Bobby Pope

Pope: W.L “Young” Stribling made his mark on boxing, Macon

For those of you who travel the W.L. “Young” Stribling Bridge across the Ocmulgee River on Spring Street on a daily basis, do you have any idea who Stribling was? For the uninformed, he is one of Macon’s all-time sports heroes and definitely the city’s greatest pugilist.

Born to a touring vaudevillian family in Bainbridge the day after Christmas in 1904, Stribling and his mother, father and younger brother crisscrossed the United States and 38 countries performing before moving to Macon prior to the beginning of World War I.

Stribling got his start in boxing as part of the vaudeville act. The routine called for “Young” and his brother “Baby” to square off using oversized gloves with the match being refereed by his father and later his manager “Pa” Stribling. Incidentally, his mother “Ma” was his trainer. Stribling turned pro at the age of 16 and had 75 professional bouts while still in high school. Even with his boxing schedule, he also excelled in basketball and helped lead Lanier to a state championship in 1922.

Stribling, who earned $1 million boxing by the time he was 22, had a recorded 276 professional fights in 12 years with 225 wins and 127 knockouts. At the time, that was a record, and to this day, it remains the second most in boxing history behind Archie Moore’s 131, which was established during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Famed sports writer Damon Runyon nicknamed Stribling “King of the Canebrakes” because he would fight in any location, large or small.

Even though he never won a world championship, Stribling fought some of the biggest names of that era, taking on the likes of Jack Sharkey, Primo Carnera, Maxie Rosenbloom and German Max Schmeling. Stribling’s encounter with Schmeling in 1931 was for the heavyweight championship, and Stribling suffered a technical knockout with just 14 seconds remaining in the 15th (final) round. It was the only time he was knocked out his entire career. That fight, which was the first major bout to be broadcast live on national radio, was Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year in 1931.

Stribling was far from the stereotypical “Rocky,” so often associated with boxing. He was extremely active in the civic life of Macon with memberships in the Kiwanis and Elk clubs, was a Mason and a Sunday school teacher who worked with disadvantaged youth. He also was a lieutenant in the Army Reserve Air Corps and flew his own plane to fights around the country.

The saying “the good die young” was especially true for Stribling. He was killed in an accident in October of 1933 at the age of 28 while on the way to the hospital to visit his wife and newborn son when the motorcycle he was riding was struck by a car. To tell you how popular he was, published reports said that more than 25,000 mourners walked past his casket and 10,000 attended his funeral services.

Stribling was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1963 and to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1966.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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