1916-09-04 (122/124/126lbs) Johnny Kilbane w co 3 (15) George Chaney, Open Air Arena, Cedar Point, Ohio, USA

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1916-09-04 (122/124/126lbs) Johnny Kilbane w co 3 (15) George KO Chaney, Open Air Arena, Cedar Point, Ohio, USA. Referee: Matt Hinkel. Although taking place in Ohio, a state that in the main only allowed no-decision contests, this pairing was given special dispensation to be settled by the referee if both men, reported to be inside 122lbs by the Sandusky Register, were still standing after 15 rounds of boxing. With Kilbane using an effective left jab while the southpaw Chaney looked for more solid head shots, the opening two rounds passed by without too many incidents. The mood changed in the third round. Having been broken up for the fourth time, Kilbane suddenly crashed in a right hook to Chaney’s jaw, the fight being over on the referee counting to ‘ten’.

For a contest between Kilbane and Alvie Miller on 11 December 1916 at the Opera House, Youngstown, Ohio, the Youngstown Indicator reported that although the latter scaled inside the featherweight limit of 122lbs, the champion’s weight was not announced. This would indicate that the title was technically up for grabs with Kilbane, deemed to have had the better of the 12-round no-decision contest, possibly coming in over the weight.

On 26 March 1917 at the Clover AC, Bridgeport, Connecticut, Kilbane drew over 12 rounds with Eddie Wallace. Shown in the Ring Record Book as being a title fight it was made at 126lbs and was not considered as one by the champion.

Less than a month later, on 19 April, Kilbane, still adamant that he would only defend his title at 122lbs, received a ten-round newspaper decision over Matt Brock at Gray’s Armory, Cleveland, Ohio, and with the Cleveland Boxing Commission regulating the featherweight limit at 125lbs, Kilbane’s position as the featherweight champion was decidedly at stake when both men were inside that weight. A few weeks later, on 24 May, Kilbane (128) took a ten-round press decision off the 122lbs Frankie Fleming at Sohmer Park, Montreal, Canada, and the latter would have undoubtedly claimed the world title at that weight had he won inside the distance.

Inactive during 1918, Kilbane was perceived by the press to have outscored Jack Lawler (125lbs) over ten rounds at The Armory, Charleston, West Virginia on 12 April 1919 and although the match had been made at 128lbs if the latter had won inside the distance his claim may well have been accepted.

Britain’s Joe Fox (who was adjudged by the press to have lost on points over six rounds on 28 July 1919 at the Ballpark, Philadelphia, Pa), was the next man to make 122lbs for Kilbane and once again the latter came in well over the championship weight.

However, time was gradually running out for Kilbane and regardless of public utterances that he could only lose his title at 122lbs he was asked to make 125lbs for three eight-round no-decision fights in New Jersey, a State who recognised that weight as being the featherweight limit. First came Frankie Burns (nd-w rsc 5 on 16 September 1919 at The Ballpark, Newark), followed by Andy Chaney (nd-l pts 8 on 29 December 1919 at The 4th Regiment Armory, Jersey City) and then Benny Valgar (nd-l pts 8 on 25 February 1920 at the National AC, Newark), interspersed with six-round contests in Philadelphia against natural 122 pounders in Eddie Morgan (nd-w pts 6 at the National AC on 20 September 1919), Al Shubert (nd-w pts 6 at the Olympia AC on 1 January 1920) and Johnny Murray (nd-l pts 6 at the National AC on 24 January 1920).

According to the Ring Record Book and various press reports, Kilbane then successfully defended his title in a ten-round no-decision contest on 21 April 1920 against Alvie Miller, winning by a seventh-round kayo at the Opera House, Lorain, Ohio. What is not known is the weight the match was made at, although a local historian and former sports writer, Paul Baumgartner, discovered in a trawl of the Lorain Times-Herald that on 14 April it was reported that Miller had already reached the 123lb mark and would have to reduce further to make the agreed weight. There was no mention of an articled weight for Kilbane, however. At this time it is almost certain that Kilbane could not make 122lbs and one can only assume, as in other contests, he would be only come in at a weight that he was comfortable at. This was supported by an earlier report in the same paper, on 9 April, that Kilbane would be no more than three or four pounds heavier than Miller on the night. Despite that, had Miller won inside the distance he would have had a strong claim to the title.

On 2 June 1920, Kilbane (125¼) again met Andy Chaney (nd-l pts 8 at the Ice Palace, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), before taking on Artie Root (nd-w pts 10 at League Park, Cleveland) on 28 July 1920, both being catchweight contests in which his opponents scaled 124lbs.

Later in the year, on 7 October, the promoter Tex Rickard, who was rapidly losing patience due to Kilbane’s refusal to defend the title on a ‘proper’ basis, lined up Britain’s Tommy Noble to meet Johnny Murray (at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York) for the world title at 126lbs. Although Noble won on points over 15 rounds, the NYSAC, newly formed on 1 September 1920 and recognising 126lbs as the featherweight limit, failed to give the fight their support. Having won a diamond-studded championship belt, Noble’s so-called title was never taken seriously and he returned to England without being asked to make a defence.

Two ten-round no-decision fights at League Park, Cleveland in 1921 saw Kilbane up to his old tricks again. Firstly, on 25 May, in the eyes of the press he outpointed Freddie Jacks, who came in spot on the now universally recognised class of 126lbs. For this one, Kilbane was thought to weigh in the region of 130lbs, while on 17 September he refused to weigh in when scoring a seventh-round kayo win over Danny Frush, who was forced to make 126lbs. Kicked in the groin during the first round, Frush, badly injured, should have been awarded the decision and the title, but the referee later stated that he did not want to disappoint the large crowd and allowed Kilbane to build on his unfair advantage.

In July 1922, after Kilbane had remained inactive following the Frush contest and was seemingly uninterested in defending his title at 126lbs against a recognised challenger such as Johnny Dundee, the NYSAC ‘officially’ stripped him of the title. That decision was followed by Tex Rickard matching Dundee, the long-term number-one challenger, against the unlucky Frush and the NYSAC announced that they would recognise the winner as champion. Although Kilbane stated that he would defend his title in Ohio on Labor Day, that soon proved to be nothing more than hot air and it was felt by many shrewd judges that the 33-year-old champion would retire following the news that he was now banned from appearing in New York.