(Ed. NOTE: Following is an interview with Eckert Lewis, the boxer who once defeated (and lost to) Ludwig Lightburn, the Belizean who was the uncrowned lightweight champion of the world in the 1950s. Now an architect, and reportedly ailing, Lewis was interviewed by an old friend from Unity Club days – Charles Hyde. The interview was first published in the August 1979 issue of Fun & Games, a magazine produced by the staff of this newspaper back then.)
As a young boy of 8 or 9 years old, Eckert Lewis used to walk in the streets in the vicinity of 86 Eve Street, Belize City, where he lived at the time. Nothing unusual about this, except that a pair of boxing gloves hung from his neck by their lacing, and any of the boys he encountered on the way were welcome to try a round or two. The gloves were a present from his elder sister, Jean, who felt that he ought to have his own equipment since he seemed to have an addiction to the sport. A neighbor, Mr. Gilbert Bradley, had bought a pair of gloves for his sons, and Eckert was spending all his spare time at the Bradley’s. The other boys in the neighborhood were attracted also, but none of them had a relative with the generosity and foresight of Sister Jean.
A boy with a pair of gloves around his neck must have been like waving a red flag before a bull to the youngsters Eckert encountered, and he must have had over a hundred contests before his prowess grew to the stage where only the unwary or reckless ones still dared to challenge him.
The next step in Lewis’ boxing career takes place in a room on the ground floor of the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall on Hyde’s Lane. This was the famous Scout Room, a recreation mecca to hundreds of young boys of the Holy Redeemer Parish and outside it. There they could lift weights, do gymnastics, play billiards and table tennis ( it was “ping-pong” those days), read, study, do school assignments and also box. Many of our best performers in different sports and some of our most prominent citizens are the product of this modest meeting place.
Of course, no little credit for their success is due to the motivation and inspiration of a bald-headed, hawk-faced tough old disciplinarian with a will of iron and a warm generous heart named Brother John Mark Jacoby, mostly known as “Brother Jake.”
The young Eckert Lewis was a scout in the Beaver Patrol and he was frequently to be found in the Scout Room putting on the gloves with any of the young fellows of his peer group who were willing. The ring was an area contained by four of the pillars which supported the upper flat of the building, the floor being of cement with no covering.
It became evident after a few such encounters that he was no ordinary adversary, because whereas all the other kids would punch for the head, a small and elusive target, he attacked the body, which is hard to miss, with savage left hands. And, whereas most of the contests between the other boys ended with one or more bloody noses and a split lip or two, his fights ended with his opponents doubled up in pain unable to continue. At this early age (12 years) Lewis had discovered the effectiveness of body punching – something that middleweight champion David Dakers has yet to learn.
Father Marion Ganey had introduced the Golden Cloves to Belize a few years before and it was an instant success. Lewis, having reached his 12th birthday, was now eligible to take part in that year’s Golden Gloves tournament. He entered and won his first championship in the novice division.
Next year he graduated to the Open Division and there encountered the great George Meighan for the first time. We will let him tell you about his fights with the great Meighan and those with the even greater Ludwig Lightburn in the interview which follows.
Someone will write a history of Golden Cloves in Belize one day. We are sure that our readers would like to know more about it, but for now, they will acknowledge that here was the cradle of boxing in Belize, and it is out of the Golden Gloves tournament that some of our best fighters emerged. Names which evoke pictures of powers and classic skill come to mind: Emilio Sanchez, Roy “Terror” Cadle, Eckert Lewis, George Meighan, Johnny Hyde, Ludwig Lightburn, Willie Longsworth, Herbert Williams …
Today, Eckert Lewis is a qualified architect in private practice, in addition to being senior partner in the firm of Lewis Commercial Activities. A few years ago, he was a senior member of the PWD executive in charge of planning and design. He has been very active in sports over the years, excelling in football and boxing. In recent years, he has spent a lot of his time training aspiring young boxers and is mainly responsible for the successes enjoyed by middleweight champion, David Dakers.
Not many people know that in his time Eckert Lewis was one of the most exciting and successful boxers of his era. For these, the events which we will now recount will be a revelation. For others, it will be a trip down Memory Lane.
FUN & GAMES: Let’s begin with your entry into the Golden Gloves tournament. Tell me what prompted you to enter, and give a picture of the organization, including the training procedures you had to go through to qualify as a participant.
ECKERT LEWIS: The Golden Gloves were being run by the C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization). I used to watch a lot of the finals as a small boy too young to enter. But in 1946, I was twelve years of age, old enough to enter. The procedure for entry was to fill out a form which had a certificate to be signed by your parent or guardian, giving you permission to take part in the tournament and absolving the organization from any liability in the event you suffered injury in the course of participation. The Parish Hall was the centre where everybody in the tournament was put through a training regimen consisting of skipping, boxing, shadow boxing and other exercises. There were competent trainers like Bob Mahler and “Falo” Fonseca in charge of the training sessions, keeping time and signaling by a whistle when to begin and stop. The drills were carried out one at time with everybody doing the same drill. For example, when the trainers said “skip”, everybody skipped, and when they said “box”, we would pair up with somebody in our weight group and box. When I entered I already had a lot of outside experience in boxing except for fighting in a ring. I was 85 pounds at the time, a junior lightweight in the novice division. There were so many youngsters taking part that there had to be a lot of weight divisions, junior and senior in both the main divisions, novice and open.
FUN & GAMES: Why were so many young boys attracted to the Colden Cloves?
ECKERT LEWIS: In the first place, we did not have many sports accessible to everyone the way we have now. It’s true we could play football and cricket in tennis shoes or barefoot, using old tennis balls. There were no organized sports for our age group. Also, kids who were athletic did not specialize. They played football in the football season, cricket in the cricket season and boxed in the Golden Gloves.
FUN &GAMES: In the cities, most of the kids who turn to boxing come from among the underprivileged. Was this the case in your experience?
ECKERT LEWIS: NO, Most of the fellows who were outstanding and many of the others who were in second rank, that is, never won trophies, passed through elementary school and had some kind of secondary education. Many of those who graduated from our college still continued boxing afterward. Also different organizations such as the secondary school, Volunteer Guard and Police Force used to enter teams. Rivalry was strong but friendly. There was a strong spirit of sportsmanship among the boxers.
FUN & GAMES: Do you think that the polarization into political camps has had an adverse effect on the development of the sport of boxing?
ECKERT LEWIS: I think it has, because when you have two groups trying to control boxing, the small resources available get split up. The resources I refer to are not only monetary but include facilities, personnel and so on. And when you have this situation the boxers, trainers and fans have divided loyalties favoring one camp or the other, and the whole sport suffers because many young people who like boxing are turned off.
FUN & GAMES: All right. Let’s review your career in the Golden Gloves.
ECKERT LEWIS: I began as a junior lightweight (85lbs) in the novice division in 1946 and won my first tournament, and immediately after that tournament, I was asked to fight, in what was then called, a curtain opener, on the Simon Lucas vs. Roy “Slim Terror” Cadle card. In this fight I was knocked down in the third and last round and lost the decision to Rudy Meighan. I remember being very upset about this loss, so I asked for a return match with Rudy, which was given to me a short time afterward. In this one I gave him a trouncing which must have upset Rudy even more, because he stopped fighting altogether.
FUN & GAMES: You fought on these professional cards while still an amateur (novice). How did this happen?
ECKERT LEWIS: It was and I believe still permissible to fight as an amateur on a professional card. The prize was $5 and we were only allowed to fight 3 rounds. I kept on fighting outside the Golden Gloves and didn’t take part in their annual tournament in 1947. I can’t recall why, perhaps it had something to do with my school work. But in 1948 I entered this time as part of the team representing the Holy Redeemer Boy Scouts along with Freddie Hunter, George Meighan and others. By now I had grown from 85 lbs. to about 107 lbs., and had the unfortunate experience of meeting the great George Meighan, after winning against Nappy Castillo, and was soundly trounced in a couple of rounds. I still thank old Arthur Mapp, who died some time ago, for stopping the fight when he did, because I was outclassed. This was our first meeting.
FUN & GAMES: Did George win the division?
ECKERT LEWIS: Yes. George won all the divisional titles he fought for. He never lost in the Golden Gloves.
FUN & GAMES: What happened after George?
ECKERT LEWIS: After that I kept fighting outside the Golden Gloves. I can always remember this because I went to Father Ganey and asked him please to get me and George Meighan together in a ring again, and he held me gently by the shoulder and put his hand on my head and said, “Don’t worry, you are a young little boy yet, you’ll get your chance.” The following year we went at it again, this time in the Open Featherweight Division with “Brukhand” Miller and a lot of good young fighters. I believe I won about two fights and came up to the semi-final with George Meighan and Brukhand. There was a draw and I got a bye, so Brukhand fought George, and lost. So I got my wish and met George in the finals. My mind was made up that he would not repeat his first performance, and he couldn’t. The fight went the full three rounds and I lost by a decision. It was the best fight in the tourney and we were each given a prize for putting it on. From there on I didn’t fight any other amateur fights. I started to concentrate on the professional.
(To be continued in our Tuesday issue)
Feature photo: Eckert Lewis