Lord Lonsdale had a point
When Lord Lonsdale visited South Africa in 1922, a local boxer by the name of Johnny Squires impressed him no little.
Hugh Lowther, the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, was an ardent sportsman and one of the founding members of The National Sporting Club in London.
He was the one who donated the original belts after the NSC announced in 1909 that it would offer a championship belt for each of the eight standard weight divisions.
The belts were elaborately decorated with gold and enamel and soon became known as Lonsdale belts.
When the earl arrived in South Africa, Lionel Nathan, who owned a gymnasium near the Royal Hotel in Bloemfontein, invited him to come watch a sparring session between Tom Holdstock, who had represented South Africa as a light-heavyweight at the 1920 Olympic Games, and Johnny Squires, also a light-heavyweight.
The visitor was so impressed with Squires that he predicted the fighter would become a world champion. He also offered to give Squires a letter of introduction to AF “Peggy” Bettison, the manager of the National Sporting Club.
Lord Lonsdale clearly knew a thing or two about boxing, but his prediction fell short. Squires never quite reached the top but he fought some top-shelf boxers at well-known venues.
Little is known about Squires’s early life. He was born in Bloemfontein on Christmas Day 1901 and fought in the 1920 Olympic Games trials in Johannesburg.
He was from a poor Afrikaans-speaking family Squires’s surname might actually have been Van Deventer or Venter. This was never substantiated. He was also called Jack early in his career.
His first trainer was TLV Burns, who had opened a gymnasium in Bloemfontein soon after the first world war.
Trainer Joe Meyers and manager Jack Gee later handled the boxer’s affairs in the early part of his career.
According to available record Squires had only three fights as an amateur. His professional debut was in Bloemfontein on April 30 1921. His middleweight opponent was fireman George Anderson and Squires won on a fourth-round knockout.
Three months later he again knocked out Anderson in the fourth round. In his first year, he also knocked out Harry Smith and Jack Corrigan.
In 1922 he knocked out Ted Oliver in the sixth round before taking on SA welterweight champion Reggie Hull in a non-title fight at the Town Hall in Durban.
Squires was nearly a fully fledged light-heavyweight but it was stipulated that he had to weigh in at the middleweight limit and that the rounds would be two minutes long; not three. He lost on points over 20 rounds.
He then drew with Bob Storbeck before stopping Nick van den Bergh in the 11th round on August 12 to win the SA heavyweight title. Two months later he knocked out Van den Bergh in the fourth round before knocking out Jan de Wit in the second round to retain the title.
Fighting his former sparring partner, Tom Holdstock, in Durban, Squires won on points over 20 rounds. The referee, a Mr Hall, needed a police escort back to the dressing rooms.
After beating Jack Corrigan in a return bout, Squires defeated a Welshman, Llewellen Probert, as well as Fred Storbeck and Wally Baker. He was then matched with a New Zealander, Tom Heeney, who had played rugby against the 1921 Springboks.
The stronger Heeney won on points over 20 rounds. In a rematch at the City Hall in Cape Town on June 15 1925, Squires was well ahead on points when he was hit on the throat in the 18th round. He was unable to continue.
Squires then agreed to meet Scottish middleweight champion Alex Ireland at the middleweight limit. When he realised he would not make the weight he withdrew from the fight.
The promoter was unable to find a substitute and Ireland agreed to meet Squires at any weight. But Squires had stopped training and was beaten on points over 20 rounds.
In 1926 he beat Kid Moose of Canada on a disqualification and Charlie Smith, a London heavyweight, on points over 15 rounds. The next year he won against Simon Jansma from the Netherlands and twice against an experienced Australian, George Cook.
Their first fight, in the Johannesburg City Hall, was probably the first to be broadcast on radio in South Africa. The commentator was WD Powell.
OFF TO AUSTRALIA
When Squires was offered three fights in Australia, he took along his wife and manager/trainer Jack Lalor, a former SA welterweight, middleweight and heavyweight champion.
His debut in Australia was at the Sydney Stadium on July 23 1927. He got away with a draw over 25 rounds against Sunny Jim Williams, an American light-heavyweight.
Squires knocked out another American, Tiger Jack Payne, in the first round before his third fight Down Under – at the Rushcutters Bay Stadium where Jack Johnson had beaten Tommy Burns on December 26 1908 in a bout for the world heavyweight title.
The South African outpointed Johnny Cline over 15 rounds and, a week later, fought to another rather fortunate draw in a return match with Williams.
QUEUES IN JOHANNESBURG
After returning home, Squires stopped Joe Mullings from England in the eleventh round and, 21 days later, took on the famous Ted “Kid” Lewis who had held the world welterweight title in 1915 and 1917.
Few gave Squires a chance against Lewis but spectators began queuing outside the Johannesburg City Hall by noon on the day of the fight. The bout ended in a draw after 15 rounds.
Squires then stopped an Italian, Giuseppe Spalla, in two rounds and lost and drew in fights against an American, Frankie Wine. So he decided to try his luck in the United States.
In July 1928, accompanied by his brother Tom, he sailed for New York. On July 20 he fought Johnny Risko, the No 2 heavyweight in the world behind Gene Tunney. Former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was the referee.
They met at Nevin Field in Detroit and The Ring reported that “Johnny Risko, outstanding challenger, upset the aspirations of Johnny Squires, South African heavyweight champion, in a ten-round bout.”
Risko was too strong and won easily.
On the undercard Squires’s brother Tom, who rarely fought above the light-heavyweight limit, was stopped in the fifth round by European heavyweight champion Pierre Charles.
FIGHTING YOUNG STRIBLING AT THE GARDEN
Johnny was then offered a fight with William Lawrence “Young” Stribling from Georgia, a top-ten heavyweight the time.
They met at New York’s Madison Square Garden on September 6 1928. Squires was hurt within the first 30 seconds and took a count later in the round. It was all over 44 seconds into the second round.
Squires had one more fight in the US. He fought Jimmy Byrne in Chicago on October 9 and was well beaten on points over ten rounds. On the undercard, his brother Tom lost over ten rounds against Ernie Owens, a heavyweight from Los Angeles.
The two returned to South African and Johnny remained inactive until May 10 1930 when he met Don McCorkindale to defend the SA heavyweight title, which he had held since August 1922. They fought at the Johannesburg City Hall.
McCorkindale was an outstanding amateur who had won the SA heavyweight title in 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1928.
He also won the British Amateur Boxing Association light-heavyweight championship in 1926 and represented South Africa at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, where he lost in fourth fight.
A poorly conditioned Squires was no match for the younger McCorkindale and was outclassed before his chief second, Jim Fennessy, threw in the towel in the twelfth round.
But on September 3 1932 he won over six rounds against Ben Foord, who was having only his fifth fight as a professional. Foord later won the SA, British and British Empire heavyweight titles and became one of South Africa’s most successful heavyweights.
Two months later Squires lost to Dave Carstens, who had won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
In December 1932 he was outpointed over six rounds by Jim Pentz and the next day he announced his retirement. He finished with a record of 24-12-5, including 14 wins inside the distance.
He later trained Tommy Bensch, who won the SA heavyweight title in December 1938.
Squires worked as a bartender in the Grand Station Hotel in Jeppe for some time before taking a surface job at a mine on the East Rand. He died of a coronary thrombosis in Boksburg on February 9 1952, when he was 51 years old.
There were times when Squires looked capable of achieving greater honours but he never reached the heights that Lord Lonsdale predicted.