' />

Controversial award is for fighter's celebrity status rather than boxing skills

A 19th century Maori boxer who found himself fighting the world champion at Madison Square Garden in a classic mismatch will be honoured tonight.

But Ngapuhi fighter Herbert Slade is being inducted into the Maori Sports Hall of Fame for his brief status as an international celebrity, rather than his boxing skills.

For some it's a controversial choice.


Maori Sports Awards executive director Dick Garrett said Slade is being honoured as the country's first widely advertised sports figure and the first non-white to fight for the title.

Then 32, Slade took a hammering from then world heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan over three rounds in 1883.

Accounts of the fight include an early knock down in round one, followed by four more by the second, a round in which Slade was slugged in the back while he retreated.

Finally, the 1.85m-tall Slade kissed the canvas midway through the third - ending the fight.

In a book about Sullivan, author Michael Isenberg called him "slow, clumsy and aggressive".

But Mr Garrett said Slade is being honoured as a man who put "Maori on the world stage", the social impact of which should be recognised and celebrated.

Slade's road to the August 6 fight is remarkable for the interest Richard K. Fox was able to drum up for the "South Seas Savage".

Fox, a promoter extraordinaire, bore a grudge against Sullivan.

Boxing historian Sir Bob Jones said Fox was desperate to beat the champion but had promoted the fight without first getting a handle on Slade's talents, instead relying on the word of Jem Mace, a former champion who had discovered Slade.

He believes Slade doesn't deserve to be in the same league as inductees such as rugby's George Nepia or tennis' Ruia Morrison. "It's ridiculous, he's a joke figure. Entertainment in those days was built around hoaxes, the headless woman, mermaids, freak shows. You'd never get away with it now. [Showman] P.T. Barnum was famous for them. He had no record to speak of - the point is he was a big lad and he was a good-looking man."

But Chris Tobin, who wrote a book on the fight, said Slade should be remembered as an adventurer.

After the fight he went on a boxing exhibition tour with Sullivan, had a stint as a deputy sheriff and married a Mormon bishop's wife.

"He was a very good wrestler, they tried to make him into a boxer and he put up a reasonable contest against Sullivan. But he wasn't a world beater.

"The remarkable thing was before Sullivan he'd never had a real fight - it was all exhibitions.

"He wasn't silly, he was there for the ride. He was there to make the most of a real adventure. For a certain amount of time he was almost a household name - he was the best known Maori in America.

"There was novelty in that. He went to visit Washington DC and met politicians. When he first hit New York there was a huge amount of interest - people waiting at the train station to catch a glimpse of him.

"He went to Wall Street - they all rushed to see this guy. It faded away pretty quickly, but I think he was one of the biggest sports personalities in America at the time."

All Black Piri Weepu, Warriors fullback Kevin Locke and ultra distance runner Lisa Tamati are all up for awards tonight.

Herbert Slade
Herbert Augustus Slade

Born: 1851, Awanui in the Far North

Son of Irish Whaler James Slade and Sophia Te Paea Rapu Kopiri

Fighting weight/height: 1.85m, 88kg

Died: Utah, 1920

Boxing record: Won 0, lost 7, drew 1