Heavies who made history in SA by Ron Jackson

The first really big international heavyweight fight in South Africa took
place nearly 80 years ago.

Don McCorkindale and William Lawrence (Young) Stribling were the men in the
middle that night, December 17, 1932. Tiny Dean, the matchmaker for the
Transvaal National Sporting Club, was the man who set up the fight at the Ellis Park rugby stadium in Johannesburg.

McCorkindale, the SA heavyweight champion, had just completed a successful
campaign in Europe and England. He had been in 30 professional fights when he
stepped into the ring with an American veteran of 285 bouts.

Despite his almost unbelievable record, Stribling was only 27 years old when he
arrived in South Africa. He was known as the “Georgia Peach” and “King of the
Canebreaks”.

McCorkindale, born in Pretoria on August 16, 1904, had been an outstanding amateur. He won several SA titles and represented South Africa at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Competing in the lightheavyweight division, he lost his fourth fight in a box-off for the bronze medal. Stribling had already challenged for the world heavyweight title. Max Schmeling stopped him in the final minute of the fifteenth round in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 31, 1931, in a bout that was voted Ring Magazine Fight of the Year.

A big crowd welcomed McCorkindale and his manager, Ted Broadribb, at Johannesburg’s Park Station when he arrived on the “boat train” from Cape Town
after sailing from England where he had stopped an Australian, George Cook, in the tenth round. Stribling arrived in South Africa with his parents, his wife and two children. They moved into The Chalet, a boarding house in Johannesburg.

The promoters wanted to make the tournament the most elaborate ever in South Africa. Admission prices were increased substantially and ringside seats cost six pounds and six shillings, equivalent to a month’s pay for most people those
days.

The Earl of Clarendon, the governorgeneral of the Union of South Africa,
requested a “private box” at ringside. Once the public became aware of this, the fight became a major attraction to celebrities. Requests for tickets came from all over the country. African Consolidated Theatres, who handled the bookings at their offices in the Carlton Hotel, had taken an unprecedented more than one thousand
pounds six weeks before the fight.

The fight was billed as an eliminator for the right to challenge Jack Sharkey
for the world heavyweight title. This was, however, rather presumptuous as neither fighter was ranked in the top ten by The Ring, who compiled the only recognised rankings at the time.

However, in the February 1931 rankings, Stribling was at No 2 and McCorkindale
was installed at No 5 in October 1933.

THUNDERSTORM CAUSED PROBLEMS

During the afternoon of the big day a typical Highveld thunderstorm turned
the stadium into a shambles. The canvas surface of the uncovered ring was soaked.

The promoter sent staff members to a nearby butchery to get some sawdust.
Buckets full of sawdust were spread over the floor. Then the organisers realised that slivers of bone, as well as pieces of entrails and meat, were sticking out above the sawdust.

But the show had to go on In the preliminary bouts heavyweight Ben Foord knocked out Alex Storbeck in the seventh round, Len McLoughlin outpointed Johnny Bosman in a featherweight fight and light-heavyweight Eddie Peirce beat Alf Wilson on points.

Laurie Stevens, one of the legends of SA boxing, had his second professional fight
and knocked out Willie van Rooyen in the second round.

OLD BROWN DRESSING GOWN

Stribling was given a big cheer as he made his way into the ring clad in a blue
coat with the emblem of the US Services on the back.

McCorkindale entered the ring in an old brown dressing gown, wearing socks over
his boots to keep them dry.

The referee was Major Walter Wilkinson, also chairman of the SA Boxing Board of
Control. He shook hands with the boxers and examined their hand wraps before
they could take the yellow gloves out of a box.

McCorkindale’s seconds were his brothers Maxwell and Archie, and Ted
Broadribb. In Stribling’s corner was his father, assisted by Sandy Cairns, Clyde
Chastain and Harry Rosenthal.

The rain had stopped when the announcer introduced the boxers for the main bout to the spectators. Stribling weighed 13 stone 5 pounds (82.55 kg) and McCorkindale 13 stone 8 pounds (86.18 kg).

CUT OVER THE RIGHT EYE

Both fighters started cautiously and halfway through the fight Stribling had a
slight lead. In the eighth round he opened a cut over McCorkindale’s right eye.

By the 11th round Stribling, who seemed to be stronger in the clinches, was well
ahead on points. He was booed by the spectators because of his tendency to hold his opponent, but he continued to dominate in the 12th round and was awarded a points victory, which was considered a fair decision.

The South African never really got into the fight. He lacked aggression against
his more experienced opponent, who was jeered on his way back to the dressing
room because of his spoiling tactics. The fight was filmed from start to finish
by African Mirror.

PROFIT ONLY 50 POUNDS

Even though the tournament was carefully planned the promoters made a
profit of only fifty pounds.

Dean had given vouchers for hot meals to 240 policemen who were on duty.
When he later checked the counterfoils to settle the account, he found that 914
“constables” had received meals at the cost of the Transvaal National Sporting
Club.

There were many recriminations after the fight and some of McCorkindale’s
remarks so incensed the Transvaal Board of Control that they stripped him of his SA title. He returned to England, where he had 17 fights. He also had two fights in the US, but never fought in South Africa again. Stribling had only four more fights, losing on a disqualification to Pierre Charles and defeating George Neron, Benny Odell and Maxie Rosenbloom before he was killed in a motorcycle accident on October 1, 1933.

After World War II, McCorkindale returned to South Africa. He worked as cinema manager before being employed in the transport department of a large company.

Sadly, he later suffered from arthritis and spent the last few years of his life in
an Edenvale institution for the chronically ill where he died on August 11, 1970.
I was fortunate to chat to him during a bus ride to the Johannesburg CBD after
watching a fight at the Wembley Ice Rink in the early 1960s, some time before he
became ill.