Thirty-five years ago that name was one of the best known in the heavyweight class of pugilism.
Twenty-five years ago that name resounded throughout the Klondike as men sought a harvest of gold.
Ten years ago that name went on the list of brave men who went forth to crush the German onslaught.
To-day around that name revolves one of the most romantic stories ever written into the life of man. You will find lots of young men who think they had the greatest experience ever accorded man when they donned khaki and marched off to war. You will find many venerable men who gather around them their kith and kin and enthrall them with recitals of their experiences in following the trail of '08. You will find a few men, very few indeed, who can recall when they fought in the ring with bare knuckles and stalked the great John L. Sullivan in an effort to win the coveted championship. But how many men have had all these experiences rolled into their lives? Just one! That one is Frank P. Slavin, of Victoria, British Columbia. Thirty five years ago his name was on the tongue of every one who followed the prize ring. Twenty-five years ago every one in the Klondike knew the old gladiator was there trying to pry the creeks loose from some of their gold. Ten years ago, although 54 years of age, he found a recruiting sergeant willing to sign him on as a buck-private in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He went to France and served in the trenches. The fact that Slavin, when at an age most men look for a quiet life, enlisted for active service, reveals the true fighting spirit of this great slugger, who came within an ace of lifting Sullivan's crown.
It also tends to show the difference between the fighting spirit of the men of that age and of those who were carrying titles and seeking them when the war was on. Most champions and near-champions between 1914-18, if not engaged in dodging drafts, were seeking "bombproof" jobs as physical instructors. The front line had no attraction for them.
To-day Slavin is 64 years of age. He is still as straight as an arrow, but the sickness which he contracted in the trenches has sapped some of his vitality, and he has been awarded a pension by the Dominion Government to the amount of 60 percent. His bushy eyebrows, deep set eyes, and massive jaw, however, suggest the fighting man. His hands, the most remarkable in ring history, are still level at the knuckles and well filled. He did not know what it was to break a bone in his hands. Despite the fact that Slavin fought some of the smartest hitters in the game and slashed through many bare-knuckle engagements, he is unmarked about the face. His nose is well formed, and his ears have no sign of the "cauliflower," so familiar these days. This is only further proof of his splendid defensive skill. Neither his war "affliction" nor the fact that he is not far short of the psalmist's span of life, keeps Slavin idle to-day. He smokes a pipe and likes an easy chair at times, but most of the day is active. He takes a keen interest in politics, and whenever there is a campaign in progress he is busy. Mining also takes much of his time. He reads extensively, and can speak on many subjects authoritatively. Slavin is quite a speaker and has an old ring habit of emphasizing an important point. He cups his left hand and brings his clenched right fist into it with a smack that jars your back teeth. After seeing him drive home a point in this manner it is easy to understand why he was one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Imagination is not necessary to impress one with the fact that Slavin had a wealth of unusual experiences. In this series he tells, for the first time, the outstanding thrills of his life. Here are a few of them:-- Began his career under the Southern Cross and ended it under the arctic sun. Was twice mourned as dead. Once his "dead" body was found "frozen" on the icebergs of Alaska. Fought the last bare-knuckle fight for championship honours. Blazed the trail over the White Pass from Skagway to Lake Bennett. Followed John L. Sullivan 15,000 miles to get a match for the championship and was denied. Came a second time and was refused because he was matched with a negro, Peter Jackson. Fought the inaugural fight at the National Sporting Club, London. Arrested twice for "participating in a prize fight." Enjoyed the greatest weddings known in England, outside of royalty. Has been married for 30 years. Never had a divorce, and is father of four children. Unusual experience for a prizefighter. Fought Martin Costello, first American heavyweight to visit Australia, twice. In second bout he won after a most spectacular chapter of incidents. Was knocked out by Peter Jackson while his head was clear and his legs useless, a 55-year-old bottle of Lord Lonsdale's brandy had a lot to do with it. Met Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and scores of other notables. Had exciting ring engagement with Frank Gotch, world's heavyweight wrestling champion in Dawson, winning on a foul. Fought Maori, champion of New Zealand, and rubbed noses with Maori princes and princesses. Fought in Australia, New Zealand, United States, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Belgium, and Canada. Fought Germans. And so on. It seems impossible that so much could be crowded into one man's life, but it has been done. The story of it all from the lips of this grand old warrior certainly reads stranger than fiction.
Most men, limited though their experiences in the world may have been, usually have regrets. Slavin has only one regret, just one. It is this: "I was born 40 years too soon." Slavin is too old to get his hands on the fortunes that are open for prizefighters to-day. If he had been born 45 years later he would have missed the Klondike and the wild experiences of bare knuckle days, but he would willingly have passed them up to have got in the ring with present-day "heavies." This was Slavin's comment when he read that Jack Dempsey and Harry Wills would fight for a cool million dollars.
Slavin feels that, in his prime, he could have whipped either the champion or his black adversary. And you'll find a lot of people who saw Slavin in his ring togs, ready to back up the old warrior's contention. Jim Corbett, former heavyweight champion, who took the title from Sullivan, has watched all the big men in action for the past 35 years. He comments on Slavin as follows: "Slavin, I think, could have come nearer to defeating Sullivan had they ever met. He was a big, raw-boned fellow, a hard-hitting, two-fisted fighter, could stand a world of punishment and was one of the greatest sluggers I have ever seen in action." All this just scratches the surface of Slavin's life story, so readers can look forward to the most remarkable series that has ever been woven around a fighter of either to-day or yesterday.
The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), March 15, 1926.