Siki knocked out
a series of unknowns in half the countries of Europe before the boxing world
took him seriously. He was a born actor—he even appeared in a film made in
Paris—and he was something of a clown between fights. He paraded through
Montmartre carrying a pet monkey on his shoulder and leading a lion cub on a
leash. The animals were supplied by admirers to emphasize his African heritage.
He drank heavily and wined and dined his friends. "Do not be alarmed,"
wrote George Bernard Shaw, who had been an amateur boxer in his youth and was
considered a shrewd commentator on prizefighting. "Siki will not assume the
title of Emperor of Senegal and march on Paris."
stock-in-trade was his concentrated menace. He shot into action with his head
down and his arms flailing in torrential attacks that were particularly
effective because he could keep them going for so long. He won 44 of his 48
recorded fights before he met McTigue, 20 by knockout. But it was Siki's
potential power rather than his actual achievements that fired the imagination
of his followers. Could he beat Jack Dempsey? Siki was described floridly as an
uncorrupted natural man, a primitive force from the jungle whose strength and
instinctive hunting spirit shattered the skills of fighters from an
Shaw, whose novel
Cashel Byron's Profession was about prizefighting, dismissed such speculations.
"Siki has all the negro qualities as a pugilist," he wrote,
"toughness about the head, trickiness and speed on his feet (much cleverer
and quicker than Carpentier) and the characteristic negro combination of
romantic pluck and good humor." It was hard to say how much of Siki's
menacing air was genuine and how much of it was cultivated to intimidate his
opponents. He could laugh at himself and often seemed amused at his reputation
for violence. Nat Fleischer, the late editor and publisher of The Ring
magazine, told a story of Siki singing Yes, We Have No Bananas as he handed out
bananas to surprised passersby in the street. Fleischer noted that Siki sang
conscientious climb to the top ranks began when he was 17. His first recorded
professional fight was with one Happy Howard in 1914. Later in his career,
Howard was good enough to last 10 rounds with Harry Greb at a time when the
"Human Windmill" was taking on contenders of Howard's stature at the
rate of one a week. McTigue lost to Howard on a foul, one of only two such
defeats in his 146 fights. But then, starting in 1915, when he was 22, McTigue
had 39 bouts in two years, winning 25 by knockout. The merits of those
opponents are hard to determine; the only thing known about most of them is
that he knocked them out.
Perhaps weary of
the action, McTigue slowed his pace and became the boxing instructor of the New
York Athletic Club. In 17 fights from 1917 through 1919, his style became
fixed. He would keep out of harm's way in the early rounds, landing an
occasional long left jab while waiting for the chance to get in a finalizing
right at close range. If the opportunity came, he changed instantly into a
flat-footed slugger, either scoring a knockout or impressively piling up
points. Still, if an opening didn't appear, McTigue didn't force it, and he
remained untroubled by the booing that followed. It is hard to judge old-time
boxing records, because New York, among several other states, had a "no
decision" law to discourage betting on fights. Not that it worked; fans
continued to bet, paying off according to newspaper accounts, in which the
sportswriter determined the winner. In 99 recorded fights before McTigue met
Siki, no less than 31 were such no-decision affairs. Despite his impressive
record, fame continued to elude him.
undisturbed. His style matched his manner. He was on friendly terms with the
celebrities who made up much of the membership of the New York Athletic
Club—politicians, promoters, writers and actors with sports interests,
socialites and financiers who admired his skill as a boxer and his easy social
most memorable fights was one with Battling Ortega in Boston in 1919, for which
he was paid $700, his biggest purse in six years as a pro. Ortega tore into
McTigue with a violence that shattered McTigue's defensive skill. The Irishman
later recalled being almost insensible in the early rounds. But he kept, going
like an automaton and Ortega could not knock him out. By the 12th, and final,
round, McTigue's head had cleared, however, and when Ortega launched a final
wild drive, McTigue floored him three times to end the fight.
Then there was
his fight with Gene Brosseau in 1920 in Halifax for the middleweight
championship of Canada. A news report described McTigue merely as "the
boxing instructor of the New York Athletic Club." McTigue boxed with his
usual unaggressive mastery until the fifth round. Then, when Brosseau was
momentarily cornered, McTigue landed several straight lefts and knocked
Brosseau out with a short right.
In a 12-round
bout with Panama Joe Gans on Sept. 5, 1921, an apparently beaten McTigue came
back so strongly in the last rounds that the newspapers declared it a draw.
Gans previously had knocked out Tiger Rowers, who went on to become the
middleweight champion; it was the first defeat in Rowers' career.
Tommy Robson, now forgotten, but then noted for having beaten Johnny Wilson
when Wilson was on his way to the middleweight title, and also for having
beaten Jack Delaney before he became light-heavyweight champ. McTigue's fight
with Lou Bogash in March of 1922 was a draw; three months later Bogash beat
Mickey Walker, before he became the welterweight and middleweight champ. And
that was McTigue's strange negative virtue: people who could go in the ring and
beat better fighters than McTigue couldn't beat him.