Sunday 10 March 2013

Gunboat Jack and Bangalore boxers

The last few days has seen news about boxers Vijender Singh and Ram Singh and their alleged indiscretion of  taking drugs. The news left me with fond memories of days bygone when Bangalore was the Boxing capital of India and boxers from different countries landed in the Garden City and tried their luck in out boxing their opponents or knocking them out.
Boxers from across the world made a beeline to Bangalore and till the end of the Second World War, the city was home to many bouts that were sold our several times over. While the boxers made a neat pile, the people got their money’s worth watching the men beat each other up.
Many of the fights were organised at what is today know as Opera Theatre on Residency Road –Brigade Road junction. It was Bangalore’s coliseum with lights, wooden seats and action.
The large number of prisoners of war mainly billeted in Bangalore at Jalahalli and Byramangala brought professional boxing to Bangalore. The Italian prisoners of war were particularly fond of  boxing and apart from dancing, it was their regular pastime.         
The regimental matches and matches between prisoners aroused the curiosity of the locals and for close to two decades (1930 to 1950), Bangalore’s primary sport was boxing.
Most of the boxing matches were held in Cantonment area and apart from Opera, another popular venue was Hollywood City Stadium. This small but elegant indoor stadium stood on the land opposite to the present Golden Palm Military Canteen (erstwhile BRV Theatre). The building has now been demolished.
Other popular venues of boxing included Sullivan Police Grounds, now better known as KSRP Grounds near Garuda Mall or opposite Nilgiris confectionery unit), Garrison Sports Ground (now Manekshaw Parade Ground) and Globe or Liberty Theatre (which was demolished to make way for a new set of buildings.
The matches were generally held in the evenings and continued till the night. Prices of tickets started at Rs. 6 for a ring side seat. Soldiers fought soldiers and soldiers fought civilians too. Of course, civilians boxed each other also.
People today have forgotten some of the boxers of those times, including the famous Gunboat Jack, Tarley of Philliphines and Arthur Suares.
Gunboat Jack was perhaps the most well-known boxer of his times and he could be found on MG Road even in the 60s. An American, Gunboat Jack is supposed to have jumped ship and headed for Bangalore. An exceptional boxer with a superb technique, he was rated among the best of his times and there are stories that he would have bagged the world championship had he stayed on in America.
The African-American fought more than 700 matches in his career and knocked out boxers four times heavier than him. He was once a sparring partner to Jersey Joe Walcott who became the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion after Joe Louis.
Anyway, America’s loss was Bangalore’s gain and for several years Gunboat Jack attracted people to the bouts like honey to a bee. He knocked out the best of the boxers and they included  Arthur Dimler, the Golden Glove champion of America, Nobby Hall, the British lightweight champion, and Frank Malinao, the welterweight champion of India.
He was a natural crowd puller and he was the first boxer in India to endorse products like jewellery and sauce. Gunboat Jack, also known as GBJ, was the All India Triple Belt holder. The All India Light Heavyweight champion was Frank Malinao from Philippines, as was Young Tarley from Philippines. The Light Heavyweight champion of the Persia, Iraq and Iran Forces was Arthur Suares and Muang Thaung was from Burma.
South India’s own  Indian Boxing champion was Tiger ‘Nat’ Terry. A Nepalese boxer Yung Thalai, who played drums at Basco's, trained MEG boxers till he passed away.
Apart from these figures who were a regular on the boxing circuit,  there were others like Welterweight champion of Royal Indian Navy Vincent Phillips, All India Inter-Railway Lightweight champion Duncan Chatterton and Lightweight and Welterweight British puncher Pat Mills.
Of them Gunboat Jack or GBJ, Malinao, Tarley, Suares and Thaung were based in Bangalore and fought many bouts with each other and the rest
The bouts were promoted in a big way by T E Farnell and Maurice Thomas- whose family owned the Daily Post.
An offshoot of  this sport was that schools and colleges, particularly the Convent institutions, took to boxing in a big way.  However, the end of the World War saw the return of soldiers back to their barracks and it also sounded the death knell of boxing. When India gained Independence, priorities changed and boxing was put on the back burner.
Boxing was finished when a boy died in the inter-school boxing championship in Bishop Cottons in 1960.   
GBJ was legendary for his lifestyle. After he “retired” from boxing, he started preaching on Brigade Road. He also  worked as a bouncer at Bosco’s on Brigade Road.



  1. Super Article..i really wonder where u get your dad used to tell me about Gunboat Jack and yung thali..

    GBJ used to wear a big hat and sit at the end of Brigade Road in the twilight of his life i heard

  2. Very interesting article, was just wondering what's your source for the information on the boxing at Opera. I would like to do more research. Thanks!

    1. Much of the information on Bangalore before 1947 can be retrieved from the library of the MEG and Centre in Ulsoor. Apart from it, the Mythic Society and the Karnataka Gazette, the Indian Institute of World Culture, Gokhale Institute, old Maratha records called Bhakars, military records and the India Library in UK can be a fund of information. As far as the article on Gunboat Jack is concerned, we tapped on these and many more sources.

  3. Gunboat Jack was sufficiently legendary that my father used to call a young man very flamboyantly dressed as "Gunboat Jack" in the 1970s. It was a bit mysterious to me then.