When Jim Driscoll, a desperately impoverished Welsh boy who was born of Irish parents in the Newtown district of Cardiff, lost his father in a railway accident, he was less than a year old. It might have been easy to dismiss his future as dismal and hopeless. But, early in his youth, Driscoll displayed a peerless talent for speed and agility, and a solid left jab to boot. While working as a printer’s devil, he made extra money boxing in carnival booths. Soon, he would take the professional boxing world by storm.
Driscoll won his first 15 bouts as a professional and beat the great George Dixon, the inventor of shadow boxing, three times (twice by decision and once by KO). As his star rose and his fortune grew, he stayed close to his roots – both Welsh and Irish, maintaining his home in Cardiff and donating money and services to his favorite charity, the Nazareth House Orphanage – all his life.
After 7 years boxing in Wales and England, Driscoll finally made the jump to America, besting every fighter he faced and earning the nickname “Peerless Jim” from American reporters. But the “No Decision” rules of his day permitted Featherweight Champion of the World Abe Attell to retain his title if Driscoll didn’t knock him out. Dominating their 10-round fight, Driscoll found his opponent still standing and no world title in his possession.
Although managers, promoters, and fans were all scrambling for a rematch between Driscoll and Attell but it was not to be. Driscoll boarded a ship home to Wales the day after the fight, having promised to appear in an exhibition match to benefit Nazareth House. “I never break a promise” he said. And he didn’t. Today, he is considered one of the greatest fighters never to win a world title.
Never returning to America, Driscoll went on to become the only featherweight to win the Lonsdale Belt. Soon after, he served in World War I. Attempting a post-war return to the ring, his health stood in the way and he lost his final fight, due to sheer exhaustion in the later rounds. Frail and tubercular, he contracted pneumonia and died in Cardiff at age 44. To this day, his funeral is remembered as one of the largest in the city’s history.