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Lee Savold-The Battling Bartender


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One of the longest-fighting heavyweights ever, Lee Savold was known as "The Battling Bartender" and fought from 1933 to 1952, amassing a record of 98 wins (72 ko's), 41 losses (12 by ko) and 3 draws. What makes him significant to me is that he was the best American boxer of Norwegian origin, since Pete Sanstol was Canadian. As his record suggests, he was a puncher and as his nickname suggests, he was also a brawler, but could also box sufficiently well. Standing 6'1 and usually weighing just below 200 pounds, he was not a very big heavyweight, but for that time he was a rather standard-sized one. He briefly succeeded in capturing the world title but lost it in his first defense to Joe Louis. Let's find out more about him.


He was born in Canby, Minnesota, 22 March 1915, and lived in St. Paul, also Minnesota. His full name was Lee Hulver Savold. As mentioned, he was born into a Norwegian immigrant family, whose original last name was "Sagvold", but was shortened for some reason. He would later visit Oslo for a boxing exhibition, in December 1948. With his boyish looks, he looked far from an intimidating fighter that he would become. His parents were farmers and he grew up breaking in horses and cattle on his family ranch. He also later worked in different jobs, as a bouncer, laborer or a bartender, the latter which would give him his famous fighting nickname. He started his pro career at 18, having his first fight in September 1933 and winning by a KO6 against Harry Bryan, at middleweight. He lost in already his second fight, on points to Johnny Simpson, who had 7 fights previously and won 4. He was stopped for the first time against Harry Udell, fighting as a light heavy, when his body punches forced Savold to surrender after 4 rounds. He lost too many fights early on, either because he was unschooled or fought too often or against more experienced guys. His first notable victory was over Johnny Withers, who already had defeated him, on a newspaper decision in June 1940. On 16 September that year, he won the Iowa State heavy title by knocking out Andy Miller, a veteran, in 1 round. Jack Dempsey himself presented him with the trophy. On 29 November that same year, he fought Billy Conn and came in weighing at 186 3/4 to Conn's 174 1/4. Conn was however technically superior and won by a UD after 12 rounds. After stopping the 110-19-0 Buddy Knox by a TKO5 in December 1941, Savold scored his first great victory when he fought Lou "Cosmic Punch" Nova on 25 May 1942, at Griffiths Stadium in Washington DC; Savold cut Nova up so badly with his punches that the fight had to be stopped after 8 rounds and he won by a TKO. It was named The Ring's Upset of the Year. With that victory, Savold positioned himself into a world title shot against Joe Louis. However, since Joe Louis was back then serving in the army during world war 2, that would not happen. Instead, Savold himself joined the merchant navy in 1943 and visited Murmansk in Russia, right at the border with Norway.


He was still fighting that year however and scored an even more impressive victory in a rematch with Lou Nova, knocking him out in 2 rounds with a left-right on 9 August at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Although Nova would continue fighting, he was now stymied by Savold from ever getting a shot at the world title. On 5 November, he dropped a UD10 to Tami Mauriello, after first decking him in the second round. Mauriello was a rising contender and the fight took place in his hometown of New York. He then scored another great victory by split-decisioning Joe Baksi, one of the most feared and formidable contenders back then. It was on 10 March '44 at Madison Square Garden when Savold upset the equally-tall Baksi after 10 rounds, getting the nod from two judges, both by 6-4 and the third had Baksi ahead by the same amount of rounds. They had a rematch on 26 May, again at MSG, and this time Baksi got his revenge when he mercilessly pounded Savold, cutting him over the left eye and turning his left side of face into a mess, yet Savold lasted the distance. Naturally, Baksi won clearly on all scorecards. They had their third straight fight on 7 August at Wrigley Field and this time it was a dull affair, due to Savold's holding tactics. The fight was therefore rather even but Baksi won by a majority decision. He went back on track by decisioning the solid Philly fighter Gus Dorazio in 10 rounds at the end of that year, but would have to wait a long time for another big fight. In the meantime, he got surprisingly knocked out by Elmer Ray, "the long-armed Negro", in 2 rounds on 28 August 1946, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. After also dropping decisions to Fitzie Fitzpatrick and twice to Phil Muscato, everybody thought Savold was finished as a serious contender. It turned out his final and long awaited momeny of glory would come overseas-in England. He first went to England to fight Bruce Woodcock, their best heavyweight, 6 December 1948, but he got disqualified for an "alledged low punch". A rematch was then issued, this time with the world title on stake, however it was back then only recognized as such by the Britsh boxing board of control. It was 6 June 1950 at White City Stadium when the 35-yearold Savold beat the 30-yearold Woodcock into a corner retirement after 4 rounds, after Woodcock suffered a detached retina. He then finally got to fight Joe Louis, about 8 years after he was supposed to, 15 June 1951 at MSG. Despite Louis being slightly older, he still had the punch and knew how to use it. Savold was bloodied from round 2 but came back in round 5 to shake Louis with two overhand rights to the head. Still, Louis was firmly in charge and finally stopped him in the 6th after knocking him out with a right to the body and a left hook to the jaw.


After this devastating defeat, Savold wasn't yet ready to retire but did something stupid-he took on Rocky Marciano, who had stopped Louis in Louis' very next fight and was a leading contender back then. The fight was one-sided but Savold hung in there and took punishment for 6 rounds before retiring in his corner. That was the end for the almost 37-yearold, on that 13 February 1952 in Convention Hall, Philadelphia. After retirement, he worked for the local 825 of the Operating Engineers Union. Lee Savold died in Neptune, New Jersey, on 14 May 1972, aged 57. All the punishment he had taken had surely contributed to shortening his life, but for what is worth, he was appreciated for his toughness and willingness to duke it out-except in that third Baksi fight. His older brother Stan was also a heavyweight pro, who retired with the unremarkable record of 9-25-0. Lee was featured on the cover of The Ring in 1940. Hope you enjoyed this presentation.



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