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George Godfrey-The Leiperville Shadow

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Writing about Bearcat Wright also made me interested in writing about this guy. George Godfrey was a true specimen in his age and era, standing 6foot3 (190 cm) and weighing between 220 and 260 in his career (100-118 kg) and also possessing punching power aking to that of George Foreman. Of his 97 wins, 79 came by ko, which was certainly an amazing percentage for a fighter of old. He fought between 1919 and 1937 (just like Bearcat Wright, except he retired a year before) and was the "Colored" world champion and also won the IBU version of the world title at the end of his career, but was soon stripped of it.


Godfrey's real name was Feab Smith (Sylvester according to one source) Williams and he was born 25 January 1897 in Mobile, Alabama. He began boxing while serving in the army during world war 1. He then relocated to Chicago after he finished his service and started boxing as a pro, adopting the name George Godfrey from the old famous boxer "Chocolate" George Godfrey. He was mentored by Sam Langford, who he would also fight later on and Jack Blackburn. His first fight came on 1 December '19 and he won it by KO 1 against Eddie Jamison. He fought Langford already in his second fight, but it ended a draw. He then won two fights on points and then scored two knockouts before fighting Battling Norfolk and losing by a KO 5. In his very next fight, he fought against Langford again and was knocked out in 2. He would also lose to Langford soon again, this time even more devastatingly-by KO in the first round, 17 August 1921. Early on, his career didn't look good and he was knocked out several times, also by Jack Renault in 11, and got disqualified twice also. In 1925, he started winning and scored 5 straight knockouts, among them a 5-round one against Tut Jackson and also avenged the loss to Renault on points. He won 13 straight fights in all, before losing again by a DQ 7 against Chuck Wiggins. On 21 September '26, he fought Jack Sharkey for the first time and lost by PTS 10. On 8 November same year, he won the Colored world title by defeating the promising Canadian Larry Gains ny a corner retirement in 6. Only 15 days later (!) he defended the title against Bearcat Wright and was disqualified for not trying (as already described in my previous thread), but was later reinstated.


He would go on his longest winning streak after this, winning 19 straight fights. On 5 July '27, he defended his Colored title again by KO 7 against Neil Clisby. He again defended it on 21 November same year, by a KO 1 against Clem Johnson. On 28 February next year, he scored his first victory over a major white contender, Paulino Uzcudun of Spain, beating Uzcudun on points in 10 rounds in Los Angeles. However, in his next fight, he lost to Johnny Risko by PTS 10 on 27 June. On 15 August, he lost his title when he was disqualified for a low blow in 3 rounds in a rematch with Larry Gains. He rebounded by stopping Tut Jackson again, this time by TKO 4. Next year, he was first disqualified against Al Walker and then also Long Tom Hawkins. He would suffer the same fight against Primo Carnera on 23 June '30, fighting the Italian giant in Philadelphia. After hammering Carnera, 2 and a half inches taller and 12 pounds heavier, for 4 rounds, Godfrey was suspiciously disqualified in the 5th for a foul that looked like it was invented by the referee. After the decision was announced, a riot broke out in the audience and accusations of fixing circulated everywhere afterwards. Knowing that Carnera was "mobbed up", meaning he had ties with the Mafia, it was obvious that Godfrey became a victim of match fixing. On 19 December that year, he again fought Bearcat Wright, for the vacant Colored title, and the fight ended as a draw after 10 rounds. On 24 August next year, he won the title again, finally, by KO 2 against Seal Harris. He defended it first by KO 5 against Roy Clark and then in a rubbermatch with Bearcat Wright, on 10 February '33. It ended as a no contest after 6 rounds after the referee stopped it because of stalling. On 9 October that year, Godfrey lost the title again to Obie Walker on points in 10.


In between fights, Godfrey also fought in wrestling matches, which probably contributed to him not always fighting equally good and losing so many fights. He then started fighting abroad, in 1934 he had 3 matches in Brazil and in the first one defeated the equally tall Valentin Campolo on points. He then had 3 fighs in Belgium and 2 in Bucharest, Romania. It is said that he had a fight with the tallest boxer ever, Romania Gogea Mitu, who was 7 foot 9, but boxrec doesn't have it in its register. It is said he was the only man to beat Mitu in the ring. Finally, in 1935, 2 October in Schaerbeek in Belgium, he achieved his greatest triumph by winning the IBU title on points in 15 rounds against Pierre Charles, a Belgian who had a record of 63-22-10 and was almost as tall as Godfrey. However, not long after that, he was stripped for not paying the sanctioning fee to IBU. He had his final fight on 10 August '37 in Los Angeles and was stopped by TKO 8 against Hank Hankinson. who was an inch taller but weighed considerably less than the 260-pound Godfrey. Godfrey retired after 124 bouts and with a record of 97-21-2.


He died on 13 August 1947, aged 50. He was posthumously inducted into the IBHOF in 2007, 60 years later. In 2003, The Ring also included him among his 100 greatest punchers of all time. During his boxing career, Godfrey also acted in some movies, most famously in MGM's Big City with Spencer Tracy. Godfrey was avoided by Jack Johnson, who also avoided many other black heavyweights in his long career, giving them the same treatment that the boxing establishment was giving him. And that is truly a shame. With his power and size and fighting ability, he would surely present a formidable challenge for Johnson or any other top heavyweight of the time. He showed that clearly against Carnera, where he was badly wronged. Here is to George Godfrey.




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