It really is a crying shame that nobody has taken it upon themselves to make a movie about the simply incredible exploits, in and out of the ring, of Battling Siki. The man born Louis M’Barick Fall absolutely crammed in about as much mesmerising stuff in his short life as could have been dreamt up. Yes, there are plenty of myths surrounding Siki, yet a whole lot of the things that are said to have happened to him, both in the ring and out of it, are 100 percent legit.
Born in 1897 in the port city of Saint-Louis in Senegal, which was then a French colony in west Africa, the young Siki somehow found his way to France. One myth says Siki was brought over to France as a slave, another story says he was brought across by ship, this by a Dutch girl Siki, always a man very fond of the opposite sex, white women mostly, had “got friendly with.”
In any case, by the time he had reached his teen years, Siki was working in a restaurant in Marseilles. Another myth says Siki flattened a “difficult customer” and that his handwork was spotted by a boxing manager who was suitably impressed. Siki was persuaded to move to the Netherlands, where he trained to become a fighter. Already, with him yet to exit his teens, Siki had lived some life. But he had scarcely got going.
The war put Siki’s boxing career on hold, with him being conscripted into the Senegalese Sharpshooters. Siki served with honour, with him being decorated for bravery. After the war had ended, Siki, still only 21 years of age, resumed his career, his record improving to a pretty average-looking 23-9-2 by the end of 1920. In December of the following year, Siki married a Dutch woman and the two bore a son. Siki’s ring career really took off around this time, with Siki not losing a fight from October of 1920 to September of 1922. A physically strong fighter who was also clever, cunning and who packed a punch and could take a punch, Siki was a fighter who could have been a true great.
Siki earned a shot at world light heavyweight champ and darling of all of France, Georges Carpentier. This is where things get extra interesting. As was often the case back in the day, fights could be fixed, or, to put it in more palatable terms, “arranged.” And so it was – so the myth (yes, another one) says with regards to this one. Siki was to take the dive, and he said himself that he had been willing to do it. But then Siki was “double-crossed,” by an all too serious Carpentier who went for the very real finish early, with “The Orchid Man” dropping Siki multiple times and hurting him. Siki had stipulated that, were he to go in the tank, he would not get beaten up into the bargain.
Now, the fight was full-on ferocity. With over 50,000 fans in attendance at Stade Buffalo on September 22, (included in the crowd a young Ernest Hemingway) Siki tore up the script. Angered at the way the defending champ butted him, Siki came out full of rage in the sixth. Decking Carpentier hard, the champ clutching his midsection, Siki’s uppercut had ruined the superstar. The referee cried foul, trying to disqualify the challenger, and the crowd went nuts – in favour of Siki. Overruled by a crowd that could so easily have turned into one of the angriest mobs ever captured on film, the third man, after an hour’s deliberation, raised Siki’s hand. He was the new champion of the world.
At this time, all manner of big fights were offered to the new champion. Despite the vulgar attempts by the press to degrade Siki with racial insults, with Siki being described as the “Jungle Hercules,” the media writing things like, “he fights like a leopard, with great muscles, and perfect white teeth so typical of the negroid,” the new champion was now himself a star. In terms of the crude things written about him (one paper claiming Siki had at one point in time, “been hit in the head with a hammer and he never felt a thing”), Siki responded by stating how he was “a proud Senegalese and I have never seen a jungle.”
With possible fights with Jack Dempsey (who had fought and defeated Carpentier, this in the famed first million-dollar gate), Harry Wills and Harry Greb out there for him, all in America, Siki instead went to Ireland for his maiden title defence. A true celebrity in Paris at this time, Siki was often seen walking his pet lion on a leash near the Champs-Elysees, while Siki, immaculately dressed in the fine suits he bought, was also frequently seen drinking fine champagne in bars. Siki, one of his own quotes said, “trained on cognac,” while his roadwork was “done on the dance floor.”
The fight with Mike McTigue took place in Dublin on Saint Patrick’s Day of 1923. Yet another myth (which may well be true) says the IRA had issued death threats to both champion and challenger, and even had a bomb planted near the arena, the intention being to knock out the power, thus preventing the fight from taking place. But the wrong electricity cable blew up, the fight going ahead. And it was a war. Scheduled for 20 rounds, the Siki-McTigue battle went all the way, with Siki’s granite skull leaving McTigue with a busted thumb.
Plenty of people thought Siki had done enough but the decision went against him. It was the beginning of the end for the 25 year old, with Siki having just over two-and-a-half years to live. Travelling first to Canada to box, not in sanctioned bouts but in exhibitions with the great Jack Johnson, Siki was then permitted to resume his ring career in America. Whilst fighting in the US, Siki had an indifferent record, his drinking having gotten the better of him and his ability to train properly. Siki would often engage in brawls, plenty of them the result of him either being unable or unwilling to pay his bar bill. The most famous, and brutal, fight of this period for Siki was the war he had with Kid Norfolk, in November of 1923.
Past his best already and not in top shape, Siki nevertheless went the distance with Norfolk at Madison Square Garden, the battle voted The Fight of the Year. In defeat, Siki’s popularity only grew. Siki then married a second time and, settling in New York, he fought for low pay cheques, his skills diminishing as fast as he downed drinks (even during the days of prohibition, Siki managed to find himself plenty of liquor).
On the night of December 15, Siki was spotted by a policeman, who instantly observed Siki’s drunkenness. Advised to get himself home, Siki was later shot, twice, by an unknown assailant whose motive was also a mystery. Fighting to the bitter end, Siki, bleeding, with just minutes to live, crawled something like 40 feet before dying on the street. The murder was never solved, yet some claimed Siki was done in for refusing to take a dive in a fight.
Siki was just 28 years old. He really did live the most astonishing and unbelievable life.
Battling Siki – 16 September 1897 to 15 December 1925. Ring record (according to most sources) 61-26-4-3 newspaper decisions, with 31 KO’s.