Tommy Simpson

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Thomas Jeremiah Simpson (Matchmaker, Promoter, Manager)
Born: Feb. 11, 1884
Died: Feb. 5, 1947

Early Career

Tommy Simpson was working as a railroad switchman for Southern Pacific when he began his involvement with boxing in 1905 as a matchmaker at the West Oakland Club. Simpson's career as a railroad switchman ended when he crushed his hand in a switch. After that he began working in the liquor business. During this time he continued his work in boxing, and with other associates he helped finance the rebuilding of the West Oakland Club on Eighth and Pine, following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Four-Round Era

Simpson would continue promoting boxing after the advent of California's four-round law at the start of 1915. Simpson's shows were technically "amateur" shows, in which the boxers were rewarded medals after their bouts. However, the medals were usually converted to cash by Simpson and other promoters.

Popular fighters Simpson used included Oakland Jimmy Duffy, Battling Ortega, and Jimmy Dundee--at the beginning of their careers. By 1917, Simpson had moved his operations to the Emeryville Arena, just outside of Oakland. Here his growing success allowed him to lure big-name boxers back to the Bay Area. One of these fighters was a young Jack Dempsey, who fought several times for Simpson at Emeryville, before becoming World Champion.

By 1918, Simpson had begun working at the Oakland Auditorium, where he would become the most successful promoter in California during the Four-Round era. Simpson's premier draw during this period was Duffy, who would be a headliner in Oakland until his retirement in 1931. Simpson was also aided by a December 1920 incident in San Francisco, which led to San Francisco barring all active professionals in the city. This forced many San Francisco boxers to flee the Bay Area. Many others, however, stayed behind and became regulars on Simpson's cards in Oakland.

Later Years

In 1924 California voters legalized 10 round bouts in California. Simpson promoted the now-legalized game. Like many promoters though, he was driven down by the advent of the Great Depression in 1929 and forced to quit by financial trouble. He resurfaced briefly in 1933, without much success, before retreating to the sidelines again.

In 1938, Simpson returned to promoting, this time with matchmaker Jimmy Murray in tow. He struggled until the war economy drove up attendance and the box office around 1941. Until declining health forced him back to the sidelines, Simpson would promote in harmony with two other Oakland promoters, Frank Tabor and Ray Carlen, as well as with Murray--who also dabbled with promoting on his own as the matchmaker for all three.

Simpson died February 5, 1947 of throat cancer in Oakland. He was 63 years old.

Miscellaneous Facts

  • Simpson was described as a short Irish man, who was known to usually have a large cigar in his mouth while ringside.
  • Welterweight champion Jimmy McLarnin was developed by Simpson as a main event attraction in Oakland.
  • Also credited with the development of Lightweight champion Willie Ritchie and Heavyweight contender Gunboat Smith


  • February 6, 1947 Oakland Tribune "Fight Game Mourns Old Time Figure" by Alan Ward