Jem Mace was the greatest London Prize Ring, LPR, heavyweight champion. He was a student of the sweet science one hundred and fifty years ago, and a scientific boxer in his own right. Today Mace is known as the “Father of Modern Boxing”. He probably had the greatest influence upon boxing during the pre-1900 era.
After retiring in 1873 Jem Mace became a teacher of boxing and opened his first school inEngland. He taught using gloves, which was an innovation. Mace stressed science in attack and defense. Mace also taught “clean, sharpe, hitting” and scientific punch selection and targeting. In particular, he developed striking under the heart with a “half arm punch” that would later be known as a left hook to the solar plexus.
Mace traveled all overNorth America teaching and demonstrating boxing with gloves. He taught “Gentleman” Jim Corbett, who was a bank clerk at the time, the finer points while staying in San Francisco before he immigrated to Australia. There he was responsible for the great champions who came roaring out of Australia in the 1890’s through his student Larry Foley. Foley trained Bob Fitzsimmons, the man who defeated Corbett with a left hook to the body, to be the next heavyweight champion. He taught Peter Jackson, the great black fighter Sullivan refused to fight, and Frank Slavin, the man Sullivan did fight and defeat.
But Foley’s very first champion was a featherweight named Albert Griffiths, better known as Young Griffo. He was the size of a modern super-bantamweight, 5’4”, 121 lbs., but he fought at every weight class from 122-145. Young Griffo’s is an extraordinary boxing tale from the era of the birth of the modern sport.
Albert Griffiths won the world featherweight title September 2, 1890 in Sydney Australia by defeating “Torpedo” Billy Murphy over 15 rounds. This 122-126lbs title was recognized in Britain and Australia. He was the first Australian to win a world title. At the time of that fight Griffithswas 38-0-15 and he weighed 121.
Like Billy Murphy, New Zealand Lightweight Champ [pre 1905 rules], before him and the other great fighters to come out of Australia and New Zealand after him, Griffiths came to America in 1893 to pursue his boxing career. At this point Griffiths’ record in Australia was 46-0-18 and he was just getting started.
Before he finally stopped fighting in 1904 Albert Griffiths had 236 fights and boxed 1665 professional rounds! Griffo won 70, lost 9 [KO 4] and had 44 draws in fights of record. As he got older he got hit more often and the four KO’s came in the last four years that he fought. Wild partying and exuberant risk-taking became hallmarks of Griffo’s behavior; sometimes he mixed the two. He was disqualified twice for turning up drunk on fight night and was just a general raconteur.
Meanwhile Griffo went 20 rounds or more with Hall of Fame bantam and featherweight world champion George Dixon on more than one occasion. These fights must have been something to see for the knowledgeable fight fan, at 20 to 25 rounds, over an hour each time watching two masters of defense, angulation, tactics. He also had several fights with another all time great lightweight, Joe Gans, the “old master.”
On August 27, 1894, while weighing in at 133 pounds,Griffiths went 10 rounds at the Seaside A.C. in Brooklyn with former lightweight champion Jack McAuliffe who weighed 145 that night. There is no substitute for experience in boxing and Griffo gained tremendous experience with the greats of his time. This was a time when all around skill was more appreciated by fight fans and displayed by fighters than it is today.
Young Griffo was a spoiler, like Harry Greb twenty five years later, on good nights he made superior punchers look bad. He was phenomenal with his head movement, slipping punches, feinting, blocking and returning rapid combinations. With a 14.18 % KO ratio he was in company with other fighters who were very difficult to hit but had little knock out power, like Memphis “Pal” Moore or Willie Pep.
“Young Griffo was not known as much of a puncher, but his skill was uncanny. He had wonderful headwork, almost impenetrable defense, dazzling feints, and rapid two-handed methods of attack. The cleverest boxers and hardest punchers were made to look ridiculous when exchanging swats with him.”
March 6, 1916 Tacoma Daily News
He fought many more exhibitions and no decision fights than his record indicates, but it is what he did as a vaudeville act after his fight career was finished that got him into trouble. Young Griffo’s act consisted of this; he used to take a handkerchief, put it on the ground, and put his left foot on it. Then holding his hands at his side he would bet you that you could not hit him though his foot would never leave that handkerchief. He traveled across the country doing this night after night at fairs and in vaudeville halls. At his peak no one could touch him up, but as he got older he got hit more and more often. But Young Griffo’s defensive talents were never forgotten by the old timers who continued to talk and write about him more than twenty years after he retired from boxing, largely because of his demonstrations of skill on stage.
In the later years of his life Griffiths sat on the steps of the Rialto Theatre in Times Square and begged for money. He had become the archetypal “punchy” alcoholic ex-fighter. But not just any fighter, he had been one of the greatest of his era. The Morning Bulletin December 9, 1927 of Rockhampton Australia noted his passing in New York City at age 56, adding that he was destitute. Young Griffo was hailed as a hero by then mayor Jimmy Walker, and he was buried in a plot contributed by boxing promoter Tex Rickard. Many old boxers attended the funeral.