Louis Sterling Lawrence
Born: June, 1927 (Fredericton, N.B.)
Died: October 18, 2013 (Surrey, B.C.)
Fredericton Wall of Fame (2002)
Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame (1988)
Lou Lawrence withstood a ferocious opening salvo from his opponent before prevailing in a 12-round, split decision to claim Canada’s middleweight boxing championship in 1955.
After winning the title, the fighter never boxed again. He relinquished the title through inactivity after two years.
The right-handed fighter, who liked to do battle from a deep crouch, had a solid record in his five-year professional career. He won 20 fights, lost two, and had four draws. Half his victories came through knockouts. The only time he was knocked out came at the hands of Quebec boxer Burke Emery two months before winning the title.
Louis Sterling Lawrence was born in Fredericton, N.B., to Emma Augusta and Woodford Smith Lawrence. (As a youth in 1904, Woodford was riding his bicycle when struck down by a one-horse carriage, causing his head to be split open. “There is small hope of his recovery,” the Saint John Daily Sun reported.) His father, who had trained as a mason, worked for the city.
The Lawrences were a large family with 10 children, including two sets of twins, Grace and Greta, and Louis and Lloyd.
After the Second World War, Louis and Lloyd learned to box at a club operated by an RCMP officer. The brothers often sparred and sometimes competed in amateur bouts. Lloyd moved to Toronto, while Lou wound up in Vancouver, where he won a city title and competed in the regional Pacific Northwest Golden Gloves tournament.
Lawrence turned pro in 1950 under manager Leo Riordan. He was undefeated after his first 11 bouts (10-0-1) when he lost a four-rounder on points to Eddie Kahut at Portland, Ore., his first fight away from a home crowd. In a rematch, Lawrence delivered a second-round knockout in Vancouver. Their third fight ended in a draw.
On Nov. 7, 1952, Lawrence defeated hometown favourite Irish Jimmy Nolan in Calgary by split decision to claim the Western Canadian middleweight crown. He knocked Nolan down in the second round, but won the title by a narrow margin, as two judges had the fight even while the third gave Lawrence the nod.
The two men fought a rematch the following month with the Calgary Herald describing Lawrence as a “coast smoothie” and “one of the most promising fighters to come out of Vancouver in some time.” This time, Lawrence won by unanimous decision.
It was not until the following February that Lawrence’s name appeared as the attraction in the main event of a boxing card in his adopted home town. He defeated Cisco Saenz, of Phoenix, on a TKO after a doctor refused to allow the American to come out for the 10th round. He had suffered a deep cut over his left eye at the end of the ninth round, the result of either a head butt (his accusation) or a stiff right hand (Lawrence’s alibi).
Jack Richards of the Vancouver Sun reported the crowd of 1,055 at the Exhibition Gardens hooted throughout the bout, some even leaving before the end.
“Lawrence proved an honest and earnest workman at his pro boxing trade but singularly unspectacular,” he wrote. “He has come a long way since his prelim days but has a long way to go. And he is a plodder — strictly.”
Lawrence returned to Calgary, where the crowds were larger, for several fights in 1953. He fought Harry (Kid) Poulton twice, once to a draw and the other time recording a split decision. The latter included so much clinching as to draw boos from the paying customers.
In May, 1953, Lawrence successfully defended his Western Canada crown against Bill Brenner, also of Vancouver. He again won by unanimous decision.
In 1955, the Canadian middleweight title was declared vacant after Charlie Chase of Montreal, a former Olympian, forfeited the title by refusing to fight his official challenger. (Chase was otherwise engaged, as he faced criminal charges stemming from incidents when goons from the West End Gang trashed several cafes and night clubs as part of a turf war, according to the book, “Montreal’s Irish Mafia.”) With other notable contenders, including Yvon Durelle, the Fighting Fisherman of New Brunswick, having moved up in weight, the division was wide open.
Lawrence returned to his birthplace for a Sept. 30 showdown against Cobey McCluskey of Dartmouth, N.S. While McCluskey rang several shots off the body and head of Lawrence, they seemed to have little ill effect after the first part of the opening stanza.
“There was little to choose between the two battlers in the early rounds,” the Canadian Press reported. “But, as the bout went on, Lawrence began to press, finally showing the edge.
“Lawrence and McCluskey appeared tired as the bout was drawing to an end. Both, however, were trying for a knockout in the final round and the bell signalling the end of the fight found them slugging it out toe to toe.”
Lawrence’s arm was raised on a split decision recorded by the narrowest of margins. One judge had scored the bout 7 rounds to 5 for Lawrence, another had it 8-4 for McCluskey, while the referee had it 6-6 with Lawrence getting the win and the crown by points, 67 to 65.
The Canadian Boxing and Wrestling Federation declared the title vacant again in the spring of 1958 after Lawrence had failed to defend it. The Vancouver fighter had retired from the ring.
(Meanwhile, his twin brother, Lloyd, lost the Canadian amateur middleweight title in a controversial 1953 decision in Montreal. Paul Chyzy of Winnipeg seemed beaten in the fight only to be awarded the victory, which was greeted by a concert of boos, according to a press report. “Lawrence got his powerful right going in the second round and kept it working with an occasional left hook in the third,” the Toronto Star reported, “when Chyzy obviously was tiring and was bleeding slightly from the nose and a small cut over his eye at the end.”)
After leaving the ring, Lawrence worked on Canadian Pacific Railways as a porter. After railroad jobs were desegregated in 1964, he also worked as a dining-car waiter and conductor for CP Rail and VIA Rail. He was elected a secretary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada, the first union organized by and representing black Canadians. He retired after 38 years working the rails, after which he served as social chairman of the pensioners association for former Via Rail Canada workers.
Lawrence was predeceased by his wife, Edna Lillian, and by two brothers and three sisters. He leaves a son, three daughters, eight grandchildren, four great grandchildren, two sisters and two brothers, including his twin, Lloyd.