8. Les Darcy – World champion, Australian version (May 22, 1915-September 30, 1916)
When one discusses the greatest fighters ever to emerge from “Down Under,” Darcy’s name stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those of Kostya Tszyu, Jeff Fenech and Lionel Rose. A good case could be made that Darcy was head-and-shoulders above them, for he achieved far more than anyone cut down years before their chronological prime could ever expect.
Darcy’s claim as middleweight champion is not universally recognized and some historians will say – perhaps correctly – he doesn’t belong on this list. Here’s the rebuttal: Between 1914 and 1917, ascertaining the true middleweight champ was a nebulous exercise. To some, Al McCoy was the legitimate champion based on his breathtaking one-round upset KO of George Chip in 1914, but that didn’t keep others like Jeff Smith (who had beaten Chip), Eddie McGoorty and Jimmy Clabby from staking their own claims. Over the next few years, Darcy would emerge as either the definitive challenger to McCoy or, to some, the real middleweight champion.
Darcy remains the second youngest man ever to capture a version of the middleweight title, for he was 19 years 208 days when he beat Jeff Smith via two-round DQ (McCoy is the youngest at 19 years 170 days, and he won the belt just 13 months before Darcy earned his). In just 16 months Darcy turned away nine challengers, including McGoorty twice (KO 15, KO 8), Mick King (KO 10), Fred Dyer (KO 6), Clabby twice (W 20, W 20) and, in his final fight, George Chip (KO 9). Just to make his task more challenging, Darcy stuffed in four defenses of the Australian heavyweight title – all by KO – while still weighing in the low 160s.
Darcy had traveled to America to pursue a fight with McCoy for the undisputed title. The dream match never came to fruition, for on April 27, 1917 Darcy was hospitalized following a collapse, then died of pneumonia on May 24 in Memphis, Tenn. at just 21 years of age.
In many ways Darcy’s career path mirrored that of featherweight Salvador Sanchez and flyweight Masao Ohba; precocious fighters who managed to amass concrete accomplishments before the fates dealt a cruel and fatal blow.