Battling Siki

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Battling Siki 1921.jpeg

Name: Battling Siki
Alias: Singular Senegalese
Birth Name: Amadou M’Barick Fall
Hometown: Paris, Paris, France
Birthplace: Saint Louis, Senegal
Died: 1925-12-15 (Age:28)
Height: 179cm
Reach: 191cm
Pro Boxer: Record

Battling Siki started his professional career in 1913 but engaged in just 16 bouts before the outbreak of World War I, in which he served courageously with French colonial forces. Siki defeated several prominent European fighters, including Harry Reeve and Marcel Nilles, before challenging Carpentier for the title. He was deprived by French authorities of titles he had won from Georges Carpentier. (This claim is unsubstantiated.) Carpentier made repeated efforts to obtain a return match to no avail.

On July 24, 1925 he married Lillian Werner, an octoroon, although he had a Caucasian common law wife in Holland. He soon ran afoul of immigration authorities who sought to have him returned to France, but was given several stays. On November 10, 1925, he made application for American citizenship.

He often got into trouble with taxicab drivers for taking long trips around Harlem and not bothering to pay the fares. Sometimes he was arrested on disorderly conduct charges for these altercations.

Siki was found in the early morning hours of December 15, 1925 in New York City, at West 41st Street (in "Hell's Kitchen"), lying face down with two gunshot wounds in the back: one bullet in the lung and another in the kidney. A revolver with two exploded shells was found in the gutter not far away. Detectives believed he had gotten into a brawl in one of the numerous speakeasies/nightclubs in the neighborhood, and that after that altercation he was followed into the street and struck down from behind. He was felled in the same spot where the previous summer he had been attacked and almost killed with a knife. He lived near the scene of his killing. He wife identified his body at the police station.

Although Siki was born a Muslim in Senegal, his wife gave him a Christian burial in a "Negro" funeral parlor in Harlem on Friday, December 19, informing the press that he had lived as a "Christian and would be buried as one." (Friends had tried to persuade the widow to bury him as a Mohammedan.)

He left an estate of less than $600.00, according to papers filed December 30 by his wife asking for letters of administration - far from the fortune he had earned in the ring.

Battling Siki is buried in Flushing, Queens.

Expanded Biography

Battling Siki

Battling Siki was born in 1897 in St.Louis the capital of the French colony of Senegal and his name was Baye Phal. Baye is a Senegalese name corresponding to Louis. He chose the fight name of Battling Siki as it is a Senegalese word parents apply to their children "darling" in English or "cherie" in French. He adopted is as he thought, "White men could easily remember such a name."

A professor of languages in Paris wrote in one of the papers that Siki was a title of nobility in Senegalese and Phal was the name of the former Kings. Another report was:

"What kind of creature is Battling Siki.... Nothing was known of the black Senegalese who leaped into world fame overnight until after his fight with Carpentier, and then came amazing stories. Correspondents cabled over stories that he was intellectually little more than a beast, unable to read or write, conversing mainly in grunts and fighting in a primitive aboriginal style that smacked of wild tribal life in the jungles."

Another called him the "Fighting Chimpanzee."

In fact Siki fought all during the First World War, was wounded and awarded medals. He spoke, wrote and read French quite well. His English was not as good and spoke enough Dutch to make himself understood. How he ended up in France is a remarkable and sad story told in his own words.

?I used to go to the docks and watch the ships. One day a big ship came in en route to Marseilles and as it was to remain some days the passengers came ashore. Among there was a German woman who called herself Mme Farquenberg, a dancer who had lots of money. She saw me a kid of eight and had me show her the city. She asked me if I wanted to go on the ship and sail to France, see other lands and have a good time.

I didn't have time to tell my family goodbye for I feared the dancer would change her mind. In France the dancer got me nice clothes, and daily taught me to read and write. She danced in many European cities and I would go on the stage as her little servant, dressed in red velvet.

The dancer went to Germany, but couldn't take me without a passport. She left me in Marseilles with money to care for me. I never heard from her again. I tried repeatedly to get in touch with her, and have written since the war, but to no avail. She was kind to a black boy. Only for her I would be slogging away in Senegal's hot climate."

Battling Siki

His arrival in the United States was well reported, not least due to the stories of his crazy ? some may say brilliant ? antics at gaining publicity for himself. The turning point was his win over Carpentier in 1922 who it is said did very little training for the fight ? Siki was viewed as a set-up. Siki was in the best of condition and found in the first few rounds that Carpentier couldn?t hurt him. Siki said of the fight that Carpentier would say to him all through the fight to lie down but Siki would only laugh and say ?wait." As light heavyweight champion of the world he attracted more attention for what he did outside the ring.

He was often reported for being thrown out of some boulevard caf? or lugging a pet leopard around on a leash and firing a gun in the air if for some strange reason people didn?t take any notice. He was quite partial to the infamous drink absinthe ? the stuff Van Gogh drank and we all know about the ear.

In 1923 he was seen as the supreme optimist when he went up against Mike McTighue of Ireland in Dublin on St Patrick?s Day ? he lost. He apparently turned up some time after the fight dressed in a full dress suit, tall plug hat, opera cape monocle and tan shoes.

On arrival in the US, one report was as follows:

?Though he has appeared on the streets of New York, a subdued vision in pearl grey, he hasn?t attracted the slightest notice. New York is surfeited with freaks and it would not pay undue heed to an ordained bishop in a Navajo blanket."

However Siki soon solved that little problem. He started giving exhibitions in an obscure theatre ?The LaFayette." He neglected to obtain permission for this and was summoned before the magistrate and thus broke into print for the first time in weeks.


Battling Siki?s Autobiography, as told to Milton Bronner, NEA Staff Correspondent (as published in the Bellingham American, Bellingham, WA, USA, starting November 10, 1922):

I was born in St. Louis, capital of the French colony of Senegal, 25 years ago. My true name is Baye Phal. Baye is a Senegalese name corresponding to Louis, so I am Louis Phal.

Entering the ring, I called myself Battling Siki. Siki is a Senegalese word parents apply to their children. A love word, like ?darling? in English, or ?cherie? in French. I adopted it because I thought white men could easily remember such a name.

I make this clear because recently a professor of languages, living in Paris, wrote one of the papers saying Siki was a title of nobility in Senegalese, and Phal was the name of the former kings of a province of Senegal. If I am descended from kings, I never knew it before.

My parents were poor working people. They didn?t have time to think about educating me and my four brothers. We just grew up. I wrote the following description of my early life for a Paris paper:

Senegal is a city of 23,000. We wear clothes like you. We are French citizens and elect a member of the French parliament. We are either Christians or Mohammedans. Me, I am a Mohammedan.

I used to go to the docks and watch the ships. One day a big ship came in, en route to Marseilles, and as it was to remain some days, the passengers came ashore. Among these was a German woman who called herself Mme. Fauquenberg, a dancer, who had lots of money.

She saw me, a kid of eight, looking up at the ship. She took my hand, and had me show her about the city. Then she asked me if I wanted to go on the ship and sail to France and see other lands and have a good time.

I didn?t take time to tell my family goodby, for I feared the dancer would change her mind.

In France the dancer got me nice clothes, and daily taught me to read and write. She danced in many European cities, and I would go on the stage as her little servant, dressed in red velvet.

The dancer went to Germany, but couldn?t take me without a passport. She left me in Marseilles with money to care for me. I never heard from her again.

I tried repeatedly to get in touch with her, and have written since the war, but to no avail. She was kind to a black boy. Only for her I would be slogging away in Senegal?s hot climate.

I saw hard times in Marseilles when the money the German dancer left me gave out. Often I was cold and hungry.

I worked long hours washing dishes and drying them and getting little pay and not much to eat. Some of these Marseilles restaurant and hotel bosses knew how to get the work out of you.

Then I had a piece of luck which was afterward to change my life, as the German dancer did. I met Paul Latil, a boxing instructor at Marseilles. He showed me how to build up strength, how to box and duck and crouch.

A lot of newspaper fellows have written that I have a jungle style of fighting, and that I am a sort of chimpanzee who has been taught to wear gloves. I was never in the jungle in my life. I haven?t seen many chimpanzees and never saw any fight.

Every fighting man builds up his own way of hitting the other fellow and of trying to keep from getting hit. Call it by what name you will, the whole game is to hit the other fellow and keep from getting badly hurt yourself.

If I can bend and stoop in such manner that all the other fellow can hit is my elbow or the top of my head, that?s my game. He can?t hurt my elbow, and I have a black man?s head. It can stand a lot of bumping.

Latil used to get sore because my crouch was not very elegant. I told him it made no difference if it got there. Soon, as I got bigger and stronger, I used to help with his gymnasium classes and kept on washing dishes.

I got my first chance as a fighter in 1913, when I was 16?I knocked out Jules Perroud at Toulouse in eight rounds. I was a kid in years but manly in build and heft.

I wasn?t a bit scared. I may have been nervous. You know, the crowd and noise. But Siki has never been scared. He?s a Senegalese, and they are fighters, as the Germans found out.

Later that year in Toulouse I knocked out B. Nicolas in two rounds and beat Frank Roose on points. I was beginning to get a rep. But it didn?t bring much money. I used to fight for 50 or 60 francs. It seemed an awful lot of money for beating a man.

Early in 1914 I had bad luck. I lost to Jean Audony in ten rounds on points. I beat Frank Roose again on points in July. That was my last public fight for some years.

Things looked good. I was getting offers to fight other good men for better purses. I was getting stronger right along and learning from each man I fought. or one thing, I learned that the crouch Latil hated was very useful. I would go in the ring, act nervous, shuffle, crouch and swing my arms wildly. People laughed and the other fellow would think he had a frightened easy mark before him. Sometimes he would pull his best punch and land it. I would go down for a count of six or seven. It was only a rest for me, time to think. I wanted to puzzle how the other fellow had landed that blow, how I left myself open. I rarely did it a second time. Once I learned his style, I made my .... (article cropped)

When the war broke out, I felt it up to me to do my duty as a French citizen. We of St. Louis, yes, we are citizens. We have the vote. We also have the duties.

I joined the Eighth Colonials at Toulouse. It was a regiment mainly made up of white men. I perhaps was the only Senegalese.

My father did his duty. My four brothers also served and three were killed. I was in all the big early campaigns. I got my only serious wound in the battles around the Somme in the summer of 1916. Bomb fragments went through both legs in the middle of the calf.

From the hospital, I went to Toulon for training and wound up as a corporal in the 73rd regiment of heavy artillery. I was the champion hand grenade thrower of our corps while with the colonials. I could throw them 75 meters. It was exciting.

I stopped and used what the sporting writers now call my jungle crouch went that way some distance toward the German line, then let them have the grenades. For some of that I got the Croix-de-Guerre and Military Medal.

But French service wasn?t all fighting and danger. There was an English corps near ours in the Somme district. Those English always have sports when they do not work at war.

One day I got leave, went over to the English and asked to box one of their men. They got up a contest and we had a merry go. Then they asked me to stay to lunch. We French has simplest food and not much of that. But the English?ah, such meat and butter and good things.

Those Tommies said it was as funny to see me at as fight. They stuffed my pockets with things to eat, so when I returned to my own lines, my comrades said I had grown fat, fighting the English.

But me, I say: ?Mais non, mes comrades?it is the English, they have given good things to eat. See, we will have a picnic.? Then I take those foods from my pocket and we have a grand picnic.

It was fun, I tell you, and I learned a lot. Those English boxers were not stylish but they could take a lot of punching and give a lot of it. I learned how to stand up to hard blows.

And from those British, I learned another thing. They don?t get mad. They box for fun. They try to win, but they try fairly. When it?s all over they are friends with you, win or lose. They don?t remember you busted them in the eye and keep on being mad. So now after a fight is over, I don?t keep on being mad either. I am sorry for the fellow I have beaten. But?there are only two things in the ring, the other fellow and me. And I don?t want Siki to be licked. So I have to try to lick the other fellow.

When the war was over, my artillery regiment was sent to Versailles near Paris. I was demobilized shortly afterward. I was Corporal Louis Phal, with two decoration and honorable wounds. Also I had no job and only 200 francs. But I wanted to be through dish washing.

I asked for a job as a waiter in a little restaurant. The owner was a good fellow. He saw my medals and gave me a chance, even if I did break plates occasionally. His was a plain little place where you didn?t have to put on a lot of style. No, the work was much nicer than dish washing.

I had a couple of fights in 1920.I went to Toulouse and beat Henrys in 10 rounds on points, and knocked out J. Andony in four rounds, after losing to him on points six years before.

One day I had my arm full of dishes and a man came to me and said: ?Are you Siki?? I told him I was. He said he wanted me to fight in Paris, against Derenzi, champion of the French army. The boss let me off to train, as he thought it would help his eating place if I won or put up a good losing fight. The patrons would know Siki, the fighter, was waiting on them. Maybe he was a sly dog.

I knocked out Derenzi in three rounds.

I may be a fair fighter, but I am a rotten business man. I am almost ashamed to tell you how little I got for licking the army champion?300 francs, which was only about $25 in American money then.

I don?t think I only got a little money because I am colored. No, I think it is because until I met Charley Hellers, my present manager, I never had anybody to advise me what I ought to get. Why, even in my biggest fights with men like Journee and Carpentier, I drew down small sums.

After beating Derenzi I could get other fights to carry me along until the next one. In the spring of 1920 I knocked out V. Marchand and Westbrook and won from LeFevre, J. Depaus, Rene Devos and J. Liggett.

But I wasn?t getting anywhere. I was only considered a fourth rater, fighting fourth raters. Nobody believed in me, and I wasn?t ambitious. I liked eating and fighting and fought to eat.

I would fight anybody if a price was put up, not a fancy price either, but one meaning food and drink for a month. I eat lots of fish. I eat meat that sticks to the ribs. I like to gnaw the bones. It keeps your teeth white and strong. I don?t drink tea, or coffee or milk. In France I drink wine like a Frenchman, in Holland I drink beer like a Dutchman. Also, I smoke a good deal. When not training I like to be out with men smoking and talking and drinking. When I train I take lots of sleep. Sleep is good for a fighter. It helps build up his body and quiets his nerves.

In 1920 life played another queer trick on me. It was a German dancer who took me from Senegal to France, and so to war and the boxing ring.

It was a French boxing teacher who took me from Paris to Rotterdam. This led to marriage with a Dutch woman, battles in Holland and Germany, and finally, a chance at the big men in Europe.

Prof. Mionnet, a French boxing instructor, had heard of me in Paris and saw me beat Dorenzy. He was called to Rotterdam to instruct Dutch youths. Also, he got up boxing contests. He thought I would be useful, as the Dutch were willing to pay to see fights.

I got board with the Van Appelterre family, Dutch farmer folks who came to town to live. He was a wine dealer in a small way. They were nice to me and did not charge a large sum.

That?s how I met my future wife?their daughter, Lyntje. I don?t suppose her parents were anxious for her marrying me. But I found she cared for me as I cared for her, and we skipped over to Paris and were married by a magistrate. We?ve got a baby that we named Louis. He is neither black like me nor white like his mamma. He?s caf? au-lait?coffee with milk in it. I don?t know whether to make Louis a fighter, but if he has a punch later like he has lungs now he will be a champion.

The Dutch have been very good to me. They have been as friendly as the French. I have fought a lot of fights in Holland and the crowd always seems glad I won.

They consider I belong to them since I married a Dutch girl. When I won my fight with Carpentier, lots of Dutch sent me messages. After the fight, to get away from Paris and rest, I came to Rotterdam.

There was a big crowd at the station to cheer me. Afterward, some of the sports lovers gave a big dinner for me. They had a procession. They had me in a carriage drawn by four horses, and drove me all over the city like a regular negro king and people threw flowers into the carriage and cheered. ?Hurrah for France and Siki!? they cried.

After I had won a lot of fights in Holland, I went to Germany. In January, 1921, I beat Breitenstrater on points in 15 rounds. A month later, I beat Spalia. I wasn?t sure how I?d be treated in Germany. They remembered what fighters the Senegalese were, and there are a lot of colored troops with the French on the Rhine now. But I can?t kick. They gave me a square deal. I couldn?t ask better of a French or Dutch crowd.

And by the way, that?s why I would prefer to meet your big American boxers over here. I understand American crowds are not friendly to colored boxers. I don?t want the best of it, but I don?t want to box before a crowd which would be yelling at me and showing they didn?t like me.

The long road to boxing glory and some money, too, came to a turning in December, 1921. I finally got into the ring with one of the big fighters of France.

It was Paul Journee. Sports writers came to see him ?kill the black.? But I won on points in 13 rounds. Then, I had three fights which gave me the chance to force Carpentier to fight me.

In January, I beat Rogiers in 12 rounds, winning on points. I outpointed Journee again in March. Finally, on June 23, I beat Marcel Nilles, the real heavyweight champion of France, winning on points in 15 rounds.

Nilles was my most important opponent. He often tried to meet Carpentier, but Descamps always dodged him. They said after I beat him that Nilles broke both wrists punching my head. All I know is he is a game fighter and I learned a lot by fighting him.

That takes us up to the meeting with Georges. The Paris crowd laughed at me in the first two rounds.

Sporting writers said I was afraid, and that is why I crouched. They had said the fight would end in the first round. I made up my mind, no matter what happened, it wouldn?t end in the first round nor the second.

I knew when it came to experience [substance?] Georges had me beat. I knew all about his swiftness. And they said he could punch awfully hard. I tried to square off in such a way that he would not hit me at all, and if he did he would hit my head in places where a knockout would not follow.

Well, Georges punched me a number of times when I thought he couldn?t, and gave me all he had, but I saw it wasn?t enough. His punch wasn?t going to knock me out. I had him sized up, saw what he had and believed my strength superior, my punch at least equal.

I sailed in, and the rest you know. He was courageous, very courageous. He took an awful beating without a whimper, and kept coming in for more until he didn?t know where he was at.

Beating him made me champion heavyweight of Europe and the middleweight champion of the world.

That talk about the fighting chimpanzee is crazy. The point is not the beauty or ugliness of my manner in the ring. The point is I won fairly by taking the best Georges could give and returning blow for blow when I saw the chance. I want to meet more big men. I make no predictions. I simply fight my best. Who and where I fight next, that is up to Charlie Hellers, and when he says fight, I fight.

If he says: ?Siki, you must get ready to fight Jack Dempsey.? I would get ready. Dempsey may be a mountain of a man and a wonderful boxer and a great puncher and quick as a cat and all the rest of it, but I would take a chance. I would try to make it lively for Monsieur Dempsey. I would do more. I would try to bring the world?s championship to France, for me?I am a French citizen.

I want to go on fighting and make money and save it. The, some day, when I am beaten, as all fighters are, I plan to settle down in the country in France with my wife and be a farmer. I like to see things growing?calves, babies, chickens and trees.


External link: CBZ Page

Preceded by:
Georges Carpentier
World Light Heavyweight Champion
24 Sep 1922–17 Mar 1923
Succeeded by:
Mike McTigue