RingSide Report

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Ringside Report Looks Back at Former Middleweight Champion Randolph Turpin (1928-1966)

By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart

It was during the research for another Turpin that I discovered that I had written about him before – George Turpin, bantamweight Olympian and so I was in a quandary. Do I update the profile from 4 years ago, or what? I am fully that Turpin as a surname, though unusual to most, is a well-known, some mighty say infamous surname in English history. Dick Turpin, adventurer, and highwayman was, unlike Robin Hood, a real person who was romanticized after being hung in York for his crimes in the 18th century.

But Turpin is a name also well known within boxing circles in the UK, not just for George’s exploits but for one Randolph Turpin or Randy Turpin. And as I mused and wondered about what I was going to do, I went down an internet rabbit hole because Randolph Turpin managed to achieve greatness and end with mystery…

But here, in a departure from my norm, let me explain…

Randolph Adolphus Turpin, 66-8-1, 45 KOs, was born in Leamington Spa, England in 1928. He died on the 17th of May 1966 in the same town. In between, The Leamington Licker fought at middleweight and light heavyweight. He won two English national championships as an amateur and managed as a professional to win the world middleweight championship in 1951, when he beat Sugar Ray Robinson. Randy was your cliché in boxing. Out of poverty he rose, achieved great fame and riches, then unable to deal with it, fell spectacularly downhill until, being pursued for unpaid taxes, he ended up dying in ignominy. If his win over Robinson was the height of his career and for some may have been daylight robbery as his namesake was blamed for many a time, then his death is for many a mystery attributed to suicide but challenged by some who just don’t buy it.

Randy, one of five children born to an English mother and Guyanese black father was a kid in a time when that heritage was not a steppingstone to anything other than struggle. His father, who fought for the British in the First World War died a year after his birth from injuries sustained in the war – mum had four other children to bring up aside from Randy. But Beatrice, his mother who outlived him by 8 years, was a feisty woman and apparently a descendant of a bare-knuckle fighter of yore.

Randy became the first black boxer to win national titles in amateur boxing in the UK and served in the navy, just after the Second World War. Whilst in the forces, he represented his country in a televised contest against the US, scoring a first-round knockdown. Professionally it was his brother who was to become the first black fighter to win a British title, but Randy was to equal that feat and to win a European belt too.

His rise to the top led to a day of destiny in 1951. Randy was a man working on weights when boxing believed that they were to be avoided though it meant that Randy had knockout power in both hands. Despite his heritage he was fighting as an equal in the ring, as the color bar which had been in operation in British boxing since 1911 was now lifted.

But now came that night with Sugar Ray…

Randy Turpin was going in as the massive underdog, against Robinson. Of course, he was. Robinson was a master of the craft. Robinson, on a European tour, had come to London to take on Turpin in the final fight of that tour. Surely a mismatch, called most as the fight took place with randy facing a fighter in #Robinson who was unbeaten as an amateur and, after 132 professional fights, beaten only once in the professional code – by Jake LaMotta. A defeat he avenged once, twice, thrice, four times, and went to five wins against him thereafter. Mind you Randy had only been defeated twice in his career and had also avenged those two defeats – Albert Finch for the British title, and Jean Stock for the European title.

Robinson was a master at the top of his game. Turpin was a game challenger, but the accredited number one challenger for the title. As quoted in the UK trade paper, the Boxing News, the US trade paper, The Ring Magazine were scathing of Turpin and his chances confidently commenting that, “Turpin has never met a Robinson. The brilliant Ray who stopped Kid Marcel in the fifth, is the Robinson who in my opinion will face the British champion and stop him. Ray can do everything that Turpin can, but a little better.”

What Sugar Ray clearly did not do, was train properly. In the lead up to the fight Robinson had fought six times in the six weeks previously. Though they were non-title 10 rounders the question asked was had he come through each of them unscathed? Randy was training hard by comparison and whilst the American was on his press and publicity kick, Turpin was in the North-West of Wales getting fight ready.

And so, on the 10th of June 1951, at Earls Court Randy Turpin, watched by 18,000, manhandled the master on the way to a points win after 15 rounds. Randy was the first British middleweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons, 60 years previously – literally a century before! The referee, the sole scorer of the fight, was comfortably able to get the decision right. Boxing News heralded the win thus, “Turpin had seen to it that he was superbly fit, he had well planned his campaign. It did not take him long to realize that Robinson could be hit and hurt, that he could take the champion’s best punches unflinchingly, that he could out-guess and outbox him.”

But Randy Turpin had a contract with the American with a very modern clause within it – the rematch clause. Robinson got his man to come across the pond, to New York and on the 12th of September 1951, in front of over 61,000 spectators, Randy was stopped in the 10th round. Turpin was beaten and now a former champion – he had reigned for 64 days.

Randy’s career then stalled, and things were never the same again. It could be argued that neither was he. His personal life was a mess. Randy had a number of run ins with the law which included some very messy business in and around the two fights with Robinson.

Randy’s brush with the law began in 1945, the same year he joined the navy, when he was charged with attempted suicide. It followed an argument with a girlfriend and when investigated was dismissed by the police as accidental. He and his girlfriend married in 1947, but he was charged and accused by her of domestic abuse leading to a court case which ended similarly as before in the charges being dismissed. They divorced in 1953. When Randy went to America to face Robinson, he met Adele Daniels and romance blossomed. But then he came back to the UK, and they lost touch. He went back later for another fight, found her and things were back on again. Then he was arrested for rape and assault but after being given a payment, Daniels dropped the charges. Randy was without doubt a playboy and much of the money that he made would have been well used to fund that lifestyle.

He got paid for the second Robinson fight in cash, gave it to someone for safekeeping, never declared it and when he went to ask for it back – his friend turned out to be less friendly than when he was being given cash. It’s a salutary lesson perhaps but also one where it opens a window on the man himself. He was generous to a fault, describing himself as illiterate with money. But a day of reckoning was always on the horizon. The taxman was his apocalypse. He w3as looking for payment and bills that began at £100,000, were reduced, before leading to randy being declared bankrupt. To make ends meet he had gone into wrestling but again anything he made, he spent and with a week or so to go before his death, he was sent a tax bill for £800.

His death, ruled a suicide by an inquest, has more recently been challenged by a former West Midlands UK head of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), John Plimmer. He believes that Randolph Turpin was murdered by the mob. Two years before his death Randy had written a letter stating that he was going to expose match fixing and whilst he was unafraid people had made threats against his wife. At about the same time, he received a beating which he never explained from a group of unrecognized people – and people he was never going to identify.

And so, on the 17th of May 1966, Randolph Turpin was found dead in his flat which was above the café he ran in Leamington Spa. He had two gunshot wounds – one in his heart and the other in his head. His 17-month daughter was by his side – also shot twice. She survived. According to Plimmer, as quoted in Boxing News, “If he shot himself in the head first, would he really have the wherewithal to then aim the gun at his heart and pull the trigger? If he shot himself in the heart first, he’s dead – there’s no second shot. Frankly, it’s unbelievable.”

There are of course, precedents for considering “hits” rather than suicidal verdicts in the boxing world. Less than a year previously Freddie Mills’ death was also ruled a suicide but not many believe it. Plimmer makes a compelling case. Dementia pugilistica was used as a reason behind the suicide verdict at the Turpin inquest. To add to this as a plausible narrative it was revealed that the British Boxing Board of Control had refused to sanction at least one fight and were so concerned they even stopped Randy from sparring,

He was facing financial ruin for a second time. He owed tax, his house had been compulsory purchased and he lived above the café which was, by now, his only means of earning. He was depressed and slipping into increasing bouts of it, driven apparently by bitterness about his boxing career, convinced he was swindled by many who hung around him. He avoided talking about boxing to strangers and this, as a background would give credence to the suicide verdict. The bullet in his head did not get to his brain so the idea that one shot killed him unravels – though only slightly.

There is a plaque on a wall, outside where his body was found, with a legendary quote which we should heed in respect for Randolph Turpin and his experiences from within the sport. It simply states, “That which seldom comes back to him who waits is the money he lends to his friends.” It is not his only legacy. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001 and there is a statue in his memory in the Market Square in Warwick. Despite the verdict of suicide, he is one fallen warrior of whom we ought to feel proud. And rightly we do, and so that internet rabbit hole provided so much more than just ours of pleasure but genuine stories of genuine interest, and a somewhat forgotten figure that should always be remembered. The minister at his funeral, the Reverend Eugene Haselden, summed it up beautifully, “Randolph was a simple man, a naïve man and he needed friends to protect him from the spongers. To our shame he was let down. The tragedy is not his failure alone, but the failure of our whole society.”

Amen to that.

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