Battling Siki lived through enough triumph, tumult and tragedy to fill a mini-series.
Born in French Senegal in 1897 as Louis Mbarick Fall, he immigrated to France in 1912 and took up professional boxing at age 15, changing his name to Battling Siki. With no one to train him, he floundered, winning just eight of his first 16 fights. He joined the French Army, won two medals for bravery, and also learned some boxing technique. Honorably discharged, he returned to the ring and went on a three-year tear, winning 43, losing three with one draw.
In November 1922, he knocked out French national hero Georges Carpentier — the man who had come to America to fight the great Jack Dempsey — and won the light heavyweight crown with a sixth-round knockout in a controversial bout.
The French took Siki to their hearts as he strutted around Paris, leading his Great Danes around Paris and firing a Colt revolver in the air to make them do tricks. Papers all over the world ran pictures of a smiling Siki, attired in tux and top hat, walking his pet lion on a leash down the Champs-Elysses.
Siki made a lot of bad decisions, beginning with defending his title against an Irishman, Mike McTigue, in Dublin, on St. Patrick’s Day. He lost a decision, which most British and French sportswriters thought he won.
What followed was a spiral of dissipation and rapid decline. He was much sought after by American promoters, and there was even rumor of a match with Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight title. It was not to be.
Training himself, or not training at all, Siki won just 11 of 31 fights, and in 1928, after a drunken spree, was found lying on a New York street shot in the back. His killer and the motive were never found.
He was only 28 when he died, so Battling Siki’s career record doesn’t reflect his greatness at his peak.