Yesterday’s Heroes: Cincinnati’s world champion Freddy Miller still holds a curious record

By Miles Templeton

I’LL BET there aren’t many around who could name the foreign world champion who had the most contests in the UK while still holding the title. The answer is Freddie Miller of Cincinnati, USA. Freddie won the world featherweight title in Chicago in June 1933 by beating Tommy Paul. He finally lost the title in 1936, after defending it successfully 12 times, to Petey Sarron.

In 1934 Freddie came to the UK to defend his title against Liverpool great, Nel Tarleton, at the Stadium in Nella’s home city. Tarleton, along with Ernie Roderick and Ginger Foran, was one of the ‘big three’ in Liverpool at that time and many fancied him to beat the American. The late Vic Hardwicke, who many readers will remember as a major contributor to Ron Olver’s column 30 or 40 years ago, rated Tarleton as the best fighter he had seen. Miller easily outpointed the Liverpudlian in what was only his third 15-round contest. Back in the States, most of Miller’s bouts, including those for the title, were fought over 10 rounds.

In the 1930s it was commonplace for champions to engage in many non-title bouts in between their defences. Not only was it a good way of staying in shape but it also offered money-making opportunity with no risk. There were many in Britain and Europe who wanted to see the American and so, over the course of the next nine months he boxed on 33 more occasions, with 22 of them taking place in the UK and Ireland.

Only four days after defeating Tarleton for the world title Miller appeared at Belle Vue, Manchester, to outpoint Welshman, Billy Hazell, over 10-threes. This set the pattern for an extremely active tour. Freddie only lost two of these contests, by disqualification against Billy Gannon at Manchester, and a points defeat at the hands of Maurice Holtzer in Paris.

In June 1935, just a month before he sailed back home, he defeated Tarleton again in a title contest, this time less convincingly, for Nel fought his heart out, only to lose out on a tight verdict. During his tour, Miller also fought at the Blackfriars Ring, where he was very popular, Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast and at the Royal Albert Hall. His final contest over here was a sensational two-round knockout of ex-British champion, Seaman Tommy Watson, back in Liverpool, at Anfield football ground. BN reported that the finish “came in the shape of a punch of which fighters dream. It was a left cross to the jaw. It didn’t land a fraction of an inch too high, and it didn’t land a fraction of an inch too low. It just landed where it was meant to land, on the fatal spot.”

Once he had lost his title to Sarron, Miller continued to barnstorm his way around America and then, in 1938 he returned to the UK again for a second tour. Just like the first time he had his first and his last contest in Liverpool, a place he really enjoyed. Starting out with a 12-round decision over Billy Charlton at the Stadium, he won all 12 over here, with wins at Leicester, Bristol, Swansea, Edinburgh, Newcastle and the Isle of Man. This latter contest was at the Villa Marina Ballroom in Douglas and Miller beat Tommy Tune, a competent fighter but no more than that, from Barnsley. The contest failed to make the pages of BN, which, given Miller’s status, is hard to believe. The bout was not recorded in the annual Ring Record Book right up until the 1980s and I unearthed it at the British Library some years ago.

Miller’s last bout over here was a 10-round decision over Johnny King, that wonderful Manchester fighter. The verdict was unpopular with the Liverpool fans as they thought King had nicked it.

Miller died from a heart attack at the young age of 51 in 1962. A great champion and well loved by British fans.

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