Lee Groves

10: Most notable St. Louis title fights

February 1, 1904, West End Athletic Club – Abe Attell KO 5 Harry Forbes

During boxing’s chaotic early days multiple fighters laid claim to being “world champion” and such was the case here. Some believed that Young Corbett, who knocked out Terry McGovern in two in 1901 and had made six defenses to this point was the legitimate featherweight champion while others believed the stylish Attell, who out-pointed longtime champ George Dixon in a non-title affair in 1901 and won a 15-rounder over Johnny Reagan (in St. Louis, by the way) in September 1903 was the world’s best.

The jury was still out when Attell met Forbes for the fourth time in what would become a five-fight series. Forbes won the first meeting in St. Louis over 15 rounds at bantamweight and fought to a six-round draw one year and six days later in Chicago. Their third encounter in Indianapolis, held just 28 days earlier at 122 pounds, ended in a second draw over 15, this time for Attell’s piece of the title.

For this match, both men weighed 122 pounds at ringside, as agreed upon. But as much as Attell liked the title, he loved something else more – gambling. For him, the prospect of exchanging punches with a professional athlete wasn’t enough of a thrill; he needed the adrenaline rush that only “action” could give him. Despite having his troubles with Forbes, an accomplished bantamweight champion who also was fighting before his home crowd, Attell felt he needed something extra to boost his performance. That came in the form of a $40,000 bet that he would stop Forbes within five rounds. This was especially risky given that Attell had not scored a knockout in his last 12 fights, going 7-1-4 along the way.

The all-or-nothing ploy worked. The usually slick-boxing Attell turned punisher and cashed in on his wager with not a round to spare. He wouldn’t be so fortunate in later years as he was a key figure in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, but the Forbes fight did win Attell general recognition as the “real” world featherweight champion.

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