Danny Mathews’ promotional boxing photo from 1923. (John McNutt collection)

Danny Mathews’ promotional boxing photo from 1923. (John McNutt collection)

BACK WHEN: The story of Battling Danny Mathews

I THINK IT is reasonable to say that many people play sports to have a healthy self-image.

Some simply love the competition.

Others play to improve their health. And some play to find a purpose in life.

One local man had a dream to compete as a professional boxer.

His name was Floyd Daniel Matthews.

Floyd was born in Michigan on April 22, 1902, to Argalus and Alantha Matthews.

When he was 1 year old, his parents moved to Port Angeles.

They first lived in the Mount Angeles Road area. Later they moved to West 16th Street in Port Angeles.

Floyd attended the Lincoln Heights School. He was known by his middle name, Danny.

In 1917, at the age of 15, Danny began his boxing career.

He removed one “t” from his last name and fought under the moniker of Battling Danny Mathews.

In 1920, Danny lived in Port Angeles.

The 1920 census lists his occupation as a driver for a delivery company.

The 1920-21 City Directory lists Danny as a sawyer working at the Puget Sound Mills & Timber Co.

Boxing

He could make a little extra money from boxing, but he needed a regular job to make ends meet.

In the 1920s boxing was an exceptionally popular international sport.

This was well before the era of television.

Boxing events were more of a local social affair with many in attendance, both men and women.

From 1919 until 1926, heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey dominated the sport.

Dempsey and Georges Carpentier fought July 2, 1921, in boxing’s first million-dollar fight.

It is no wonder that men like Danny were drawn to the glamour and money.

Until early 1933 prize-fighting was illegal in Washington. But state law allowed private clubs to have “sparring or fencing for exercise” (boxing) among its members.

That is why most early fights were held at the American Legion, Eagles, Elks and private athletic clubs.

To view a fight you simply obtained a membership card and paid for a seat.

The boxers received their “training expenses.” These events were called “smokers.”

The name might have come from all the dense tobacco smoke swirling around the ring.

Getting beyond the local “smokers” was not easy.

Unlike most sports, boxing was based less on ability and more on who you knew. You needed a promoter to have any chance of making it to the big time events.

Catching a break

Danny’s break came when he caught the attention of Joe Waterman, who was a promoter, manager and matchmaker on the West Coast.

Waterman was in the Navy during World War I.

While in the Navy, he was a matchmaker for bouts between military personnel.

Because his cards were being messed up due to unexpected transfers, he began to develop native Filipino boxers.

After World War I, Waterman left the Navy and returned to the United States, arriving in Tacoma.

During the early 1920s, Waterman would promote in Tacoma and manage boxers.

His most notable boxers were Doc Snell and Bud Ridley.

By 1924, Waterman was the matchmaker for Tacoma’s Kay Street Athletic Club. Danny became part of Joe’s stable of fighters.

Danny’s debut sanctioned fight was Aug. 14, 1923, where he defeated Eddie Lynch.

Back to Port Angeles

Danny returned to Port Angeles for a non-sanctioned fight at the Dream Theater in Port Angeles. He was part of the main event.

Our newspaper announced this as his 20th fight on his 20th birthday.

At this time, Danny’s record was 14 wins, two losses and four draws. If the newspaper is correct, Danny’s 14 wins were by knockout.

Waterman had plenty of fights scheduled for Danny.

A newspaper article stated, “His dad still objects to his fighting — yet just before every fight he whispers to him that he better make a canvas inspector out of his opponent or ‘the old man will lick him when he comes home.’ ”

On Feb. 19, 1925, Danny fought in his last sanctioned fight against Babe Cyclone Folmer.

Danny had fought Folmer twice before, both bouts ending in a draw. But this last one was different.

It was a brutal loss.

The Tacoma News Tribune reported Danny was down five times.

The Seattle Star reported Danny was floored seven times in the first round and again in the fourth round.

It was reported that he was fouled twice while on the floor, but the referee did not call it.

They later learned that the time-keeper was keeping time with an ordinary pocket watch instead of a stopwatch.

Danny’s grit and determination probably cost him his career.

He fought on for three additional rounds in a hopeless effort.

His manager should have thrown in the towel in the first round.

If he would have taken a technical knockout in the first round, he wouldn’t have been hurt so badly.

Instead, he suffered a severe concussion and never fought again.

During his career he had a sanctioned fight record of five wins, five losses and three draws.

After the last fight

Letters Danny wrote expressed his frustration over the Folmer bout and the referee.

He wrote of beginning to train again looking forward to a grudge match with Folmer.

His doctor was prepared to get help from Danny’s parents to intervene if Danny started training for another match.

In the end, Danny realized what another brutal fight would do to him.

Though Danny could no longer fight, he continued to be active in local boxing.

He acted as a matchmaker for some local fights and operated the West End Athletic Club.

After his boxing career he became a driver for the Washington Motor Coach Co., which became the Greyhound Bus Co.

He started on the bus run between Port Angeles and Seattle.

Later he had the route between Seattle and Spokane.

On Sunday, Dec. 16, 1962, Danny became ill while driving his bus a short distance north of Monroe.

He was taken to a local hospital and died Wednesday, Dec. 19, 1962. The cause of death was an apparent heart attack.

There is more to Danny’s story than I can write about here.

I will be giving an expanded presentation at the North Olympic History Center’s History Tales this afternoon.

See you there today at 2:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church.

________

John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and president of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

John’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.

Danny Mathews, right, lived the good life in Tacoma in 1925 with fine clothes and a nice car. (John McNutt collection)

Danny Mathews, right, lived the good life in Tacoma in 1925 with fine clothes and a nice car. (John McNutt collection)

John McNutt collection

John McNutt collection

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