Dennis the One Punch Menace - by Ron Jackson
When Dennis Adams first walked into a gymnasium in Mayfair, Johannesburg, and said he wanted to box, the trainers said he was too thin and sickly to be a boxer.
Adams, born in the same suburb on December 26, 1934, was one of six children. Their mother struggled to bring them up, but she always encouraged Dennis to box even though he looked too frail for the sport.
However, he persevered and had a successful amateur career, taking part in what was reported to be 150 fights, of which he won 127 inside the distance.
A well-known local, Dolf du Plessis, trained the youngster, who was only 1.6m tall and hardly ever weighed more than 51 kg.
Adams had his first professional fight on December 6, 1954, when he stopped Cecil Klein in the second round. In his next fight, in September 1955, he was outpointed by Graham van der Walt, who later won SA titles in the flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight divisions.
In his fourth bout, Adams beat SA flyweight champion Gerry Jooste on points over six rounds. In a return match, on January 20, 1956, he took the SA title, winning on points over 12 rounds.
It was said that before the first fight Adams walked up to Jooste and said, ”Hiya blue eyes!” “I don’t have blue eyes,” said Jooste.
“We’ll change that tonight,” retorted Adams.
Over the next two years, Adams was twice stopped by Van der Walt. He also lost to Ronnie Dean, but beat Eddie Zinn, Jannie Joubert twice and Boet Stander before he was given an unexunexpected crack at the British Empire title, a highly sought-after championship at the time.
Well-known matchmaker Reg Haswell was impressed by the way the Mayfair plumber had beaten the SA champion Jooste, so early in his career.
When his contacts in Glasgow said they were looking for an opponent for the highly regarded and undefeated Frankie Jones, the British and Empire flyweight champion, Haswell suggested a fight against Adams.
The South African was then offered a chance to fight for the Empire title, but the promoters were not willing to pay his travelling expenses.
Haswell managed to arrange for his airfare to be paid but his manager, Dolf du Plessis, was unable to go. Alan and Maurice Toweel, who were in Britain at the time with their brother Willie, agreed to look after Adams.
Locked up by the Toweels
Alan, an outstanding trainer and a strict disciplinarian, had his hands full with Adams once the fighter had discovered the bright lights of Soho.
Maurice used to tell the story that they locked Adams’s bedroom door on the night before the fight to ensure he would get some rest. The fighter later disclosed that he had climbed through the bathroom window to spend some time with a girl.
Jones was unbeaten in twelve fights and Adams was regarded as another opponent to pad the champion’s record.
The cold British weather and the lack of hard training had given Adams, a natural flyweight, weight problems for the first time in his career. He was about 0.5 kg over the flyweight limit at the weighin.
Toweel, a past master of weight reduction, dressed Adams in a big overcoat and gave him a stiff 20-minute workout in the stuffy basement of the hotel before Adams made the weight.
The large crowd rallied behind Jones when he entered the ring at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall on the night of October 23, 1957.
The Johannesburg Star reported the next day: “An explosive right hook earned Dennis Adams, the rugged Johannesburg plumber, the British Empire flyweight title with a knockout win over Scotland’s Frankie Jones.
“The Scottish miner slid to the canvas like a crumpled sack and from that undignified position heard himself counted out.”
The 4 000 spectators could scarcely believe their eyes and boxing experts and critics sat back in shocked silence; they had just seen one of the most sensational fights in the history of the British ring.
Adams was down within seconds of the first bell and Jones was down for two counts in the second round, when he was saved by the bell.
The third round only lasted 90 seconds. Adams landed a crushing right hook and it was all over.
Five weeks later, Adams stopped Boet Stander in six rounds in a non-title fight
On January 24, 1958, he knocked out Australian Warner Batchelor 23 seconds into the second round in Durban to retain his Empire title.
However, his career did not take off and he never regained the heights of that wonderful night in Glasgow, even though he boxed for another eleven years.
He was twice beaten on points by the rather ordinary Jose Ogazon from Spain. Then he returned to Glasgow, where he won against Nigerian Silas Boko and lost to John Caldwell, a future world bantamweight champion.
He also lost in a return match against Frankie Jones and to George McDade.
In May 1959, Adams moved up to bantamweight to fight Bernie Taylor for the vacant SA title. He was well beaten on points. In his next fight he was stopped in the fourth round by Les Smith.
However, in a return bout in July 1960 he knocked Smith out in the first round to retain his Empire and SA flyweight titles.
He also won inside the distance against Steve Fleischman and Hennie Snyman. Then, in a return with Fleischman, he won the vacant SA bantamweight title on a third-round technical knockout.
In January 1961, Adams retained the national title in a fight against Van der Walt, then a shadow of the fighter who had beaten Adams twice.
Winning after a 17-second break
In a controversial third round, Van der Walt was knocked down by a right to the top of the head. While he was on the canvas, Adams walked to the neutral corner.
To the amazement of the crowd referee Wilf Lubbe, who had almost thrown Adams off his opponent after their last clinch, walked over and spoke to Adams before returning to the kneeling Van der Walt, apparently talking to him.
At least 17 seconds elapsed before Van der Walt got to his feet to continue. Lubbe later explained that Adams had hit Van der Walt while the latter was collapsing to the canvas and that he had gone over to warn the champion.
The long count did not help Van der Walt. He was stopped in the fifth round. By that time, Adams appeared exhausted. He may not have been able to see out the sixth round.
Then, after stopping Plasie Fourie, Adams was stripped of both his SA flyweight and bantamweight titles.
On May 13, 1961, Adams defended his Empire crown against John Mthimkulu, who held the “non-white” version of the SA flyweight title. The fight in Luanshaya turned out to be a disaster.
Adams was grossly unfit and the challenger was not up to Empire championship standard. They spent the fight clutching, pushing and holding and referee Duggie Miller eventually declared the bout a no-contest after issuing numerous warnings.
"Beaten by a Heavyweight"
On May 31 that year, South Africa became a republic and SA boxers were no longer eligible for Empire titles.
Later, when Adams was asked about losing his Empire title, he used to say, “Yes, it took a heavyweight called Hendrik Verwoerd to do it.”
Verwoerd was Prime Minister at the time and led South Africa out of the Commonwealth.
Adams, who made numerous comebacks, was stopped in four rounds by the Rhodesian Tiger Sheke in Bulawyao seven months after the bout against Mthimkulu.
In 1962 and 1963, Adams had only two fights, losing on stoppages against Tollie Pretorius and Raymond Bekker. In 1964 he stopped Hennie Snyman and lost to Ernie Baronet.
He was then knocked out by Brian Mitchell in the third round in a clash for the vacant Transvaal bantamweight title.
Mitchell, who had only five professional fights, was the father of Brian Mitchell Jr, who later became WBA and IBF champion.
The elder Mitchell lost his first fight, to Johnny Wood, but then outpointed Boet Stander before winning the SA bantamweight title on July 6, 1962 when he stopped Trevor Simkiss in the sixth round.
He was an outstanding talent but was not as dedicated as his son and was subsequently stripped of the title.
After beating Hennie Snyman and Adams, both inside the distance, Mitchell faded from the boxing scene.
Adams was inactive in 1965. The next year he lost on points to Ernie Baronet but the yo-yo kept bouncing back and he surprised the critics when he stopped Baronet in the second round to win the vacant SA bantamweight title.
The night Dennis KOd Arnold Taylor
After being inactive for nearly 17 months, Adams achieved one of the most spectacular victories of his career. He knocked out SA featherweight champion, Arnold Taylor, in 1 minute 31 seconds of the first round to retain his bantamweight title.
However, Taylor knocked him out in a return match in May 1969 and went on to win the SA bantamweight and lightweight titles.
In 1973, in one of the most memorable fights in SA boxing, Taylor won the WBA bantamweight belt with a spectacular knockout over Mexican Romeo Anaya.
Adams also beat Robert Trott in 80 seconds in December 1969, but at the age of 34 he had reached the end of the road. Mike Buttle stopped him three times before Adams retired with a record of 22-21-1, including 18 knockouts.
Adams is still remembered as a likeable and quick-witted entertainer, in and out of the ring. Many of the stories about him were possibly spurious but he was certainly no stranger to nightclubs and similar venues.
He later managed a massage parlour in Hillbrow where, on December 26, 1977, he collapsed and died of a heart attack, aged only 42.
He feared no one
In March 1977, Leonard Neill wrote in Boxing World: ” Let us delve into the age-old belief that Adams did all his training in the nightclubs or in the bed of his latest romantic conquests.
“I’ve seen Adams in hard training and he made the average gym worker look pathetically ordinary. He could tackle gym chores with the same vigour that he would string together on the dance floor with a willowy blond twice his height, and enjoy himself.
“He feared no one. In the ring or street he knew that a single blow from his right hand – at times the left substituted – could fell an ox.
“That was an incredible gift; the onepunch knockout. I saw it happen in the toilet of a Hillbrow hotel, where two thugs tackled him. One went out like the proverbial candle when a right caught him under the ear. He stood a head taller than Adams and had a face as cruel as Charles Bronson at his worst.
“Then the other one swung at the little fellow. He had his mouth shattered with a single, blood-swelling blow and hotfooted it out into the night.”
Middleweight champion Henry Speedie outweighed Adams by nearly 20 kg and towered over him. They were involved in an argument once. Adams landed the first, and only, blow. Speedie took the full count and the two ended in the police cells on charges of assault and disturbing the peace.
Neill probably described it best when he wrote, “Adams lived to love and loved to live; and was always ready to fight.”