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Reflections by Sammy Way: Sumter boxers were successful in the ring

By SAMMY WAY
Sumter Item archivist and historian
Posted 8/1/20

Reflections remembers two men who entered the field of pugilism and became highly successful. Bob Montgomery and Buster Newberry, who each won national titles, established Sumter as a boxing center in the Southeast. The author used articles and …

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Reflections by Sammy Way: Sumter boxers were successful in the ring

Posted

Reflections remembers two men who entered the field of pugilism and became highly successful. Bob Montgomery and Buster Newberry, who each won national titles, established Sumter as a boxing center in the Southeast. The author used articles and photos from The Sumter Item archives to complete this research.

Bob Montgomery was born in the Concord section of Sumter County. He was the son of Oscar and Janie Montgomery and had three brothers and five sisters. He received his education from the Congruity school district, where he enjoyed a good reputation and was a popular student. He left Sumter at the age of 18 to go into a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. From the camp, he went to Philadelphia and started his boxing career. It was reported that he sent money to his mother, who still resided in the county, and helped educate his sister.

According to an article published in the Sumter Daily Item in 1943, he landed "in Philadelphia where he entered the field of boxing, experiencing immediate success. He quickly gained recognition and advanced to the top of the lightweight division. He had 97 professional fights, winning 75. He finally won the elusive lightweight title by defeating Beau Jack, another black boxer."

In August 1943, it was reported by Fritzie Zivic, a local boxer, who was defeated by Bob Montgomery in a 10-round decision before 21,452 fans at Shibe Park, that Beau Jack would have a difficult time in his attempt to reclaim the lightweight title in September.

Lightweight Champion Montgomery and former Champion Jack, of New York, each sparred opponents for five rounds at Stillman's gym in preparation for their return 15-round title bout at Madison Square Garden. Montgomery dethroned Jack by winning a 15-round decision in their first meeting May 21, and in a return match, he defeated Jack again and was declared lightweight champion by the New York Athletic Commission.

Among his contemporaries at that time was the well-known heavyweight division champion Joe Louis. After retiring from active fighting, Montgomery became Philadelphia's first Black boxing promoter. In 1984, he was selected to be inducted into the first Sumter Athletic Hall of Fame, sponsored by The Salvation Army Boys Club. He was inducted into International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995. Montgomery was born in 1919 and died in 1998.

Buster Newberry was a Florida native who after coming to Sumter continued a boxing career which saw him rise from obscurity to national recognition. He was one of Sumter's unheralded athletes who achieved local and national notoriety during the 1920s and '30s. According to numerous articles published in the Sumter Daily Item, Newberry's pugilistic abilities made him one of the most respected and innovative fighters of his day.

His cumulative boxing record according to boxrec.com covered only his career as a middleweight. He tallied 44 wins with 14 knockouts, 28 losses and 27 draws. He boxed a total of 509 rounds during his career and had a knockout percentage of 1 for every 17.26 rounds boxed. He enjoyed an extensive career, winning numerous titles while boxing in a number of weight divisions. Newberry eventually became one of the most respected boxing promoters and trainers in the Southeast.

It may be noted that Newberry began his boxing career at an early age in Florida, in the early '20s. He held the junior welterweight title before coming to Sumter. He was described by boxing authorities as "fast, shifty, mobile and clever," seemingly dancing around his competition rather than boxing toe to toe, the common approach of this era. There was little doubt in boxing circles that Newberry would become a full-fledged heavyweight. He was six feet tall, well-built, needing only to fill out some, allowing him to easily make the weight for the heaviest division. Among the most notable victories in his early career was a clear-cut victory over Jack Britton, twice holder of the Welterweight Championship of the World. Newberry won a decision over Britton, winning eight out of 10 rounds in a bout held in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In one of his early bouts after moving to the Sumter community, he was pitted against a local boxer, Vic Moran, in a bout held at Sunset Lake, known as Second Mill, and perhaps one of the most curious boxing events ever witnessed by Sumterites. The fight included a knock-out of both boxers in the third round. "A full count of 10 was toiled off by the referee while the two men were stretched on the floor in neutral corners, both apparently unable to rise." The fight "was a highly contested affair with both fighters suffering numerous injuries."

In March of 1929, Newberry was awarded the Middleweight Championship of North Carolina by the Charlotte Boxing Commission. The Boxing Commission also notified him that he would move to a heavier division and box as a welterweight. His friends in Sumter were pleased with the accomplishment, as they had witnessed him win all of his local bouts by large margins.

Information concerning Newberry's later career was difficult to obtain; however, the Sumter Daily Item archives revealed that after his fighting career, he became a boxing promoter and instructor. Like many athletes of his era, Newberry seemingly disappeared after leaving active competition. He managed to leave an indelible mark on the field of boxing by developing a fast-moving style pre-dating that used by Muhammad Ali. This new style of pugilism "changed the entire landscape of boxing. Newberry must have understood the necessity of conditioning, which allowed him to schedule numerous matches, often two a week. He utilized the skills he had mastered after years in the ring to train young men desiring a career in boxing." This is evident due to the rise of boxing being taught at the YMCA and local high schools. Both fielded boxing teams, with Edmunds High winning the unofficial South Carolina State Championship in 1946.