Born to Box is the best sports book I’ve read for years. The story of Nipper Pat Daly is an astonishing one. It’s one you must read. Even if you hate boxing. Even if you don’t like sport. Read this book.
Boxing, like any other sport, is full of could have, should have, would have stories. “I coulda been a contender” was the famous line from On the Waterfront. But the difference between Nipper Pat Daly and Brando’s character Terry Malloy is that Nipper was a contender. And he should have been a champion. That he didn’t become a world champion is a tragedy.
Born to Box review of an extraordinary story
The story of Nipper Pat Daly is an incredible one. But it’s a story which thankfully can never be repeated and one which is ultimately a tragic tale of unfulfilled potential and the outrageous exploitation of a young sportsman. Daly should have been a world champion. Instead he was finished as a boxer by the age of 17.
Born to Box is written by Alex Daley. The author is Nipper’s grandson. Aided by his grandfather’s unpublished memoirs and Ring magazines extensive archives Alex Daley weaves a brilliant tale with atmospheric accounts of Nipper’s epic battles in the ring.
Who was Nipper Pat Daly?
- Born in Wales, 17 February 1913.
- Brought up in Marylebone, London.
- Coached and managed by ‘Professor’ Andrew Newton.
- First professional fight at the age of 10.
- Ranked in the world’s top 10 by the age of 16.
- 119 professional fights.
- Fight record of – Won 99, Drew 8, Lost 11, 1 No Contest.
- Retired at the age of 17.
I don’t follow boxing much nowadays. I’m fed up with all the hype, the fake hatred and talentless no-marks staring into each other’s eyes. And the stage-managed ‘confrontations’ at weigh-ins. Not to mention the farce of 476 world champions at dozens of different weights.
But back in Nipper Pat Daly’s day there were just eight weight divisions and a single world champion in each. But there were thousands of professional boxers fighting on cards at big and small arenas in every town in the country. Fighters could have 20 or more contests in a year and they were turning pro in their teens.
Nipper started earlier than most. He fought his first professional bout at the age of 10.
The good old days?
The twenties and thirties were the golden age of British boxing. Thousands of fight fans flocked to halls and arenas to watch cards filled with bouts between young men determined to use their fists to better their lot in life.
Seaman Tommy Watson, Dick Corbett, and Kid Pattenden were just some of the big names. Young Pat Daly fought and beat them all. Technically brilliant Nipper was arguably the best British prospect of his or many other generations.
Men against a boy
The problem Nipper had to face was the disparity in strength with his opponents. He was a boy fighting grown men. And though Nipper was usually the better boxer and connected with more shots his punches lacked the weight of his opponents.
Because of this most of his fights went the full distance which put a terrible strain on his body. In his career he fought a staggering 1,093 rounds. With Nipper often fighting once or even twice a week it was amazing the lad had the strength to walk down the street.
When he was aged 16 Nipper fought 33 times in 11 months. A ridiculous workload for anyone never mind a teenager. And remember this lad was fighting grown men.
Added to his fights in the ring was relentless training and a diet designed to keep his weight down. A cup of black tea and a slice of dry toast often all he ate in a day spent working in the gym.
Something which his handlers failed to take into account is that a boy’s body develops as he grows into manhood. Nipper faced a relentless battle against gaining weight. His trainer and manager determined to keep him at the weight they wanted him to fight at.
Born to box but horrendously exploited
From a very early point in the book it becomes quite apparent how appallingly mistreated Nipper was by his trainer. He was hopelessly taken advantage off. And his parents too are culpable. That they let their son be burned out and exploited by a profit seeking coach is reprehensible.
Surely they too were blinded by the prospect of riches which drove Professor Newton on his remorseless exploitation of Nipper. In the end Newton’s greed killed the goose which could have laid the golden egg.
A champion without a belt
In his career Nipper beat three British champions, a European champion and the reigning champions of Italy, Belgium and Germany. Remember he was just a kid. He was too young to officially fight for a title but what he achieved was staggering. What he could have achieved incalculable.
Don’t read this book if you’re looking for a fairy tale ending. But if you’re looking for a gritty, tell it as it was commentary on the golden era of British boxing and the ultimately doomed career of one of the country’s best ever young fighters you must read Born to Box. It’s a belter of a book.
(5 / 5)
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