“The Battling Bartender”
Born: March 22, 1915
Died: May 14, 1972
Newspaper Decision Wins: 4
Newspapers Decision Losses: 4
Newspaper Decision Draws: 3
There have been a great many sluggers in Minnesota’s rich boxing history. Men who always had a chance until the very last second because of the power in their fists; men such as: Pat Killen, Charley Kemmick, Fred Fulton, Duane Bobick, and in more modern times, Jason Litzau. But there is a fighter from the small farming town of Canby in southwestern Minnesota whose resume tops them all when it comes to the topic of knockouts. For Lee Hulver Savold was not only a two-fisted dynamo, but also a smooth boxing Heavyweight that could feint you out of your shoes while setting you up for his fatal blow. And when you have fighter that can both box and punch; well now…you have yourself a very dangerous person. Lee Savold was just such a fighter.
While in his late teens, he left home for the Twin Cities where he managed to find Mike Gibbon’s Gym in downtown St. Paul, and it was there that he met one of the old masters of the prize ring in Jock Malone, who would end up being one of Lee’s many managers. Malone thought the world of young Lee, so much so, that he often put Lee in over his head instead of taking the time to fully develop the talent that Lee had. As a result, Lee took losses in many of his early fights that were simply a matter of a lack of experience. Such was the case as when despite having only 7 pro fights to his credit, Savold was told to fight the talented Larry Udell in 1934. Udell make quick work of the young fighter, and left Lee questioning his capabilities. This began a string of losses for the young Canby fighter, and with that came a loss of confidence. But Lee persevered and came back winning several fights in a row and entered 1935 with a record of 12-5-1. He twice beat old antagonist Udell within a months’ time and as well as many others with a few losses here and there. But after losing in San Francisco to Phil Brubaker, in 1938, Lee’s interest dropped considerably as he needed money to support his family, so he moved back home to St. Paul and bartended for a living. Lee was lured back into the ring to make extra money in July of 1939 with Andy Miller. Terribly out of shape, Lee dropped the decision down in Iowa.
Lee needed someone who could teach him while he developed. That man ended up being old-world shark, Pinkie George. George watched this fight and remembered Lee’s talent from his earlier days and offered him a contract, to which Lee accepted and agreed to give boxing one more chance. The new partnership paid off, as George brought Savold around the country and Lee was winning often and earning a Top 10 world ranking. He then met the highly rated Buddy Baer, but dropped a very close decision over 8 rounds, followed by a trip back to Minnesota where he crushed local rivals, Billy Miske Jr. and Arne Andersson; blasting out Miske in 3 rounds and breaking Andersson’s jaw before next facing Billy Conn in New York City. In the end, Lee was no match for the smooth master Conn, but Lee broke Conn’s nose badly in the fight.
By 1942, Savold was now 65-23-1 and still rated among the Top 10 on the planet. That same year, Jim Daly purchased half of Savold’s contract and used his connections on the east coast getting Lee many fights at the Garden, and Lee moved his family to New Jersey. Big wins came over the next few years such as: Lou Nova, Tony Musto, Lem Franklin, Jack Marshall, Nate Bolden, Johnny Kapovich, Joe Baski, and Al Hoosman. 1946 was not as active for Lee, and he lost his top rating mostly on account of inactivity. 1947 was even worse, and when Lee was fighting, he wasn’t training for them and lost matches he shouldn’t have. Lee semi-retired. But when Italian sensation Gino Buonvino came to headline a show at the Garden and his opponent cancelled at the last minute, Daly volunteered Savold. Figuring Savold was a safe bet due to hard luck, poor conditioning, and inactivity, they accepted. Lee took the fight on 48 hours’ notice and stunned the world when belted out Gino in just 54 seconds, a Garden record. Suddenly Savold was hot property again. He won his next few matches by KO and then went to England to fight the European Champion, Bruce Woodcock. Savold dominated him over 4 rounds until a controversial body blow was called a foul, thus costing Savold the match. He stayed in England for a rematch and bludgeoned Woodcock in the rematch. Savold was now the #1 rated Heavyweight in the world, and because the world title was vacant, the Europeans tried claiming Lee and the new Heavyweight Champion as well, though it was a loose claim not accepted in the U.S.
He made the most of his fame and record, and as the world was having a box-off to help determine the world champion, he faced former champ, Joe Louis in June of 51′. Despite his recent success, Lee had not fought in a year going into the fight, as was not a young man anymore at age 36 and with 149 bouts to his credit. He did fight Louis rather than run, and got in some great shots, but in the end, he was KO’d in the 6th. He then was brought in to face up-and-coming Rocky Marciano, and his age betrayed him, as the future champion stopped him in the 6th round. After a 20 year professional career, Minnesota’s all-time record holder for knockouts at 72 KO’s, called it quits. His jab and speed are considered among the best in state history among Heavyweights, and his power was second to none. His likeness may never be seen again among Minnesota big men.