Greatest Bantamweight Fight in Boxing History
Arnold Taylor - ‘I felt God’s hand on my
He felt God’s hand on his shoulder at
the end of that brutal eighth round. He
knew God was in his corner and that he would soon be bantamweight champion of the world.
That is how Arnold Taylor explained his
feelings to veteran American promoter
George Parnassus a few days after his fight against Romeo Anaya.
The little South African had scored a dramatic 14th-round knockout to win the World Boxing Association’s bantamweight title.
Talking to Parnassus, he said he had
felt the strength and confidence return
to his battered body at the end of the eighth.
“I felt His hand on my shoulder. God
was in my corner with me,” he said. “I
knew then that I would be champion.” He was talking about the night of November
He fought Anaya at the Rand Stadium
in Johannesburg and won the title in
one of the most dramatic and brutal fights in the history of SA boxing.
On that memorable night in front of
more than 20 000 spectators, Taylor
survived some terrible punishment. He refused to be beaten. Seldom had any
fighter shown so much courage.
Parnassus described it as the most
thrilling fight he had seen.
Taylor was knocked down in the eighth
and tenth rounds. He was on the brink
Then, in the penultimate round, he
threw a right-hand punch than landed
on the jaw of the tough Mexican. Suddenly Anaya was flat on his back and
Taylor became South Africa’s third world champion after Willie Smith and
The drama had started long before the
fight. Anaya had to make five trips to
scale, two of them unofficial, before coming in at the bantamweight limit of
Twice before the official weigh-in at
noon that day, Anaya accompanied by
his handlers was weighed in private at the President Hotel.
Taylor had no problem making the
weight. He came in at 53.10 kg shortly
after noon, but the champion arrived only at 12:30 and was declared overweight
at 54.20 kg.
Anaya and his handlers demanded that
he be weighed again, immediately. All
the officials, except the SA Boxing Board’s clerk of scales Wally Snowball, had to leave the platform.
After stripping off his underpants, Anaya once again climbed on the scales, but was still over the limit at 54.15 kg.
He was told that he had until 13:10 to
make the weight as the scales had
been officially opened at 12:10.
Failure to meet the limit would result
in the champion forfeiting his title.
After spending time in the sauna and a steam bath, Anaya weighed in at 53.45 kg, a fraction inside the bantamweight limit.
The fight produced even more controversy.
Many experts and journalists, and, of
course, all in the Anaya camp felt Taylor
should have been disqualified when he went down for the third time in the eighth round; this time without taking a punch.
Anaya felt Taylor had given up as he
went in for the kill. The challenger suddenly
dropped to one knee but South African referee Stan Christodoulou, officiating
in his first word title fight, allowed the fight to continue when Taylor got up.
When asked about the incident Christodoulou was reported as saying that he disagreed with the Anaya camp sentiments as he was satisfied that that Taylor went down from the effects of the previous knockdowns even though he did not go down from a punch.
Taylor’s reign as a champion was short
and unhappy, only to be marred by
with unwise decisions and controversy.
The sad part of the all-action bout was
that no full-length film was made of it
because promoter Dave Levin was unable
to find a sponsor to buy the film
The fight lasted about 40 minutes, not counting the 13 minutes taken up by the intervals between rounds, but only about 15 minutes of the fighting was filmed for newsreel by Killarney Films.
THE EARLY DAYS
Arnold Taylor was born in Jeppe, Johannesburg, on July 21, 1943. He was 12 when he joined a boxing club near his home.
Learning the trade, he lost a lot of his
bouts in the paperweight division.
However, after moving into the senior
amateur ranks he won the SA featherweight
title in 1963 and 1964.
Taylor was overlooked for the Golden
Gloves tour of America but was selected
for the Springbok team for the 1964 Mexico Olympics before South Africans were banned from the Games for political reasons.
After this setback he won a gold medal
the SA Games in 1965 before deciding
to give up boxing. He joined the Southern Suburbs football club but still
dreamt of earning Springbok colours.
His uncle, Klein van Helsdingen, persuaded
him to start boxing again.
In 1966 he achieved his dream when he was selected for the Springbok team to tour the Great Britain together with standout amateurs like Harry Finlay, Japie Pretorius and Herbie Vermeulen.
Taylor was the only one who won all
his fights on tour.
Soon after their return, Taylor turned professional feeling that he had nothing
more to prove as an amateur he turned professional and made his debut on May 20, 1967, fighting Ray Buttle in Potgietersrust. They drew over six rounds.
Six weeks later, in a return match, Taylor knocked Buttle out in the ninth round to win the Transvaal bantamweight title.
He again defeated Buttle, on points
over eight rounds. In only his fourth
fight he outpointed the talented Andries Steyn to win the SA featherweight
After two more victories he challenged
Dennis Adams for the SA bantamweight
title and was knocked out in 1 minute 31 seconds of the first round. Promoters found Taylor a difficult man to negotiate with and he sometimes moved up to fight heavier opponents, even at lightweight, to stay active.
Putting the loss against Adams behind
him, Taylor beat Robert Trott twice, Edward
Mbungwa, Anthony Morodi, Colin Lake, Henri Nesi and Herby Clarke, also twice, before winning the SA lightweight title from Clarke in May 1969.
Only two weeks later he retained the
SA featherweight title with an eighthround
stoppage win over Adams. But in his next fight, in Durban, he was stopped in eight rounds by Andries Steyn, losing his national lightweight title.
It was reported that Taylor drank several
litres of water before the weigh-in
of the Steyn fight to hide the weight difference from Boxing Board officials.
Even then Taylor was still 4,4 kg lighter
In his next fight, he was outpointed by
Johnny O’Brien of Scotland. That convinced
him to return to the bantamweight division.
He stopped Buttle in six rounds to take
the SA bantamweight title and joined
a select band of SA champions who have won three titles.
Even though he had lost only three of
his first 22 fights and had won three SA titles there was little media and
public interest when it was announced
that he would fight WBC featherweight
champion Johnny Famechon in a nontitle
fight in Johannesburg on April 11,
The Paris-born Famechon, who boxed
out of Australia, had won the WBC title
in January 1969 from Cuban Jose Legra on a hotly disputed decision.
On the day before the fight Taylor
found out that a film of the fight was to
be made and shown overseas. Famechon
payment for the
Taylor insisted on
being paid a share of
the film rights and
when the promoter
refused he withdrew from the fight.
After hours of negotiating
he was persuaded
to go ahead
because there was a
risk of the Boxing Board withdrawing his licence and imposing a suspension.
An unhappy Taylor was never in the fight and was beaten over ten rather uninteresting rounds.
Seven months later
Taylor, by then at loggerheads
all local promoters,
stopped Buttle in eight rounds to retain his SA featherweight title before finishing
1970 with two wins inside the distance over Chris Nel.
By the end of 1970
Taylor was disillusioned
He continued to work
as a confectioner to supplement his income and even considered retiring from the ring.
In May 1971 he received an offer to
fight in Australia. He beat Willie Cordova
twice and then won against the
highly regarded Toro George from New
After wins over Memo Espinosa and Alberto Jangalay he returned to South Africa and won his next two fights to finish a successful year.
Pat Jackson had taken over his training and a Johannesburg attorney, Cyril Ziman, managed the business side. Taylor then beat imports Ugo Poli and Evan Armstrong and made two successful defences of his SA featherweight title against Hansie van Rooyen.
ANAYA SIGNS FOR $80 000
In 1973 he beat British imports Jimmy
Bell and Billy Waith before he heard
that promoter Dave Levin and matchmaker
Reg Haswell had negotiated
with Mexican Romeo Anaya to defend
his WBA bantamweight title against
Taylor in Johannesburg. Anaya was
guaranteed US $80 000 and six air tickets
and expenses for his entourage.
Taylor would receive R8 000.
He soon embarked on a gruelling training
schedule, doing his normal roadwork
and spending hours in the Johannesburg municipal gymnasium.
Part of his daily routine involved running,
seven times, up and down the
stairs between the ground level and
the 20th floor of a building in Braamfontein.
Taylor, against the odds, with his right
eye swollen shut and his face cut and
bruised, won the WBA bantamweight title.
It was 23 and a half years after the memorable night of May 31, 1950 when another SA bantamweight, Vic Toweel, had won the world title in his famous victory over Manuel Ortiz.
THE SAD ENDING
Taylor was voted South African Sportsman
of the Year for 1973. But his reign
as champion was short and unhappy,
marred by unwise decisions and controversy.
After reaching the summit and achieving
his dream of winning a world title it
was unfortunately the beginning of a slide downward for the gutsy champion.
He won non-title fights against Guy
Caudron and Paul Ferreri before losing
to Lorenzo Trujillo.
But behind the scenes there were ongoing wrangles with his promoters, Dave Levin and George Parnassus.
Pat Jackson also left him, and it was
later reported that the trainer claimed
that Taylor had hardly trained and had
done no road work for the Trujillo fight.
It was said he was too busy furnishing
the new home he had bought in Quellerina,
west of Johannesburg.
Cookie Mendoza took over Taylor’s training for the first defence of his title. He was to take on a Korean, Soo Hwan Hong, in Durban on July 3, 1974.
Taylor received a merciless beating over 15 rounds against Hong who knocked him down in the first, fifth, 14th and 15th rounds to take his title. He was reduced from a once proud world champion to a bleeding wreck.
Taylor’s indifferent form against Caudron,
Ferreri and Trujillo had already
been an indication that all was not well.
However, he blamed his poor performance
on having been forced to reduce
weight drastically before the fight with
Soon after the bout came the news that Taylor was broke. He and his family were forced to vacate their new home, which had cost R38 000.
He was also suspended for six months
by the Transvaal Boxing Board because
of medical reasons and lost his manager, Ziman.
After his licence was reinstated, Taylor faced British bantamweight John Mitchell on February 22, 1975. He was cheered all the way into the ring and won on a fourth-round stoppage.
Afterwards, he announced that he
planned to get back into the worlds ratings
and beat the best in his division.
He never made it, even though he
stopped Lothar Abend in three rounds
and scored another sensational victory
over Anaya in a return match when he
knocked him out in the eighth round on
a cold June night.
Several attempts were made to match Taylor with the WBA featherweight champion Alexis Arguello, but nothing ever came of it.
In May 1976 he outpointed Dave Needham
of England and after months of inactivity, i
n desperation he went over to
England and Europe to seek fights.
After losing to Sven Eric Paulson in Oslo
and being stopped by Vernon Sollas in
London on November 24, 1976 he returned home and quit the ring for good.
The family had returned the modest
suburb of Mayfair to stay with relatives.
With his boxing career behind him and
no money in the bank, he also returned
to his trade and found a job as a baker.
Slowly he got his life back on track. They bought an old semi-detached house in Mayfair and, with the help of friends, started renovating it.
However, there was no happy ending.
At the age of 38, only five years after
his last fight, he was killed in a road accident.
It was at 12.30am on November 22, 1981. Taylor, on a motorcycle, collided head-on with a car on the corner of Main Reef Road and Church Street, Mayfair only about a kilometre from his home.
Taylor lost 8 of his 50 fights. One journalist
later wrote, “Throughout Arnold
Taylor’s career, Fate always seemed to be in the opposite corner.”