The Kray twins worked hard for their infamy. The East End gangsters were behind all manner of murder, armed robbery, arson, and more before being imprisoned for life in the late 1960s. Not everyone knows that Ronnie and Reggie made their bones in the ring.
Both had eventful boxing careers in their youth. Starting out in the open air bear pit of the Mile End Arena, they made it all the way to the Royal Albert Hall before turning to crime. Consensus differs on whether they were any good, but they were nothing if not fans of the sport.
For the pugilist aficionados among you, here’s the brass tacks: Ronnie Kray fought six times, winning four by knockout and losing the other two by decision. Reggie finished his boxing career unbeaten, winning all seven of his professional fights.
They trained at the Repton Club in Bethnal Green, which still runs to this day. There are pictures of the twins on the wall. Not even out of their teens, it’s an oddly innocent snapshot of their lives before the cigars and three piece suits and bodies in trunks.
Both debuted in 1951 at the Mile End Arena, an open air venue behind Mile End Station. A ramshackle venue, the arena was described by a contemporary of the twins as ‘a cattle market.’ Their last fights were both at the Royal Albert Hall, on the undercard of British lightweight champion Tommy McGovern. Neither fought at York Hall, would you believe.
Evidently the ring was too restrictive to the twins. All their fights took place in 1951. In March of 1952 they were both called up for national service (Ronnie punched a corporal in the jaw during the signup process. Whether it was a KO is uncertain) and after being dishonourably discharged they turned to a life of crime.
One of the most novel things about this short-lived boxing career was how the Kray’s fighting styles reflected their characters. Their older brother, Charlie, himself quite an accomplished boxer, remembered their contrasting approaches:
‘Reggie was the cool, cautious one with the skills of a potential champion and importantly he always listened to advice,’ Charlie said. ‘Ronnie was a good boxer and very brave. But, he would never listen to advice and, unlike Reggie, he would never hold back,’ added Charlie.
Given their later reputations as gangsters – Reggie as cool and calculated, Ronnie as anything but – it’s interesting to see the seeds of that when they boxed as teenagers.
A story goes that when the two were sentenced in 1969, they were held in adjoining cells under the Old Bailey, waiting to be taken to different prisons. They started shadow boxing, ducking and feinting and punching until they were taken away – a Kray twist on a last dance.
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