Mike Shallow: Newfoundland’s Forgotten Heavyweight Champion
In Newfoundland’s sporting folklore much of what we know is not actually known. A lot of the information we have is based on rumour and storytelling and of course, loosely kept statistics. This keeps the legends and myths of our past alive and ensures they have a level of mystery to them, which in turn makes them somewhat larger than life.
Boxing’s heavyweight division is where the larger than life stories and people live. Big men with big punches and big personalities to match, some of the most celebrated figures in sports history were heavyweight boxers. Names like Tyson, Lewis, Frazier, Foreman, and Ali account for some of the twentieth century’s most compelling moments, often capturing the imagination of more than just fight fans.
However, some names are mostly lost to history. They exist as obscure trivia, unknown to most of the world. The name Mike Shallow may not immediately jog some forgotten memory, but he was at one time the premiere heavyweight in the British Empire, capturing the title sometime around 1904 or 1905. The dates cannot be specific, because the accounts are sparse and uncollected at present.
Shallow was born in Fermeuse either in 1874 or 1875 depending on who you ask, it is hard to nail down exactly when, and shipped out for Boston in his young twenties looking for work. This mirrors a similar journey, the one taken by fellow Atlantic Canadian and folkloric hero himself, Sam Langford. While Langford made his name in Boston as a boxer everyone was afraid of, Shallow came home to make his name. Living likely in St. John’s at the time, Shallow was known as the classic take all comers kind of fighter. It is said that he would await ships to dock, hoping a willing boxer would be aboard. If there was, Shallow would invite him to the old Prince of Whales Arena, where the hometown kid would whip his man in front of the home crowd.
It was in 1904, when Shallow would go touring in England, that he began to garner international acclaim. It is reported that thousands of spectators would turn up for his fights, and The Evening Telegram touted him as the “Champion of England.” At this time, boxing was not under the control of the litany of sanctioning bodies that steer the sport today and boxers became champions by being the man who beat The Man. For regional championship titles, like that of England, the process was something of a popular vote. While Shallow did not go the UK and beat everyone he faced, he won eleven of his thirteen fights and it appears the newspapermen decided he had conquered the British Isles. From The Evening Telegram circa 1905: “When he [Shallow] was seen a ringing cheer went up and people crowded around him to congratulate him on his success and welcome him home. The champion is in perfect health and in the pink condition and looks the perfect fighter that he is.”
The trouble for Shallow’s legacy begins here. Sadly, the bouts in England and at home went largely unrecorded by major papers and boxing magazines. The International Boxing Union would not be founded until 1911, so there was no central governing body to help with record keeping either. This meant that Shallow would remain a largely unknown figure, despite being – according to Bryan Marsh – as talented as world champions like Jack Johnson and Jim Corbett.
Boxrec.com, an online forum dedicated to historical record keeping and present-day rankings of boxers, has only six recorded bouts for Shallow. We know from newspaper reports that he fought regularly in St. John’s, and almost certainly fought in Boston before that. According to British papers, he was declared British heavyweight champion after knocking out Jack Scales sometime in 1904 or 1905 and would spend the rest of his career campaigning in Britain until 1910 when he retired to become a pipefitter in Grand Falls.
He did not leave sports behind, however. Shallow would become a vital member of the sporting community, known for organizing boxing and wrestling events, umpiring baseball games, and working with amateur boxers even into his final years of life. Census materials have him listed as a pipefitter as late as 1921, but there are also reports of him being fire chief from 1915 until his death in 1948 at around 74 years old.
Mike Shallow represents one of the most accomplished boxers this province has ever seen. His campaigning in Britain at a time when Prizefighting was just gaining legal acceptance is reminiscent of famous pugilists like Bill Neat, who conquered the sport when it was still illegal. His name exists in that realm of other Newfoundland sports lore – rumour and myth tied together with few facts – where he will remain Newfoundland’s only professional champion.