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Home Boxing The Brown Symphony in Leather
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The Brown Symphony in Leather

tony-herrera-campbellThe Legacy of Boxer Tony (Herrera) Campbell

A Short Essay by Thomas W. McKay

Tony ‘Herrera’ Campbell was affectionately labeled ‘The Brown Symphony in Leather’ by the New York Times in the 1930’s. He was a virtual virtuoso in the ring and he hit his foes with the low and high notes of his boxing repertoire in and around the squared circle as if in tune to a metronome. The Times sports writer must have been a fan of Mozart as he carefully analyzed Herrera’s classic style of movements that included a fast swarming start to overwhelm an opponent, to a slower pace with emphasis on establishing a confusing game strategy over the long haul of a fight, and then as a seemingly lull set in, unleashing rapid-fire combinations that thundered home on his foes like an earthquake. Or as the writer may have implied, it was ‘Allegro-Dagio-Rondo.’ To be sure, Tony Herrera was one of the top classical boxers in fistic history.  He was an uncrowned champion who was rated in the top-ten featherweights for most of his long career.

Tony fought in the days of official and non-official boxing matches. There is a limited record of his amateur bouts but he was such a savvy learner and winner that he captured the eye of some of the professional managers back east. The Great Depression with all its agony was devastating the country and millions of people, including the Campbell family, were near destitute. The family had settled in El Paso after moving from Ft. Worth, Texas where Tony was born on May 1st, 1908. His Mother was Mexican and his father a Scottish American. His Mother didn’t approve of her son turning professional so some quick skullduggery by Tony and his team led to just using his Mom’s maiden name instead of his last given name. And so it was that the boxer, Tony Campbell, now Tony Herrera, entered the squared circle as a professional for the first time in Omaha, Nebraska on February 27th, 1930. His opponent in his maiden debut was Eddie ‘Kid’ Wagner, a seasoned old ring pro with a record of 49-31-9. Tony was fearless and his skills prevailed as he KO’s the Kid in the 4th round. And his career was off to a winning start.

Two weeks after scoring his maiden win, Tony beat a good Jimmy Reed 37-17-12 in Indianapolis, Indiana in would you believe it, a ten rounder? Three weeks later he was totally dominant in a nice victory over Tommy Grogan 37-16-5 in Omaha before moving back east to trounce Sammy Harris 13-5-2, by a 3rd round KO. Steve Culver and Eddie Elkins succumbed to Tony’s fast-paced attack in April of 1930 at Philadelphia before a trek to Detroit, Michigan on July 7th, 1930 witnessed Tony an underdog to favorite Harry Dublinsky 25 -7.  An eager Tony set about his work with a furious attack and reeled in a proud victory in a grueling ten rounder.

Back in the Meyers Bowl in North Braddock, Pennsylvania a month later, Tony outpointed contender Jackie Pilkington 36-18-10 in ten rounds and only three weeks later, took on the sensational Maxie Strub 58-9-6 in a thundering bout at Erie, Pennsylvania. Both fighters exchanged furious volleys and though the officials voted the match a draw, Tony knew well that with only nine bouts under his belt, he was gaining confidence in his sport; enough confidence that he could step up to even tougher competition where a little more purse money could be had and more money for him and his family. He remembered just how difficult it was just to have shelter and food on the table on a daily basis. His employment was boxing and every step up made for a better balanced diet and a shot at obtaining the American Dream.

Tony traveled to Motor Square Garden in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for his final three bouts of 1930, knocking out Charles Gaston in two before engaging the number one contender for the junior lightweight title, Joe Glick 111-45-18.  Glick was a veteran ring warrior who in April of 1930 had lost a decision to Jack ‘Kid’ Berg for the National Boxing Association’s Light Welterweight title. The fast-paced bloody battle ended in a draw and Tony’s camp was furious about what they conceived of as a very poor and rotten decision. The verbal assault led to a rematch on November 17th 1930 at the Garden and this time Tony turned more slugger then symphony and knocked out Glick in the 7th round.

Ring Magazine took note of Tony’s accomplishments and ranked him in the top ten lightweights. Tony didn’t disappoint, he finished December 1930 with a flourish, destroying Cowboy Eddie Anderson 71-29-2 in the Jersey Garden and on January 31st of 1931 in Madison Square Garden, New York, Tony displayed his magnificent boxing skills to the huge Yankee audience and highly ranked Eddie Dorfman 52-5-9 only to have the scorecards call the bout a draw. He was perturbed but soon mellowed after reading glowing accounts of his performance appearing in the New York Times. So two weeks later at the Garden, Tony outclassed undefeated Solly Schwartz as well as Hector McDonald a month later.

Chicago had a rising superstar in Steve Halaiko 21-3-1 and Tony was challenged to meet the youngster in Chicago Stadium on April 24th 1931. Tony obliged and had to go all out to beat his foe by decision in a very close back-and-forth war that left both boxers completely spent. And Tony hadn’t recovered before his management had signed him to meet Jack ‘Kid’ Berg 88-5-8 back in the Garden on May 8th 1931. And there was ‘Hell to Pay’ as Berg, both a lightweight and welterweight world champion, was coming off of a rare title loss to Tony Canzoneri and seeking revenge for his poor outing. Herrera, already physically battered from his exhausting match with Halaiko, was not the Brown Symphony in Leather’ that night in the Garden and Berg gave him an old fashioned unmerciful whipping.

After his stunning loss to Berg, Tony was again challenged by Cowboy Eddie Anderson. The opening bell was on June 5th 1931 in Millvale, Pennsylvania and Tony was once again in prime condition and out to prove his last fight was a fluke. He did, he easily out-boxed and outdistanced the Cowboy. Unfortunately, a month later he was in the ring with Johnny Jadick 62-12-2 in North Braddock, Pennsylvania and took a tough loss after rallying from behind in the early rounds to take command of the fight only to be dropped at the final bell. Now that loss by decision enraged Tony. He wasn’t the kind to make stupid technical mistakes in the ring. Sure enough, he went back to basics and went on to win 19 of his next 21 fights (a major feat in those glory days of boxing). His victims included Joey Goodman 57-13-7, Young Joe Firpo 37 14-4, Harry Carlton, and on November 30th 1931, he avenged his loss to the extremely talented boxer, Johnny Jadick. That win came when his moral was lifted when he beat former number one featherweight, Babe Herman, in Flint, Michigan in October of that year. Tony also took the measure of Lew Massey 37-12-6 to end the year and kicked off 1932 by defeating Mickey Cohen 55-14-7 twice, once in Kansas City, Missouri and again in Pittsburgh.  He dispatched Ray Collins in two before signing for a rematch with Lew Massey on May 9th, 1931 in Pittsburgh. Massey got the judges nod this time. But time and the need for money were necessities and Tony romped to victories over Eddie Wolfe 36-9-6, Battling Grizzly 65-9-3, Ritchie Mack 19-8-2, Johnny Hayes 48-25-9, and the superb boxer-puncher, Tony Falco 55-7-3 in a fiery duel in Pittsburgh.

1933 rolled around and on January 12th, Tony was sharp in dismantling Wesley Ramey 43-5-3, at Grand Rapids, Michigan before taking on Tony Falco again at the Motor Square Garden in Pittsburgh. Falco was disappointed once again as Tony was as sharp as he had ever been and easily took the unanimous decision. Light welterweight contender, Eddie Wolfe 46-12-8, wanted a piece of Tony but in his weight division. Tony did manage to hit the scales at 140 pounds, only giving away four, and he thrashed Wolfe over ten rounds at the Motor Square Garden on Feb 20th, 1933.

Tony’s grand victory over Wolfe was his 16th win in his last nineteen bouts. And the boxing honcho’s took notice. He was ranked 5th in the world and if he could whip a few more top-flight boxers, it was supposedly in the cards that he would earn a title shot with lightweight champion Barney Ross. Tony was ecstatic and signed to fight the magnificent boxer-slugger, Tracy Cox, who had a near impeccable record of 49-4-1. They met in Pittsburgh on April 28th, 1933. From the opening bell it appeared that the strength and aggressiveness of Cox was too much for Tony to handle. The wicked and relentless pressing attack of Cox and his punching prowess were unsolvable by the little battler and he was knocked to the canvas twice in the early going.  Somehow, someway, Tony weathered the tortuous attack and bounced up from the knockdowns, regained his senses and proceeded to counterpunch effectively. By the 9th round, Tony had literally tattooed Cox’s face into a bloody meatball and needed only to dominate the last round to possibly sway the judges in his favor. And what a last round it was, Tony took command with his jab and footwork, worked Cox off balance and unloaded every weapon in his arsenal until the clank of the bell that ended the match. The judges rewarded him for his unbelievable comeback from disaster and Tony was a step closer to Ross’s crown.

Major obstacles still stood tall before Tony would get a title shot. Being avoided by some contenders who were afraid of losing their own title chances, Tony had to wait an improbable (for those times) two months before contender Wesley Ramey 51-5-5, decided to make Tony a victim in his own rise to boxing fame. It was June 16th, 1933 when the two threw down in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tony’s game plan after his war with Cox was to be first and to be efficient. He played it out to perfection as he dictated the flow and pace of the fight and swept nearly every round to convincingly win the decision and make amends for his only loss in his last ten bouts, back on January 12th.

In his quest for Ross’s championship belt, Tony ousted Lew Raymond 22-11-2 on July 10th, 1933 at Millvale, Pennsylvania before engaging one more premiere boxer, Eduardo Duarry, in order to complete his recent charge against ranked fighters and finally get Ross in the ring. Duarry had compiled a stunning record of 20-3-1 and was a formidable obstacle to overcome if Tony was to get his title fight. Duarry was a Cuban who had won 18 of his last 20 bouts and was considered a serious challenge to Tony’s quest for a title. The fight was a spirited affair that took place in Erie, Pennsylvania on September 18th, 1933. Both boxers displayed their finest boxing skills over ten busy rounds and Tony had to eat crow when the decision went to Duarry.  Hit title hopes were now in jeopardy and his think tank was in an awkward position and attempting to find a way to get Tony back into the title mix. Well, it just so happened that Wesley Ramey, now 51-5-5, had gone on a winning rampage since losing to Tony back in January, beating eight excellent boxers and drawing one in only a few months action. The boxing brass decided that if Tony and Wesley got it on again, the bout would be recognized as an elimination match for a contender to fight Ross. And it was game on.

The eliminator was a wild bruhaha in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 9th, 1933. The fight was ebb and flow for both ring warriors and it was nigh impossible to figure out just who was winning the fight. Back and forth the flurries of combinations from both fighters were set-ups for telling body and head blows that were the canons of those fusillades. Both men felt the brunt of their opponent’s broadsides and when the ring dust and fans smoke had settled, Tony was given the slightest of edges by referee Jack Aspery. A few discontent fans followed Aspery to the dressing room and one obnoxious sort belted him with his fists, drawing the man’s blood .Despite that ugly altercation, Tony and his camp were joyful and enthusiastic. Tony was in his prime with a 61-8-3 record and preparations could now be made for a title bout with Ross in Fort Worth, Texas. Or so it seemed in their moment of euphoria.

The Herrera camps joy soon turned to despair. It was rumored that Ross’s team had sent a spy to watch Tony spar in preparation for the fight and that he relayed the news to the team’s manager that Tony was poised and full of confidence. Moreover, Tony was impressive in handling some of the best boxers in the land in sparring sessions; that he was at his peak best. And speaking of the best boxers, most young fans of modern boxing might be fortunate to see their few favorites in the ring once or twice a year and usually for mega bucks. Not so during the Great Depression.  In those days of fast and famine there were so many hungry boxers and damned good hungry boxers that on any given day ‘The Best of the Best Could be beaten By the Rest of the Best.’  Yes indeed, and they did it for a few fins or in modern Clint Eastwood terms, for a ‘Fist Full of Dollars.’

Now back to the Herrera camps shocking bad news. The title bout with Barney Ross was called off after Ross’s camp declared that their boxer had a severe ear infection that would prevent him from training and preparation for the big fight. Hey, Tony had suffered his own injuries as did most boxers of the times and fought every few weeks in spite of busted knuckles, cracked ribs, cut eyes, busted ear drums, blood in their urine, and broken noses. After all and though it is redundant, most boxers had to fight in spite of injuries just to keep themselves and their family out of soup lines and out of the gutters. So the news was utterly devastating. Tony was naturally depressed but still fought in Fort Worth on October 23rd, 1933 against a familiar foe, Lew Massey 53-17-7. Likely not as focused due to the Ross match falling through, Tony just wasn’t anywhere near close to his Symphony status and lost a unanimous decision.

Tony’s career after the fiasco that denied him a title fight with Ross was one of ups and downs. He was either very good or he was not living up to expectations for the rest of his career. The very good came in spurts but were earmarks of just how great a fighter he was when focused and on his game. After his lame loss to Massey, Tony rebounded with a significant victory over Tracy Cox in Fort Worth to end 1933 and an easy romp over Lou Avery in January of 1934 to get back on a winning streak. He was then granted a non-title fight against former world champion, Sammy Mandell 79-18-9, at El Paso’s own Liberty Hall on January 31st, 1934. El Paso boxing fans were thrilled to have their star boxer in a showcase fight. Pumped to the hilt, Tony gave the fans what they had hoped for, a sound butt kicking of Mandell with the end coming by TKO in the 8th round.

Other great wins by Tony as his career was winding down demonstrated that he still had the tools and the class to be in the ring with champions and contenders. He pummeled Eddie Zivic 26-3-2, in Pittsburgh on October 15th 1934 and in 1935 split with Chief Harris 46-11-2, both matches fought in Dallas, Texas. Other notable wins included a huge and monumental victory over another world champion, Fritzie Zivic, in Pittsburgh on September 30th, 1935. He also polished off Lew Feldman 72-25-11 in Pittsburgh on November 25th after Feldman had previously won a questionable decision two weeks earlier in the same arena. He then scored an impressive win over Johnny Durso in February of 1936 and an improbable victory over slugger Dominic Mancini in Pittsburgh on March 9th, 1936. Improbable because the hard-hitting Mancini dropped Tony three times in the early rounds and had him near out on his feet. Rarely knocked out in his astonishing career against the best boxers in the fight world, Tony dug deep in his heart and soul, drew on his ring experience, and battled back from the jaws of defeat to be the tiger on attack the last five rounds and literally tore Mancini to pieces and gained a unanimous decision. When fighters talk about guts, you the reader now have the definition. Tony had guts.

Tony’s last big hurrah in the ring occurred on June 30th, 1936. At the Walkathon Arena in San Antonio, Texas, he met another of those formidable contenders, Willard Brown 71-12-3. In a battle royal, Tony brought to the fore his smooth style and  many boxing gears to slow down the Blitzkrieg that Brown unleashed over the first few rounds and then  flashed his heralded ‘Brown Symphony in Leather’  attack to defuse the slugger and win enough of the final rounds to earn a draw by the judges. It was the beginning of the end though of a long journey through the ranks of the Great Depression warriors. Tony knew the time was near as he was a trifle short in losing three bouts to Tracy Cox, a superb boxer that he had tamed twice in the past. He was just not physically and mentally able from his many wars to stave off world champion Lou Ambers 58-2-5, who on January 21st, 1936, took Tony out by a 9th round TKO in Brooklyn, New York. Tony doggedly gave Lou his own lumps in the rugged battle but succumbed to cuts and a hurt body. Then on March 17th, 1936, Bushy Graham 100-15-8, made Tony’s retirement eminent when he reopened old wounds and stopped Tony in round two up in Syracuse, New York. Yes the die was cast and after Johnny Durso and Chuck Woods 53-24-2, dusted off Tony with decisions, Tony made his own decision, to retire from the ring. His accomplishments were many, his heart sturdy as he ended his career with 80 victories, 26 losses and 4 draws. He was given the greatest ring compliment I have ever read about by the New York Times and I wish to repeat it over and over, “The Brown Symphony in Leather,” “The Brown Symphony in Leather,” “The Brown Symphony in Leather.”

Back home in El Paso, Tony became a boxing trainer and produced the hall of fame El Paso pugilists, Manny Ortega, Jesse Fonseca, and Mike Adame. He joined the United States Air Corps to serve his country in World War II and on his safe return, took up employment yet continued to train young aspiring boxers.

Know well all El Paso, Tony was and is one of our great patriots and a legendary boxer and ‘The Brown Symphony in Leather’. Can you visualize Tony’s ring expertise in Beethoven’s Symphony number 5 in C minor? In Mozart’s Symphony number 40 in G minor? Or if one prefers, perhaps in Nielsen’s Symphony, “Inextinguishable?’  I certainly can.

Thomas W. McKay

Acknowledgements:, El Paso Boxing/Martial Arts Hall of Fame, El Paso Times, Past Herrera family interviews, Internet Classical Music Quotes

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This article explains so much about my Grand Uncle Tony. He may have been driven, but was he so hungry & starved for fame? Alas yes, a true Narcissist Ah, and the Campbells: his wife and 2 children - the family he abandoned during the Great Depression - well, let history record that they fought the bout of poverty alone.
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Cutter wrote:
An amazing boxer. He might have been a conductor these days and made a good living.
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