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A jab from the past
According to what little information there is about the man, he was born Albert Morgan Pilkington on Christmas Day in 1902. He fought his first pro fight on March 12, 1920, in Concrete against Johnny Bitoni, a draw, and got knocked out by Pete Moe two weeks later in Anacortes in his second pro match.
According to the Seattle papers, his father put him into boxing merely as a means of getting some strength into his body, training him in the back room of a soft-drink parlor and lunchroom.
By the time he finished an exhausting career in the boxing ring on July 18, 1942, in Melbourne, Australia’s West Melbourne Stadium, Tod Morgan had boxed in 1,665 rounds, won 133 matches, lost 42 and earned 33 draws.
And he may be the first-ever world champion from Sequim, joining the ranks of Olympic Games gold medalists Joe Rantz (1936, rowing) and Matt Dryke (1984, skeet shooting).
Fighting a good fight
Like so many other sports, the world of boxing was perceived and embraced by the American sports public much differently a century ago. When Morgan entered his professional boxing career, the sport was truly coming into its prime. Despite the television age being two decades away, boxing consistently drew thousands of spectators (men and women) as social events across the nation and kept sports fanatics and scribes fascinated alike with the battles of icons like Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney and Benny Lynch, and in 1921 the National Boxing Association was formed.
According to an Aug. 19, 1923, Seattle Daily Times article, Morgan fought those first two bouts and then moved south to California with his stepfather, Fred Morgan. He had two more bouts in 1920, earning a draw and, in his fourth fight, won on points against “Young” Mike Gibbons, a five-round decision in Vallejo, Calif.
From there, Morgan began winning — and winning often. Fighting in the relatively new junior lightweight division, Morgan began building a reputation as a tough fighter who was hard to drop; in 208 career bouts, Morgan got knocked out just four times.
“A diminutive, slightly built, innocent-eyed, smiling little fellow from Vallejo furnished the big sensation of the evening,” penned a writer for the Sacramento Star after seeing Morgan sweep points in each of the six-round bout with Frankie Novey in Sacramento’s L Street Arena on May 6, 1921.
“Incidentally, he downed the pride of Mather Field, Frankie Novey, and won away for the time being a number of the local soldier’s friends,” the Star commented. “When he crawled through the ropes to meet the hard-fighting soldier, there were many expressions of pity heard. But when he got started — oh boy! He had wonderful footwork. His left worked like lightning. He is a real ring general and he can box, duck and recover quickly.”
After that first defeat to Moe — an auspicious match, the Wenatchee World details, as Moe’s opponent failed to appear and Morgan was rushed into service from the crowd — Morgan wouldn’t lose again until Jan. 9, 1922, racking up a record of 15 wins and nine draws. On Jan. 31 of that year, with Dempsey, the world heavyweight champ in the audience, Morgan topped Johnny McManus on points in Vernon, Calif.
Titles and tragedy
According a Dec. 17, 1925, Associated Press report, Morgan — who was in San Francisco at the time — had settled a “hometown question” by proclaiming Seattle as his official hometown, saying that he had lived there longer than anywhere else. He had once sold newspapers on the streets of Seattle. But a 1927 article in Spokane’s Spokesman-Review insists Morgan was born in Dungeness, just north of Sequim.
Morgan made his way back north in 1923 and his first match back in Washington was a successful one, as he topped Bud Riley on Aug. 22 and again on Sept. 5 for the Pacific Coast Featherweight title. They were the first of nine fights in Seattle or Tacoma, with Morgan defending his new title each time.
Following a defense of his Pacific Coast Featherweight Title on Sept. 9, 1925, Morgan would get his shot at a world title. On Dec. 2 of that year, the 128-pound Morgan topped Mike Ballerino by technical knockout in the 10th round, though Ballerino’s corner threw in the towel after Morgan had “already virtually clinched the scrap on points” (Associated Press).
Morgan went on to win or earn draws in eight more bouts until Babe Herman floored Morgan in the third round and Morgan dropped the decision on June 24, 1926, in Revere, Mass., though the match was not a world title defense fight.
On April 6, 1927, local newspapers reported that Morgan’s stepfather, Fred Morgan, had been found dead in a motor boat near Port Angeles. According to reports, it was believed a leak in the boat’s exhaust pipe resulted in his death while he had slept. Tod Morgan took a short break from boxing during this period. (In February 1929, in Seattle, Tod Morgan adopted Billie, his 4-year-old stepbrother.)
Morgan earned wins or draws in 13 title defense fights against the likes of Johnny Dundee, Joe Glick, Eddie “Cannonball” Martin and Santiago Zorilla. In May 1929, Morgan defeated Baby Sal Sorio to record his 11th successful defense; at the time, it was a record for the number of title defenses in the junior lightweight division.
Later that year he lost the title when he was knocked out in the second round by Bennie Bass, one of the greatest featherweights during the 1920s and 1930s. Bass, who was born in Russia and would go on to a 227-fight career, recovered from a lightning bolt of a right from Morgan in round one to knock down Morgan twice in the second, the final knockdown a knockout.
Bass finally had wrested the world title from Morgan’s grip, one held for four years.
Boxing Down Under
Morgan did not slow down after losing the title, writes supersport.com’s Ron Jackson II in a column written in August 2011. Morgan fought 29 times in the next three years before moving to Australia. In his first fight there, in Sydney in September 1933, he beat Bobby Blay on points over 15 rounds.
He remained in Australia for the next 11 years, fighting in another 62 bouts.
In a 1938 article in The West Australian (Perth) newspaper, Morgan indicated he would retire from boxing to work as a promoter: “Morgan met with an injury to his shoulder when he first fought Herb Bishop at Kalgoorlie and although he had a few bouts thereafter it was not until quite recently that the American became aware of the injury. An X-ray examination revealed the cause of the trouble in the shoulder and it will be some time before Morgan can use it again for boxing purposes. However, he may retire from the ring altogether.”
Instead, Morgan got back in the ring. In 1941 and 1942, when he was 40 years old, Morgan had four fights with Vic Patrick, who Jackson noted later would become known as one of Australia’s best referees.
Morgan lost three of his last four matches but ended his 22-year boxing career with a 12-round win on points against “Young” Llew Edwards.
In all, backed by trainer Spider Roach, Morgan had a 22-year career.
According to the Dec. 24, 1942, Portland Oregonian, Morgan served in the Australian army, fighting in Africa. He later returned to the United States and worked as a referee and a bellboy in hotels before he became ill.
He died in Seattle on Aug. 3, 1953. He was survived by his widow, Grace, and his mother, Minta Pilkington, of Reno, Nev.
Reach Sequim Gazette Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.