Jimmy Wilder – The Tylorstown Terror
There are good boxing records, great boxing records and a few, absolutely other-worldly boxing records. Jimmy Wilde, the Welsh boxer who plied his trade in the first part of the 20th century, falls into this last category. (A caution to the reader. Record-keeping wasn’t the science during Jimmy’s active years, as it is today. I have consulted half a dozen different sources researching this article and it seems fair to say that there is no consensus as to Wilde’s exact record.
Suffice to say that it was ridiculously good.) For the purposes of this piece, I’ve chosen to go with Jimmy Wilde’s record as listed by BoxRec and, from what I could glean from old news stories about him. So, what we do know is that Jimmy Wilde’s record was about 131 – 3 – 1 (98 KO’s). That’s not a typo, folks. That was the man’s record! Additionally, he had roughly 150 or so “newspaper bouts”, losing only 1 of them. For the reader’s information, a newspaper bout/decision was a type of decision in professional boxing.
It was rendered by a consensus of sportswriters attending a bout after it had ended inconclusively with a “no decision”, as many regions had not adopted the National Sporting Club of London’s rules regarding judges and referees. A “no decision” occurred when, either under the sanctioning of state boxing law or by an arrangement between the fighters, both boxers were still standing at the end of a fight and there had been no knockout, no official decision had been made, and neither boxer was declared the winner.
The sportswriters covering the fight, after reaching a consensus, would declare a winner – or render the bout a draw – and print the newspaper decision in their publications. Officially, however, a “no decision” bout resulted in neither boxer winning or losing, and would therefore not count as part of their official fight record.
This should not be confused with the unrelated and contemporary term, “no contest”.
The development of boxing scoring, initially by round scoring by the referee and two judges, to the modern three judges with the ten-point system, has eliminated this practice.1
That means that in a career of about 285 fights, Wilde lost a total of 4! He also boasted a knockout percentage of a little over 74%!
Despite these eye-popping stats, Wilde is in some danger of falling off the radar when the conversation gets around to all-time greats. There are several reasons for this – none of which can be laid at the feet of Wilde himself. The first challenge is that this great boxer fought a long time ago and there is only a handful of people left who actually saw him fight. Closely related to this is that because Wilde fought in the early 1900s, there is a dearth of video footage of him and what video there is, is of questionable quality. (I’ve embedded a clip of Jimmy here if you care to have a look.)
Thus, as is so often the case when we are discussing fighters of yesteryear, we must rely on his record, the relative quality of his opponents, and what those who watched him, had to say – and in Jimmy Wilde’s case; that’s plenty. The highly respected and legendary American boxing writer, Nat Fleischer, rated Jimmy Wilde as the “greatest flyweight boxer ever,” The Ring Magazine’s, Bert Sugar said as much himself. Boxing promoter, Charlie Rose, said there had and has, “never been a better flyweight.” The list of accolades goes on. So where did this “Mighty Atom” come from?
Wilde was born in Treharris, Wales in 1892. His family were abjectly poor, if not outright destitute. His father was, not surprisingly, a coal miner. His mother was a stay-at-home Mom, who looked after the family. Jimmy joined his father in the coal mines when only 12-years-old. He was very small so was more than useful underground where spaces were quite often so small that an adult male could not fit into them. It’s not entirely clear when or why Wilde got into boxing, but history is a good teacher so it is easy enough to surmise that they “why” was to escape the crushing work of the coalmines for not very much money at all.
Jimmy Wilde clearly had no desire to live his life in such dismal circumstances. Various sources seem to suggest that he began boxing at around 16-years of age, at the annual and traveling county fairs, so prevalent at the time. Jimmy quickly made a name for himself because of his uncanny ability to knock men 2 and 3 times his size, out cold. His family had moved to the community of Tylorstown, so the moniker, “The Tylorstown Terror” was quickly adjudged to be fitting and it stuck throughout his life.
As mentioned, Jimmy Wilde was very small, coming in at somewhere between 5’and 5’ 2” and never weighing more than 108 lbs. Despite this, he possessed wicked power in both hands along with blazing hand speed and unorthodox but slick footwork. This saw Jimmy achieve what is still the longest undefeated streak for any boxer, 94-0-1…an incredible 95 fights without a loss. (Some sources say the streak was 103 bouts) And he fought a lot too. He had over 30 fights in 1913 alone, and squeezed all 285 fights or so of his illustrious career into only 13 years. That’s an average of nearly 22 fights per year – unheard of now!
Boxing wasn’t governed then as it is now, and in some ways, was even more disjointed. This made sanctioning world championship fights challenging, never mind recognizing any one person as THE world champion. So, at the time, Regional and/or National belts carried more weight than they do now. One very prestigious belt that Wilde won was the much-coveted “Lonsdale” Belt.
The Lord Lonsdale Challenge Belt, commonly known as the Lonsdale Belt, is the oldest championship belt in British professional boxing. Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale introduced the prize on behalf of the National Sporting Club (NSC), intending it to be awarded to British boxing champions. Arthur Frederick Bettinson, manager of the NSC, introduced terms and conditions regarding the holding of the belt, which ensured its lasting prestige. 2
This meant that despite his wonderful record, and series of minor belts, Jimmy Wilde was never recognized as the overall World Champion until he beat an American fighter named Young Zulu Kid, in 1916. (Please note that Wilde had been crowned as the “World Champion” by the International Boxing Union or IBU, when he beat Johnny Rosner in May of 1916, but the IBU’s problem was that it wasn’t recognized outside of Europe.)
The tragedy of this was that Jimmy’s recognition as World Champion came so late in his career. When he beat Zulu for the first time in 1916, he was only 22 fights away from his last bout. He wasn’t a “shot” fighter per se, but he was certainly “shopworn” and no longer anywhere near his best. Jimmy would hold onto the title for about three years, defending it 9 times until losing to the little accomplished, Jackie Sharkey (career mark of 18-26-13) in 1919.
He would continue to fight for several more years, including a revenge win over Zulu in 1920, before losing again in 1921 to the excellent American, Peter Herman. Wilde retired at this point only to make an ill-advised return 2 years later to challenge the great Philippino World Champion, Pancho Villa. Wilde was far past his prime despite being only 29-years-old and absorbed a hellacious beating at the hands of Villa that rendered him unable to travel for some time after the fight. Wilde retired for good after this.
Jimmy Wilde had made some money during his career and, unlike most fighters, had actually hung onto most of it. He invested in cinemas, restaurants, and other enterprises. But, like his counterpart, Villa, Wilde met with a tragic end. At age 72, Wilde was attacked, beaten and robbed at a railway station in Wales. He never recovered from the beating and passed away some 4 years later at the hospital in which he lived out his final years; a sad ending, to a great man.
But what of his legacy? How good was Jimmy, really? The answer can only be: “Great.” He has to lay claim to being the greatest-ever British fighter. For my money, I would argue that no British fighter would deserve that particular designation, more. I have some time for Ted Lewis and I think the world of Lennox Lewis and Chris Eubank. Tommy Farr, Joe Calzaghe, and Ken Buchanan are all worthy of mention; but they fall short of Jimmy Wilde by comparison for me. (I did read a list of Top-20 British fighters that omitted Wilde entirely.
I’m still trying to digest that. Here‘s that list for your consideration. The inclusion of Duke McKenzie at the expense of Wilde is, for this writer, obscene). As for the boxing picture today, there are currently 4 different, recognized Flyweight champions as designated by the 4 major governing bodies (don’t get me going on that topic…4 “champions”…just absurd).
They are, Junto Nakatani, Muroti Mthalane, Artem Dalakian, and Julio Cesar Martinez. I’ve watched tape of all of these men and, in my opinion, not ONE of them could hold a candle to Wilde. Of the four, Martinez, might give him a fight; but that’s only a “might.”
Jimmy Wilde was too unorthodox with too much power for any of these lads. The other thing was that Jimmy was just tougher. His life was such that he had no other choice than to be tough as nails; just to survive! I think “boxing” was probably the easiest part of his life.
Jimmy Wilde was almost certainly the greatest Flyweight boxer to ever live. But as time passes, this “Mighty Atom’s” accomplishments are beginning to fade into obscurity. That would be a shame. I hope that at least some of you will allow this article to inspire you to look up this great Welsh fighter and look at him with new and appreciative eyes. Jimmy Wilde, “The Ghost With the Hammer in His Hand.”