FOR A country with a population of less than a million, Guyana has produced some notable boxers. The best of them is the great Joe Walcott, not the ex-heavyweight champion who took his name because he admired him so much, but the welterweight who turned professional in 1890 and whom Nat Fleischer, the founder of the Ring magazine, rated as the best ever at the weight. Dennis Andries, Wayne Braithwaite, Howard Eastman and Adrian Dodson are others with Guyanese heritage, and they could all fight a bit.
The Tanner brothers were the first from the country to make an impact on these shores and it was the eldest, Richie ‘Kid’ Tanner, who was the most successful. He arrived in 1938, after boxing professionally for just two years, and when he ended his career, in 1950, he had won 104 of his 175 contests.
The Kid made his UK debut at Liverpool Stadium against one of the best flyweights in the UK at the time, Tut Whalley, and he amazed the large crowd by winning easily. In his third UK bout he boxed on the undercard of the Benny Lynch-Peter Kane scrap at Anfield football ground, and again he won without fuss. In 1940, he boxed against Jackie Paterson, that great Glaswegian who was British champion at the time and who would go on to win the world flyweight title in 1946. Boxing for the Commonwealth title, Paterson and Tanner put on a great show with the Scot’s southpaw style presenting big problems for Tanner and thus he lost the decision after 15 rounds.
During the war Tanner served as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery and continued to box at the highest level, appearing regularly on the few shows then being promoted, many of which were in support of the war effort.
His younger brother, Allan, turned professional in 1949, just a year before the Kid bowed out. Allan died in 2001 and that great ex-pro, Ricky Porter of Swindon, paid tribute to him in Ron Olver’s Old Timers column. Sadly, other than reports of his contests, this seems to be the only time that Allan’s career as a whole was commented upon in BN, and thanks to Ricky, his memory has been preserved within these pages, “Allan amassed a total of around 100 bouts, boxing in various parts of the world, including a fight against Sandy Saddler in 1948, just six months after Sandy won the world featherweight title. Allan was still in his teens.”
While active in the UK, between 1949 and 1955, Allan won 38 of 67 contests. Like his elder brother, he started out at the Liverpool Stadium. He won his first six, culminating in a one-round knockout of Wishaw’s Jim Findlay, a pretty decent fighter himself. Allan was managed by Dom and Tony Vairo, both ex-fighters from an earlier time and big players in the game in and around Liverpool. The pair also managed Johnny Hazel and Ivor Germain, from Jamaica and Barbados respectively.
The Vairos were always keen to help the many Commonwealth lads then arriving in great numbers to box in Britain. Allan beat some great fighters, including Jimmy Toweel, Laurie Buxton, Ellis Ask, Tony Lombard and, in 1951, Tommy McGovern, who became British lightweight champion later the same year. BN reported that “Allan Tanner knew too much about inside work for Tommy McGovern and gave the Bermondsey boy a rare beating about the body that slowed him down and paved the way for a decisive points victory after eight rounds. McGovern was buffeted from pillar to post in the final session.”
Ricky Porter reported that once his boxing career had ended Allan became a trainer who, as well as looking after Porter himself, also trained Des Rea, Victor Paul and Nojeen Adigun. Let’s leave it to Ricky to pay the final tribute: “He was a fine gentleman and it was a privilege to know him.”