Fatal affair of punch drunk boxer who killed his lover
Those who watched Del Fontaine – a middleweight boxer blessed with matinee idol looks – glide around the ring at gloriously named Palais de Danse, West Bromwich, could never imagine they were witness to one chapter in boxing’s darkest story.
Fontaine’s dance partner that night, in May, 1933, was Brummie Alf Luxton, tough and battle hardened, but no match for his Canadian born tormentor. The one-sided contest underlined what a handful the handsome contender was in his pomp. Alf, a full-blown heavyweight, outweighed him by over two stone. Del didn’t give a fig.
Fontaine was sharp that night, the dull thud of his gloves against Alf’s bruised and battered features echoed through the smoky hall. By the 10th round, the last drags of resistance had drained from Luxton’s body. Del – an ever present in Midlands rings – was, for a flickering moment in time, hot property.
He was aggressive, believed in taking punches to land his own, and carried knockout power. He dressed to the nines and was photographed by the ‘30s paparazzi with a succession of glamorous blondes hanging from his arm.
Punters snapped up his brand of savagery at Birmingham Ice Rink and Kettering Baths Hall. Win or lose, Fontaine his hair teased by pomade into a trench-like centre parting, was guaranteed to have baying fans on the edge of their seats.
Yet, in the days before boxers were subjected to stringent medical checks, in the dark days when fighters were considered a commodity, those who carried Fontaine’s spit bucket and swabs to the West Bromwich ring were already harbouring secret concerns.
The blows that constantly bounced off his rugged features first scattered sand in Del’s boxing shoes. They slowed him.
Then they slurred his speech and, by the end, those hooks and uppercuts caused his hands to tremble. They shook so dramatically, Fontaine had difficulty raising a spoon to his mouth. Yet Fat City – the hard-nosed community of pugs and promoters – still fed Fontaine to Britain’s best boxers.
The man who strode so purposefully to the Palais de Danse ring became a shuffling, stuttering wreck. He was lost in a cerebral fog of dementia pugilistica – punch drunkenness – but could still sling blows.
And while he could still sling blows, although ponderous and telegraphed, he could still be abused. Those within the game all knew the former pin-up was “punchy”, yet they let him continue.
Boxers often have to be saved from themselves. No one saved the West Midlands favourite.