Early pioneer of South African ring
More than 51 years before Vic Toweel challenged for the world bantamweight title against Manuel Ortiz on May 31, 1950, a fighter, who was sometimes described as a black man or light coloured and living in Australia, was possibly the first man from South Africa to fight for a world title.
The name of this long forgotten hero was Young Pluto, believed to have been born Joseph William Dudley Brown on July 10, 1872 in Port Elizabeth.
However, reports that appeared in the Melbourne Sportsman in August 1888 said that he was born in St John, New Brunswick, Canada, on September 13, 1871.
When seven years old he went to South Africa where he served his time in Mr Jackson’s racing stables. At the age of 16 and after winning two four-rounders in Port Elizabeth against Young Sultan and Young Berry he left for Australia landing in Melbourne and developed into a good little featherweight.
Pluto was 5ft 3ins (1.6m) and weighed in the region of 112lbs (50.80kg). In June 1886 he defeated Young Brown in three rounds in Newcastle. In Sydney, he boxed to a four-round draw with Young Scott and in a rematch in a fight to the finish he stopped Scott in two.
Records at the time were rather sketchy, but the Police Gazette shows that he fought four draws with the legendary Young Griffo in 1888 and once again fought to a draw with him in 1889.
Griffo was born Albert Griffiths and Nat Fleischer described him as a picture of grace, of conservation of effort, of no motion lost and what an elusive will-o’ the-wisp this man was in competition.
Had Griffo been better developed mentally, and had he kept in shape and trained hard, it is inconceivable that he ever would have been beaten. When Griffo was fit and in form, it was nearly impossible to lay a glove on him.
There are stories that his most famous trick was to stand on a handkerchief and take a bet that nobody could strike him in the face. No one ever did. There was also another story that he was so quick with his hands that he could pick a fly of the wall.
This Griffo was the same man Pluto fought on five occasions with all the fights ending in draws. In his book on the history off prize-fighting in Australia, Peter Corris states that Young Joe Pluto fought Griffo six times and one of the fights went for seventy rounds.
However, Nat Fleischer contradicts this statement in his book Black Dynamite in which he says that Griffo and Pluto contested five consecutive draws.
Two other sources, Ring Battles of the Century by T.S. Andrews published in 1914 and the Ring Record book record five fights between Griffo and Pluto, all ending in draws, so possible we must accept that they only had five fights.
Despite the confusion there is no doubt that Pluto who was known as the Australian wonder from “Down Under” had a series of fights with Griffo, which were always competitive.
Griffo said that some of the hardest battles in his boxing career were in the first two years and the greatest being with a dusky Negro, Young Pluto, otherwise known as Joe Brown.
There was a lot of controversy over their fights, especially the 70-round affair, which most Australians thought Griffo had won, but unfortunately it had been decided beforehand that if both contestants were on their feet at the end of the bout it would be declared a draw.
According to a letter written by Joe Brown, he insisted that the bout went 75 rounds and that he had the better of the fight, but the newspapers of the day showed otherwise and it is generally accepted by historians that the fight went 70 rounds and that Griffo was the better boxer on the day.
On arrival in Australia, Pluto settled in Sydney and ran up a 10-bout unbeaten streak before losing to Abe Willis. In 1894 Pluto won the West Australia lightweight title when he beat Bennie Marks in Coolgardie, Western Australia.
Pluto left to campaign in the United States in 1898. However, records were not that well chronicled in those early days and there is only record of a victory over Kid Williams in Alaska in July of that year before he challenged George Dixon for the world featherweight title in New York on January 17, 1899.
Dixon, known as “Little Chocolate”, was one of the all-time greats in boxing and was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1956.
When Pluto met Dixon for the title in January 1899 the champion had been boxing as a professional since 1886 and had taken part in 66 fights with 14 of those being world title fights.
The Dixon vs Pluto fight was billed as a 20-round contest and the champion was well below the weight limit that he had set for the class and weighed in at 113 1/2lbs while Pluto came in at 122lbs, which was the limit for the featherweight class at the time.
Even though the boy from “Down Under” had fought five draws with Young Griffo, the champion, who himself had fought three draws with Griffo, entered the ring in a very confident mood and felt that he had the measure of the dusky Australian.
The champion attacked the body as Pluto used a superb defence to the head, but, despite this, was dropped in the first round with a shot on the chin. Pluto regained his feet but was groggy and spent the rest of the fight trying to protect his jaw.
However, this is where he made a mistake as Dixon scored with a right to the heart and swung a left to the pit of the stomach which left the challenger clutching his stomach as he sank to floor to be counted out after one minute and30 seconds of the tenth round.
Pluto had taken a lot of punishment throughout the fight, but always came back smiling to take some more.
After the loss to Dixon he had another seven recorded fights, only winning his last fight in August 1911 when he stopped Alec Rogers in the seventh round in Fremantle.
There is no doubt that Young Pluto was a fine fighter, but intensive research has produce very little on his fighting career.
After the Dixon fight he returned to Australia where he bought a farm in Guildford in Western Australia. He had two sons, Cyril and Bill, who later became professional boxers and were trained by their father.
The last reference to him is in Bill Doherty’s book “In The Days Of The Giants” first published in 1931 in which he describes Pluto as Joe Brown (“Pluto”), as the cleverest featherweight in Australia, and when he consented to fight Griffo the general opinion was that at last the Sydney Rocks boy was about to receive the hiding of his life.
Hundreds rolled up to see the match, but unfortunately Pluto failed to beat Griffo and in four subsequent bouts between the two men the result was the same, a draw.
In the final chapter of his book Doherty comments, “and little Joe Pluto, hero of sundry fast and furious fights with Griffo, is living in Western Australia, the proprietor of a neat little farm in picturesque Guildford, on the banks of the Swan River. Joe is as well known in Perth as the town hall, and still closely follows the happenings in the boxing world”.
Pluto died in Perth on March 3, 1931.