Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Stylist From Stepney

By O. F. Snelling

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Derek O’Dell, Editor and Producer of ‘The Southern Ex-Boxer’, in which it was first published in 1997.


Harry Mizler with brother Moe and trainer Nat Sellar
I have often been asked: ‘Who was the finest stylist you ever saw?’ My answer has always been the same, for I saw the man box when I was in my teens, and I never saw anyone who quite compared with him, up to the present time. I am now over 80.

He was not a world-beater, and nobody could ever say that he was one of the finest ringsters of all time. But he was certainly one of the most pleasing to watch, if you have a feeling for grace and aesthetics within the ropes. He was an artist, if not quite of the absolute first class, and his name was Harry Mizler.

He was born at the beginning of the year 1913, and he was usually billed as hailing from St. George's, although Stepney has often been mentioned as his birthplace. It comes to much the same thing. Certainly, he was a London East Ender, and he grew up in the 1920s in the heart of the Jewish community, where so many pugilists like Ted 'Kid' Lewis, Jack 'Kid' Berg, and Benny Caplan made their starts.

Harry was tutored by ‘big’ brother, Moe Mizler, who was in fact a very tiny but extremely capable flyweight who mixed with some of the best of his time, including legends of that era like 'Nipper' Pat Daly. The youthful Harry took to the game very early, and he soon showed signs of being a boxing prodigy.

He had a brilliant amateur career. He was only 17 when he won the ABA bantamweight title, and took top honours at the Empire Games Championships in Canada that same year. In 1931 he defended his national honours successfully, but he was still a growing lad, and by 1932 he was obliged to step up into the featherweight division. No bother: that year he took the nine stone amateur title in his stride. Further, 1933 found him a lightweight, and once again he outboxed all-comers to snatch the ABA crown at this poundage!

Now 21, Harry Mizler entered the professional ranks in the summer of that year. His progress was nothing short of meteoric. Making his debut in June, he boxed once or twice every month. In his first three contests, Bob Lamb, Jim Travis, and Nobby Baker did not survive the opening round. Not that Harry was ever famous for the power behind his punches – he was just so superior to most of his opponents in sheer boxing ability that many of them were despatched in double-quick time.

And do not imagine that he was boxing mugs. Many old-timers will remember the name of Albert Heasman. Harry stopped him in seven rounds in his fourth pro contest. He halted two more adversaries that summer before Jim Bird took him the full distance. He accounted for four more men very handily in the autumn before being matched with the tough and hard-punching young battler from Northampton, Norman Snow.

Many fans felt that the Midlander was the man to put a stop to Harry's brilliant rise. The reverse was the case: in December, at Olympia, the young East Ender proved without doubt that he was British championship material when he stopped Snow in eight rounds. Mizler had one more contest that year, only five days later. He outboxed Norman Dale over the full 15-round course, and proved to all concerned that after only 13 bouts in the paid ranks he was the logical contender for the lightweight crown!


Today, of course, this sort of thing is commonplace. Many lads achieve title status after fewer fights. But back in the early 1930s, so many underprivileged youngsters were striving and contending for top honours in the ring that a capable enough man might have to box successfully for several years against the cream of his division – and particularly among the lightweights and welters – before he could claim a title shot. The average man was about five feet seven or eight, and scaled roughly ten stone. The ranks were full of ambitious lads of this height and weight.

No time at all was lost in matching young Harry for the title. Indeed, many experts felt that he was being rushed too fast. After all, the current champion was none other than the experienced Yorkshireman from Sheffield, Johnny Cuthbert. Admittedly, he was all of eight years older than the youthful Mizler, had been boxing since 1921, and was now approaching the end of a fine career.

His record was a formidable one. He had waged over 150 hard contests, of which he had won or drawn 124, against Harry's mere thirteen bouts in just over six months of campaigning. Cuthbert was a clever boxer who had won the featherweight title back in 1927, against Lambeth's Johnny Curley. Although he lost it a year later in opposition to another Londoner, Bethnal Green's Harry Corbett, he had come back in 1929 to force a draw with the new champion. Then, in a third battle, he regained the title. In 1930 he defended it well against Liverpool's Dom Volante, but could only manage a draw with another up-and-coming young ‘Scouse’, one Nel Tarleton. He had challenged the lightweight titleholder, Al Foreman, and emerged from the fray with honours even, but training down to featherweight again in 1931, he had seen his nine stone championship slip away to Tarleton.

Most followers of the game wrote him off, but Cuthbert became a lightweight, and in 1932, opposing Sotland's Jim Hunter in Glasgow, he annexed the now vacant nine-stone-nine title. That year and the following one, 1933, he beat some good men in Chuck Parker, Norman Dale, Jim Learoyd, Jimmy Stewart, and Dom Volante, among others, but when 1934 arrived, he was faced with the prospect of having to defend against this stripling from Cockneyland, Harry Mizler.

18 January 1934: Mizler and Cuthbert weigh in. Trainer Nat Sellar and promoter Jeff Dickson can be seen in the background
Nobody wasted time in those days. Less than a month after Christmas Eve 1933, the date on which Harry had outpointed Norman Dale, he faced the British champion at the Royal Albert Hall, in London. This contest drew forth from old Ben Bennison, veteran scribe of the London Evening Standard, one of his flowery tributes to a master of the fistic art. Writing in the late '30s, he said:


‘No fight in the years that have gone since the war so gripped the onlooker. It was no mere thing of fury, of brute force... It was gloriously British... not only was it without vice, but thundered the triumph for youth. I can recall nothing that so fired the imagination since Jim Driscoll who, only because he had reached the impossible fighting age of 40, buckled up under the persistence of Charles Ledoux.

‘But there was this mighty difference. Whereas ‘Peerless Jim’, until his stamina gave out, taught a boxing lesson to the ferocious Frenchman, Cuthbert was forced to acknowledge that scarcely once in 15 rounds, though he pulled and tugged at his great Yorkshire heart, did he put a glove of serious account upon his opponent.

‘Mizler, as might be supposed, was not elusive according to popular understanding. He neither danced nor pranced. He was a living text-book on boxing... For once in an inordinately long time, Mizler – a boy, be it remembered – explained the meaning and purpose of "the straight left". Used as it was by Mizler, it carried disaster as it guaranteed victory, for it was measured with a precision that was uncanny and shot out as if from a Lewis gun.

‘Rarely has a championship been won by such a mountain of points; and assuredly there was never a fight so remarkable for such rigid observance of the spirit of sport. There was no holding, not a single punch that was not fair and above board. It was an epic of fighting cleanliness. And never has a champion struck his flag with such grace. It is but once in a very long time one is privileged to see such a fight as this was.’

The British boxing world was amazed. How on earth could such an inexperienced stripling take every round from a worthy champion who had fought and beaten some of the best? Great things were predicted for the stylish and immaculate Mizler. Why, in a year or two, on this form, he would be able to win the world title!

Mizler backed against the ropes but on his way to victory over Cuthbert
But it was at this point in his brief career that Harry began to show signs of erraticism. Boxing every month, he certainly proved that he could lick most men of his poundage in the country, but travelling to Liverpool in March, he was rather surprisingly outpointed by Jimmy Walsh, the clever Chester lightweight, in a non-title contest over twelve rounds.

True, he defended his championship successfully that August, against Billy Quinlan, at Swansea, but we now began to think. Was he really ready for fighters of world class? How eagerly we awaited that perennially ideal boxer-versus-fighter confrontation when Mizler was matched to face the challenge of his fellow-East Ender, Whitechapel's Jack ‘Kid’ Berg. I, for one, could see only a Mizler victory.

A hectic exchange between Mizler and Berg
Berg was a rather remarkable man. In company with other ‘greats’ of the boxing world, like Ad Wolgast, Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, and the later Henry Armstrong, he had been blessed with a very slow pulse-rate. This enabled him to start a contest at a high degree of activity and keep up the tempo for ten, 12, 15, or even more rounds, moving forward and boring in continually, never allowing his man to get set and rarely offering the chance of a really solid shot at him. He had had a wonderful career, mostly in the States.

Berg won the junior-welterweight title in 1930, but he had cracked when opposing the fistic genius of lightweight king Tony Canzoneri. After being licked twice by the Italian-American, he seemed to have gone to pieces. His amazing sustained attack was no longer quite so effective. Now only 25 in years, but an active pro since 1924, he seemed to have shot his bolt, and had now come home. Since 1932 he had lost to Sammy Fuller, Tony Falco, and the Italian Cleto Locatelli. Further, he had surprisingly been stopped in June at Liverpool by the much underrated Jimmy Stewart, and he was definitely over the hill. In my opinion, and that of many others, he did not really rate a crack at the domestic lightweight title at that time.

However, the bout was staged, at the Albert Hall, and it was the upset of the year. The somewhat shop-soiled Berg pitched in willingly, and he took the youthful Harry completely out of his stride. That amazing left lead, although it found its target, could not halt the ever-oncoming ‘Yiddle’, and after 10 hectic rounds, the champion's seconds threw in the towel as a token of surrender.

Mizler looks on as Berg tumbles through the ropes, but the 'Whitechapel Windmill' would win the fight

I recall that excuses were made from certain sources, the claim being made that Harry was wearing new boxing boots, and that they did not grip the canvas properly, and had contributed to his defeat. But the loser did not seek an alibi. He knew, and accepted that Berg was the better man on the night.

Here is Ben Bennison again:


‘His defeat does not mean that he is a false alarm, neither need he despair of his future. If he reads the lessons taught him by Berg aright, he will straight away apply himself to the study and practice of in-fighting. Boxing at long range, when properly and artistically done (and there is the artist in Mizler) is delightful to watch; but more is required. Without in-fighting that tells of high efficiency in that particular phase of the game, the more desirable honours may not be won.’

I think that sums things up correctly. Alas – for all his brilliance and breath-taking style, and his courage in the face of adversity, for he was always ready to take stick when the circumstances demanded it – Harry was not really shaped for the tough going of top-flight pugilistic action. But he certainly tried, and a year after his defeat by Berg he took part in one of the most stirring and courageous battles ever seen in a British ring.

On the face of things, his pairing with ‘Tiger’ Gustav Humery, the two-fisted and aggressive Frenchman, was a blatant mismatch. Humery, earlier in the year, had three times crossed gloves with Berg, and although the Englishman had stopped his man in their first fight, his adversary had come back, when they faced each other again in Paris, and he had then pounded out the ‘rubber’ victory over the British champion in a third historic battle.

When Mizler shaped up to his tigerish opponent, all the odds seemed justified. Although he boxed most impressively, Harry didn't appear to possess the strength or punch to keep his ferocious tormentor at bay. Indeed, by the eighth round he was taking quite a pounding, and the fans were yelling for the referee to stop the fight, or the seconds to throw in the towel.

But then Mizler made a supreme effort. Reeling and stumbling before the Frenchman's powerful onslaught, he paused for just a fraction of a second, and then with absolutely perfect timing he threw a wonderful right to Humery's jaw.

It caught the visitor beautifully. His knees sagged, and he wobbled. He was out on his feet. And as Harry Mizler, himself almost gone, surged forward in a desperate effort to finish his man, the excited crowd nearly took the roof off the Albert Hall as they cheered their man to victory. The fight was rightfully stopped, and Mizler was acclaimed the winner, but never again, unfortunately, did Harry emulate that wonderful performance.


A couple of months later, the clever East Ender faced an old adversary in Norman Snow, and outpointed him handily to win the Southern Area title, but he was not able to gain a major championship again. He did face Jimmy Walsh a second time, during the following year, in a challenge for the British crown, but once again the Chester man outpointed him.

From then on, Harry was just a journey-man-boxer. He always drew good crowds, for with his style he was a delight to watch, but he never reached the heights again.

When war came, he served in the British Forces, and throughout the earlier years of the struggle he continued to box at welterweight, but, unfortunately, he lost more bouts than he won. Some of the men to defeat him were Arthur Danahar, Ernie Roderick, and Charlie Parkin, but he did well to outpoint Eric Boon. He wisely retired from the ring in 1944, a pugilistic prodigy who had not fulfilled his early promise.

It is very difficult to say how and where he went wrong. He possessed all the tools of his trade but a really heavy punch. Of 81 contests, in a professional career of over ten years, he scored only six clean knockouts.

Harry stayed close to the game in his later years, and was an honoured member of the London Ex-Boxers Association until his death in his middle-70s. A fall from a bus in Tel Aviv, and, later on, another fall in his home, contributed towards his demise.

One person close to him, on being asked the reason for his death, remarked: "He just took one knockout too many!" This was not strictly true. Only Berg, Danahar, Roderick, and Jimmy Molloy – this one right at the end of his career – ever managed to stop Harry inside the distance, and he was never put down for the count in his life.

Admittedly, this extremely engaging East Ender may not have been the best of all time, by a long way, but I think of and remember Harry Mizler as the most stylish and pleasing boxer I ever saw in my life.


Mizler pictured in his early professional days, at his mother's East End fish stall






Mizler on a rowing machine, with trainer Nat Sellar

October 1936: Mizler serves drinks at his training quarters in Slough, where he was preparing to face Jimmy Walsh for the British lightweight title





Mizler with trainer Nat Sellar (left) and manager Victor Berliner


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