STANLEY KETCHEL: TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY



Stanislas Kiecal was born in September 1886 to Polish Immigrants in the tough streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The family had emigrated from the village of Sulmierzyce, Piotrkow Trybunalski.

As a youngster, he fell in with a gang of street kids, choosing to skip school and often getting into fights. At the age of 14 he ran away from home, living in Butte, Montana, he was employed as a bellhop before getting a job as a bouncer.

Tragically, aged only 24, Kiecal was murdered by ranch workers Walter Dipley and Goldie Smith. A false rape accusation from Smith was originally determined as motivation however this was later founded to be untrue.

Stanley had always been brave, whilst still in Michigan he was the only one of his friends who would dive into the Grand River from a moving car off a high bridge. His bravery came in handy as a bouncer when he managed to get himself into many scraps.

He gained quite a reputation during this time for being the best fighter in his town. Soon he was being paid twenty dollars to perform in backroom boxing matches against older locals. It has been estimated that he took part in over 250 unsanctioned bouts.

He began travelling through Montana, taking on all comers. Throughout his travels, he made sure to stay in contact with his Mother, whom Stanley adored. Between 1903 and 1906 he lost just twice in thirty-nine fights, before moving to California in 1907 to further his career.


Ketchel stylistically had many of the features of a swarmer, but mixed that with good power in both hands. His attack was so ferocious that many opponents did not get to exploit his poor defence.

Although not a natural boxer, he naturally possessed strength, incredible stamina and a chin. His nickname was “The Michigan Assassin,” earned due to his one punch power. Veteran manager Dan Morgan described that his nickname fitted him “like a glove.”

The Tacoma Daily Ledger described him as fighting “wide open". But, his continual shifting and swift punching made him a hard target to hit.” Nat Fleischer saw his steely resolve and determination behind “the eyes of a killer.” It was an anger that came from deep within, some said he used to imagine his opponent had insulted his Mother, building his fury.

Jack Root, a heavyweight world title challenger admiringly said,

"He possessed fists of iron, had a fighting heart and his self-confidence was unmatched.”

Mike Silver explains his style simply as

“Hit the opponent as hard and as fast as you can with as many punches as possible from every conceivable angle. He varied his attack to the head and body, but he was more effective at long range because he needed to get momentum into his hardest shots.”


It was described as a triple shift style, with Ketchel deemed the inventor.

Stanley was a tough character to predict. His behaviour was impulsive and was often psychotic. He enjoyed drinking and womanising, spending most of his career earnings on those vices.

Many remarked on his womanising ways when stories begun to emerge after his death. He often carried a gun, and when upset would flaunt it unabashedly. Despite this apparent lust for violence, he was by no means in love with boxing claiming,

"I don’t fight because I like it; I only fight because it can make me more money than I could shovelling sand around the equator.”

The violence that had played such a huge part in the life of Stanley Ketchel continued in the family after his death. His Father was found dead seventeen years later murdered by his son in a dispute over the land that Stanley had left them.

After eight straight stoppages in the state of California he took on Joe Thomas, a man regarded by some as the World Middleweight champion. The first bout was a controversial draw, before he stopped Thomas in the second bout and the title was finally on the line in the third bout, when he beat him by decision.