Boxing in the Military

Submitted by Kimball Marsden on Nov 21st 2017

Boxing is a treasured sport within the military and has been embraced by members of the armed forces for as long as it has been around. There are hundreds of amazing old war time photographs of military men gathered around to watch two servicemen battle it out. People who join the forces generally have a natural inclination towards physical activity. It makes sense that a sport as physically demanding as boxing would become so popular within their ranks.

World War 1 saw military personnel from all over the world mobilised into action. Many were stationed in large camps all over europe. Boxers from Canada to Australia fought in Army & Navy Boxing Championships designed to keep morale high and give the soldiers something to look forward to. In 1917, the troops stationed at the North Camp in Seaford were treated to a unique sporting afternoon when three world champions gathered to fight. Seaford saw two huge military camps built in 1914 and troops from far and wide were stationed here. The boxing arena officially had a capacity of 6000 but many more managed to catch a view of the event.

World War 2 also saw a lot of young men mobilised from all over the world. By this time boxing had become one of the most popular sports, especially in places like America. Troops regularly held boxing contests whilst in camp.

Famous Boxers Who Served In The Military

Gene Tunney was a legendary heavyweight whose alias was ‘The Fighting Marine’. The United States entered WW1 in 1917 and Tunney enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on May 2, 1918, 23 days before his 21st birthday. He never saw action during his tenure but he continued to box whilst he was stationed in France. Tunney was a highly intelligent and versatile fighter with a flawless technique. His most famous victories came against Jack Dempsey who he defeated twice in front of record breaking crowd numbers.

Joe Louis is regarded as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, he fought 69 fights, winning 66 of them and losing 3 with a KO percentage of 75%. His record of 140 consecutive months as the world heavyweight champion included 26 championship fights, a record second only to Julio Cesar Chaves with 27. His first loss had come on June 19, 1936 to former heavyweight champion Max Schmeling of Germany. Schmeling was hailed as an example of Aryan supremacy by Adolph Hitler, when the rematch came around 2 years later on June 22, 1938 there was a lot of tension and expectation around the fight. Louis obliterated his opponent in the first round forever endearing himself to the American public. January 10th, 1942, Joe Louis volunteered to enlist as a private in the United States Army at Camp Upton, Long Island. Realizing Louis's potential for raising esprit de corps among the troops, the Army placed him in its Special Services Division rather than sending him into combat. The likeable heavyweight travelled far and wide putting on boxing exhibitions and driving recruitment initiatives encouraging African-American men to enlist in the Armed Services. Louis was eventually promoted to the rank of technical sergeant on April 9, 1945. On September 23 of the same year, he was awarded the Legion of Merit (a military decoration rarely awarded to enlisted soldiers) for "incalculable contribution to the general morale”. Receipt of the honor qualified him for immediate release from military service on October 1, 1945.

Thomas 'Sailor Tom' Sharkey was born January 1, 1871 and ran away from home to become a seaman. He landed in New York City in 1892 and joined the U.S Navy. His story is both unique and fascinating. Despite being relatively short he had extraordinarily broad shoulders and was a stocky bulldog of a man. He had a fearless style being unafraid to take a hit in order to dish one out. A heavy hitter by nature he would come forward and put pressure on his opponent, he drawed large crowds with his exciting come forward style. You only need to look at his picture to see that he was one hard man.


If you would like to leave a comment please Login or Register.