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The Greatest Champion That Never Was

There was no professional boxing in Macon at the time, but the
sport was thriving in Atlanta. In December Willie heard that Atlanta
promoter Max Abelson was looking for someone to fight a preliminary
bantamweight bout with a boy he called Kid Domb. Domb was
primarily a street fighter and was billed as the king of Atlanta’s
newsboys. Willie wrote to Abelson offering W.L. as an opponent. In
return, he received an invitation for W.L. to take part in the match and a
round-trip train ticket to Atlanta.
So instead of going to school on January 17, 1921, W.L. accompanied
his father to Terminal Station where they boarded a train for the two-
hour trip to Atlanta.
There were three bouts scheduled at the Atlanta Auditorium that
evening and Stribling’s was the first. Just before they entered the
auditorium, one of the rough-looking men hanging around the door
called to W.L.
“Hey, kid. A lot of people are going to be watching you. You got
stage fright?”
W.L. looked at him with surprise. He was a bit nervous about his
first real fight, of course, wanting to do well. But the idea of being
frightened of an audience was a foreign concept for a boy who first
appeared on stage at the age of three.
“I’ll never forget how it felt to be cut loose from Pa after fifteen
years,” W.L. said years later. “It was like dropping off a precipice into
But he was only disoriented for a moment. Then his instincts and
training took over. Graceful, clean cut, and remarkably quick, he soon
earned the respect of the crowd. By the middle of the first round, the
audience was on its feet and remained there until the match ended,
cheering for the unknown Macon fighter. W.L. easily defeated Domb
winning all four rounds.
He didn’t get any prize money for his first win, but neither he nor
his father minded. It had been a great debut and when Abelson
approached Willie after the fight and suggested another match in
February, he eagerly agreed.