck Everett.

Tommy: I fought him before he met Ben Foord, but that night I was not myself and
he beat me. After this Ben Foord came along and beat him and then he challenged
me for the SA title.

Ron: Ben Foord is considered as one the best heavyweights to come out of South
Africa and even though you beat him how would you rate him?

Tommy: They called me the “Cinderella Man” because one night I was down and next night I was up for it, and that night I thought I could fight the world and I felt nobody could beat me.

Ron: Tell me about Dolf.

Tommy: He was my trainer from my first professional fight right through to before
the war and after the war I was trained by Johnny Squires who lived and worked at the Grand Station hotel.

Ron: I see you lost to Al Conquest, tell me about that fight.

Tommy: He came from Canada and I sparred with him at the Johannesburg Fire
Station there by Jem Pentz when he came out to fight Dave Carstens. I was a middle and I cut him to ribbons. However, in the fight with him I just lost interest and he got the decision.

Ron: Tell me about during the war as there was no boxing.

Tommy: There was no action and during that period my weight went up from 75 kgs to 95 kgs. and because of this I lost my movement and my concentration.
Ron: What made you comeback after the war?

Tommy: I said to my wife Jessie I cannot strike the same form again but before I am finished with the game I will buy you a house. After I bought the house I had one more fight to get a bit of a backstop then called it a day.

Ron: You were champion from 1938 to 1946, how come you had no challengers
during the war?

Tommy: There was no fighting allowed but the Ben Foord fight was only a few months into the war.

Ron: What happened in the first Wolmarans fight that was billed as title fight but was not recognised?

Tommy: He won the fight and I felt it was recognised and he was the champion. You know what happened; Roy Ingram was the referee and he got the scorecards and looked inside and came over and put my hand in the air, Tommy Bensch the winner. So I went to the dressing room and had a shower and went home, and then later found out I had lost the decision. One day I met Roy in town and I said to Roy how come you made such a smash up after the cards said Wolmarans had won. He said you know Tommy my sight is not so good anymore and when I got those scorecards I couldn’t see nothing and to me it was all a blur so I gave it to the one I thought won.

Ron: Roy must have been quite old then and had fought some bare-fist fights.

Tommy: Yes, he fought down the road from Kensington here in the Malvern koppies.

Ron: Are you quite happy that Nick beat you fairly in both fights?

Tommy: No, he never hit me, he was too low, he never hit me, he dislocated my
knees. And what surprised me most was that he was not warned.

Ron: Who was the referee for the second fight?

Tommy: It was Willie Smith and after the first fight I took a photograph to the Boxing Board of Control and said look at this, Wolmarans has his head on my knees and he wasn’t warned once and I said if I have to fight him again get him to fight above my waist line. It was no fight; it was a bad-bad fight.

Ron: Where were the fights held?

Tommy: They were both held at the old Wembley Stadium.

Ron: After the long break because of the war why did you not have a warm up fight
first?

Tommy: The Board said no, you have to defend the title, which was unfair.

Ron: You then fought Johnny Ralph and Buddy Scott, can you remember the Johnny
Ralph fight?

Tommy: Yes, I was on my knees and I was watching the referee Tiny Dean count and as he said nine I got up, but he said I was counted out. Johnny could have beaten me in any case but I was not out.

Ron: What was your impression of Johnny Ralph the fighter?

Tommy: He was a good one. He moved fantastic and was fast and clever.

Ron: I spoke to Johnny about Buddy Scott and he said it was the toughest fight he ever had and he battled with him, how did you find Buddy Scott?

Tommy: I didn’t find him that hard but he caught me with a beautiful punch and I was on my knees and counted out, but up until then I was holding my own.

Ron: How long after and what made you decide to call it a day after the Scott fight?

Tommy: I was nearly 32 and when I got home that night I said to my wife that was
my last fight.

Ron: Did you enjoy your boxing career and have you any regrets?

Tommy: I enjoyed it thoroughly and made good friends and life long friends and boxing people are lovely and genuine people who call a spade a spade.

Ron: After you retired did you ever train people?

Tommy: I trained Don Carr for a while.

Ron: Who was the best and toughest fighter you faced in your whole career?

Tommy: I would say Dave Carstens as he could hurt you on the inside and he was a
very under rated fighter.

Ron: What is your opinion of punch drunkenness?

Tommy: I wouldn’t know as I survived and boxing had no effect on me. My memory is OK and what more do you want; but some boxers don’t know when to stop.

Ron: Did you ever see Laurie Stevens fight?

Tommy: Yes, I fought Barney Kieswetter on the undercard the night he fought Petey Sarron. He was a good one and never stopped punching from bell to bell. In and out of the ring he was a great. Another good fighter around the same time was Eddie Pierce.

They say boxing is in your blood and there must be something in it as all three of
Tommy’s sons, Charlie, Tommy Jnr. and Sidney became boxers.

Charlie fought as an amateur in the mid 1960’s as a welterweight and won a Transvaal title and also progressed to the semi finals in the SA championships.

Charlie’s grandson Jade Jordaan who fights in the 57 kg class as an amateur is
showing some promise and has won 15 of his 19 fights.

Tommy Jnr. won the SA amateur middleweight championship in 1967 and Kit
Markotter the chairman of the Gauteng Amateur Boxing Organisation who saw him
fight said he was a classy fighter. He also mentioned that Tommy was most unfortunate not to be awarded Springbok colours.

Sydney who fought as a professional from 1972 to 1987 was trained by Alan Toweel
and as a middleweight won 26 fights, lost 3 and fought to three draws.

In October 1977 he outpointed Johan de Beer to win the Transvaal middleweight title.

Sydney’s son Dean had about 40 amateur fights and won the Transvaal welterweight title.

Footnote: 42 years ago (1967) Sydney Bensch beat our publisher Jeff Ellis in the
school championships

Sydney Bensch
Country South Africa
Global Id 93928
Division Middleweight
Career Record © www.boxrec.com

1987-04-16 Lucas Sereme Sebokeng, South Africa W PTS 6
1982-08-30 Nathan Tefo Moloi Johannesburg, South Africa L PTS 4
1982-05-14 Patrick Tshabalala Soweto, South Africa L PTS 6
1982-04-16 Lucas Sereme Sebokeng, South Africa W PTS 6
1981-12-12 Mpumelelo Gangala Mdantsane, South Africa W TKO 5
1979-06-16 McDonald Shezi Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 6
1978-05-15 Charlie Weir Johannesburg, South Africa L KO 2
1978-03-20 Stanley Maxembengula Cape Town, South Africa W DQ 5
1978-02-04 Morgan Moledi Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 6
1977-10-03 Johan de Beer Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 10
1977-08-13 Johan de Beer Johannesburg, South Africa D PTS 4
1977-06-27 Dominic Germishuys Durban, South Africa W KO 2
1977-02-19 Cecil Kekane Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 6
1976-12-07 Johan de Beer Durban, South Africa D PTS 4
1976-04-13 Theunis Pretorious Durban, South Africa W KO 1
1975-05-17 Hendrik Frikkie Ludick Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 6
1975-04-07 Raymond Eardley Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 4
1975-01-13 Chris du Plessis Durban, South Africa W PTS 4
1974-11-30 Chris du Plessis Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 4
1974-05-25 Gavin Crouch Johannesburg, South Africa W KO 1
1974-04-20 Chris du Plessis Pretoria, South Africa W PTS 6
1974-04-05 Gavin Crouch Durban, South Africa W PTS 6
1973-10-13 Michel le Roux Johannesburg, South Africa W KO 3
1973-07-14 Hendrik Frikkie Ludick Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 6
1973-05-12 Hendrik Frikkie Ludick Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 4
1973-03-26 Michel le Roux Cape Town, South Africa W PTS 4
1973-02-07 Piet Petrus Viljoen Johannesburg, South Africa W PTS 4
1972-12-12 Michel le Roux Cape Town, South Africa W PTS 4
1972-11-18 Michel le Roux Cape Town, South Africa W PTS 4
1972-09-30 Kosie Wiese Pretoria, South Africa W PTS 4
1972-03-27 Kosie Wiese Johannesburg, Africa D PTS 4
1972-01-29 Johnny Contemessa Johannesburg, Africa W PTS 4

Record to Date
Won 26 (KOs 5) Lost 3 Drawn 3 Total 32