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MIDGET SMITH AND THE 21 SECOND KNOCKOUT

Madison Square Garden
It was on December 2, 1920, that Midget Smith made his first appearance in Madison Square Garden. He was not in the top spot, but in the first of three ten-rounders on an all-star card, and his opponent was Phil Franchini, fast, clever, experienced Brooklynite.

Smith, though a native New Yorker, was practically unknown to the rank and file of fight-goers. An Army development, he had been boxing professionally only a couple of months when he was given the opportunity to show in the famed old amphitheatre.

Christened William Joseph Smith, and of Irish extraction, the Midget was a kid of seventeen when he enlisted in the United States Army, and was promptly shipped to Panama. While serving in the Canal Zone, he became interested in boxing. Showing a natural aptitute for the sport, he quickly developed into one of the best bantams in Panama. It was his soldier buddies who tacked the title "Midget" on him. Though stocky in build, he measured only five feet in height.

Smith served three years in Panama, and upon his discharge, early in 1920, he returned to New York and decided to try his luck in the professional ring.

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Smith placed his affairs in the hands of Harry Neary, whose apprenticeship in the boxing trade had been served as a sort of office boy for Dan Morgan. Becoming ambitious, Neary broke away from Morgan and started rounding up a stable of fighters for himself. The Midget was one of his first charges.

In the usual course of events, Smith would have made his professional debut in a preliminary bout at a smaller club. But from what he had seen of the Midget in gymnasium workouts, and on the strength of the youngster's ring record in Panama, Neary elected to start him off against real opposition, to find out immediately just how good the Midget was.

Smith's first bout was in the main event, a ten-rounder in Schenectady with the veteran Dutch Brandt of Brooklyn, and the Midget came through in fine style, his busy, aggressive, two-handed punching giving him a slight edge on the tough, ringwise Brandt.

Another experienced foe, shifty Sammy Nable of New York's East Side, was Smith's next opponent. This bout, also a ten-round windup, was held at Mitchel Field, the Army Air Force post out on Long Island. Again the Midget was returned the winner.

Two weeks later Smith returned to Mitchel Field to meet Wee Willie Spencer, colorful Chinatown bantam. The stocky little blond found Spencer a bit more formidable than Brandt and Nable, and at the close of the tenth round the verdict was a draw.

Smith's next outing was in Montreal, where he knocked out Billy Baker, an English boxer, in eight rounds.

Then came his big opportunity--the match with Franchini in the Garden.

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Few boxing fans expected anything more than a brisk workout for Franchini, who rated as one of the fastest, cleverest and smartest 118-pounders in the metropolitan area. The Midget had proved himself a strong, rugged, willing mixer, but it was difficult to figure how a comparatively inexperienced youngster, with only four professional bouts under his belt, could compete with a brilliant seasoned boxer of Franchini's calibre.

The Midget, however, came roaring out of his corner at the opening bell, and the surprised Franchini, not prepared for the fury of the youngster's attack, was swept into utter defeat in twenty-one seconds.

It was one of the fasted knockouts chalked up in the old building, and Smith became an overnight sensation.

Manager Neary was not one to let opportunity slip by. He lost no time in cashing in on his protege's spectacular performance. During the next year the chunky little blond was one of the busiest battlers in the then popular bantam ranks.

In the annals of so-called "modern" boxing history, very few ringmen have reached the top brackets in faster time than did Midget Smith.

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By the end of 1921, the youngster had been fighting less than a year and a half, yet his record embraced a total of twenty-eight bouts, nearly all against the top-flight 118-pounders of his era. Among those he met were Johnny Buff, Pete Herman, Joe Lynch, Jack Sharkey (three times), Joe Burman (twice), Eddie Anderson, Roy Moore, Young Montreal and Memphis Pal Moore.

The Midget certainly didn't pick his spots or have them picked for him.

Two of Smith's outstanding accomplishments in 1921 were the wrecking of the titular plans of a couple of rival bantams, Pete Herman and Young Montreal.

Pete Herman
Pete Herman had lost the world championship to Johnny Buff in the Garden in September. Pete's eyesight was failing at the time, but the New Orleans veteran, in his prime one of the ring's all-time greats, was confident he could regain the laurels if given the chance, and Smith was selected as a stepping stone in Pete's campaign to force Buff back into the ring with him.

In December, Herman and Smith squared off in the Garden, and young Midget proceeded to definitely settle Pete as a title threat by decisively whipping him in fifteen rounds, and hastening the veteran's retirement from the ring a few months later.

Six weeks before his affair with Herman, Smith had been picked as the lamb to be sacrificed upon the altar of Montreal's title ambitions. Montreal, shifty Providence boxer, had become something of a sensation in New England rings, and was being boomed for a championship match. He had never appeared in New York, however, and by way of having him prove his qualifications before a Garden clientele, he had been matched with Smith. It was a ten-rounder on an all-star card.

In the first round, Montreal was clipped on the chin and, going down, he turned on his ankle.

Though he suffered painfully, the Providence lad refused to quit, and he gave a remarkable exhibition of boxing and gameness for the rest of the bout. At the finish, however, Montreal was a well beaten young man, and his immediate chances of fighting for the title had gone a-glimmering.

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Joe Lynch
It was not until the near end of 1922, when he had been battling for another year, that the Midget was given a crack at the championship. The title-holder at the time was Joe Lynch, who had relieved Johnny Buff of the laurels at the old New York Velodrome.

The Lynch-Smith bout was held in the Garden on December 22, and the champion successfully retained his title in fifteen blistering rounds.

That effort marked the Midget's last serious bid for titular honors, though he remained an active campaigner intil 1927, when he announced his retirement from the ring to enter less strenuous civilian pursuits.

* * * * *

Early in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, a plump, middle-aged gentleman walked into an Army Recruiting Office in New York, and offered his services. Though nearly forty-three, and bulging somewhat at the seams, he met the necessary requirements, and, as Private William J. Smith, was bundled off to Camp Upton, out on Long Island.

Midget Smith was back in the Army.

After nearly four years of service, three of them as a member of a fire brigade detachment at the Fifteenth Air Force Service Command depot in Italy, Smith was discharged in 1946.

From "The Ring" Magazine, August 1947, Story by Eddie Merrill.

William B. Shubb, 2001.