Short Life of Fame
By Tudor James 1950
Few men have crowded such fame and pain or grief and glory into their short lives as Treherbert pit-boy, Percy Jones, who became the unofficial fly-weight champion of the world.
Born of Christmas Eve, 1891 this game Rhondda fighter endured much before his early death in Christmas Day, 1922.
Jones was so prematurely aged and crippled by intense suffering that many of his friends literally wept when they saw him wheeled round in a chair.
This courageous lad, whom many thought to be at least equal to Jimmy Wilde, showed the same stoical spirit as in his ring contests when he served in the trenches of the Somme with the Welsh “Bantams.” Although badly wounded he refused to become a stretcher case and trudged his way through a sea of mud to base. Severe blood poisoning resulted in his discharge. His body was so wracked by the malady that one leg was amputated, the other fractured to give him relief from pain and his body riddled with tubes.
The early death of Jones was one of the tragedies of the century for the boxing world.
He worked in the mines at Treherbert and Porth and later became a “striker” at the Lady Windsor Colliery, Ynyshir. He trained in the loft of the Llwyncelyn Hotel with Llew Edwards, another British champion.
Just over the hill, at Tylorstown, Jimmy Wilde was attracting attention and Rhondda partisanship was great when the respective merits of the two “might atoms” were discussed.
Despite the popular clamour for a match, the astute Teddy Lewis, who managed both potential world beaters, shook his head. He advised Percy, “Leave the fly-weight class, become a bantam and I will have two world champions.” But Jones said he wanted first to win the Lonsdale belt outright.
At the National Sporting Club in 1914, he had won the British title, and the coveted belt, by defeating Bill Ladbury in a tremendous contest in which both men were almost out on their feet in the last round. Jones’s mentor at the time was Peerless Jim Driscoll, who had been horrified to find that his charge was six ounces over weight at the weigh-in.
Ladbury volunteered to allow Jones until nine p.m. but Driscoll was too old a bird to be caught with such chaff and he ran Jones around the street until the necessary 8st. was scaled.
It must make present-day champions shudder to recall that for this contest Jones received £100 and the loser £50.
Driscoll and Percy became great friends, and they suffered another weight scare when the Rhondda lad was matched with the redoubtable Trancy Lee. Feverishly, Driscoll tried hard to take off the superfluous pounds and he commented at the time, “I have baked him and boiled him, but still he is 8st. 4lb.” They must have recalled the wise words of Teddy Lewis, who always wanted Jones to fight at 8st. 6lb.
In a weak state after his gruelling weight reducing treatment Percy was well beaten by Tancy Lee, but the victor said after the fight, “He is the best man I have ever met.”
In April 1914, Jones defeated Eugene Criqui, of France. The contest at Liverpool was advertised as for the world’s fly-weight championship over 20 rounds. Percy won handsomely and was carried from the ring by the delighted Welsh contingent.
A supporting bout was between Jimmy Wilde, 7st. champion of the world, and Bill Kyne, the “pocket Hercules,” from Poplar.
Conqueror of Champions
This wisp of humanity, Percy Jones, whose trim muscular frame developed in the coalmines of the Rhondda, became the conqueror of champions, but rarely received more than £100 for a fight.
His bloodiest battles were fought at the old Tonypandy marquee, when his purse was often counted in shillings. Kid Lewis once said, “The standard at Tonypandy equals the epics of the National Sporting Club.”
Jones is hardly remembered by the present-day fans, but if he had been endowed with as much physical strength as he had spirit and skill the Rhondda boxer would have been among the best of all time.