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Pancho Villa versus Jimmy McLarnin on the Fourth of July 1925: Francisco Guilledo’s Final Fight

San Francisco, California—He was up against formidable foes: a raging sepsis from an ulcerated tooth, a 19-year-old diamond-in-the-rough named Jimmy McLarnin, a sole referee acting as judge, and a hostile American crowd who never forgave the "little brown doll" for once wearing the fight game’s American flyweight crown.

To Francisco Guilledo, the world’s flyweight champion—the first from the Philippines and Asia—it was business as usual. It was an uncharacteristically cool night in the low sixties, perfect weather for outdoor boxing, on the Fourth of July in 1925, at the Emeryville baseball park near San Francisco, the cauldron of boxing in the 1910s-1930s. The 13,000 in attendance shelled out $31,000 for an afternoon of hotdogs, drinks, and an old-fashioned scrap—the prime bull against the young matador.

Villa did not want to disappoint the 5,000 strong Filipinos in attendance, so the Filipino whirlwind did not cancel the fight and went against medical advice from his dentist, doctor, and team. He kept his word and fought against all odds.

It was, by all accounts, a nondescript fight devoid of the fireworks Pancho Villa was known to ignite. The Filipino world champion may have lost the close fight, but a majority of ringside reporters gave Villa the nod. At the very least, a draw was in order. But leave it to the lone judge, who happened to be the referee, Bobby Johnson.

The headlines and stories the next day were unforgiving.

“Outclassed By 19-Year-Old Belfast Boxer: Jimmy McLarnin Shows Ring Generalship That Makes Champion Look Bad,” blared one.

“VILLA CLAIMS ILLNESS: Villa Showed Up As a Poor Title Holder…Old-timers claim they never saw a champion look so bad in a ring,” said another. “Flyweight Champ Failed to Live Up to Expectations.”

(Photo of Pancho Villa, 1925: Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library, History Center)

Such is the blood sport of boxing.

Little did they know that Francisco Guilledo was fighting a raging storm from within, a septic infection in his bloodstream caused by a rotten wisdom tooth. But for the brave Filipino, the disease was just an inconvenience.

There was talk of the fight being canceled, but the athletic commission tried to placate the public. Anyone with any financial interest wanted the fight to go on.

"Betting is illegal and the (California) State Athletic Commission does not recognize it, so there can be no announcement from the ring of bets being called off," declared the commissioner.

Promoter Tommy Simpson admitted that he had been previously informed that Villa had an ulcerated tooth and had been advised to call off the fight. Tommy hurried to San Francisco to verify and noticed Pancho's face was badly swollen. "You are not going to call off the fight, are you?" the promoter asked the little Filipino.

“No, no, I fight, I fight for you Mr. Simpson. You go home and sell many tickets. I be there tomorrow to fight,” replied Villa.

Pancho Villa versus Jimmy McLarnin on the Fourth of July 1925: Francisco Guilledo’s Final Fight.

In the end, the gamest little brown doll proved he was a man of his word. He went against medical advice from his dentist and doctor and fought in a bout we fight fans collectively have regretted—one he wanted for his public—for the past ninety-nine years.

Nearly ten decades of hindsight have taught us, though we occasionally forget, about the bravest little Filipino through the eyes, ears, and accounts of those who saw him fight: the sportswriters and the main characters of the fight game—managers, trainers, seconds, and hangers-on.

The great writer Damon Runyon may have said it best: “The Villas come along at rare intervals…Villa, in addition to his fighting ability, could draw more money than most of the champions of other divisions. He had an amazing personality and color in the ring. He was flashy, spectacular. And he could fight…how he could fight! He classes in pugilistic history with Jimmy Barry, Jimmy Wilde, Johnny Coulon, and the other great little men of the game,” wrote Damon Runyon (The Evening News, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Fri, Oct 9, 1925).

Attached, please find a blow-by-blow account from the Oakland Tribune written on July 5, 1925—long before the advent of television, radio, and the internet—when print media was queen and boxing was the king of sports.

ROUND 1--Both boys parried in the center of the ring. McLarnin jabbed with his left. Villa swung right and left and they clinched. They broke in the middle of the ring. Neither seemed anxious to take the offensive. Villa swung left to jaw and McLarnin jabbed left to the face. They continued to parry and Villa swung left to middle. McLarnin jabbed left to Villa’s jaw and followed with two lefts to the head. McLarnin blocked a left to the body. Villa swung right and left without injury to McLarnin’s body, and the Irish lad countered with a left to the jaw. McLarnin sent three lefts to Villa’s face. McLarnin was gaining confidence and Villa showed his respect for his opponent’s reputation. They were jabbing rights and lefts at the gong.

ROUND TWO---They parried in the middle ring and Villa took left to jaw and another left to body. McLarnin was holding his right in reserve and using it for protection. Villa swung wildly with left to face while McLarnin dodged. Villa put over two lefts to McLarnin’s body and followed with fast rights and lefts to face without hurting McLarnin. Jimmy got left to the body and another to Villa’s face. McLarnin swung to Villa’s jaw, and they clinched. They parried in the mid-ring and Villa put over left to jaw and took two in return to the same location. Villa chased Jimmy into a clinch. Villa swung left but was stopped with another left. The crowd was beginning to boo the champion. Villa swung wild with right and left, Jimmy got two lefts to body, and they were apart in mid-ring at the bell.

ROUND THREE--- They opened on the defensive and Villa crouched into a left to the head. Villa missed right to jaw and put left to head following two rights to body. McLarnin swung two lefts to Villa’s chin. Both boys were on the defensive. Jimmy jabbed three fast lefts to Villa’s chin. He followed with another while the champion was motioning to him to come on in. The crowd booed Villa’s gestures. They tangled with rights and lefts and Villa swung left to body and took left to chin. They clinched and, on the break, Jimmy poked twice to Villa’s nose. Villa swung three rights and lefts to Jimmy and took a left on the head. Villa swung left to body, and they were parrying as the bell sounded. The crowd gave Villa the razzberry for trying to get McLarnin to lead the fight. “You’re the champion, do something,” was the ringside chorus.

ROUND FOUR--- They stepped away from each other in mid-ring and Villa swung left wildly to jaw. Jimmy jabbed two lefts to face, and Villa attempted left to body which Jimmy blocked. Jimmy swung left to jaw and backed Villa into a neutral corner. Jimmy jabbed two lefts to chin and followed with another. Villa swung into a clinch. Jimmy jabbed another left and backed away two rights and lefts. Jimmy had Villa missing on almost every blow. Villa swung left to Jimmy’s chin and McLarnin put over two in return. Villa swung right and left, which met Jimmy on the chin, but the Irish lad got away from their full force. Villa swung left to chin and missed two more. Jimmy jabbed fiercely with rights and lefts. They were in a clinch at the bell.

ROUND FIVE---Villa crouched low and delivered left to body, taking one on chin. They tangled with rights and lefts into a clinch. Both boys continued respectful of the other. Villa crouching and walking in with uppercuts to chin and body which Jimmy generally blocked. They mixed with rights and lefts to chin and broke with Villa missing lefts. Villa back-slapped Jimmy with his left and the referee warned him. Villa landed two heavy rights to McLarnin’s body, but Jimmy stood his ground and battled Villa back on his heels. Villa mixed with right and left swings. Jimmy jabbed a meek left to head and took left to chin. They sparred and were apart when the round ended.

ROUND SIX---Villa walked in with his low crouching style and missed fast right and left. The Irish boy blocked left to jaw. Jimmy put over straight left to jaw and took right on the shoulder. McLarnin continued to make Villa miss. Jimmy jabbed left to face and the champion walked into a clinch. Jimmy swung right and left while Villa covered. Jimmy jabbed Villa’s face three times with left and Villa missed right. They milled against the ropes with forceful swings, both boys displaying good defense. Jimmy backed Villa across the ring with four lefts and Villa almost fell when he drove wild right to body. Villa landed stiff right on Jimmy’s head and followed with another to body. They were sparring in midring as the round ended.

ROUND SEVEN--- They parried in the mid-ring and Villa appeared fearful of leading the fight. They clinched without blows. Villa swung more wild lefts and Jimmy stood his ground. Jimmy jabbed left to jaw and Villa tried some in-fighting without effect. Villa crouched low and tried an uppercut which Jimmy blocked. Villa swung left to body. Jimmy jabbed two lefts to face and held Villa away. Villa walked in without hitting and Jimmy jabbed him twice and dodged another right to head. Villa opened up and backed Jimmy around the ring. Jimmy forced the champion to the ropes with clinches. Jimmy jabbed three lefts to chin and made Villa miss repeatedly. Jimmy swung left to the jaw as the bell sounded. McLarnin appeared gaining confidence and had the champion worried. Villa’s mouth was bleeding.

ROUND EIGHT--- “Make ‘em fight” was the yell. Villa had a left blocked and Jimmy swung wild but followed with two lefts and rights to Villa’s chin. Jimmy jabbed lefts. The champion swung left wildly. Jimmy put over two lefts at close range and peppered Villa with three lefts on the chin. Jimmy was doing most of the leading. Villa swung wild left. Jimmy hit Villa with three left jabs and swung one low. He was warned. Jimmy put over third right to jaw and put Villa on his heels. Villa attempted a right uppercut and backed away, blocking three lefts. Villa swung left to jaw and took another left. In return, Villa put right to chin at the bell.

ROUND NINE--- They met in the middle of the ring and Jimmy jabbed two lefts. Jimmy dodged a wild right. Jimmy chased Villa into a neutral corner and Villa clinched. They backed to mid-ring and Villa jabbed to head. McLarnin rocked Villa with right to chin. Jimmy jabbed two more lefts and swung more right to Villa’s jaw. Jimmy continued peppering Villa with lefts and the champion walked in with vigorous rights and lefts to the head. Villa brought blood with lefts to Jimmy’s mouth. Villa swung two more wild lefts and Jimmy had to flee from Villa’s vigorous assault. Villa was opening up and chased Jimmy around the ring with rights and lefts. Villa swung left to the jaw and took two in return. Jimmy blocked left to head. Villa swung another right wildly to the jaw and they were apart at the bell.

ROUND TEN--- They shook hands in mid-ring and Jimmy jabbed a left to head. McLarnin swung left and Villa countered with fast right at close range. Both stood closed and swung wildly. Villa swung hard right to Jimmy’s body and Jimmy swung fast left to the chin. Jimmy missed right to head. Jimmy put over two left jabs to jaw and took several hard lefts on the body. Villa swung right to Jimmy’s jaw. Jimmy led with three lefts to the face. Villa was leading the fight but Jimmy continued to stand his ground. Villa swung two lefts to head. They mixed in hard attack in mid-ring, the blows flying fast from behind. Jimmy swung left to chin and Villa walked in with low body punches.

Referee Bobby Johnson awarded the decision to McLarnin.


• Our gratitude goes to Lisa Palella and Christina Moretta and the wonderful staff at the SFPL San Francisco History Center
• Attached photos of Francisco Guilledo are in the public domain and courtesy of the Philippine Boxing Historical Society and are re-reprinted for non-commercial use
• The main reference for this article was published by the Oakland Tribune, June 5, 1925, Sunday, Page 26 (Oakland, California) and is in the public domain. It is re-published here and is compliance with the United States Fair Use Doctrine

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Emmanuel Rivera, RRT.

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