By JIM ZBICK
For one late-September evening in 1911, the eyes of the boxing world were focused not on the glitzy lights of New York or Chicago but on coal region country and the town of Tamaqua.
The gears for a big fight were put in motion the minute Summit Hill’s Jim Bonner, the top lightweight in the state, agreed to meet New York’s KO Brown in a 10-round match at Walker’s Hall.
Everything about the match was first class, including the third man in the ring that evening. Charles White of New York City was considered one of the most respected referees of the day in boxing.
“Charles White is known probably by more sporting men and followers of prize fighting than any other man in America,” The New York Times stated in an earlier story. “His services were frequently requisitioned for championship bouts in all parts of the country. Any man who pretends to know anything about prize fighting knows all about Charley.”
Knockout Brown entered the fight with an impressive 25-2 record and was considered one of the top contenders in the lightweight division. He and his manager Dan Morgan, his brother and two other seconds, arrived in Tamaqua the day before the fight. Brown got in some light workouts in a training room in the rear of Boyle’s Hotel.
Sportswriters also arrived from New York and Philadelphia, with most predicting a hard-fought match. A writer for the Tamaqua Courier also offered his pre-fight analysis.
“Both men are in the best possible condition and both are predicting a knockout, for they fight the same style game, mixing it up right from the sound of the gong. Both men are at their best and when going fast the sports can expect lively doings,” the Courier writer said.
“Fourteen automobiles from Hazleton brought men down and like numbers from other towns arrived in time for the fight,” the writer said. “Broad Street was blocked out on both sides with large handsome touring cars.”
A group of men, wearing spike-tail coats and other immaculate attire, entered the hall to take their seats at ringside. They had been attending a wedding in Mahoning City and had rushed down to Tamaqua, not bothering to dress down for the boxing show.
The atmosphere was electric at Walker’s Hall and by 8:30 p.m. the Courier reported the “hall was crowded to the doors.” The main event, however, was delayed by some controversy. Bonner weighed in at 133 pounds at 6 p.m., but Brown refused to get on the scale, stating that it was not part of the fight agreement.
After a protest by Bonner, Brown finally consented to get on the scale and the New York fighter weighed in at 139 pounds.
At about 10 p.m. Bonner entered the hall amid “great applause.” Brown arrived about two minutes later.
“There was a craning of necks to get a good look at this wonderful little fighter,” the Courier writer said of the New York boxer. “He looked exactly like his picture – short and well built, with light hair and a round, young face.”
From the outset of the fight, it was evident that Bonner landed the better blows, reportedly knocking Brown through the ropes and into the crowd on two occasions.
“During every round he rocked Brown’s head with some of his vicious right swings and uppercuts and had the New York boy annoyed,” the Courier reported. “Even the out-of-town sporting men admitted after the fight that the hardest blows were delivered by the Summit Hill fighter.”
Despite Bonner’s supposed dominance, the bout was counted as a draw in the record books since both men were on their feet at the end of every round. Brown’s manager was impressed by Bonner’s performance in front of the home crowd.
“Bonner surprised us with his condition, his knowledge of the game and his ability to hit,” Morgan said. “He is clearly in the class of first-raters and can beat the great majority of them.”
Morgan said he would like to come back to Tamaqua to give Bonner a return match.
“It was a hard, fast battle and we received the best of treatment,” Morgan said concerning the overall Tamaqua experience.
Although outweighed by six pounds, Bonner felt he had won the bout.
“I knew he would never put me away and I clearly bested him for I delivered by far the most telling blows,” he told the press after the bout. “I jarred him many times with my swings and uppercuts, where all Brown did was hit me in the body. I was stronger in the last round than the first and found I grew better all the way through.”
Fight referee White told the press that both men fought their best.
“Tell the country that the coal regions can feel proud of their favorite,” he said.
Although the referee did not render a verdict, Bonner did receive a personal visit from White after the fight ended.
“White knew it was my fight and congratulated me,” Bonner said. “Wasn’t it a great fight and a great crowd?”
A week later, the Courier reported that Brown was seen wearing a cast on his left arm and other battle scars which the reporter said must have been sustained in Tamaqua.
“Danny Morgan (Brown’s manager) evidently failed to acquire the correct dope on Jim Bonner and the result was that K.O.’s iron jaw was nearly fractured last Tuesday night in Tamaqua for the purpose of showing this same Bonner his proper place in the realm of fisticuffs,” the Courier writer scoffed.