Lem Franklin (tied for 176)
Mobile, Alabama, USA
May 30, 1916 – August 3, 1944
6’2” / 76″ reach / 190-210 lbs
32-13-1-2(28) from 07/30/1937 to 07/24/1944 (7y0m)
1-5-0-0(1) against the top ten
0-0-0-0(0) against linear champions
1-0-0-0(1) against hall-of-famers
No fights for the linear championship
Top ten opponents: W-TKO-5 Abe Simon, L-KO-8 Bob Pastor, L-KO-1 Harry Bobo, L-KO-10, L-KO-8 Lee Savold, L-UD-10 Gus Dorazio
-1 total score (1 + -4+ 0 + 2)
Lem Franklin was a fighter who seems to have been largely forgotten. However, for a few brief years he was not only a top contender, but a feared puncher and was widely acknowledged as a scary opponent. He also is another fighter on this list whose career ended in tragedy.
“Lammin'” Lem’s (they don’t make nicknames like that anymore) professional career started inauspiciously, with a majority decision loss to fellow prospect Paul Williams. His early career from mid 1937 until the end of 1938 was a learning experience, featuring more losses than we normally see from modern boxing prospects. Franklin would start off 8-3-0-1(7), including a no contest against Paul Williams, and a brutal loss to journeyman Eddie Simms.
Following the Simms loss, Lem would bounce back, scoring a quick knockout over future contender Lee Savold, and a decision win over another future contender in Abe Simon. He would then lose to yet another future contender, a decision against Tony Musto. Had those three fights occurred a few years later, his ranking here might be quite a bit higher.
He would take a few months off following that loss, and come back fighting to a draw against Clarence Brown. Another loss to Eddie Simms, and a no-contest against Andy Miller would occur soon after, but be mixed in with wins over prospect Perk Daniels and fringe contenders Buddy Millard and Willie Reddish. Franklin would go on a tear through 1940 and 1941, beating an array of fringe contenders, prospects, and tough journeymen. In July 1941, Lem would mount a rousing comeback to stop future top contender (and future Hall-of-Famer) Jimmy Bivins nine rounds into an exciting fight. Less than a month later, he would finally get a win over Eddie Simms, knocking him out in seven. He would then obilterate future contender Curtis Sheppard in five, blast out Tony Musto in two, and then smash Abe Simon in five. That win over Simon was his first win over a currently-ranked contender. At that point, it was October 1941, and Franklin was on a heck of a roll. He would finish the year ranked number 2 in the division, just behind Billy Conn and champion Joe Louis. He had won 16 straight fights, including 14 by knockout. He was pushing hard for a shot at Louis, following the Simon win, and was confidently predicting a victory, should the shot arrive.
Of course, this is boxing, and boxing is nothing if not cruel to almost all its participants. Franklin’s success would not last. Two more wins would start off 1942, but then his career would unravel quickly. Bob Pastor knocked Lem out in eight rounds in late February. One month later, Franklin and Harry Bobo would exchange knockdowns in the first round, but Bobo would score more of them, winning in that very first round. Three months after that, prospect Joe Muscato would score a first round TKO over Lem.
Three straight knockout losses immediately following a number 2 ranking was discouraging to say the least. A six month layoff followed, and then a quick knockout win over Altus Allen helped put Lem back into the win column. He would then rematch Lee Savold, who himself was now a legit contender. Franklin started strong, dropping Savold early, and building a big points lead. But by the eight round, Savold had turned the tide, and was beating Franklin up. In the tenth, a huge right hand landed for Lee, and put Lem down for the count. A third fight between the two men occurred just two months later. This time, Franklin started strong again, scoring knockdowns in the first and second, but he wilted faster than before, and Savold knocked him out in the eighth.
Two more months passed, and this time Lem lasted the distance, but still lost to top contender Gus Dorazio. Two more months, and this time he couldn’t keep his feet, getting knocked out for the ten count by Dan Merritt, a club fighter with a losing record. He dropped Merritt hard twice in the first, but walked right into a sloppy right hand that ended things in that first round.
Franklin’s punch resistance was seemingly shot, he had lost four bouts in a row, and seven out of his last eight. And now he had been stopped in a single round by a clubfighter. Seeing the writing on the wall, Franklin officially announced his retirement after the Merritt debacle.
But the lure of the ring is a strong one. Comebacks are common. Franklin decided to try one just 11 months after losing to Dan Merritt. And in this case, his comeback would be a tragic mistake. In July 1944, Franklin made a comeback attempt against 8-6-3 Colion Chaney. It was a barnburner of a scrap, with both fighters tasting the canvas. Franklin prevailed in five rounds, but his chin was still clearly a liability.
Just three weeks later, Franklin was in the ring with veteran gatekeeper Larry Lane. Lane was a stocky, strong fighter with a reasonably good punch, but he wasn’t a world-beater. Nonetheless, Lane was too much for Franklin to handle at this point, and he knocked Franklin out after nine tough rounds. Franklin would remain unconscious for an hour, and would suffer a brain injury that would kill him less than two weeks later.
“Lammin'” Lem Franklin was a good fighter who suffered from some bad luck early on, and a lot of bad luck later. He beat some good opponents who were not quite yet legitimate contenders when he got to them. His punch resistance faded pretty quickly through his career, and may have led to his untimely death. Considering how his comeback went, it was probably ill-advised. But for a time, he was a scary fighter with a huge punch. He made for exciting fights, and gave his all every time out. And of course, that nickname.
Lem Franklin deserves to be remembered.