Only Joe Louis and one other man put away Max Schmeling inside a round. Alex Daley finds out about the ‘Gypsy Prince’ who came before the ‘Gypsy King’

IT is a
result that causes the reader to do a double-take – even 92 years after the
event: February 25, 1928, Max Schmeling (Germany) L KO 1 Gipsy Daniels (Wales).
Schmeling would stay unbeaten for the next four years, winning and successfully
defending the world heavyweight title, only to lose it by split decision to
Jack Sharkey in June 1932. In Schmeling’s 24-year pro career, only one other
man – the great Joe Louis – put Max away inside a round. So who was this Welsh light-heavyweight
who accomplished the feat?

Born William Daniels in
Llanelly, South Wales, in 1903, he boxed initially as Young Daniels, then as
Billy Daniels, before adopting the “Gipsy” epithet, even though he was not from
a traveller background. It’s unclear how he got the name, but Jimmy Johnston,
the famous American manager, liked to take the credit. He claimed that when
Daniels entered his New York office in October 1922, the Welshman’s Romany appearance
gave him the idea. In truth, Daniels had been using the name since 1920,
although, it must be said, Johnston milked it for all it was worth with a clever,
if crude, publicity stunt.

Kitting out the fighter in a
multi-coloured handkerchief (which served as a bandana), a pair of brass
curtain rings (improvised earrings) and another handkerchief tied around his neck,
Johnston transformed Billy into “The Gipsy Prince” and summoned a photographer.
Jimmy sent the contrived photo to the New York press, with an equally ludicrous
backstory claiming Daniels was the son of a gipsy king. The trick worked as the
story appeared in print across America.

In 1920, the 17-year-old
Daniels was part of an ambitious project that aimed to find future champions. Horatio
Bottomley – MP, financier and owner of the popular weekly magazine, John Bull – organised the campaign alongside
Australian boxing journalist A. G. (“Smiler”) Hales. A camp was set up at Herne
Bay, with the entrants put through their paces and the wheat separated from the
chaff until only the best candidates, known as “The John Bull Boys”, remained. Before
long the scheme collapsed, but it did uncover one future champion – Daniels.

Unafraid to give away
weight, in November 1921, Daniels entered a heavyweight competition at the
Blackfriars Ring. He went out in his second fight, but a few months later,
boxing at his proper weight, he won a middleweight tournament at the same venue.
That was in early 1922.  Later that year,
he embarked on his New York campaign, winning six of seven bouts in the Big
Apple before returning to Britain. 

Over the next few years,
Daniels had a steady stream of fights, with only an occasional loss. On April
11, 1927, at The Ring, he outpointed Frank Moody over 20 rounds for the Welsh
light-heavyweight title. Then exactly two weeks later, at the National Sporting
Club (NSC), he outscored Tom Berry over the same distance to capture the
British crown. That December, Daniels tackled reigning European light-heavy titlist
Max Schmeling in Berlin, but lost on points. So, Daniels’
first-round KO of Schmeling two months later in Frankfurt was a big upset. Even without the benefit of
knowing Schmeling would become world heavyweight king, BN called the feat “remarkable”.

Strangely, Daniels’
form declined after that. He was stripped of his British title after rejecting
the NSC’s meagre purse offer for a title defence, and he lost his Welsh crown
in a return with Moody in August 1930. Although his best years were behind him,
Daniels continued until 1938, and also toured the West Country for many years
with a travelling booth. On the booths he met the young Freddie Mills and
taught the future world titlist the tricks of the trade. Daniels moved to
Plymouth during the war and worked in the dockyard. He died in the city on May
28, 1967, aged 64.

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