Farewell to a fairground legend as boxing boss is counted out

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The Independent Online

For 145 years, the canvas floor of the Excelsior boxing tent has been graced by prizefighters, including Muhammad Ali, and the blood, sweat and tears of fairgoers who wrongly fancied their chances against a trained pugilist.

Yesterday, it was announced that the last fairground boxing ring in the UK, where two of Britain's greatest heavyweights once pounded hapless victims, has lost its owner and chief showman for the last seven decades.

Ron Taylor, the sixth generation of his family to run the booth, only gave up running the attraction at fairgrounds across the country in 2002, despite have reached his 91st birthday at the time. His family said he had died last week at the age of 95 at a nursing home in his native Gloucester, where he lived in the city's Showman's Quarter beside the river Severn.

His son-in-law, Steve Haines, said: "He loved the limelight and never wanted to give it up. This is the end of an era."

The former Army boxing champion's name had been synonymous with the Excelsior and its tradition of relieving young bloods of their money, in return for a flurry of punches, since he took over its management from his father in 1936.

Part of a tradition dating from the 1700s, his family had started fairground bare-knuckle fighting in Wales in 1861 and only began making competitors wear gloves when they were made compulsory in the 1930s. At the peak of their popularity, there were about 100 fairground boxing booths in Britain, pitching all-comers against a professional boxer.

In an interview, Mr Taylor said: "The boxing booth is good training for a boxer because he never knows what kind of opponent he will get and it keeps him alert."

Those who could last three rounds against the champion would win a cash prize. Few managed to stay on their feet long enough to claim the cash. But as the popularity of boxing as a school sport dwindled, the fairground rings fell in the post-war period until the Excelsior was the sole survivor of 150 years of carnival pugilism.

Mr Taylor, who recruited his champions in each of the towns or cities where his booth was set down, benefited from his attraction's unique status when it was graced by some of the greats of the professional ring.

Among those who boxed in the tent were Randolph "Randy" Turpin, who was considered Europe's best middleweight for much of the Forties and Fifties, and Tommy Farr, the Welsh heavyweight who lost a championship bout on points against Joe Louis when the American was at the height of his powers.

But it was Ali who had the most enduring relationship with Mr Taylor after the American gave an exhibition performance at the Excelsior in March 1964 and became a family friend. Ali got on so well with the showman that he invited him to his marriage blessing.

Mr Taylor has left the ring, which is currently being run and managed by Mr Haines, to his two teenage grandchildren.