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Boxers of Yesteryear: Jimmy McLarnin

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Jimmy McLarnin

"Baby Face Assassin "


Consistently fought the best fighters in the world for 13 years, during the 1920s and 1930s. Among the great opponents he faced are world champions from seven different weight classes, spanning a total of 48 pounds. In 77 career bouts, he met 15 world champions and five fellow Hall of Famers. On five occasions, McLarnin beat a reigning world champion in a non-title bout.

The story of Jimmy McLarnin, who bore the nickname of "Baby Face Assassin ", is one of those rare stories in boxing of a tough young man, who became one of the most accomplished boxers of the 1920s and 1930s and got out of the sport, young, healthy, and rich at the age of 29.

Jimmy McLarnin was a fighter who was constantly working on his technique and developing his greatest asset: speed, and even if not the most powerful of fighters he was a dangerous puncher who could deliver stinging blows on his opponents. During his career, he beat 13 champions and won the Welterweight Championship of the World. Even today he is still rated by Ring Magazine as the fifth best welterweight of all time.

He was most famous for his three bout series with each of five outstanding fighters - Barney Ross, Fidel LaBarba, Sammy Mandell, Billy Petrolle and Charles "Bud" Taylor and had victories over each of them

Jimmy McLarnin was born James McLarnin, on the 19 December 1907, (Died 28 October 2004) in Hillsborough, Ireland, into a large Methodist family who immigrated to Canada when he was three. His father, Sam McLarnin, tried his hand at wheat-farming in Saskatchewan before moving to Vancouver, where he opened a clothing store. With 11 siblings, the young Jimmy McLarnin was soon encouraged to make a contribution to the family's income by selling newspapers on the street.

He took up boxing at the age of 10 after getting into a fight trying to defend his newspaper-selling pitch, and at the age of 13, he joined a boxing club run by Former professional Charles "Pop" Foster, a friend of his father. A rugged, English-born veteran of more than 200 boxing-booth fights, Foster was impressed with McLarnin's natural ability, and told him, "I'll make you champion of the world if you'll just behave yourself and do as I tell you."

Charles "Pop" Foster and Jimmy McLarnin's would remain close over the years, so much so that when Foster passed away, he left everything he had to McLarnin.

While still only 16, in 1923, McLarnin headed out to California to start his career. He had to lie about his age and told everyone he was 18. It was this lie that led to the nick name of "Baby-facedAssassin". McLarnin admitted later that he hated lying, but they were desperately poor and needed money fast.

It took three months around San Francisco before he got his first match. He beat George Ainsworth in his first professional bout, with a points win.

Promoters laughed and shook their heads. Foster’s experience along the water fronts and of ports In many lands stood them in good stead.They lived in a shack on the bay shore.Foster got hold of a boat And while Jimmy rowed the boat up and down the old man fished for crabs and other sea foods with Which these waters abound.

Always they persisted in their efforts to get Jimmy started. Finally Simpson relented and matched Jimmy With a tough little slugger about his own insignificant weight. The speed and boxing skill of the kid they Had ignored for weeks stampeded the house. Next morning “Baby Face” McLarnin was blazoned in the newspapers and the last great obstacle in the fistic path of McLarnin and his manager Pop had been successfully hurdled. (1934 by Andy Lytle)

The following year, after a string of victories in the Vancouver area, McLarnin and Foster moved to Los Angeles in search of more meaningful opposition.

His first real test however, came the following year in a set of 2 matches against the future Flyweight Champ, Fidel LaBarba. McLarnin got a decision in one bout and the other was a draw in the 4-rounders. Jimmy later said that LaBarba was a tremendous puncher and on a few body shots he felt as if “all his teeth were being pulled out”. But by sticking and moving he survived LaBarba.

In 1925, Jimmy went on a winning spree. He decisioned tough Flyweight Champ Pancho Villa on July 4th, knocked out future Welterweight Champ Jackie Fields in November in 2 rounds and beat future Bantamweight Champ Bud Taylor in December, although Jimmy won on a foul and would lose to Taylor the following year.

In 1927, Foster determined that his charge should move to New York, then the boxing capital of the world. Over the next three years, McLarnin became a major attraction as he proceeded to cut a swathe through most of the leading Jewish fighters of the day. Such was his record against the likes of Louis "Kid" Kaplan (former featherweight titleholder), Sid Terris, Sergeant Sammy Baker, Al Singer (then the reigning lightweight champion), Joe Glick and Ruby Goldstein, that McLarnin became known as "The Hebrew Scourge" and even "The Jew Killer".

McLarnin lost his first title shot on 21 May 1928 in New York against world lightweight champion Sammy Mandell. Though he did go on to beat him twice in the following two years. It would be five years before McLarnin would next get a title shot, during which time he knocked out several top names including Al Singer, Ruby Goldstein, and Sid Terris.

McLarnin was responsible for ending the career of the legendary Jewish lightweight champion Benny Leonard, whom he battered to defeat in seven rounds in October 1932.

McLarnin beat Young Jack Thompson (a future holder of that division's title) before being badly beaten by Billy Petrolle, a talented fighter known as "The Fargo Express". Nat Fleischer, editor of The Ring magazine, later wrote,

I recall the smashed, bloody figure of Jimmy, reeling under the terrific impact of Petrolle's merciless wallops; yet as he stood in the ring, bathed in his own gore, hardly strong enough to keep his hands up in defense, he wouldn't give in.

McLarnin later beat Petrolle in two subsequent encounters.

McLarnin's second title shot came against welterweight champion Young Corbett III, McLarnin won by knockout after only 2 minutes 37 seconds. Following his title success, McLarnin fought an epic three fight series with Barney Ross. The first fight, on 28 May 1934, was won by Ross, McLarnin regained his title in their next match four months later. The deciding fight was on 28 May 1935, McLarnin lost his title for the final time to a narrow points decision, for the rest of his life McLarnin claimed he had done enough to retain his belt.

McLarnin retired in November 1936 still at the top his game, he won his last two fights against all-time greats Tony Canzoneri and Lou Ambers. His record was 62 wins, 11 losses, 3 draws, and 1 no decision from 77 contests.

McLarnin was a wealthy man, due in no small part to the shrewdness of "Pop" Foster (of whom McLarnin once said, "Pop was the secret of my success. He taught me everything.") Moving back to the Pacific coast with his wife Lillian and their family (3 daughters), McLarnin opened a machine shop in Los Angeles which he later sold at a substantial profit. Some poor investments following the Second World War forced him to become a salesman for a while but on Foster's death in 1956, McLarnin inherited his mentor's estate of more than $200,000.

In an interview McLarnin gave in his later years, he looked back on his fighting career with fondness.

"Boxing's a very hazardous business and I'd always felt anybody that goes into it for fun has to be out of their entire mind," he said.

"But then I started to make money. When I was 19 1 had $100,000 in the bank - so all of a sudden I realised boxing is for me and I put my entire mind into it. "There was no romance in it. It was a tough, tough ordeal, but as the years went by and I got to know boxing, it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, although it isn't the easiest game in the world."

Up until circa early 2003, Jimmy McLarninwas doing fine physically and mentally. Then he developed Alzeimer's Disease, and was placed into a nursing-care facility in Pasco, WA. McLarnin died in 2004, aged 96, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.