By Ted Sares
The night before my fight with "Tough Tommy" Liske at outdoor Rock-Ola stadium on Chicago's Northwest side, I had a sit down with my old man about strategy. Liske was a red headed, green eyed Polish kid from the Wilson Park area. An ex-street fighter who was mean through and through.Though somewhat short in stature, he was a hard body with a chin to match and was often willing to absorb heavy punishment in order to mete it out. He combined a straight-ahead style with a wind mill attack to overwhelm most of his light heavyweight opponents. He was a banger rather than a stylist....and I didn't want to engage in his type of brawl.
By 1956 (one of the real glory years of boxing), I was well into my amateur career, so I knew my way around the ring and I had both height and girth on Tommy, but I was not as hard and was prone to nose bleeds and cuts around the brows. I was a boxer-puncher and possessed unusually fast hand with the ability to put punches together in combinations. At the full 175 pound limit (though I would usually enter the ring closer to 180), I also possessed a deadly left hook which had served me well to this point. In my last fight, I used it to quickly dispatch a so-called "fearsome brawler" in a tourney at the Great Lakes Navel Center and I was hopefully waiting to do the same to Liske.
My old man told me that Liske was a come-forward brawler and would try to overwhelm me at the bell so I had best be ready to tie him up with what we hoped was my greater strength. Of course, advising and doing are two different things but I was listening good. Liske was also a dirty fighter who used butts, elbows and low blows as a matter of course. Here, the the advice was to stay focused and fight my fight which was to attack behind stiff jabs, setting him up for straight rights and eventually, with some shuck and jiving, the hook.....maybe as a counter.
The next evening was a clear July one in Chicago and thankfully the humidity was reasonably low. My bout was the seventh in a venue of eight. The stadium seats were mostly filled, the overhead lights were on and my small but vocal neighborhood following composed mostly of Irish, Italians and Greeks was well ensconced. With deference to political correctness, urban ethnic rivalries were big in those days. That's just the way it was.The smell of cigars, beer, popcorn, Polish sausage, Italian beef, and heavily mustered Chicago-style Vienna dogs with chopped onions permeated.
Finally, with a sharp knock and a "let's go"at the door, I left the locker room for the short jaunt to the ring with my dad and coach. No fancy robe, no low hanging, multi colored trunks, no music except for the God-awful organ that played throughout the entire night. Just plain blue G & S trunks, red Everlast gloves, a mouthpiece, spit bucket, towel, old fashioned black high top shoes and an ice bag......no fancy coagulants here or electronic devices to record the scoring punches . Of course, wearing G & S gear was kind of a hint that a fighter just might be in the know. I acknowledged Tough Tommy wink's at me from across the ring with a nod. It was time and "The Chic" was pumped and ready to rock and roll. I had acquired my nickname due to my hero worship of a Chicago native and pro fullback with the Cleveland Browns by the name of Harry "Chic" Jagade and it just stuck back when I had played high school football.
Well the last thing I heard from my corner was to watch out for his charge across the ring and it proved to be sound advice.The bell rang and Liske came at me like a freight train. I immediately clinched him and threw him to the canvas intentionally falling on him with all my weight and digging my elbows into his back to let him know he was in with an equally mean guy. As the referee got us apart, he did the same thing but this time he caught me flush with one of his wild, amateurish shots and my nose opened like a sieve gushing red. The rest of the round consisted of clinching and warnings from the ref to stop holding and begin fighting, but Tommy was just strong enough to prevent me from fighting out of the clinches with uppercuts.
As round one ended, I went back to get the nose stemmed, my face cleaned up and listen to what I had done wrong, but to my surprise I was encouraged to keep tying him up because it was "draining" him. I was also told that when he momentarily stopped his rushes, use that as an opportunity to shoot stiff jabs to keep him at a distance. By taking better advantage of my reach and height, my coach believed this would negate Tough Tommy's ability to control things.
Round two started with another incoming rush from Liske and another clinch with no blows being landed. As we broke, I quickly began to jab as instructed between rounds and landed several stiff ones to his face but the result was a head shake to let me know I could do that all night long and it would do me no good. Still, I pressed the action, picked up the pace and initiated several punishing exchanges. I thought that if I could bring his right hand down by feinting with a right cross, I might be able to land my trademark left hook flush and if I did, it would be all over. I also knew I might be able to time my hook after slipping under one of his wide rights so I had two ways to go.
Though the later was more orthodox, I tried the former first but Tommy didn't bite countering me with a short, straight right of his own down the pipe. I felt the buzz all the way to my toes and saw little white spots......stars if you will.....going off in and around my head. He had heavy hands as I was finding out but damn it, so did I, as he was finding out. It had now become a pitched brawl with mostly head shots and furious exchanges. He landed more; mine were more compact and damaging. Both of us were now covered with my blood and the crowd was up and cheering its approval at the bell. Having been been lured into his kind of street fight, I was told between rounds to stop brawling, keep him away with the jab, and look for an opening for a counter hook. Heady stuff for an amateur to absorb.
Early in round three, after more clinching and holding, the opportunity I was looking for came as I hit him with a powerful lead right which stunned him and backed him up. After shaking it off, he countered with a telegraphed and looping overhand right which I easily slipped. It was a fatal mistake...or so I thought, and with my adrenalin running at full throttle, I sensed the beginning of the end. As I moved under his missed right, I feinted ever-so-slightly with my head and shifted my weight beginning the shoulder and hip roll that would launch my left hook with maximum speed and power. It worked perfectly as I hit Liske squarely and fully on his exposed jaw. This had always been my guaranteed stopper........the one that gave me my disproportionate record of stoppages and to do it with this rock solid guy would surely enhance my reputation as a top notch amateur...someone to be reckoned with on the midwest circuit. There was just one problem. To my absolute shock, horror and deflated spirit, he did not fall like a chopped tree; he simply grinned at me and waved me in........and no amount of adrenalin, intensity, intestinal fortitude, determination, character, inspiration or even a thousand bowls of Wheaties....could ward off what was coming. From that point on, I knew I was in for a very bad and bloody night in Chicago.
I'm not exactly sure what the moral was to that loss but I do know that after that experience, I never, ever underestimated any opponent's chin nor overestimated the power behind my left hook.
"In the first round I hit him and he laughed at me. In the second, I hit him and he sneered. In the third round, he knocked me out." Vince Phillips recalls an unhappy evening in the company of WBA welterweight champ Ike Quartey
Ted Sares is a syndicated writer who can be reached at [email protected]