The story of a excellent referee
One of the most remarkable men in the history of SA boxing was an excellent amateur who became an outstanding referee and handled more than 350 fights in over 50 years.
Edgar Lipsett, also known as “Quickey” Lipsett, was a brilliant amateur featherweight who became one of the best referees and administrators in South Africa.
His rise to prominence began early in 1910, when the Transvaal amateur boxing authorities decided to send three fighters to compete in the British championships.
They chose heavyweight Fred Storbeck, lightweight Jim Fennessy and featherweight Joe Thomas, and appointed George Twomey as manager of the first team of SA amateurs to box overseas.
There were talks about the three taking on Western Province amateurs in Cape Town before leaving for England on the Kildonan Castle. However, the Transvaal officials demanded a guarantee of 25 pounds and the idea fell flat.
The WP boxing officials were upset because they felt Lipsett would have beaten Thomas.
In the British championships, Storbeck won all his fights by knockout and became the British amateur heavyweight champion. Fennessy reached the semifinal stage and Thomas was eliminated in the second round of the competition.
Lipsett’s father William was born in Ireland and emigrated to South Africa in 1879. In 1883 he married Helena Theunissen, a descendant of the French Huguenots. Edgar was born in Greenpoint, Cape Town, in 1885.
As a boy, Edgar loved fighting. His father soon taught him the value of a straight left and it was said he sometimes took on three opponents at the same time on the Woodstock beach.
He was so fast that his pals compared him to a bird that was commonly known as a quickey. So they gave him the nickname and he was known as Quickey for the rest of his life.
Shortly after the Anglo Boer War in 1902 some soldiers were stationed at Fort Knokke near Woodstock, and on Saturday afternoons they watched soccer matches that were played on the beach.
During one of the matches a fight broke out among players, spectators and soldiers. Lipsett was at the match and said, “The referee’s decision is final.”
One of the players told him to shut up and a punch-up was inevitable. One of the soldiers offered to be the referee and they decided to fight non-stop for 20 minutes; bare-fist, of course.
After 20 minutes the “referee” declared the fight a draw. Lipsett and his opponent shook hands and only then did it emerge that the soldier was Dan Hyman, the SA professional bantamweight champion.
Hyman said Lipsett had given him the best fight he had ever had. Lipsett told him he knew nothing about boxing and had never even seen a boxing match.
Hyman promptly invited him to a tournament to be held in the Woodstock Hall and Lipsett’s father reluctantly allowed him to take part.
He was matched with an opponent named Felix who was much heavier than Lipsett and had had a number of fights.
It was the first time Lipsett wore boxing gloves. He knew nothing about the rules, but he knew the value of a straight left, to be followed by a short right.
Watty Austin, the SA bantamweight champion, was in his corner and gave him valuable advice between rounds.
Lipsett knocked Felix down twice but the referee, Jack Valentine, declared the bout a draw after six three-minute rounds.
FIGHTING A BARMAN
A while later, some racehorse trainers enticed Lipsett to fight a barman who had thrown them out of a Salt River hotel for making too much noise.
The barman was about 13 kg heavier than Lipsett and it was agreed they would fight over 15 two-minute rounds at a social club in Observatory. Limpest stopped the barman in the fourth round.
About three months later Dan Hyman invited him to fight in a competition for boxers weighing nine stone. But Lipsett was almost 1.4 kg overweight on the day of the tournament. Hyman then gave him a packet of salts and told him to swallow it all.
Lipsett became so sick that his father consulted a chemist who told them the young man had swallowed an amount that was normally given to a horse or a cow.
However, Lipsett recovered sufficiently to participate in the competition and easily beat two opponents before meeting Willie Greenfield in the final.
Still feeling ill, he went the full three rounds against a man who won the SA bantamweight title in June 1905.
Soon after the fight, Jack Valentine, manager of the National Sporting Club, invited Lipsett to spar with Jack Lalor, who was preparing for a fight in Cape Town. Lalor was impressed and said Lipsett has the best left hand he had ever seen in an amateur.
Lalor, originally from Ireland, was one of the best fighters in SA boxing history and won the national welterweight, middleweight and heavyweight titles.
Fighting at the National Sporting Club in a featherweight competition, Lipsett beat two opponents before outscoring Darkey Holland in the final to win the Jack Lalor Cup.
The participants were not required to sign any document to say they were amateurs and it later emerged that two of them, Wilson and Holland, were professionals from England.
A Frenchman known as Monsieur Strauss then challenged Lipsett. Strauss was a “La Savate” fighter and they agreed that he would, according to that style, be allowed to kick while Lipsett would stick to the orthodox style of boxing.
A left hook to the jaw knocked the Frenchman out for the full count in the first round. They met three more times and Lipsett won by first-round knockout on each occasion.
STRANGER KICKED HIM ON THE BUTTOCKS
One day a stranger kicked Lipsett on the buttocks. He turned around and knocked his assailant out with a right that landed on the man’s mouth. Lipsett’s knuckles were so badly broken that he stopped boxing.
At the time, referees for professional tournaments promoted by the National Sporting Club in St Johns Street in Cape Town were often nominated by the spectators. That is how Lipsett became an outstanding referee.
For 20-rounds bouts those days, referees used to take 20 beans or pebbles into the ring; ten in each pocket. At the end of each round he transferred a bean or a pebble from one pocket to the other, according to who, in his view, had won the round. If he felt they drew a round, no transfer was made.
At the end of the 19th round he counted the number of beans or pebbles in each pocket. This enabled him to announce the result immediately after the final round.
Lipsett used this system in the many fights he handled from 1908 to 1911. Thereafter, on advice from the manager of the National Sporting Club in London, a Mr Bettison, he began writing down the scores at the end of each round.
Lipsett was the referee in 354 fights from 1908 to 1959; most of them being top-line contests. He handled the bout for the vacant SA heavyweight title between Willie Storm and Ben Foord on June 26, 1934 and the one between Willie Toweel and the Frenchman Tony Garcia on November 20, 1958.
He also refereed hundreds of amateur bouts; many of them without judges.
In 1923, when the Cape of Good Hope Board of Control for Professional Boxing and Wrestling was formed – under the chairmanship of Dr C Impey – Lipsett was invited to become a member.
However, he declined because he wanted to continue to referee fights. Impey then asked him to draw up a set of rules to govern professional boxing. These rules were also adopted by the three other provincial boards.
When the SA National Board for Professional Boxing was formed in Johannesburg in 1954, Lipsett was the only one, outside the chairmen of the four provincial boards, invited to attend the meeting, which was chaired by Justice EM de Beer.
Lipsett, truly one of the pioneers of SA boxing, died in Cape Town on July 27, 1966.