Too tough for his own good
Jimmy Richards was a young Pretoria amateur when Rocky Marciano came to South Africa in 1967.
The former world heavyweight champion saw the sturdily built lad fight in a tournament and was impressed.
Marciano told Richards’s trainer, Tony Karam, the youngster was a good prospect. “Turn him pro at 21 and send him to me,” the American icon was reported to have told Karam. “I’ll get him to the top.”
But that never happened. Maybe it should have; maybe not. No one will ever know.
James Thomas Richards was born at Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, on November 17, 1947 but grew up in Pretoria where he excelled at cricket, tennis and rugby.
He was 15 when he began boxing. Two years later he joined Karam’s stable at the Phoenix Boys Club in Pretoria.
Richards won the SA amateur heavyweight title in 1968. In 42 amateur fights he lost only six times; four of which to Japie Pretorius who won the national professional heavyweight title in 1969.
In his first fight as a professional, on June 28, 1969, Richards knocked out Tommy Miller in the first round. Only six weeks later he faced former SA heavyweight champion Gerrie de Bruyn, a veteran of 35 professional fights and also an outstanding former amateur. Richards won on points over six rounds.
THREE KOs IN ONE NIGHT
On August 18 the same year Richards knocked out Danny Vosloo, Dawie du Preez and Jan Delport in one night in a tournament held to give talented heavyweights an opportunity to make their mark. It took Richards less than 18 minutes to beat all three.
After only five fights and less than 14 rounds of professional boxing, Richards was sent in against seasoned overseas fighters. He drew over ten rounds with Roger Tighe and over eight rounds with Jack O’Halloran before knocking out Pedro Sanchez in the second.
Tighe was ranked fourth in the UK at the time and was having his 25th fight. O’Halloran, an experienced giant, also tested the young South African to the limit.
O’Halloran later became a film actor and was one of the three villains in Superman II .
In his second year as a pro, Richards was matched with other seasoned imports. He beat Carl Gizzi on points over ten rounds but lost on points against Arno Prick and Jack Bodell who had just lost his British and Empire heavyweight title to Henry Cooper, who beat him on points over 15 rounds.
Richards beat Mexican Manuel Ramos on points in August 1970 but was still a comparative novice when he was matched against Canadian Bill Drover in October that year.
The South African was badly punished before being stopped 2 minutes 28 seconds into the tenth round.
In February 1971 he faced Prick again and the German won again; on points over ten rounds.
TOO EARLY IN HIS CAREER
Almost all these fights were far too early in his career. Although he was a skilled fighter, Richards took too much punishment and the SA Boxing Control Board insisted that he be examined by a neurologist.
Richards was given a clean bill of health and on May 15, 1971 he stopped Japie Pretorius in the tenth round to win the Transvaal heavyweight title. However, he lost it on points to Johnny Britz four months later.
South Africa had a number of useful heavyweights at the time and competition was tough. Richards was well beaten by Chris Roos over ten rounds in Cape Town on January 17, 1972.
The Cape Province Board of Control then announced Richards would not be allowed to fight in the province again.
Roos, incidentally, beat Aucamp nine months later to claim the SA title.
With Billy Lotter and Reg Higgs managing him, Richards won against Pretorius and Britz (to regain the Transvaal title), stopped Del Phillips from Wales and outpointed by Joao Afonso.
FIVE FIGHTS AGAINST MIKE SCHUTTE
But on September 30 and November 4 in 1972 Mike Schutte beat Richards on points in what turned into a memorable five-fight series.
After drawing with Roos in a non-title fight on February 17, 1973 and winning the SA heavyweight title in a return match a month later, Richards remained unbeaten in his next ten fights.
He retained the title against Britz, whom he beat on points over 12 rounds, Dawie du Preez, who was disqualified in the fourth, and Schutte in two matches – a 12th-round technical knockout and on points over 12 rounds.
In one of his best performances, Richards drew over ten rounds with the highly rated American Henry Clarke at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg. Clarke had been in fights with the likes of Zora Folley, Eddie Machen, Leotis Martin, Sonny Liston and Ken Norton.
One journalist reported that the SA champion “was robbed when he had to share the spoils with American Henry Clarke over ten rounds. Richards must have been ahead on everyone’s card except those of the judges”.
But he lost the title when Schutte won their fifth fight on September 12, 1975. Richards was knocked down three times after Schutte had been on the canvas in the first round.
The fight was on the undercard of the tournament in which Victor Galindez and Pierre Fourie met, for the second time, for the WBA light-heavyweight title. About 45 000 spectators attended the show at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg.
TWICE AGAINST GERRIE COETZEE
It was the beginning of the end for Richards. One reporter wrote: “Mike Schutte won the South African heavyweight title by a landslide from Jimmy Richards. The roly-poly Schutte won the crown in his fourth attempt and he won it by the width of the nearby Wemmer Pan. I gave him the fight by eight points.”
After the beating he took from Schutte, Richards lost twice to the future WBA heavyweight champion, Gerrie Coetzee, also a product from Boksburg and the man who really put the town on the map.
Richards’s last fight was on April 10, 1976 when Coetzee stopped him in the ninth round of a clash for the Transvaal title. He retired with a record of 26-11-4, including 12 knockouts.
He was beaten inside the distance only twice but going the full distance in so many fights against tough, hard-hitting opponents only proved that he was too tough for his own good.
Writing in the September 1974 issue of the magazine Knockout Leonard Neill described what many supporters would remember of Jimmy Richards in his fighting days: “The face is an impassionate cliff. Deep sideburns and a neat moustache are the only variations in a pale skin which not even the normal wrinkles of expression appear to crease.
“And from beneath the heavy eyebrows, deepest brown eyes probe the path towards those of an opponent. Jimmy Richards, in fighting stance, is as emotional as a Buddhist statue – and just as cold”.
Despite all those ring wars, Richards is still as sharp as ever. He regularly attends the monthly meetings of the Northern Transvaal and East Rand Veterans’ Boxing Associations.