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RSR Remembers Former World Featherweight Champion Petey Sarron

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By Antonio Santiago-May 26, 2007

Honestly speaking, the job that I enjoy the most at RSR is writing about former or past boxers. Sadly, boxing is not like other public activities, such as music, where the name Ella Fitzgerald still holds a lot of weight, religion, where historical names are still revered and historians quoted, or politics, where Napoleon, Fulgencio Batista and Abraham Lincoln are either held as heroes or vilified to this day, decades, even centuries, after their deaths. Boxers take blows and go through great physical harm just to leave their footnote in this world, their side of the story, their vision and humanity.

Great historical figures like Ernest Hemingway, Queen Elizabeth II, the Marquess of Queensbury and Frank Sinatra as well as modern legends like Sylvester Stallone and former Puerto Rican Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo are known to be staunch boxing supporters. It is interesting then, that many of the world's wealthy business people, royalty, and socialites would have the above mentioned persons visit their homes for dinner any time, yet inviting someone like, say, former world Welterweight Champion Donald Curry or multiple division Champion Johnny Tapia over for a good old time anecdote swap along with caviar and Ernest and Julio Gallo would be considered a downturn by those who can afford to do that. Because your average boxing legend, be it a champion or not, is greatly forgotten by society in general, I love to pay my humble respect to those who brought all of us joy and hope at a time with their victories by remembering them in this column.

I was thinking, and I am being actually serious about this, an RSR Remembers article on Fernando Vargas. But Vargas, whose career may be done is still not officially retired. And then it hit meâ¦how about Petey Sarron? Sarron is, fairly or unfairly, mostly remembered for one night in his career, the night he lost the World Featherweight Title to Henry Armstrong, who in turn began his historic, three division titles at the same time, run that same night. But Sarron had a great career of his own, beating solid boxers like Billy Grime, Al Foreman, Benny Bass, Frankie Wallace and Baby Manuel. He even beat a guy named Babe Ruth by a ten round decision! One of the few knocks on Sarron's career, however, is that he lacked the pop to hit the home run like baseball's Babe Ruth, scoring only 25 knockouts in more than 100 bouts.

Sarron made his professional boxing debut on July 1, 1925, battling to an eight round no-contest with Red Burke, as no-contests were vastly regular at that era, when many jurisdictions had not applied scoring in boxing fights yet. Before Sarron got his first world title try, he was already 78-18-11 with 13 no-contests. He lost to Freddie Miller, who had one of boxing's best rivalries with Sarron, by a fifteen round decision for the NBA Featherweight Title on March 2, 1936, at Coral Gables, Florida. In Sarron's next bout, he would again challenge Miller for the title, on May 11 of the same year in Washington, DC, with Sarron finally getting his dues paid when he conquered that NBA World Featherweight Title by out-pointing Miller over 15 rounds.

After three wins, including a fine victory over Nick Camarata, Sarron made his first title defense, and he proved his mettle by getting off the canvas twice, once in round one then in round ten, to defeat tough Baby Manuel by a fifteen round decision in Dallas, Texas, on July 22. Sarron would then make South Africa his home away from home, as he had done earlier in his career with Australia, holding seven of his next nine bouts there-the other two took place in England-including a ten round non title loss to Miller and a twelve round decision over him to retain the title in a torrid, compelling affair that took place on September 4, 1937.

Like two normal brothers, Sarron and Miller fought constantly, but could not be separated from each other for long. Upon return to North America, however, Sarron was welcomed by another well loved member of the fistic family, Hammering Hank, Henry Armstrong. Sarron's welcome by Armstrong was not filled with the typical presents and greetings, as Armstrong presented Sarron with a brutal array of power punches and greeted him with one of the most fearsome beatings ever witnessed in a boxing ring. What mostly nobody remembers about that fight, however, is that Sarron almost went six full rounds in a fight he clearly had no chance of winning, his deep wells of courage not allowing him to handle Armstrong the title without offering Hank a good day's work.

Sarron finished his career after a points loss to Sammy Angott on July 17, 1937. He had a record of 97-24-12, 25 KO's, and 17 no-contests. In fact, he had one of the most solid chins in boxing history, his loss to Armstrong being the only knockout loss he ever suffered in 150 bouts.

Among the many things people forget is the fact Sarron was in fact the first Syrian world boxing champion. Although born in Birmingham, Alabama, Sarron was proud of his Syrian heritage, a fact underlined by Time magazine, which reported his title winning effort against Miller. Many, myself included, had assumed Mustafa Hamsho was the only Syrian ever who was even close to becoming a world boxing Champion. Ironically, so far the International Boxing Hall of Fame has also seemingly forgotten Sarron, even as they have Miller, the guy Sarron took the title from, already enshrined. Sarron later became a referee, and he passed away July 3, 1994.

Royalty, religious leaders, and superstars may be remembered by mass audiences, but we choose to remember those who put their body at risk for our general entertainment, often men and women who unjustifiably leave the sport and entertainment business into the darkness of a night that will never change into day again. Because of that, today we remember Petey Sarron, a warrior the sport of boxing should feel proud of.

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What a night! What a fight!

by Ron Jackson 07/12/2009, 21:18

Of all the superb fights that took place on SA soil during the past decades, few came close to matching the first world title bout held in South Africa.

The history-making contest was between two Americans, Petey Sarron and Freddie Miller, who met in Johannesburg on September 4, 1937; a cold spring night.

Sarron retained his featherweight title by beating Miller over 12 action-packed rounds at the old Wanderers ground near the Johannesburg Park Station.

Sarron had taken the crown from Miller in a bruising encounter over 15 rounds in Washington on May 11 the previous year.

Before losing the title, Miller had beaten Sarron in a title fight. They then fought twice at the Wanders; first in a non-title fight over ten rounds on July 31, 1937, with Miller a clear winner.

Sarron had undertaken to give Miller a title fight in the event of Miller beating him and, true to his word, Sarron staked his title against Miller within five weeks.

The two Americans genuinely disliked each other and a sell-out crowd of 20 000 paid what was then a SA record of ten thousand pounds to watch them fight.

South African Willie Corner had refereed the non-title bout but Sarron pressed for a change and Tiny St John Dean, secretary of the Transvaal National Sporting Club, was appointed to handle the rematch.

It was reported that he told the fighters before they shook hands, “There are no instructions; you know the rules; fight!”

Some spectators had hot-water bottles and rugs to keep warm, but the action in the ring was red hot.

In the build-up to the fight, local newspapers reported in detail how the boxers prepared. The Sunday Express announced that the winner would be presented with a gold belt.

Sarron fought a much more tactical fight this time and was slightly ahead after the first five rounds. He then dropped the southpaw Miller for a count of seven in the sixth with a right hook.

Miller recovered fairly quickly and came back at the champion, even throwing punches after the bell. But he was cut near one of his eyes in the eleventh round and went down again in the twelfth.

Sarron was a clear winner but some spectators jeered the decision. However, they stopped when Miller indicated that Sarron was the winner.

Only six days later, Sarron went to Cape Town and outpointed Teddy Braun over ten rounds in a non-title fight.

There were rumours that the return bout for the world title was not on the level, and that Miller received the lion’s share of the purse, even though he lost.

If the fight was not strictly above board, no one would have guessed it. Sarron had already received a substantial offer of six thousand pounds to defend his title against Henry Armstrong in New York.

They duly fought at Madison Square Garden on October 29, 1937 and in a savage battle Armstrong stopped Sarron in the sixth round.

It was the first time Sarron had ever been floored, let alone knocked out.

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