Thursday, 7 October 2010

Lonsdale And Boxing Belts

Hugh Cecil Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale (1857-1944) (centre of the picture, wearing a black coke (or bowler) hat, a gardenia and smoking a cigar), was a great sportsman and extravagant eccentric who had run away as youngster, joined a circus as an acrobat in Switzerland and then travelled to the USA to be a cowboy; even holding up the Denver stage coach, as a prank. He was known as the ‘Yellow Earl’ because, according to Time magazine for 18th June 1934, ‘Yellow are the racing colours, the motor cars and the silk hats of footmen in the service of the Yellow Earl, Britain’s beloved sporting peer the Earl of Lonsdale.’ Apart from racing and hunting, the Yellow Earl was keen on boxing and the National Sporting Club, of which he was patron, introduced the Lonsdale belts in his honour. These are the oldest championship belts in boxing and date from 1909. Originally a belt was awarded to each champion of each weight division. A winner could keep it if he won it and defended it twice. Sir Henry Cooper (born 1935) was the first to win three outright. Muhammad Ali (then called Cassius Clay) said on television of Cooper’s knockdown of him at their non-title fight in 1963 that Cooper had hit him so hard that his ‘ancestors in Africa felt it!’ Now you have to win and defend three times. The first heavyweight belt was won by Bombadier Billy Wells in 1911. He defended it thirteen times. That belt is made of 22ct gold and enamel and is now kept in the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich in South London. Later Billy Wells was, later on, one of the men to strike the gong at the beginning of J Arthur Rank films.

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