Cassius Clay at Nottingham Ice Stadium

In The Bendigo Story, our tour guides take visitors from his grave to Sneinton Market, where they pause to talk about Nottingham after his death in 1880. They mention that most professional boxing in Nottingham took place at the nearby Victoria Leisure Centre or the Ice Stadium. Did you know that Cassius Clay was there in 1963?

He didn’t fight there but we’re proud to say he came to a night of boxing in Bendigo’s town. We found this story by Ethan Lewis and are grateful for the image too.

On the 27th of May 1963 my father, aged 15 at the time, met Cassius Clay at the Victoria Hotel in Nottingham (now the Hilton Hotel). He also obtained his autograph (pictured below).

Ethan Lewis

Cassius Clay was also photographed with two well-known Nottingham Police Officers. PCs Geoff Baker and Denis ‘Tug’ Wilson were both about 7 feet tall in their boots and helmets.

Cassius Clay standing 6’3 with Pcs Baker and Wilson

Clay was in the city to watch the British Middleweight Title fight between George Aldridge and Mick Leahy. This was prior to Clay’s fight with Henry Cooper at Wembley.

The Aldridge v Leahy fight was for the British Middle Weight Title and took place on 28th May at the Nottingham Ice Stadium. It lasted just 1 minute 45 seconds. The referee Ike Powell stopped the fight after Aldridge was knocked down twice, Leahy winning on a Technical Knockout.

Leahy’s career spanned nine years between 1956 and 1965. The orthodox middle weight lived in Coventry but hailed from Cork, Ireland. It wasn’t the first time Leahy had fought at Nottingham’s Ice Stadium. He faced Nottingham’s Wally Swift there in December 1964. The promoter was Reg King and again the British Middleweight titel was up for grabs. It went the full 15 rounds with Swift winning on points.

George Aldridge was a middle weight from Market Harborough in Leicestershire. His career of 52 professional bouts was between 1956 and 1963.

“Ask no questions, I’ll just talk”

Back to Cassius Clay and the Victoria Hotel press-conference. Clay said to the press ‘Ask no questions, I’ll just talk’.

In true style, Clay predicted that he would beat Cooper in the fifth round. He was right.

Clay also described that Sonny Liston was an ‘ugly bear’ who would ‘fall in eight’.

Clay and Cooper met on the 18th June 1963 at Wembley Stadium, the referee was Tommy Little.  Despite knocking Clay down in the 4th round, the fight was stopped in the next round due to cuts suffered by Cooper. Cooper fought him again (as Mohammed Ali) in 1966 and that fight was also stopped for the same reason.

Clay was nearly right about his fight with Sonny Liston, which took place the following February in Miami. Liston retired in the sixth round, claiming a shoulder injury.

Cassius Clay (as Mohammed Ali) returned to Nottingham in 1992. This time it was for a book signing event, at Dillon’s bookshop in the town centre.

Thanks as always to BoxRec for the records of the boxers and their fights.

Bendigo On The Big Screen

We have always thought The Bendigo Story would make it to the big screen. Well now it has. Well sort of. Bendigo gets name checked and even appears in one scene of a new film:

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.

The film depicts the true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch). Wain became famous with creating playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures of cats. Moving from the late 1800s through to the 1930s, it follow the incredible adventures of this inspiring, unsung hero, as he seeks to unlock the “electrical” mysteries of the world and, in so doing, to better understand his own life.  

Directed by BAFTA award-winning Will Sharpe. Story by Simon Stephenson, screenplay by Simon Stephenson and Will Sharpe.  

The story starts in 1881.

This immediately rules out Bendigo from being personally involved, but who cares.

This is the cinema and if a film about a true 19th century character wants to acknowledge that Bendigo was the biggest name in boxing, then so be it.

Bendigo Supporters

In Scene 9, Louis Wain is is seen sparring with James “Jem” Mace (1831 – 1910). Mace’s fighting career actually started in the 1850s, after Bendigo had retired.

They could though have sparred together though. At the height of his career, Mace won the English Welterweight, Heavyweight, and Middleweight titles. Like Bendigo, he was considered one of the most scientific boxers of the era. Most impressively, he held the World Heavyweight Championship from 1870 to 1871 while fighting in the United States.

The scene in the film describes them sparring at Mace’s boxing gym in London. It is known that Mace trained in London at Nat Langham’s Rum Pum Pas boxing club.

Here is the script from two scenes in the film. Taken from Amazon Studio Guilds

Scene 9 – JEM MACE’S BOXING GYM, LONDON – DAY 

SMACK! WALLOP! LOUIS is suddenly boxing. A SKETCH of the famous boxer BENDIGO – hangs on the wall. LOUIS keeps throwing himself at a much bigger SPARRING OPPONENT.

THWACK! LOUIS falls onto his back and starts laughing.

JEM MACE

Alright, Wain, that’s enough. You’ll be late for your meetings…

LOUIS

Let me have one last crack at him!

LOUIS dizzily wobbles back to his feet, jiggling about in a febrile dance. OTHER BOXERS, both men and women, enjoy this.

LOUIS (CONT’D)

The Bendigo Shuffle! Come on, you big brute. Give me your best shot!

THE BIG BOXER thinks about it for a second. Then – THWACK!

The Bendigo Shuffle’? We like the sound of that.

The next scene actually features Bendigo

Scene 100 – EXT. BOXING TENT, LONDON – DAY (1886)

TWO FIGHTERS do battle – the huge JOURNEYMAN and the sprightly BENDIGO, who has a weird, cheeky charisma, bouncing about and making up insulting rhymes to put off his opponent.

LOUIS

Go on, Bendigo!

RAILTON

Curious little fellow, isn’t he.

BENDIGO is doing a dance – like LOUIS’ own eccentric boxing dance – pulling silly faces at the JOURNEYMAN. FLASH PHOTOGRAPHERS huddle to take shots. LOUIS and RAILTON sit ringside. LOUIS is trying to draw BENDIGO.

LOUIS

But he’s electric, Herb. Look how his fancy all adore himHalf his opponent’s size but he knows how to harness the electricity of the crowd… look, see! There it is.

FLASH! POW! WAPOW! FLASH! FLASH!

RAILTON

Are you talking about the photographers?

LOUIS

No, Herb. Look properly. The electricity. Finally, I feel like I’m starting to understand it. In fact I have a hypothesis that electricity is what pushes us through time. And if I can find a way to conduct and divert electricity with more accuracy, I could, in theory, experience the past as if it were no different to the future…

Have you seen the film?

Let us know what you think.

James ‘Jem Mace