Lee Groves

Ten notable U.S. vs. U.K. welterweight title fights

May 25, 1939 – Henry Armstrong W 15 Ernie Roderick, Harringay Arena, London, England

After Lewis lost the title to Britton for the final time, it would be 25 years before another Englishman would challenge for the welterweight championship. That Englishman was the Liverpudlian Roderick, a former plumber who took his working-class sensibilities into the boxing ring. At age 17, Roderick turned pro with a decision victory over Tony Butcher – in a 10-rounder, no less. In fact, seven of his first 10 fights went at least 10 rounds and the final bout of that string was a 12-round win over Alec Law.

After going 15-1-2 in his first 18 fights, Roderick plunged into a 17-month slump that saw him go 5-9-1, including three disqualification losses to Billy Bird, Jack Lord and Tommy Taylor. But Roderick soon righted the ship and surged to a title shot by going 58-2-1 (24) in his next 61 fights, the last of which was a seventh round KO of Jake Kilrain (no, not the one who fought John L. Sullivan) to capture the British welterweight title.

Meanwhile, Armstrong was in the midst of a sensational two-and-a-half-year run that would eventually land him in the upper reaches of the all-time pound-for-pound list. Since January 1, 1937, “Homicide Hank” had won 45 consecutive fights, including 39 by knockout, and for a brief time was the owner of the undisputed featherweight, lightweight and welterweight championships. Knowing he was scheduled to rematch Lou Ambers for the lightweight title in August, Armstrong scaled 135 for the Roderick fight, a full 10¾ pounds less than the challenger.

But when a fighter has a motor like Armstrong’s, poundage doesn’t matter much. From the opening to closing bells, the pattern seldom changed: Armstrong walking forward behind a rhythmic bob-and-weave and pounding Roderick’s frame with hacking blows from every angle and Roderick circling, using his long left to keep the champion at bay and firing swift right uppercuts every time Armstrong muscled his way into close quarters.

Roderick admirably kept pace with Armstrong in the first third of the fight but over time, the American’s pressure took its toll. Yet Armstrong failed to knock the challenger off his feet and that ruggedness enabled Roderick to become just the fourth of five fighters ever to travel the entire 15-round distance with Armstrong (Barney Ross, Lou Ambers, Ceferino Garcia and, later, Fritzie Zivic were the others).

At the final bell, referee Wilfred Smith immediately raised the left hand of the still-energetic Armstrong. Unfortunately for Armstrong, the Roderick fight was the final win of his undefeated streak, for less than three months later, Ambers regained the lightweight championship, thanks to five low-blow penalties that enabled the challenger to win eight rounds to seven on two scorecards. Meanwhile, Roderick achieved further glories as he won the British and European titles at welterweight as well as the European middleweight belt. A four-bout losing string – all by decision – closed out an honorable 19-year career that saw him amass a 112-24-4 (45) record and win the Lonsdale belt outright.

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