A quintessential rags to riches story; one of five siblings raised by a single mother fighting his way out of poverty to become the best middleweight on the planet. But the fame and fortune he once craved would prove to be his ultimate downfall.
Randolph Adolphus Turpin was born to a black Guyanan father and a white mother in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on 7th June 1928. His father passed away just before his first birthday as a result of injuries sustained during the war, forcing his mother Beatrice to care for her five children alone. His mixed-race heritage marked him apart from other children and he was the subject of racial abuse throughout his adolescent years.
In an attempt to toughen up his twelve-year-old brother, elder brother Dick dragged him down to the local boxing gym. Little did he know that his younger sibling, despite losing his first bout, would develop into a promising young fighter, winning national and international amateur titles.
After leaving school, he earned his keep by labouring on local building sites before joining the Royal Navy as an assistant cook in 1945. The new role allowed him the freedom to train and compete in amateur contests, whilst also serving his country.
That same year, he was charged for attempting to commit suicide, following an argument with girlfriend Mary Stack but after investigation, the incident was deemed accidental. He and Mary would marry in 1947 but later divorced after claims of domestic violence, which Randy profusely denied. They had a son together named Randolph Turpin Jr, whom Randy Sr. never formed a relationship with.
The Paid Ranks
In 1946, Randy turned professional at the age of eighteen – knocking out Gordon Griffiths in his first contest. He would go onto to win all but two of his next twenty-one fights, whilst earning honest amounts of money to alleviate his family’s financial struggles.
As his pursuit of the British middleweight title intensified in 1948, his older brother Dick was stealing the headlines, becoming the first non-white British champion. The following year, Dick would lose his British and Commonwealth titles to Albert Finch and the mantel was handed to his younger brother. In October 1950, Randy avenged his brother’s defeat, easily dispatching Finch inside five rounds.
His name hit the sporting headlines again just four months later, as he wiped out European Champion, Luc Van Dem, in just forty-eight seconds. This victory elevated Randy to world level contention and garnered the attention of promoters stateside.
They soon came knocking with the opportunity of a lifetime; the chance to fight pound-for-pound middleweight king, Sugar Ray Robinson. The American was the middleweight champion of the world, with just one loss in 132 fights and is widely considered as the greatest fighter to ever lace a pair of gloves. Embarking on the British leg of his European tour, after winning fights in Paris, Zurich, Antwerp, Liege, Berlin and Turin, London was the next stop.
On the night of the fight, the champion would arrive at Earls Court in a pink Cadillac, accompanied by his barber and corner team. In stark contrast, Turpin, along with his manager George Middleton and his two brothers, would take the tube to the venue.
Sugar Ray entered the ring full of confidence and expected a routine victory in what some were labelling an exhibition bout. However, the “Leamington Licker” spoiled the welcoming party and stole the title from the great Robinson with a historic fifteen-round decision victory.
That night, Turpin was simply relentless in his pursuit to dethrone Robinson. With each round that passed, the chants of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” grew louder and the home crowd were willing their man to victory. The 18,000 in attendance shared their delight when Randy’s hand was raised alongside the announcement “and the new middleweight champion of the world.” To this very day, his win against Robinson is celebrated as British boxing’s most shocking and remarkable victory.
Repeat or Revenge
His triumph transformed
Turpin from zero to hero and his popularity soared. Robinson, bitter from
defeat, was keen to make that fame short-lived and the rematch was set two
months later. The fight was staged at the famous Polo Grounds in New York, a
daunting experience for someone who had never previously fought overseas.
The Englishman knew that cementing his superiority over Robinson would elevate him to superstar status, bringing life-changing rewards. He would be facing a different animal entirely this time around, though, as Robinson was smarting from the loss and gunning for redemption.
This time Robinson was prepared for the swarming style of Turpin but the match was still competitive for nine rounds, with Robinson slightly ahead on the scorecards heading into the tenth. Before the pair left their stools for the start of the round, the referee warned Sugar Ray that he intended to halt proceedings at the end of the round, due to the severity of the cut above his eye.
Staring down the barrel of impending defeat, Robinson met Turpin in the centre of the ring and unloaded, forcing Turpin to retreat and cover-up. The challenger pounded away at the head and body of Turpin, who was relying on the ropes to keep him upright. To the delight of 61,000 partisan spectators, the referee rescued Turpin from any further punishment.
After a short break from the squared circle, he returned to the ring with two routine victories, before challenging Don Cockell for the Commonwealth and British light-heavyweight belts.
After dropping Cockell (a man who would later challenge Rocky Marciano for the heavyweight champion, multiple times) the fight was stopped in the eleventh round and Turpin was champion once again. His belt-collecting mission continued with a points decision over Commonwealth middleweight champion, George Angelo. This was followed by a victory over Charles Humez, adding the European middleweight crown for a second time, and setting up a fight with Carl “Bobo” Olson at Madison Square Garden, for the world middleweight championship.
Turpin was a far superior boxer to Olson, but his personal life was beginning to become a major hindrance to his career. Among the distractions was Adele Daniels – a woman with whom he’d developed a romance during his first U.S. excursion in 1951. Having supposedly promised that he would bring his new love back to England, the pair had lost contact upon his return – but resumed the affair during the Olson preparations. The diversions took their toll and Randy would be dropped twice by Olson before losing decisively on points.
Following the loss, Daniels accused Randy of beating and sexually assaulting her. The charges were dropped after a settlement was reached during the trial. Turpin firmly denied any wrongdoing and claimed that Adele was bitter after he never fulfilled the promise of bringing her to Britain. This incident led to a major dispute between Randy and his older brother Dick, who had warned Adele that Randy’s first marriage had ended because of his violent outbursts.
The Beginning of the End
The punishment absorbed in the Olson fight had a profound effect on Randy and he would never reach the heights he had once attained. With the problems in his personal life occupying the headlines, his training took a backseat and meant he could no longer safely boil down to the middleweight limit.
His final contest at middleweight would see him lose to Tiberio Mitri for the European title in 1954, before moving up to up to light heavyweight, where he no longer possessed the physical advantages of size and power against bigger, stronger men.
His capabilities had diminished considerably and the possibility of competing for another world championship at his new weight was out of the question. However, Randy still had enough left in the tank to dominate domestically, beating Alex Burton in 1955 to claim the British and Commonwealth light heavyweight straps. Later that same year, he was brutally beaten and knocked out by the Canadian Gordon Wallace, sending him into a brief retirement.
He would return in 1956 and reclaim the British title from the aforementioned Burton, but any opportunities to box at a higher level were blocked by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC), who feared the cumulative effect on his physical and mental health. He was badly knocked out by Yolande Pompey in his final licensed outing in 1958.
Post-retirement, Turpin became incredibly generous with his money but was selectively forgetful when it came to tax payments. His financial troubles resulted in bankruptcy in 1962.
In an effort to keep the wolves from the door, he took part in two unlicensed bouts a few years later. He knocked out both opponents and earned enough cash to purchase a small café in Leamington, serving breakfast and lunch to lorry and transport drivers.
Struggling to sustain the business, he worked part-time at a scrap-yard, whilst also taking part in various wrestling tours. With bankruptcy looming for a second time, Randy retired from wrestling and the café became his only source of income.
A Sad Ending
On 17th May 1966, Turpin was found dead in an upstairs room of his café, along with a suicide note pinned to the door. Randy took his own life using a .22 calibre revolver, with bullet wounds found in his heart and his head. His daughter Carmen, just seventeen months-old at the time, was also rushed to hospital with two bullet wounds. It is believed a disturbed Turpin attempted to take his daughter’s life as well as his own. She fortunately survived and made a full recovery.
His family refused to believe Randy had taken his own life, partly due to a type-written letter from 1964, stating that several attempts had been made on his life. Randy suggested that famous fight promoter Jack Solomons was responsible for the previous attacks against him. An inquest was held to determine the cause of death and the court ruled that it was the result of suicide.
As with many gifted sportsmen of the time, he found it hard to adjust once the spotlight had dimmed. Success had been made possible by incredible ability – but once the ability started to decline, the fame and adulation receded, quickly followed by financial decline. Mediocrity is hard to embrace having experienced the triumph and acclaim that Randy Turpin had achieved. His story will be remembered as one of modest beginnings, a meteoric rise – but most of all a tragic ending.