1920s: Battling Siki, guilty of defeating Carpentier

Every Saturday with RetroNews, the press site of the BNF, back on a history of sport as told the French press at the time. Today, Battling Siki, the man who beat Carpentier. And paid dearly.

So much condescension, heaviness, prejudice, in short racism in so few lines, from the title to the last sentence of this article ... But we are in 1920 and the Press of 19 March echoes the emergence of Battling Siki, a young Senegalese boxer (so French, born in Saint-Louis): "He fears neither the blues nor the blacks, and the future opens to him in the most pink colors."

The idea of ​​a fight of the French century, against Georges Carpentier, the superstar of the rings, world title of the light heavy at stake, comes quickly to the minds of the promoters, who sniff the mirificent affair. In Car of November 25, 1921, François Descamps, manager of Carpentier, poses its conditions: "Carpentier wants to prove that he is still" the best man in the world to his weight "but for this, writes his manager François Descamps, it is necessary: ​​1 ° that the organizers confirm the offer announced by the Auto [le journal écrivait la veille que des promoteurs voulaient monter le combat en accordant 36% des recettes à Carpentier, ndlr] ; 2 ° That the F.F.B. [Fédération française de boxe] received the regular challenge of Battling Siki; 3 ° That the date be chosen in the course of February [1922]. "

The fight will not take place on the scheduled date. The Press explains in his edition of December 14, 1921: the manager of Siki "Recognizes that his black colt is not yet able to resist our champion."

Finally, the game that everyone is waiting for will take place on September 24, 1922. The newspaper Two days before, it is expected that it will compete for "closed offices" (nowadays it is sold out) at the Buffalo velodrome stadium in Paris, which can accommodate 60,000 people. The newspaper anticipates the moment when the two men will enter the ring and imagine "This multicolored crowd, stormy, noisy, which, suddenly, will gather in an immobility and an extraordinary silence".

In Excelsior of September 25, we can read the minutes of the meeting: "The two men, in battle dress, shake hands. One is fine and pink with a thin tricolor ribbon at the waist. The other, a black pulling on the putty looks with his yellow fists to an elegant bush who, for lack of a shirt and a jacket, would have put gloves to go to the tam-tam. A gong. The Negro does not dance, as I expected, flexible in the manner of Africans who are the first dancers in the world. He bends down, he protects his head with his fists, he seems to fear a formidable avalanche of blows. The white man seems to be having fun. He does not press, he sketches burlesque shots. The audience laughs and murmurs. It's not serious, it's not worth the money. " An exceptional match, inevitably singular scenario. In the sixth round, Carpentier collapses, expanded for the account. Victim of a punch or a croup-en-leg of his opponent? At first, the referee disqualified Battling Siki. In front of the bronca of the crowd, the judges reverse the decision.

The diary also summarizes the match in pictures on an entire page.

Was the France of the 1920s ready to see a "Negro" unbolt the national icon. Could Battling Siki deviate from the path of the "good savage", docile and respectful, that had been traced for him? Could he taste the glory? Probably not. In Gallic November 10, we learn that he is deprived of license for nine months and fallen of his titles. His fault : "During a meeting, he climbed the ring and threatened a manager." Is it really amazing from a man "Who only likes scandal and outrage" ?

The Press November 10 invites Hellers, his manager, to react to the penalty that strikes the boxer. What Carpentier had not succeeded, extend Battling Siki on behalf, Hellers achieves in a few sentences: "I went to such lengths to get Battling to the world championship […]. I tried to instil in him some principles of childish and honest civility, to make him forget his "primitive" state, but unfortunately the natural took over. Nothing to do, ask me to make Siki a boxer, but not a gentleman! "

See also RetroNews Georges Carpentier: beyond the ring

It was said that this fight Carpentier-Siki would be extraordinary in every way. Three months later, we learn from the winner's mouth that he was scheduled to go to bed in the fourth round in exchange for a tidy sum (200,000 francs) paid to his manager, who would have surrendered a few tickets. The match would have been concluded with the Carpentier clan only under this condition. Two days before the fight, Siki tells the story of the horror that tore her into the ring. "On match day, I was very indecisive and almost wanted to play the game that had been agreed between Hellers and Descamps [son manager et celui de Carpentier, ndlr]Tied between his self-esteem and the prospect of easy money, Battling Siki says he has oscillated between submission and revolt in the ring, to the point of being insulted by his manager, alarmed to see his boxer not respect the planned scenario. Finally, he decides to fight: "Before the resumption of the sixth round, Carpentier went to my chair and hit me while I was still sitting. Seeing this, I went crazy and tried to get him down. " In retrospect, one is forced to wonder: did Battling Siki pay a suspension for not having respected the deal between his entourage and that of Carpentier before the fight?

The Siki case becomes a political story. Slate reminds that in the Assembly, the deputy Blaise Diagne, also from Senegal, defends the boxer: "It is for not having obeyed the directives of those who, by organizing rigged spectacles, take his money from the public that this boy who, seized by the feeling of his strength, did not want to spread to the Fourth recovery before Carpentier was sentenced in France to starve. " The federation reinstated Siki, but it is definitely undesirable in France.

Battling Siki, put on the gloves in 1923. That year, he fought four battles in Europe before exiling himself in the United States. Where previously he did not want to go fight, because the Americans "Have a repulsion for the negroes". There, in stakhanovist rings, he played 25 fights between November 1923 and November 1925. He lost his last match in Baltimore and retired with a record of 60 victories, 24 defeats and 4 draws, according to the reference site BoxRec. Even before the official end of his career, Battling Siki is noted for his antics as summarized the small newspaper of August 9th, 1925.

Battling Siki is found dead on December 15, 1925, a month after his last fight, the body lying in a pool of blood in a New York neighborhood called the Kitchens of Hell (unless it's the name of the box before which he died, the newspapers of the time diverge), where he was very well known the morning. He took two revolver bullets in the back. The police think of a premeditated act. "It is supposed that having visited several nightclubs in the district, he got into a quarrel, coming out of one of these slums." The journal thus summarizes its last years: "He went on an adventure to the United States where he won ... and spent a lot of money. Siki long defied the American chronicle by the picturesque he put to heal his publicity.

"Since he was in America, the boxer was leading a depraved life, frequenting the worst clubs, where, with his impossible nature, he had made many enemies," written the small newspaper of 16 December. A few months earlier, Louis Phal, his real name, had been stabbed "In the Kitchen of Hell, where he just died. Subsequently, a deportation order was issued against him, but Battling Siki obtained a stay that allowed him to stay in a city where his fate was to be fulfilled. "

End of the story. French when he won, "Negro" Outside the ring, his country has never forgiven Battling Siki for defeating Carpentier. The kid who plunged into the waters of St. Louis to pull up the coins thrown by the whites, spotted by a Dutch tourist who took him to Europe, was wrong to leave the role of the picturesque African who had been assigned. "He loved white women, white cars, white dogs, jazz and champagne. It was too much insolence and nargue, wrote Eduardo Arroyo about the one the French press nicknamed "the champion". He answered: "Many journalists wrote that I had a style from the jungle, that I was a chimpanzee who had been taught to wear gloves. Such comments hurt me. I have always lived in big cities. I have never seen the jungle. " Battling Siki was buried in a mass grave in New York. In 1993, at the initiative of Jose Sulaimán, president of the World Boxing Council (one of the governing bodies of boxing), his remains were repatriated to Saint-Louis, Senegal.

Gilles Dhers