Panama Al Brown vs. Vidal Gregorio

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1929-06-18 : Panama Al Brown 117½ lbs beat Gregorio Vidal 116¾ lbs by UD in round 15 of 15

Vacant NYSAC World Bantamweight Title

  • Brown becomes Latin America's first Boxing World Champion

Panama Al Brown

"In as masterful an exhibition of boxing as he ever furnished, Brown won the decision over Gregorio and established himself beyond peradventure as a man worthy the mantle of champion of his class. Referee Lou Magnolia and Judges Harold Barnes and George Patrick collaborated in the award. The decision was unanimous.... Brown was the master and saw to it that the action was maintained at long range. A tantalizing, snappy left jab accomplished this objective with surprising ease for with his left jabs Brown beat an annoying, discouraging tattoo against the face of Gregorio and with left hooks and right crosses Brown annoyed Vidal no little...." New York Times

History of the Vacant Bantamweight Title

This bout was often incorrectly recorded as being for the undisputed, unified World Bantamweight Title. Some sources, including the 1980 Ring Record Book, even assert that this fight was the culmination of an official bantamweight elimination tournament, when there is no mention in the contemporary papers to support that claim either.

Not since 23-year-old Charley Phil Rosenberg forfeited his Bantamweight World Championship on the scales February 4, 1927, had anyone been acknowledged the true world champion. For days preceding his world title fight at Madison Square Garden with Bushy Graham of Utica, Rosenberg and his manager claimed he was within a couple of pounds of the 118 pound bantam weight limit. On the eve of the fight his manager Harry (Champ) Segal assured the public that Rosenberg weighed only 118¾ pounds, and that he would lose the extra fat in time for the title fight. At the weigh-in, however, it turned out Rosenberg was actually 122 pounds. The fight had to go on, although the bantam world title was no longer in the offering. When the crowd learned they had paid good money for a fight that would not produce a world champion, they booed and jeered when the fighters entered the ring; but they later cheered Rosenberg as he left the ring, after he had decisively clobbered the hapless 117-pound Graham throughout the 15 rounds.

The New York State Athletic Commission, however, wasn't as forgiving. It withheld the purse and suspended both fighters, their managers, promoter Jess McMahon and Madison Square Garden for this fiasco. It also took the unusual step of issuing subpoenas to eight participants to appear at a hearing to answer questions. The boxers and managers would remain suspended until early April after it had been discovered that the two managers had come to a secret agreement well before the fight. Rosenberg was ultimately suspended for over a year; his next fight wasn't until March 1928. By February 10, some disgruntled fans formed an organization they called the "Sport Followers of Fair Play" league and filed law-suits against every one connected with the bout for $3.00 in damages for each fan, claiming the bout was advertised as a bantamweight championship contest when in fact no title was at stake. (The NYSAC, by rule, limited the cost of fight tickets to $7.00, but tickets to championship contests could be sold for $10.00.) (One report says, however, that if Graham had beaten Rosenberg, he could have rightly claimed the bantam crown.)

Yet Rosenberg wasn't too concerned about forfeiting his world title. He had found it too hard to get down to 118 pounds anyway. So he went after the heavier featherweight crown instead.

Then Tony Canzoneri challenged Charles (Bud) Taylor of Terre Haute, Indiana, for the National Boxing Association's bantam crown. Brooklyn's Archie Bell wanted in on the action, too. So did Filipino Frisco Grande of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and another Brooklyn lad, Benny Tell.

Taylor and Canzoneri got their chance at the NBA crown on March 27, 1927, in Chicago. Their fight ended in an inconclusive draw, leaving promoter Jim Mullen holding the $4,000 diamond-studded bantamweight championship belt.

That same evening, on the same fight card, Archie Bell defeated Boston's Johnny Vacca. When he returned to New York, Bell deposited $2,500 in forfeit money with the NYSAC, challenging both Taylor and Canzoneri for the title. He then headed off to do battle May 5 with Britain's Teddy Baldock in London for the vacant British World Bantamweight Title. Bell's manager suggested a May 13th title shot in Madison Square Garden with Canzoneri, but Tony's manager Sam Goldman preferred another bout with Bud Taylor. The Commission eventually returned Bell's money because of the lack of a recognized champion.

Bell lost to Baldock after 15 rounds of hard fighting, but it was described as one of the cleanest and finest contests ever seen at the Royal Albert Hall. All were impressed with Bell's sportsmanship. Archie Bell would later defeat Kid Pattenden June 30 in London. (Four years later he would be offered a bantam world title fight in Montreal.) After defeating Bell, Teddy Baldock was the first to be crowned the World Bantamweight Champion since Rosenberg had forfeited the title. He would lose that title to South Africa's Willie Smith five months later.

On Saturday, June 25, 1927, Bud Taylor and Tony Canzoneri met on Wrigley Field in Chicago to determine for a second time the better man for the Bantam Title. Apparently Taylor was. He won the verdict after 10 rounds but suffered a split bone over his left optic nerve, requiring surgery in early July. Canzoneri soon found the bantam weight limit too hard to reach so he, too, decided to pursue the vacant featherweight title instead. He would win that title in February 1928. By December 1927 Bud Taylor had also out-grown the bantam weight limit and gave up his claim to the NBA world crown. The field then became wide-open for all contenders.

Kid Chocolate vs. Fidel LaBarba

The Bantamweight World Title was still vacant by the Spring of 1929, when the New York State Athletic Commission decided that the winner of the May 22 Fidel LaBarba-Kid Chocolate bout would be the logical successor to the bantam crown. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, the bout was "for what is unofficially considered the world's bantamweight championship. Though the New York boxing commission has not officially designated the bout a title affair, it has 'strongly advised' the pair to weigh in at 118 pounds, the bantam limit." The bout was scheduled for 15 rounds, but both fighters entered the ring over 118 pounds. So it was reduced to 10 rounds.

"Fidel LaBarba and Kid Chocolate having failed to heed the suggestion of the Boxing Commission and make the bantamweight limit for their fight in the New York Coliseum last Wednesday night, the Solons [slang for "boxing commissioners"] decided to give ear to the plea of Al Brown that he be given an opportunity to prove he is the best 118-pound fighter here, there and everywhere. Hence they announced they would start the ball a-rolling by matching him with Vidal Gregorio, Pete Sanstol or Kid Chocolate, the fight to be held in the Queensboro Stadium on June 11. On that night the Blowdeo will be for the benefit of the National Sports Alliance Relief Fund.

It will have to be either Gregorio or Sanstol for Brown. Al is definitely off the Havana Kid's list of eligibles." New York World, May 25, 1929, p. 11.

Then both Brown and Gregorio offered to fight for no compensation whatsoever, which "staggered" the NYSAC. "The Boxing Commissioners couldn't believe their ears. When they recovered they announced that the winner would be recognized by them as the 'defending' bantam champion." The World, May 29, p. 13.

Panama Al Brown vs. Vidal Gregorio

Vidal Gregorio

Three days before the June 18 Al Brown-Vidal Gregorio fight the New York Times reported: "At its [New York State Athletic Commission] meeting yesterday... [d]ecision was reserved on the question of designating a main bout Tuesday night at the National Sports Alliance Relief Fund benefit show. Al Brown is to battle Vidal Gregorio virtually for the bantamweight title."

The New York Times then reported on the day of the fight:

"A battle which is expected to have its sequel in the production of a world's bantamweight champion... is... scheduled for tonight. It is this contest which is expected to end with an acceptable claimant of the vacated bantamweight title established. Brown has earned recognition by the National Boxing Association and through ring conquests here and in Europe has mowed down all opposition.

The Brown-Gregorio bout lacks the Boxing Board's official backing as a title match, but it is indicated that the winner may be looked upon with favor. Kid Chocolate is to engage Terry Roth, and still another ten is to be between Peter Meyers and Tony Vaccarelli."

After Brown had defeated Gregorio, the World reported June 19 that the NYSAC was hesitant to declare him the "bantamweight world champion," but instead gave him "the novel title of 'defending champion.'" In his June 21 column entitled "Pardon My Glove," Ned Brown quoted one Mike Karem as saying, "It was not for the world's title."

National Boxing Association Title

There may have been another reason the NYSAC had decided the winner would be the "defending champion." They may have been led to believe that Brown was recognized by the National Boxing Association as its bantam king. When he and Brown arrived back to New York from Europe in mid-May, Brown's manager Dave Lumiansky informed the press:

"Half-baked titles are important in Europe but they mean little or nothing here," said Lumiansky. "Brown strengthened his N.B.A. championship abroad by defeating Bernasconi, the International Boxing Union champion, in Madrid. That victory gave him two legs on the world's title, and a match with the winner of the La Barba-Chocolate fray should result in a generally recognized 118-pound king. The situation appears to be close to a definite settlement for the first time in three years." The World, May 16, p. 13.

On July 10, three weeks after he had won the so-called "world championship," Brown was suspended by the Illinois Athletic Commission for refusing to fight Knud Larsen in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Brown finally agreed to fight Larsen on August 28.) "The commission also criticized Lumiansky for having spread reports in the United States and abroad that Brown was recognized by the National Boxing Association as bantamweight champion." The World, July 11, 1929, p. 13. The NBA was headquartered in Chicago.

The June 19 Tacoma News Tribune (Tacoma, WA, USA) reported:

"The Panama Negro, one of the cleverest boxers in the business, also lays claim to the National Boxing Association's 118-pound championship. Brown claims he was recognized as champion by Tom Donohue, Connecticut boxing commissioner, when Donohue was president of the N.B.A. Donohue, however, later was deposed and the N.B.A. announced last night that it no longer recognized any one as king of the 188[sic]-pounders."

On June 20, the TNT continued:

Brown "holds no title as far as the National Boxing Association is concerned. Paul Prehn, president of the N.B.A., last night said the organization recognizes no one as champion of the 118-pound division, but plans an elimination contest to select a titleholder."

Joe Morris, manager of British Bantamweight World Champion Teddy Baldock, "declared Baldock had just as much right to consider himself bantamweight champion as Brown." The World, June 28, 1929, p. 9.


When Brown fought Battling Battalino July 26, the papers clarified that he was the champion as recognized by the NYSAC only, and apparently nowhere else. "Bat Battalino of Hartford, New England featherweight champion, won a ten-round decision over Al Brown of Panama, recognized in New York State as world's bantamweight champion, at Bulkley Stadium to-night. The bantam title was not at stake." The World, July 27, 1929, p. 9.

On October 7, then-NBA President Edward Foster announced that, following a telegraphic conference among its members, the National Boxing Association had proclaimed Panama Al Brown its World Bantamweight Champion. (New York Times, Oct. 8, p. 24.) This was the first time that Brown was recognized by the NBA--not earlier, as is sometimes erroneously recorded to this day (2005).

See also, The Golden Bantams