The carnival boxer or wrestler was once as standard at county fairs throughout the world as the cooch dancer and the crockery booth. In England alone there were more than 80 boxing booths still flourishing at the turn of the century, and many of England's finest fighters, from 18th century champion Jim Figg down to Randy Turpin and Tommy Farr, got their training meeting all comers in the tiny, smoky carnival rings.
Now there are only a few such journeymen pugilists left in the world. Of the dozen booths that still flourish in England, the most celebrated, perhaps, is Ron Taylor's gaudy Excelsior Pavilion (below), where boisterous lads from England's shires still try their fistic skill against calloused old pros who get around $14 a day. For lasting three one-and-a-half-minute rounds a bumpkin collects about $4.
As a youngster, Taylor, a feisty little Welshman, once boxed in the very booth he now runs; his father would pit him against a heavyweight if he wanted to punish him. Taylor's sharp looks and speech come from years of persuading customers into his booth and appraising fighters ("custy mushes") and fools. "My grandmother used to challenge all comers," he says, recalling a zestier era. "She wore protectors on her chest, but she never needed them. Nobody she ever went up against could even come close to hitting her."
As the crowd hesitates, Pitchman Taylor gestures persuasively and Middleweight Jimmy Assani waits patiently for a victim to volunteer. Some of Taylor's pros have fought as many as 900 fights, but one of them says, "1 still pray, 'Oh, Lord, let me win the easiest way.' "
Price of rashness is a cut and bleeding eye hastily patched with adhesive tape in mid-battle as a brave young miner in Neath, Wales stands up (or attempts to) against one of Ron Taylor's scarred and battered old professionals.
Reward for bravery is a handful of banknotes, duly paid over to the brash youngster by Promoter Taylor for going the full distance with his fighter. One of the enthusiastic spectators hailed the fight as a "real dingdong battle."