THE MANCHESTER OLYMPIAN – TOMMY PROFFITT
Tommy’s dad was a boxer and he encouraged him to box, when he was 12 he took him to a gym at Herbert Street in Droylsden where he had his first two fights. There was a man at the gym called Jack Pearson who had boxed with Tommy’s Dad years previously and with Dads permission he took him to the Wheeler Street Gym in Higher Openshaw. Unfortunately Jack passed away a couple of years later and Tommy dropped out of boxing for a while. A couple of years later Tommy returned as a sixteen year old and went on to win the Youth Championships at Belle Vue. At the time Tommy didn’t represent a particular amateur club, he would get his fights through a Mr Diggle who was then chairman of the Northern Counties A.B.A. Young Proffitt would box anywhere and put in his training in any old quarters – in his bedroom, in back yards and with weight lifters at the back of a local public house!
It was 1941 and the 2nd world war was in full swing, Tommy took it upon himself to join the Air Training Corps in advance of joining the R.A.F. his first year saw him become A.T.C. champion.
When Tommy joined the R.A.F. he was stationed in Shrewsbury working behind the bar in the sergeant’s mess, hardly appropriate for a champion boxer. Tommy became more and more frustrated with the situation behind the bar and took it upon himself to write to his member of parliament. Almost immediately as Tommy’s talents were recognised he was re-deployed to Cosford near Wolverhampton where he spent every day in the boxing gym. During his time in the R.A.F. he won the Britannia shield and as our imperial services representative he represented the British services in Dublin and Germany, whilst in Germany Tommy was up against the U.S. Golden gloves champion and scored a 2nd round knockout. Tommy’s final year in the services saw him win the R.A.F. title as it was resurrected after the war.
When Tommy left the RAF he quickly won the A.B.A. title which gave him the honour of representing Great Britain at the 1948 Olympics. Aside from winning a medal at the Olympics, to represent your country in the Olympic Games is without question the greatest achievement for any amateur boxer and Tommy did just that. Tommy went out on a close points decision losing to Mexico’s Edel Ojeda at Bantamweight, the Mexican was warned constantly about his habit of kidney punching which caused Tommy some distress, in fact Ojeda was disqualified in his very next contest for the same foul.
Not discouraged Tommy had one more amateur fight and decided he had done all he could in the amateur ranks, he had accomplished much more than he could have ever imagined when he had started out as a 12 year old, it was now time to join the professional ranks.
Tommy signed terms with Ashton under Lyne promoter Len Steele and his 1st fight was always going to be tough one given his reputation as top class amateur.
In came Southport’s Willie Rigby. Mr Rigby had already become a sensation with the Merseyside fight fans, he had style and punching power and was known as the “ghost with the hammer” this was given because of Rigby’s bald, ghostly appearance. It was hardly a 1st fight easy night usually afforded amateur internationals having their first fight in the pro-game. After a few nervous moments whilst Proffitt found his feet in the early rounds Rigby’s reputation came to an end as Tommy knocked out Mr Rigby in the 6th round.
After 2 more fights training alongside boys such as Nipper Cusick and Tony Lord at Steele’s Taunton road gym at Ashton U Lyne, Tommy decided his future as a fighter was better taken care of by Jack Bates. Terms were agreed and Jack bought Tommy’s contract back from Len Steele. Jack was a well respected manager and trainer and a veteran with more than 300 fights to his credit. Jack had conditioned such great fighters such as Jock McAvoy, Jackie Brown, Johnny Cusick and Johnny King, all of them British Champions, Bates considered Proffitt a second Johnny King which was high praise indeed.
Jack took Tommy in hand and slowly eliminated his faults resulting in an excellent 1949 when out of fourteen contests he won twelve, drew one and lost a highly contested bout on a fifth round knockout to Bobby Boland of Dundee.
As good as 1949 had been for Tommy Proffitt, it was 1950 that this Manchester boy really hit top form. This year he had seven fights stopping every one of them! Tommy had begun his professional career with a reputation as a slick, well schooled naturally skilful boxer, as he progressed and with Jacks careful tuition he developed a devastating right hand. His greatest victory in this season came at Newcastle where he knocked out the Canadian Bantamweight Champion Fernando Gagnon in the 2nd round, Tommy caught the Canadian with a punch which travelled no more than six inches midway through the round, Gagnon just managed to beat the count but Tommy caught him again with the right hand and the referee counted the visitor out as he lay on the canvas. Two fights later it was a similar story as Tommy knocked out the Belgium Champion Michel Dicky in the 7th round.
Tommy is a Millwright by trade but somewhere along the line he acquired a piggery, looking after the pigs became an escape from the constant pressure of being a professional boxer and he would use the pig farm to wind down from the training.
Tommy’s manager Jack Bates and his growing army of fans were demanding an eliminator contest as a route to fighting Danny O’Sullivan for the British Title. The British Boxing Board of control rightfully agreed and ordered the following eliminators take place;
Peter Keenan (Glasgow) v Bunty Doran (Belfast)
Tommy Proffitt (Manchester) v Bobby Boland (Dundee)
Bobby Boland and Tommy had met twice before, each scoring a win over the other so this was the decider, it was eagerly anticipated, back in those days a boxers rise to a British title was well scrutinised, eliminators for the title were of great value to a boxers worth and created a lot of interest in boxing fans.
Just at this time Nat Fleischer rated Tommy number 8 bantamweight in the world in the August 1st issue of Ring Magazine.
The fight was scheduled for September the 4th 1950 at Newcastle’s St James Hall on a Joe Shepherd promotion. The 12 round contest was closely fought before a sell out crowd,
Tommy was frustrating Bobby with his slick skills, daring him with his left jab before banging that right in as Boland advanced, the fifth round came and Tommy was in front on London referee Tom Little’s card. Bobby Boland came out swinging in this round determined to recover lost ground. He was punching wildly, the punches landing on Tommy’s gloves and arms, often with the inside of the glove, whilst Proffitt was defending skilfully, riding the punches that did get through. The end came when a Boland left uppercut to the body strayed low and Tommy was dropped to a heap on the canvas, referee Little immediately ruled Boland out and Tommy had won the rubber match.
This set up a final eliminator with Peter Keenan who had won the second eliminator, the match was made to take place at Paisley Ice rink on November 15th 1950.
This was an even match as both fighters were at the top of their game; it is well known that Keenan was a smooth operator who would go on to great things.
The fight was even whilst it lasted until Keenan took over with an avalanche of text book solid punches which left Tommy unable to respond, the referee waved it over and Peter Keenan had won the right to contest the British title. The boxing news edition of November 22nd wrote “this was the greatest performance of Keenan’s career.
Peter would go on to win the British and European titles and would also push the great Vic Toweel to a close 15 round decision for the world title only one year later.
Not deterred Tommy picked himself up and got back in the driving seat only twelve days later boxing Bermondsey’s Freddy Hicks in a ten round contest at Newcastle. Tommy had Freddy on the canvas twice in the second round, however, late in the fifth Freddy Hicks stumbled to the floor, Tommy tried to step around him, caught is leg and fell on top of Freddy! The timekeeper immediately took up the count and referee Tommy Watson had no option but to count over both of them, both boys were able to get up and resume fighting. Proffitt then went on to stop Hicks in the eighth round.
Tommy would take part in eight more fights during 1951 winning five of them. His final fight of 1951 saw him boxing on a Nat Basso, Alan Kay promotion at Cheetham Public Hall, Manchester. Tommy topped the bill against Australian Mickey McKay in front of a sell out crowd whom were not disappointed with a close fought bout won by Tommy over eight rounds.
Further down that same bill was a young man named Kenny Daniels who needs no introduction as a current Manchester ex-boxers association member, Kenny boxed an entertaining draw with Stockport’s Charlie Horner that night.
Tommy boxed eight times again in 1952, again winning five, towards the end of the year it was thought he was nearing the end of a long career and it seemed like a good test to match him with a young man named Hogan Kid Bassey. The young Nigerian was rising through the ranks quickly and it was a step up in class for him to box an experienced, respected name like Tommy Proffitt, the fight took place at Manchester’s Free trade Hall on the 27th October 1952 and Bassey came away with a point’s decision. Bassey would go on to win the world featherweight title.
Tommy boxed only three more times following this fight and following a loss to John Kelly at Belfast’s Kings hall on the 11th April 1953, he decided that was his last fight.
Tommy Proffitt will always be remembered as one of the finest boxers Manchester has ever produced.
Article written by Gavin Stirrup thanks to Miles Templeton for Boxing News extracts