Playin’ It Soaked to the Bone: Carruthers vs. Songkitrat 1954 #SMH
By Aaron Lloyd
While the sport of boxing has produced its fair share of controversial and noteworthy moments in its illustrious and remarkable history, there are a handful of events that stand out as being truly beyond belief. In fact, those with even the slightest familiarity with the sport know enough to always expect the unexpected, and occasionally anticipate the truly bizarre. Parachuting party crashers, dismembered ears, nervous breakdowns, we have seen it all in the oft squared circle of “distrust,” and you can rest assured that, going forward, the future of boxing will contain no shortage of abnormal anecdotes.
One unusual event of note, and the feature of this segment, was the circumstances surrounding the bantamweight championship between Australia’s Jimmy Carruthers and Thailand’s Chamroen Songkitrat in 1954, which truly gave new meaning to the phrase, “the show must go on.” Carruthers, recently crowned as champ, agreed to travel to his challenger’s backyard in Bangkok, and the anticipation of a major world title bout, drove locals and “not-so locals” into a frenzy as they clamored to obtain tickets and accommodations. Tens of thousands poured into the city by bus, bike, and any other mode of transportation conceivable. Unfortunately, along with this human convergence came another, more unwelcomed guest that proceeded to disrupt the preparations to an alarming degree; rain-and lots of it. It rained monsoonal quantities over the National Stadium Gymnasium (a 60,000 seat open air venue) for a solid week, turning the area into a sloppy, soggy nightmare, and putting local organizers on the spot regarding a potential cancellation; and as the event drew closer, there appeared to be no end in sight.
On May 2, the day of the fight, the event planners, out of fear of large scale rioting, had no choice but to go through with the fight, despite the unsavory and potentially dangerous conditions. Nat Fleisher, Ring Magazine head and boxing historian noted, “The ring looked like a lake, with more than an inch of water covering the entire canvas,” and many agreed it was indeed one of the strangest environments for a major world title fight in boxing’s modern era.
As you can imagine, the fight was an absolute slapstick affair with both fighters swinging wildly, sloshing around, and falling time and time again onto the canvas due to the lack of footing. At one point, Carruthers missed with a right hand, and actually cut his mouth as he fell. So frustrated was Carruthers that he suggested they remove their shoes and fight barefoot in order to gain some semblance of traction; and that’s when things truly got bizarre.
In addition to the rain there was also a great deal of wind circling the arena that did more than just cause a chill. In rounds three and nine, the wind blew so hard that the riggings holding the lights broke loose, causing glass to come crashing down onto the already treacherous ring surface. Twice, the bout was halted so that shards of broken glass could be swept away, and yet the fighting continued. As if the potential hazard of another man wanting to take your head off weren’t enough, now both fighters were forced to endure lacerations on their feet from the residual glass left on the canvas.
The two continued to fight on unabated however, and after twelve rounds of brutal action, Jimmy Carruthers was declared the winner, thus retaining his title by way of the referee’s 7-5 score. Upon hearing the verdict the crowd immediately began to protest, and voice their violent-fused disapproval, forcing Songkitrat to take the microphone in an attempt to quell the uprising that was developing. Songkitrat praised his opponent, and succeed in preventing a full scale riot, thus bringing an end to one of the most bizarre, and hard to believe moments in modern ring history.
With the win, Jimmy Carruthers improved to 19-0 with 11 knockouts, and after the bout he immediately announced his retirement from the ring. More than seven years later he would attempt a comeback, but after losing four of six fights, he would officially call it quits in June of 1962, finishing with an overall record of 21-4 with 13 knockouts. For Singkitrat, who had a much more extensive Muay Thai background, he would fight just four more times (losing three) finishing with a record of 7-5-1 with 2 knockouts. In terms of boxing history, however, these two warriors will forever be remembered for their barefoot, rain soaked battle (the only one of its kind in the gloved era), that could have well been the first fight to have ever been stopped due to a cut on a fighter’s foot. Talk about occupational hazards. Think about that the next time your own working conditions start to get you down.