THE IRON MAN OF MERSEYSIDE
THE IRON MAN OF MERSEYSIDE
One of the best known fighters in the business, who received offers from all over the world to turn professional – including one from Adolf Hitler – was Alex Powell, the old Birkenhead Boxer who, during his years in the ring, earned the title of “Merseyside’s Iron Man”.
Alex took part in no fewer than 371 pro fights and could boast of never having taken the full count. In 1958 he ran a thriving amateur club for youngsters in his hometown of Birkenhead when aged 67 and worked full time. He would each night teach the kids how to box and put them through P.T. and weights lifting exercises.
Alex Powell came up the hard way. When he was 12 years of age he ran his blind fathers coal business, delivering fuel from 7.30 in the morning till 8.30 at night. The night he, aged 12, sneaked away from the coal yard to see a one man circus show at the local cinema (then called picture house) changed the youngsters life completely.
There for his hard earned 2d he had paid to get in he saw a tall man lift a 56lb weight with his teeth. The man claimed to be the only person in the world able to perform the feat. Young Alex decided to learn the trick and the first time he tried it, with a 56lb weight at his fathers coal yard, he nearly broke his jaw. But he was determined to do it and by practising every day he was soon able lift the weight of the ground with his teeth and swing it round and also fling it the full length of the yard. His father’s friends often used to go and watch Alex perform the trick, and the lad then decided to take a bodybuilding course.
Half Day Fight
At 14 years of age he started work at the local shipyard for 4 shillings a week. It was there that he met up with the works bully who used to wait for Alex and trip him up or clip his ear. The day came when Alex could take no more and he challenged the bully to a fight. The scrap started outside the works gate and continued all over the yard whilst the police broke up the crowds who had gathered to watch. They fought nine times, lasting nearly half the day. The fight eventually ended outside the gates after knocking off time, when young Alex, both eyes puffed and bleeding profusely from half a dozen cuts, smashed his bigger opponent to the ground so that he could not get up without assistance. That was the last time Alex was ever bullied.
The following day he was introduced to man whose brother was an amateur boxing champion and was to advise Alex to take up boxing. Alex went along to a local club and immediately became fascinated with the sport. He had his first fight at the age of 14 which he won and received a prize medal. He was to discover later the medal cost 3 pence. That was the end of his amateur career as the club boss Joe Nolan decided Alex was to good for the amateur ranks so young Alex turned pro.
His first paid bout at the age of 15 was against Kid Levine on a programme topped by Freddie Welsh at the old Delphi Theatre in Liverpool. Alex, the bantam, won on points in a 10 round contest and collected a purse of 5 shillings. Purses in those days Alex would recall were between 30s and £2, but he would often agree to fight for a “purse of silver” which would sometimes turn out to be a few shillings.
He was so tough it would take a good man to put him down; even then he would be back up within seconds ready for more. A period of travelling with a boxing booth, which was very common in those days, taking on all comers was to make him one of the toughest scrappers in the punch slinging profession. The came the First World War and Alex, who was already in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, was one of the first to be called up. At a camp in Deal, Dover he was to team up with a heavyweight from his hometown – a guy by the name of Arthur Townley.
The big man had ambitions to make a name for himself as a fighter and asked Alex to teach him the business. As soon as he saw Townley shape up Alex knew he was a good un. A war injury ended Alex Powell’s fighting career – or so people were to think – but he was to prove them all wrong.
In the battle of Gallipoli Powell and Townley both took part in some fierce hand-to-hand fighting and Alex was shot through the head at close range his right eye being cut in two by the bullet. His first thoughts were of his fight career and it was only when the doctors told him that it was certain he would go blind he consented to have the eye out. He arrived home to discover he was a dead man. He went into a barbers shop in Birkenhead to have his beard shaved off when the barber said “Wait a minute, aren’t you Alex Powell the fighter” staring at him closely.”Yeah that’s me,” said Alex. “But your supposed to be dead – killed in the War” said the barber.
Apparently Alex had been reported killed in action.
With only one eye it had been assumed by everyone that Alex had had his last fight and an announcement to this effect was made at the Liverpool Stadium ring when Alex was introduced some weeks later. However telling a guy like Alex Powell he could not fight any more was akin to cutting of a Rifleman’s finger. “I’ll fight again” said Alex “One eye or not, I’ll take on anyone willing to step in with me”
He resumed training running half way round Birkenhead every day for two weeks and returning each day for a hot salt bath and a glass of fresh egg and milk. The boy’s at the club thought he was joking until he floored a few of them to prove he was not in the kidding mood. He went to the Liverpool Promoter Pa Taylor and asked for a fight and was given a 10 rounder. “I’ll prove I’m not finished Mr.Taylor.” said Alex and promptly climbed between the ropes and kayoed his opponent in the first round.
“You were to quick for me, I didn’t get a chance to see you in action.” Said Taylor later. “Then give me another fight.” Said the shrewd Powell. He got it and this time knocked his opponent out in the second round.
Arthur Townley was quite a problem for Powell. Alex was fast enough and tough enough to take most of the Heavyweights punches but training with Alex did not prove a satisfactory set-up for Townley. So Alex took him along to Nolan’s Gym where Townley impressed so much that he was immediately signed up. Townley would often say “Alex me boy, you’ve got a chin like the Rock of Gibraltar” and Alex’s thoughts would go back to childhood days, when he used to pick up weights with his teeth and bend nails in his mouth.
Cock Moffatt was another of the big name fighter Alex handled, Alex remembered how he cured Moffatt of a bad habit he had of turning to look at spectators while he was fighting. One night a friend deliberately drew Moffatt’s attention from outside the ropes, Powell was in like a flash to stick a haymaker onto his jaw. This cured the habit.
His last fight was at the age of 52 when Alex stepped in to fill a vacancy on a Birkenhead Club bill. He won the 10 round decision and then called it a day. He turned down dozens of offers to turn professional fight trainer and one his prize possessions was a letter from Adolf Hitler. Just prior to the war Hitler asked Alex if he was interested in going to Germany to help train German youth. Alex was not. “ I immediately smelled trouble and did not even bother to reply.