Greatest Bantamweight Fight in Boxing History
Arnold Taylor – ‘I felt God’s hand on my shoulder’
He felt God’s hand on his shoulder at the end of that brutal eighth round. He knew God was in his corner and that he would soon be bantamweight champion of the world.
That is how Arnold Taylor explained his feelings to veteran American promoter George Parnassus a few days after his fight against Romeo Anaya.
The little South African had scored a dramatic 14th-round knockout to win the World Boxing Association’s bantamweight title.
Talking to Parnassus, he said he had felt the strength and confidence return to his battered body at the end of the eighth. “I felt His hand on my shoulder. God was in my corner with me,” he said. “I knew then that I would be champion.” He was talking about the night of November 3, 1973. He fought Anaya at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg and won the title in one of the most dramatic and brutal fights in the history of SA boxing. On that memorable night in front of more than 20 000 spectators, Taylor
survived some terrible punishment. He refused to be beaten. Seldom had any fighter shown so much courage. Parnassus described it as the most thrilling fight he had seen.
Taylor was knocked down in the eighth and tenth rounds. He was on the brink of defeat.
Then, in the penultimate round, he threw a right-hand punch than landed on the jaw of the tough Mexican. Suddenly Anaya was flat on his back and Taylor became South Africa’s third world champion after Willie Smith and Vic Toweel. The drama had started long before the fight. Anaya had to make five trips to scale, two of them unofficial, before coming in at the bantamweight limit of 53.52 kg.
Twice before the official weigh-in at noon that day, Anaya accompanied by his handlers was weighed in private at the President Hotel. Taylor had no problem making the weight. He came in at 53.10 kg shortly after noon, but the champion arrived only at 12:30 and was declared overweight at 54.20 kg.
Anaya and his handlers demanded that he be weighed again, immediately. All
the officials, except the SA Boxing Board’s clerk of scales Wally Snowball, had to leave the platform.
After stripping off his underpants, Anaya once again climbed on the scales, but was still over the limit at 54.15 kg.
He was told that he had until 13:10 to make the weight as the scales had been officially opened at 12:10.
Failure to meet the limit would result in the champion forfeiting his title.
After spending time in the sauna and a steam bath, Anaya weighed in at 53.45 kg, a fraction inside the bantamweight limit. The fight produced even more controversy.
Many experts and journalists, and, of course, all in the Anaya camp felt Taylor should have been disqualified when he went down for the third time in the eighth round; this time without taking a punch.
Anaya felt Taylor had given up as he went in for the kill. The challenger suddenly dropped to one knee but South African referee Stan Christodoulou, officiating in his first word title fight, allowed the fight to continue when Taylor got up. When asked about the incident Christodoulou was reported as saying that he disagreed with the Anaya camp sentiments as he was satisfied that that Taylor went down from the effects of the previous knockdowns even though he did not go down from a punch.
Taylor’s reign as a champion was short and unhappy, only to be marred by with unwise decisions and controversy. The sad part of the all-action bout was that no full-length film was made of it because promoter Dave Levin was unable to find a sponsor to buy the film rights. The fight lasted about 40 minutes, not counting the 13 minutes taken up by the intervals between rounds, but only about 15 minutes of the fighting was filmed for newsreel by Killarney Films.
THE EARLY DAYS
Arnold Taylor was born in Jeppe, Johannesburg, on July 21, 1943. He was 12 when he joined a boxing club near his home. Learning the trade, he lost a lot of his bouts in the paperweight division. However, after moving into the senior amateur ranks he won the SA featherweight title in 1963 and 1964.
Taylor was overlooked for the Golden Gloves tour of America but was selected for the Springbok team for the 1964 Mexico Olympics before South Africans were banned from the Games for political reasons.
After this setback he won a gold medal the SA Games in 1965 before deciding to give up boxing. He joined the Southern Suburbs football club but still dreamt of earning Springbok colours. His uncle, Klein van Helsdingen, persuaded him to start boxing again. In 1966 he achieved his dream when he was selected for the Springbok team to tour the Great Britain together with standout amateurs like Harry Finlay, Japie Pretorius and Herbie Vermeulen.
Taylor was the only one who won all his fights on tour. Soon after their return, Taylor turned professional feeling that he had nothing more to prove as an amateur he turned professional and made his debut on May 20, 1967, fighting Ray Buttle in Potgietersrust. They drew over six rounds. Six weeks later, in a return match, Taylor knocked Buttle out in the ninth round to win the Transvaal bantamweight title.
He again defeated Buttle, on points over eight rounds. In only his fourth fight he outpointed the talented Andries Steyn to win the SA featherweight title. After two more victories he challenged Dennis Adams for the SA bantamweight title and was knocked out in 1 minute 31 seconds of the first round. Promoters found Taylor a difficult man to negotiate with and he sometimes moved up to fight heavier opponents, even at lightweight, to stay active.
Putting the loss against Adams behind him, Taylor beat Robert Trott twice, Edward Mbungwa, Anthony Morodi, Colin Lake, Henri Nesi and Herby Clarke, also twice, before winning the SA lightweight title from Clarke in May 1969. Only two weeks later he retained the SA featherweight title with an eighthround
stoppage win over Adams. But in his next fight, in Durban, he was stopped in eight rounds by Andries Steyn, losing his national lightweight title.
It was reported that Taylor drank several litres of water before the weigh-in of the Steyn fight to hide the weight difference from Boxing Board officials. Even then Taylor was still 4,4 kg lighter than Steyn.
In his next fight, he was outpointed by Johnny O’Brien of Scotland. That convinced
him to return to the bantamweight division.
He stopped Buttle in six rounds to take the SA bantamweight title and joined a select band of SA champions who have won three titles. Even though he had lost only three of his first 22 fights and had won three SA titles there was little media and public interest when it was announced that he would fight WBC featherweight champion Johnny Famechon in a nontitle fight in Johannesburg on April 11, 1970.
The Paris-born Famechon, who boxed out of Australia, had won the WBC title in January 1969 from Cuban Jose Legra on a hotly disputed decision.
On the day before the fight Taylor found out that a film of the fight was to be made and shown overseas. Famechon would receive payment for the rights. Taylor insisted on being paid a share of the film rights and when the promoter
refused he withdrew from the fight.
After hours of negotiating he was persuaded to go ahead because there was a
risk of the Boxing Board withdrawing his license and imposing a suspension. An unhappy Taylor was never in the fight and was beaten over ten rather uninteresting rounds.
Seven months later Taylor, by then at loggerheads with almost all local promoters, stopped Buttle in eight rounds to retain his SA featherweight title before finishing 1970 with two wins inside the distance over Chris Nel. By the end of 1970 Taylor was disillusioned with boxing. He continued to work
as a confectioner to supplement his income and even considered retiring from the ring.
In May 1971 he received an offer to fight in Australia. He beat Willie Cordova twice and then won against the highly regarded Toro George from New Zealand. After wins over Memo Espinosa and Alberto Jangalay he returned to South Africa and won his next two fights to finish a successful year.
Pat Jackson had taken over his training and a Johannesburg attorney, Cyril Ziman, managed the business side. Taylor then beat imports Ugo Poli and Evan Armstrong and made two successful defences of his SA featherweight title against Hansie van Rooyen.
ANAYA SIGNS FOR $80 000
In 1973 he beat British imports Jimmy Bell and Billy Waith before he heard that promoter Dave Levin and matchmaker Reg Haswell had negotiated with Mexican Romeo Anaya to defend his WBA bantamweight title against Taylor in Johannesburg. Anaya was guaranteed US $80 000 and six air tickets and expenses for his entourage. Taylor would receive R8 000. He soon embarked on a gruelling training schedule, doing his normal roadwork and spending hours in the Johannesburg municipal gymnasium.
Part of his daily routine involved running, seven times, up and down the stairs between the ground level and the 20th floor of a building in Braamfontein. Taylor, against the odds, with his right eye swollen shut and his face cut and bruised, won the WBA bantamweight title. It was 23 and a half years after the memorable night of May 31, 1950 when another SA bantamweight, Vic Toweel, had won the world title in his famous victory over Manuel Ortiz.
THE SAD ENDING
Taylor was voted South African Sportsman of the Year for 1973. But his reign as champion was short and unhappy, marred by unwise decisions and controversy. After reaching the summit and achieving his dream of winning a world title it was unfortunately the beginning of a slide downward for the gutsy champion.
He won non-title fights against Guy Caudron and Paul Ferreri before losing to Lorenzo Trujillo.
But behind the scenes there were ongoing wrangles with his promoters, Dave Levin and George Parnassus.
Pat Jackson also left him, and it was later reported that the trainer claimed that Taylor had hardly trained and had done no road work for the Trujillo fight. It was said he was too busy furnishing the new home he had bought in Quellerina, west of Johannesburg. Cookie Mendoza took over Taylor’s training for the first defence of his title. He was to take on a Korean, Soo Hwan Hong, in Durban on July 3, 1974.
Taylor received a merciless beating over 15 rounds against Hong who knocked him down in the first, fifth, 14th and 15th rounds to take his title. He was reduced from a once proud world champion to a bleeding wreck.
Taylor’s indifferent form against Caudron, Ferreri and Trujillo had already been an indication that all was not well. However, he blamed his poor performance on having been forced to reduce weight drastically before the fight with Hong. Soon after the bout came the news that Taylor was broke. He and his family were forced to vacate their new home, which had cost R38 000.
He was also suspended for six months by the Transvaal Boxing Board because
of medical reasons and lost his manager, Ziman. After his licence was reinstated, Taylor faced British bantamweight John Mitchell on February 22, 1975. He was cheered all the way into the ring and won on a fourth-round stoppage.
Afterwards, he announced that he planned to get back into the worlds ratings and beat the best in his division. He never made it, even though he stopped Lothar Abend in three rounds and scored another sensational victory over Anaya in a return match when he knocked him out in the eighth round on a cold June night. Several attempts were made to match Taylor with the WBA featherweight champion Alexis Arguello, but nothing ever came of it.
In May 1976 he outpointed Dave Needham of England and after months of inactivity, i n desperation he went over to England and Europe to seek fights. After losing to Sven Eric Paulson in Oslo and being stopped by Vernon Sollas in London on November 24, 1976 he returned home and quit the ring for good.
The family had returned the modest suburb of Mayfair to stay with relatives. With his boxing career behind him and no money in the bank, he also returned to his trade and found a job as a baker.
Slowly he got his life back on track. They bought an old semi-detached house in Mayfair and, with the help of friends, started renovating it.
However, there was no happy ending. At the age of 38, only five years after his last fight, he was killed in a road accident. It was at 12.30am on November 22, 1981. Taylor, on a motorcycle, collided head-on with a car on the corner of Main Reef Road and Church Street, Mayfair only about a kilometre from his home.
Taylor lost 8 of his 50 fights. One journalist later wrote, “Throughout Arnold Taylor’s career, Fate always seemed to be in the opposite corner.”