Talk about your posthumous awards. A Maori boxer who passed away 91-years ago has been inducted into the Maori Sports Hall of Fame.
Ngapuhi fighter and all-around athlete Herbert Slade became briefly, but brilliantly, famous in 1883 when he went three rounds with the world heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
As the New Zealand Herald reports, the 19th century Maori boxer was honored on December 3rd as he was inducted intone the Maori Sports Hall of Fame, a move the Herald notes some find controversial as his induction can be viewed as based more on his status as an international celebrity then on his prowess in the ring.
Maori Sports Awards executive director Dick Garrett told the Herald that Slade was honored as the country’s “first widely advertised sports figure and the first non-white to fight for the title.”
Slade, 32 at the time, got pummeled by Sullivan, with an early knock down in round one, followed by four more knockdowns in the second round, which included Slade being slugged in the back as he retreated.
The six-foot tall, 194-pound Slade was finally done in during the third round, being knocked down for a fifth time by Sullivan who is widely credited with being the first athlete to be a national celebrity in America, and, the first to earn over a million dollars.
Garrett told the Herald one of the main reasons Slade was inducted into the Maori Sports Hall of Fame is that he was the man who put “Maori on the world stage.”
At the time of the bout, Slade was called the “South Seas Savage,” as promoters drummed up interest in the fight.
Slade’s road to the August 6 fight is remarkable for the interest Richard K. Fox was able to drum up for the “South Seas Savage”.
Boxing historian Sir Bob Jones told the Herald that Slade doesn’t deserve to be in the same league as inductees such as rugby’s George Nepia or tennis’ Ruia Morrison. “It’s ridiculous, he’s a joke figure. Entertainment in those days was built around hoaxes, the headless woman, mermaids, freak shows. You’d never get away with it now. [Showman] P.T. Barnum was famous for them. He had no record to speak of – the point is he was a big lad and he was a good-looking man.”
Slade was a very good athlete, who excelled at wrestling and was later made into a boxer. He was also something of an adventurer, agreeing to the fight in large part, according to Chris Tobin, who wrote a book on the match, looking at the boxing match as a real adventure he had to take part in.
But Chris Tobin, who wrote a book on the fight, said Slade should be remembered as an adventurer.
“For a certain amount of time he was almost a household name – he was the best known Maori in America,” Tobin told the Herald. “There was novelty in that. He went to visit Washington DC and met politicians. When he first hit New York there was a huge amount of interest – people waiting at the train station to catch a glimpse of him. He went to Wall Street – they all rushed to see this guy. It faded away pretty quickly, but I think he was one of the biggest sports personalities in America at the time.”