The Fight That Refused to Stay Fixed
The Strange Tale of Carpentier v Battling Siki
1 September 2016
Every object has a story to tell, from the humblest scrap of refuse to the grandest work of art. Some of these tales are tragic, others uplifting, and some, as you’ll read in this blog, are just plain bizarre.
Tucked among the carefully curated fine art and American, English, European and Asian decorative arts on offer in our September Great Estates Auction is a work of boxing memorabilia commemorating one of the most controversial and storied fights of the sport’s history: the 1922 light-heavyweight bout between Georges Carpentier and Amadou “Battling Siki” Fall.
The match-up between Carpentier and Siki was a matter of great theatricality and public interest. Carpentier was looking to secure the light-heavyweight title, having lost the world heavyweight championship to Jack Dempsey the previous year. Siki, as would later come to light, was just looking for an easy payday.
In the run up to the fight, newspapers confidently predicted that Carpentier would make quick work of Siki, likely knocking him out by the sixth round. If Carpentier’s handlers had their say, that is exactly what would have happened. They approached Siki prior to the match and offered him a bribe if he agreed to throw the fight in the sixth round. Siki accepted on the condition that Carpentier pull his punches. As the fight unfolded it became clear that Carpentier had not received the message.
Siki kept up the ruse for two and half rounds, overreacting to Carpentier’s grazing blows and throwing wild, showy punches of his own. In the middle of the third round, however, Carpentier landed a staggering blow against Siki. Siki became outraged by his opponent’s unwillingness to ‘play along’ and began hitting back at Carpentier with a series of punishing strikes.
Near the end of the fifth round, the strange theater of the bout reached crescendo. Siki knocked Carpentier to the ground and, in a move that would seem exceedingly sportsman-like in other circumstances, bent down to help his opponent to his feet. Carpentier saw the act of kindness as an opening, and threw a wide left hook through Siki’s lowered defenses, tagging him squarely on the head as the round ended.
The moment the bell signaling the start of the sixth round rang out, Siki charged out of his corner, showering Carpentier with flurry of punches before spinning the staggered fighter around to deliver an illegal knee-strike to his mid-section. The blow dropped Carpentier to the canvas for the final time. Splayed awkwardly along the edge of the ring, one leg tangled in the ropes, Carpentier made no effort to get back up.
The referee, having seen the illegal knee-strike, moved to have Siki disqualified. The crowd went crazy, screaming insults and threats at the referee and demanding that Siki be awarded the win. The fight’s judges convened amid the growing din of the crowd and after an hour of deliberation ruled in Siki’s favor, awarding him the light-heavyweight championship.
Lot 2120 immortalizes this highly unusual prize fight, with both opponents and referee rendered in bronze on a dark stained wooden base. Both fighters stand at the ready with the referee’s hand outstretched between them, seeming to signal the start of the match that would go down in history as “the fight that refused to stay fixed.”