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North
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Now I realize I should have placed this in another forum and the Mods can move this as they see fit but it's interesting in its relationship to our present crop of spoiled primo's. First installment.

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The 10th God Of War: Charley Burley
By Springs Toledo








The evening sun is sinking over the Oakland section of Pittsburgh like a great red fist in protest of defeat. An elderly man sits in a wheelchair on a front porch. There’s a scrapbook on his lap under hands gnarled by years of work and war. The hands are large. Melancholy eyes fill with yesterdays and begin to close behind his glasses as he nods off. Pages of his life come alive during these twilight dreams, and in a few moments he is burning with youth again, strong again, walking the avenue in a long coat with a cocked Stetson hat and Florsheim shoes. “Hey champ,” ghosts from the past say as he saunters by.

He was never the champ, but the whole city knows he should have been, would have been… had he only been given a chance.

“I JUST WANTED TO FIGHT…”
Elmer “Violent” Ray stood 6’2, weighed about 200 lbs, and wrestled alligators in Florida for fun. With arms like bazookas, he hit hard enough to be counted among The Ring’s 100 Greatest Punchers of all time. His manager was Tommy O’Loughlin. A new fighter had recently joined O’Loughlin’s stable …a welterweight.

In 1946, Ray would drive white heavyweight contender Lee Savold into the canvas like a tent stake and was given a wide field to graze alone as a result. For years, Joe Louis wouldn’t even get in the ring with him for an exhibition.

But the welterweight did.

He agreed to spar with Elmer Ray, despite the fact that he stood only 5’9 and weighed little more than 150 lbs. Ray was a crowding, bobbing and weaving type of fighter who hurled his bulk at his opponent as if his mother’s dignity was at stake. Witnesses stated that the heavyweight threw every grenade in his arsenal but may as well have been moving in slow motion because the smaller man slipped every shot. Frustrated, Ray sought to impose his will by other means and shoved the welterweight through the ropes and onto the ring apron where he landed with a thud. All four corners of the gym noted it; the heavy bags stopped jumping on chains, the speed bags stuttered to a stop, and skip ropes dropped to the floor as a small crowd of fighters interrupted their workouts and drifted over. Managers left jabbering receivers of pay phones dangling and followed trainers to watch the welterweight climb back into the ring. The heavyweight didn’t know any better, he thought he had him now. Stomping forward with his big right hand cocked, he launched it …but it was slipped …and countered. The welterweight landed a right cross into the area of the human countenance where it says “good night”, and a left hook followed it. Elmer Ray crashed to the canvas and took an involuntary mid-afternoon nap, mid-ring.

Ray posted big wins over name fighters and became the world’s number-one ranked heavyweight contender in early 1947, but if anyone asked him who hit him the hardest, his answer was always the same: a welterweight by the name of Charley Burley.

SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED
The first crown Charley Burley went after was affixed to the head of the great Henry Armstrong. Harry Otty’s critical biography Charley Burley and the Black Murderers’ Row recounts how Burley was told by Armstrong’s management that Armstrong would not give him a title shot because he was moving back down to the lightweight division. It wasn’t true. Armstrong made a record number of welterweight defenses and Burley never got his opportunity. Fellow Pittsburgher Fritzie Zivic fought Burley three times, earning a dubious decision in the first contest and then losing twice afterwards. Although he was ranked behind Burley, it was Zivic who got the title shot against Armstrong. And it was Zivic who went to comedic lengths to avoid facing Burley again as champion –he bought Burley’s contract and became his manager. Only after he lost the title did he sell Burley’s contract to Tommy O’Loughlin for $500. This happened in 1941. Zivic’s successor, Freddie “Red” Cochrane declined to fight Burley even though Burley offered to fight him for free.

Early in 1942, Al Abrams of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Tommy O’Loughlin wired an offer of $7500 to light heavyweight champion Billy Conn’s manager for a fight with Burley in Minneapolis. The offer was laughed at. Conn might have remembered those early sparring sessions in Pittsburgh that were the talk of the black community.

Middleweights were no braver. There is a persistent rumor that holds that Marcel Cerdan considered facing Burley when he arrived to the American shore, but after seeing Burley beat up on his sparring partners, he lost interest. Burley was forced to contend for frivolous titles like the so-called “Colored Middleweight Title” and the “California State Middleweight Title” against other African American fighters almost as great and just as forgotten as he is.

Burley’s mother was Irish, but he wasn’t quite white enough; and he was far too good for his own good, so public challenges were unmet, phone calls unanswered, and managers went deaf the moment his name was uttered. “I’d go anywhere to fight anybody,” Burley said, “if they’d get somebody for me I’d fight them. I just wanted to fight …I knew I could have held my own against anybody, that’s the God’s truth.” O’Loughlin took that at face value. He figured that if the iron of three divisions wouldn’t face Burley, perhaps the giants would. To really turn heads, he decided to pit Burley against a 6’3 journeyman in JD Turner who had just gone the distance with Conn. After obtaining permission from the Athletic Commission of Minnesota for Burley to fight a heavyweight based on the reasoning that Burley was having difficulty finding willing opponents in his own weight class, Burley climbed through the ropes to face a man who was 68½ lbs heavier. It was a physical mismatch and a novelty. It was also a rout. In the opening seconds, Burley landed a right cross that crossed the eyes and rattled the teeth of Turner. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that from that moment to the end of the sixth round, Burley was “his master, punching and batting the big Texan at will.”

JD Turner didn’t answer the bell for the seventh round. “That little sucker,” he said, “–knocked me cold. I woke up in the dressing room.”

A week later, O’Loughlin walked into the Pennsylvania Boxing Commission to get another waiver, this one to overcome a local rule forbidding fighters weighing less than the light heavyweight limit from facing opponents who “greatly outweigh them.” Burley, ranked fourth in the welterweight division, was looking for a fight against Harry Bobo, a 6’4, third-ranked heavyweight whose nickname was “The Paralyzer”.

THE WILD WEST
Nothing came of that. So he went west, where the wild things were. In the 1940s, California was the scene of an alternative boxing universe where Burley joined African American fighters like Eddie Booker, Lloyd Marshall, Jack Chase, Bert Lytell, and Aaron “Tiger” Wade. Budd Schulberg dubbed the group of them “Black Murderers’ Row” and boxing historian Harry Otty added Holman Williams and Cocoa Kid to their mythical ranks. These eight fighters faced each other 61 times. Burley came out of their round-robin tournaments with the best record, going 10-5-1 with one no-contest. All of them were notoriously tough and durable and none of them managed to win by knockout more than once in bouts with the others –except for Burley who managed three.

Sugar Ray Robinson was no more eager than any other champion to face these fighters, but he did use Cocoa Kid and Tiger Wade as sparring partners in the late 1940s. Tiger Wade was semi-retired when he separated Robinson’s sixth and seventh ribs during a session in 1948. Inactive and thirty-six years old, Cocoa Kid dropped a peaking Sugar Ray with an overhand right in the gym during the summer of 1949. This occurred after Robinson, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, was accused by a promoter of “evading his obligations” and breaking an agreement to fight Cocoa Kid in April.

…In other words, Sugar Ray ran out on Cocoa Kid.

His problems facing and/or handling these fighters are documented. But then, Robinson’s greatness is unquestionable. Wade found out the hard way after signing to fight Robinson for real in 1950. After going down five times inside of three rounds including one airborne trip out of the ring, Wade’s career ended with him on his hands and knees after Robinson landed a déjà vu shot to his ribs.

Robinson fought a faded Tiger Wade, but not Charley Burley. In the early forties, a young Ray Robinson was himself an avoided prospect, so Burley’s manager Tommy O’Loughlin tried to set up an eliminator between Robinson and Burley. No dice. “Sugar Ray would never fight him,” O’Loughlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1981, “I know. I tried to make the match several times.”

Burley defeated Tiger Wade when it mattered, when Wade was dangerous, in March 1944. After that he faced the dangerous Jack Chase, an experienced fighter who was called “Young Joe Louis” early in his career. Chase may have had meanness in his method, but Burley didn’t like Chase. Paul Lowry of the Los Angeles Times watched Chase miss with his jab repeatedly while Burley snaked and weaved away in a manner that reminded Lowry of “The Irish Lullaby” Jimmy McLarnin. After he landed a series of consecutive rights, Chase fell flat on his face. He instinctively tried to crawl to his feet as the referee counted over him, but “collapsed and had to be helped to his corner.” Chase hadn’t been knocked out in over seven years.

Charley had by this time settled in San Diego and was working in an aircraft factory when he got the call to face master mechanic Archie Moore. He barely trained. Early in the first round, Moore was suddenly stretched on the canvas thinking that Burley had a lug wrench in his right glove. He went down three more times in rounds three, four, and eight –the last time by a jab, and finished the fight about as steady as an autumn leaf. Moore’s famous cross-armed defense was solved easily by the straight right hands of Burley, which closed Moore’s eye and swelled up the left side of his face. Moore was amazed: “He outboxed me,” he said, “that’s something I couldn’t understand, because nobody had ever done that before.”

An added insult came on the wings of gossip; Moore had heard that Burley was up playing cards and drinking whiskey the night before the bout.

Like many other great fighters from the golden era of the Sweet Science, Burley would have whirlwind campaigns where he would fight several serious opponents in a short span of time. Compare this to today’s version of greatness. Consider Manny Pacquiao in 2008. Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Marquez in March, David Diaz in June, and Oscar De La Hoya in December. The weight jumping is impressive, but Burley would fight giants without gaining a pound. Pacquiao took three good scalps and had a great year, but he also had three and a half months and five months off between them. Burley beat up Archie Moore fifteen days after knocking out Jack Chase, and he knocked out Chase thirteen days after outpointing Tiger Wade.

Defeating three great fighters inside of five weeks is the mark of a complete fighter. Some said Charley Burley was a perfect fighter.

By the time he unwrapped his hands for the last time and hung up the gloves, he had been openly avoided by at least four champions in three divisions. In a ninety-eight bout career that spanned from 1936-1950, he faced down four of his peers in the International Boxing Hall of Fame including Moore, Fritzie Zivic, Billy Soose, and the master-boxer of Murderers’ Row Holman Williams.

And despite the monsters he faced –the bangers, the speed demons, the technicians, and the giants, he was never stopped...

“…Never stopped,” a dozing Charley Burley murmurs as film clutter splays in his mind and a sound like a rattling projector rouses him. A car drags a tailpipe as it passes by his front porch. The old man wipes his eyes and returns to the present, to the familiar hum of traffic on Penn Lincoln Parkway, to the cool evening breeze. Street lights announce that the red sun has gone down to defeat, although tomorrow will see it rise new, blazing majestically. There’s reassurance in that. In a moment, the screen door will open and Julia will bring a blanket for his lap.

Boxing’s greatest uncrowned champion looks to the darkening sky with hope, and then looks down at his hands… and clenches a fist.
 

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Spike Spiegel
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Nobody wanted to fight Charley Burley. Sugar Ray Robinson ducked him, Henry Armstrong ducked him.. Ezzard Charles was scared of no man and stepped into the ring TWICE and beat Burley TWICE.

Great article though. Burley is becoming a forgotten great.
 

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North
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Nobody wanted to fight Charley Burley. Sugar Ray Robinson ducked him, Henry Armstrong ducked him.. Ezzard Charles was scared of no man and stepped into the ring TWICE and beat Burley TWICE.

Great article though. Burley is becoming a forgotten great.
Totally agree. One of if not thee most overlooked fighter/s of all time.
 

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Nobody wanted to fight Charley Burley. Sugar Ray Robinson ducked him, Henry Armstrong ducked him.. Ezzard Charles was scared of no man and stepped into the ring TWICE and beat Burley TWICE.

Great article though. Burley is becoming a forgotten great.
Burley couldn't get big fights because his safety first style wouldn't bring fans out. That's the reason why promoters wouldn't book him. They knew he wasn't a crowd pleasing fighter and even if their guy won they wouldn't look good against him.
 

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North
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Burley couldn't get big fights because his safety first style wouldn't bring fans out. That's the reason why promoters wouldn't book him. They knew he wasn't a crowd pleasing fighter and even if their guy won they wouldn't look good against him.

Somewhat true but it was also because he was such a complete fighter and as the article points out the colour of his skin.
 

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Spike Spiegel
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Burley couldn't get big fights because his safety first style wouldn't bring fans out. That's the reason why promoters wouldn't book him. They knew he wasn't a crowd pleasing fighter and even if their guy won they wouldn't look good against him.
Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong fought all comers and not every man they fought was a huge draw. The reason they didn't fight him is because they knew they would have a lot of problems against Burley. I'm pretty sure Robinson himself said Burley is the greatest fighter he'd ever seen.
 

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North
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
LOL. The only thing worse than a Floyd nuthugger is one who pretends to do something else than hugging Floyd's nuts. Get back to coward's nuts, noob! :facepalm:
Fk are you stupid. I don't even like Floyd. Back to your colouring book pi$$ ant and quit following me around.The trolling flameboy and I'm not your wet nurse.:facepalm:

"Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience"

 

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North
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong fought all comers and not every man they fought was a huge draw. The reason they didn't fight him is because they knew they would have a lot of problems against Burley. I'm pretty sure Robinson himself said Burley is the greatest fighter he'd ever seen.
Nope that was Willie Pep he referenced.
 

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Fk are you stupid. I don't even like Floyd. Back to your colouring book pi$$ ant and quit following me around.The trolling flameboy and I'm not your wet nurse.:facepalm:

"Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience"

LOL at the canned insults. That quote was like ten years ago. Welcome to the internet noob, too bad you're to moronic to know when you get bitch-slapped. And stop with the I LIKE PAC shtick we can see thru you. So you dont like Floyd, but you think he's p4p number 1? :facepalm:
 

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Spike Spiegel
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Nope that was Willie Pep he referenced.
Oh, Pep completely slipped my mind. But I do remember him praising Burley as one of the greatest fighters ever. Eddie Futch also called him one of the greatest and most well-rounded fighters that he's ever seen.
 

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North
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
The 9th God Of War: Willie Pep

By Springs Toledo


Put down that fruitcake, fight fan. Stillman's gym is open on Christmas Day. Let's climb those wooden stairs and see if we can get a glimpse of one of the finest ghosts of Christmas past... the Will o' the Wisp himself.




“He was the best boxer I ever saw.”
~ Sugar Ray Robinson

Stillman’s gym was founded in 1920, the same year that the New York State Legislature passed James J. Walker's landmark bill legalizing boxing. Legend has it that Benny Leonard and a troupe of Jewish fighters left Grupp’s gym after Billy Grupp got drunk and blamed Jews for everything from the war to the weather. According to trainer Ray Arcel, Stillman’s gym originally wasn’t a boxing gym, but it became one for two reasons. First, a throng of admirers followed Benny Leonard into the gym to watch him train, and second, because manager Lou Ingber was no fool –he charged admission.

By the 1940s, Lou Ingber became Lou Stillman for simplicity’s sake. Jack Curley sat at the front door collecting fifty cents a head. The “modest entrance”, A.J. Liebling recounted, “is the kind of hallway you would duck into if you wanted to buy marijuana in a strange neighborhood.” The gym was open from 12 to 4pm every day including Christmas. Fight fans of all sizes and shapes came in – shifty-eyed characters chewing toothpicks, high school students playing hookey, and old ex-pugs with nowhere to go. Every day a hundred pairs of feet would walk up a wide wooden stairway to the main floor where two rings loomed, where bass lines reverberated on light bags like precursors to hip hop records, and sweat, liniment, and cigarette smoke filled the air. Fifteen rows were set up for spectators to watch the greatest array of champions ever assembled in one place: Ike Williams, Sugar Ray Robinson, Billy Conn, and Joe Louis were only a few who trained at this gym.

Lou Stillman was no sweetheart. “Big or small, champ or bum,” he said, “I treated ‘em all the same way –bad.” Charles Dickens described Ebenezer Scrooge as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.” Stillman didn’t need no stinkin’ scribbler to describe him. He described himself –as “a grouch, a crab, a cranky guy who never smiled.” And he did better than Scrooge, he justified it with a .38 caliber pistol he carried in plain sight. No one was spared his bad disposition –not the connected managers or even the wise guys they were connected to.

Almost no one…

One of the fighters was a wisp of an Italian who smiled often, razzed anyone for a laugh, and had more trouble at home with his wife than he had in almost any of his 241 career bouts. History would crown him as the greatest defensive boxer who ever lived.

“Stillman loved me,” this fighter recalled years later.

On November 20th 1942, Madison Square Garden was filled to the rafters. Chalky Wright, 30, was the veteran of 177 professional bouts when he stepped into the ring for the third defense of his featherweight crown. Bouncing on his toes across the ring was the Italian, a 20-year old kid from Hartford, Connecticut. Due to age restrictions, the kid had to lie to boxing officials to get the title shot. He told them he was 21. A loud and raucous Italian contingent from the kid’s neighborhood filled half the arena, shouting and hurling curses Chalky’s way. When the first bell clanged, the challenger sprinted out of his corner to center ring, put his dukes up ...and disappeared. By the second round it was clear that his paisans in the crowd were doing Chalky a favor by confirming for his ears what defied his eyes and escaped his fists. The kid fought like a figment of Wright’s imagination, offering only mirages in lieu of mayhem like a laughing ghost.

This was the artistry of “Will o’ the Wisp”, the nom de guerre of Willie Pep.

A "Will o’ the Wisp" is a mysterious light or a mischievous spirit that was believed to lead travelers onto false paths. It is of British origin. Pep preferred “Will o’ the ***.”

According to the New York Times, Wright was forced to “hold his fire through most of the battle to avoid appearing ludicrous as Pep stuck and stabbed and broke and ran.” Wright, a puncher, became Wright the plodder, coming in to greet stinging lefts and rights while his own courtesies sailed windily over a head or shoulders, beside an ear or past an arm. For the first four rounds it seemed that the only peril for Pep was catching a cold from the draft.

In the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds, Wright caught up and pummeled him on the ropes. In the ninth round, Wright launched a right cross and Pep ducked and caught it on the top of his head. “This guy punched so hard that he could hit you on top of your head and daze you,” remembered Pep, “and I’ve got a pretty hard head.” Pep surprised everyone when he took over again before the end of the round, at times interrupting his evasive artistry to turn and outslug the champion. Both judges and the referee saw Chalky Wright win only four of the fifteen rounds.

Willie Pep became the new featherweight champion of the whole wide woild –at least in New York.

Four years and forty-seven fights later, Pep stopped Sal Bartolo in the twelfth round to take the National Boxing Association world featherweight title. Then the champion shattered any illusions that the legendary Manuel Ortiz had about standing taller than a bantamweight, and defeated Chalky Wright three more times. The last time he faced a badly faded Wright, he ended his misery in three rounds. “Willie,” Chalky said afterwards, “I had enough of you. I give up.”

In January 1947 he climbed a set of stairs that almost turned out to be a stairway to heaven. Pep was a passenger on a tin can flight from Miami to Hartford during a snowstorm. The plane crashed near Millville, New Jersey and three passengers were killed. The featherweight champion, his left leg snapped like a twig and his back broken in two places, woke up in a hospital bed with three quarters of his frame in cast. Willie was lucky to be alive and few had any illusions that he’d fight again. But Willie was the master of the illusion, and wasn’t about to let this one master him: “I’m through,” he said, “—I’m through flying at night!”

In June, he was back in the ring. In July he fought five times. On October 29th 1948, he stepped through the ropes with a record that shined like no boxer's record ever will again. Willie Pep was 134-1-1. But on that night the deadly serious Sandy Saddler loomed over Pep like a telephone poll over a hydrant. Pep’s dazzling record didn’t even constrict his pupils. He proceeded to ignore Willie’s feints, spins, and set-ups, and waded right in and hit him hard with power coming up in bolts from the balls of his feet. Pep was shockingly knocked out in four rounds. “Out” –said Saddler. It was Archie Moore who was the architect behind Saddler’s defeat of Willie Pep. And he did it at Stillman’s gym. “He wanted me to stay on top of him and give him no leverage,” Sandy told Peter Heller, author of “In This Corner.” Sandy would punch whenever Pep tried to relax. He’d set his sights on every fleeting glimpse and fading shadow in that ring that wasn’t wearing a bow tie –then fire.

Pep’s trainer was Bill Gore of Providence, RI. This was the man who took not only the natural athleticism –the timing, the speed, but also the nervous energy of a teenage Guglielmo Papaleo and built a foundation of skill underneath it. Pep was a savant. Gore was the strategist behind him, watching films, analyzing the nightmare style of Sandy Sandler, devising a battle plan to win the rematch.

That rematch between Saddler and Pep is considered one of the greatest fights of the 20th century. Pep, only three years away from a ghost ride in the sky, and four months removed from a devastating knockout, followed orders. The New York Times reported that Saddler was a 5 to 7 favorite on the books, but ate thirty-seven consecutive jabs in the first round. He was a “baffled and bewildered” slugger shadow boxing in Madison Square Garden. But then, Sandy’s long arms were like whips and whips can take a cigarette out of a mouth at twelve feet if handled by an expert. Sandy managed to cut Willie below his left eye and above and below his right eye. In the fourth round he landed a straight left, in the ninth, a straight right, in the tenth round a right to the jaw that saw Pep teetering like a drunk. In the fourteenth it was a left hook, then another right. Pep somehow shook it off and “gave no quarter… pelting Saddler with every blow known to boxing.” In the last round, it was Pep who was “fighting Saddler all over the ring.”

It was the greatest triumph of his career. It remains one of the greatest triumphs in the history of the ring.


Thanksgiving Day 2006, Rocky Hill, Connecticut. In a room at the West Hill Convalescent Home, Willie Pep finally kept still long enough for mortality to land a shot. His mischievous spirit emerged from a body stooped with age …and climbed a stairway.

The stairway was not the familiar four steps leading into a boxing ring, nor did it lead into a plane like the one he boarded sixty years earlier. It was a golden one, as brilliant as the belt he wore for so long, so long ago. It was a wide one, wider than that wooden stairway headed up to a certain gym in the New York City of his dreams.

It was a stairway lined with many who departed before him –more than a few ex-wives, two great featherweight rivals he never forgot, and the curmudgeon who loved him, Lou Stillman.
 

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North
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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
willie pep was a helluva a fighter man.....all those wins with almost no power

that's more than impressive

Aint that the truth. That peak record of win/loss is really something else. Whether its 134-1-1 or 135-1-1 is a matter for historians but its truly incredible.It will never be topped.
 

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Aint that the truth. That peak record of win/loss is really something else. Whether its 134-1-1 or 135-1-1 is a matter for historians but its truly incredible.It will never be topped.
never ever ever!

what's funny if he fought today his style would be likened to malignaggi's and appreciated just as much
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
never ever ever!

what's funny if he fought today his style would be likened to malignaggi's and appreciated just as much
Good point their styles are very similar in some ways with Willie having a Floyd like D.Yeah today many want instant gratification. I call it drive through boxing. If their is no knock out its a boring fight. I like ko's but a good chess match just as much.
 

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tellin' it like it is
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Good point their styles are very similar in some ways with Willie having a Floyd like D.Yeah today many want instant gratification. I call it drive through boxing. If their is no knock out its a boring fight. I like ko's but a good chess match just as much.
same here :thumbsup:
 

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Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong fought all comers and not every man they fought was a huge draw. The reason they didn't fight him is because they knew they would have a lot of problems against Burley. I'm pretty sure Robinson himself said Burley is the greatest fighter he'd ever seen.
Yeah but they either fought big names or guys with a crowd pleasing style. Burley was a promoter's nightmare but he was one of the most skilled fighters ever.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
The Eighth God Of War: Benny Leonard

By Springs Toledo



The Jews of medieval Spain were famous for their fencing skills.

Fencing, like boxing, evolved out of brutal origins into a sport that retained its aggressiveness but added gentility. The fencer salutes his opponent. The boxer extends a glove. The combatants in both sports engage one another under a clear set of rules to show dominance, and the similarities do not end there. Fencing relies on foreknowledge. A fencer will look for patterns in his opponent’s reactions and invite that reaction with the idea of countering it with an effective thrust. The boxer does the same. Competing well in either sport relies on reaction-time and speed, agility, coordination, and self-confidence. The ability to mount an attack while being acutely aware of defense is critical. Strategy is critical.

Legend has it that a bare knuckles boxer from the 18th century named Daniel Mendoza (1763-1836) was descended from those Jewish fencers and incorporated some of their skills into his fighting style. What is more certain is that the man who preferred to be announced as “Mendoza the Jew” was a true pioneer of the Sweet Science and helped redefine it as a thinking man’s sport, using strategies such as jabbing, side-stepping, and blocking to compensate for his small size. In an era where fighters had more cauliflower ears than eyebrows, his style was more refined, even graceful. Mendoza revolutionized boxing.

Like a stone tossed into history’s pond, his influence rippled across a century into the golden era of Jewish-American boxing…

And what an era it was. Between 1910 and 1940 there were twenty-seven world champions of Hebrew descent. At the end of the Roaring Twenties, a time when boxing was a major sport and clubs were everywhere, fighters with names like Goldstein, Rosenbloom, and Schwartz were the dominant ethnic group filling the ranks. Many of them came out of the lower East Side of Manhattan, the rough-and-tumble sons of immigrants who had poured in from Eastern Europe during the 1880s clinging to hope and carrying mezuzahs. Their parents had fled persecution. They fled from no body.

One of them lived on Eighth Street, the son of a garment presser.

There was nothing intimidating about the appearance of the man born Benjamin Leiner. Standing only 5’5 with features that could be considered handsome in a delicate sort of way, he called to mind David strumming a lyre more than he did the Samson-like Mendoza. As a proud product of a culture that publically frowned on prizefighting, he would take pains to hide his profession from his parents, out of respect. But he would not hide his identity. Jews beamed when they saw the familiar six-pointed star emblazoned on his trunks. In time, he became more than a champion –he became Benny Leonard, the “Great Bennah,” “the Ghetto Wizard,” the shayner Yid who convinced many graying heads under prayer shawls to embrace the muscular Judaism of the prize ring.

5 July 1920, Benton Harbor. The fifth round of the world lightweight champion’s fourth defense was underway and Benny Leonard had his hands full with Charley White.

White boasted a record of 73-9-4 and had already defeated five Hall of Famers over fifteen years as a professional. He had a left hook that was a thing to fear and it distracted Leonard from applying the boxing brilliance he was already known for at age twenty-four.

Leonard shot a pristine left jab to the head of the charging challenger, who responded with a right hook followed by four more rights to the face. All those rights were a set-up. While Leonard was roughly lulled into expecting another right, he almost went nighty-night when a left hook slammed into his chin. The champion fell through the ropes and landed hard on the ring apron. Ray Pearson of the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that the dazed boxer couldn’t get up because his legs were “dangling over the lower ropes while his shoulders reclined outside the hemp.” The referee counted to four before Leonard’s corner men managed to push him back into the ring. White got all over him like a cheap suit.

Before the ninth round, Charley White was doing so well he may have been daydreaming about whether Leonard’s championship belt would have to be taken in or let out when he won it. Meanwhile, Leonard was engrossed in mathematical calculations. He was inviting and gauging White’s biggest weapon so he could make it work against him. White’s daydream was even encouraged by the champion who began the ninth round with what the New York Times described as a “light exchange.” But Leonard had his eureka moment. He found it in simple geometry; specifically, a line inside an arc. When he saw White setting up to throw his left hook, Benny quick-stepped inside it and fired a straight right hand. White teetered for a moment, pondering who it was that put the jawbone of a lion into the offending glove and then collapsed to his hands and knees. He got right back up like a good yeshiva student, but the rabbi threw a sequence of textbook shots and sent him sprawling again.

White was up at the count of eight and Leonard sent him through the ropes, shaking off a grudge he’d been nursing for four rounds.

It was a thoroughly beaten man who climbed back into the ring. Another right welcomed him. Down he went. Up he got. The fifth time he went down, he got comfortable. His left-hook, so fearsome only moments earlier, lay inert on the canvas. It was the first time Charley White was counted out in over 140 fights.

The arena went wild. According to the New York Times, barriers were torn down and seats were broken as a mass of humanity pushed its way toward the ring. Several spectators were trampled and the police could not hold back the crowd from the champion’s corner. Leonard was forced to stand in the ring for almost thirty minutes and receive the hearty handshakes and congratulations of a multitude.

10 February 1922, Madison Square Garden. Benny Leonard’s nose was bleeding in the fourth round after it was dented inwards by a right cross. Worse than that, his hair was mussed up. To a man celebrated in the press for his primping vanity, this was downright rude. Rocky Kansas, an Italian slugger out of Buffalo, New York who had lost only 4 times in 53 decision bouts, was fighting wild but landing big shots.

Benny Leonard was fighting Rocky Kansas on Rocky Kansas’s terms; much like pundits from another generation accused another Leonard of doing in his first fight with Roberto Duran. The currency with which both paid for their choice of strategy was in bumps and bruises. As the fourth round ticked by, Benny was visibly weakening under the strain, and Kansas encouraged his decline by battering his body in clinches and throwing haymakers at range. Leonard’s sharpshooting skills were on display anyway as he shrewdly countered Kansas with short lefts to the stomach. It was a thrilling slug fest. By the eleventh, the tide was turning. Leonard’s investment downstairs was taking a toll on Kansas, and his neck became an accordion stretching from sneak-jabs. Kansas went down for a count of nine after absorbing a right over the heart and Leonard stepped in for the finishing touches. According to the Los Angeles Times, he “worked around the Italian like a cooper around a barrel, nailing him with lefts to face and body.”

Leonard took a decision in a thriller. The two would meet again five months later, only this time Rocky Kansas, a 2010 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, would not see the final bell. “He whipped, he whipped me,” Kansas would say after he was stopped, “and oh can he hit.”

THE SOUTHPAW
Color-coordinated searchlights were installed at Yankee Stadium in July, 1923 to direct the crowd to the different subway transit lines after the second Benny Leonard-Lew Tendler title fight. It was the first time in history that such a lighting system was used for boxing after dark. The crowd numbered almost 65,000 –the largest since Jack Dempsey fought Georges Carpentier in Jersey City in 1921. Twenty dollars got you ringside. Leonard was a 2 to 1 favorite due mainly to his superior boxing ability, strategic capability, speed, and hitting power. Philadelphian challenger Lew Tendler was the other best lightweight on the planet. He had only one advantage –but it was an alarming one…

Lew Tendler was a southpaw.

From the moment that breed crawled backwards out of the primordial ooze, campaigns have erupted throughout history against them. And why not? The English word “sinister” is derived from the Italian “sinistra” which means “from the left” or “evil.” There is indeed something unnatural about them. They seem to exist as a mirror-image of the right-handed population, operating like Bizarro configurations that do everything backwards. To be sure, the left-handed among us may argue that it could just as well be the right-handed who are mirror-images for them; but this is America. Majority rules. It’s a right-handed world. Need proof? Watch a southpaw write with a ballpoint pen. They don’t pull it across the page; they push it, and smudge ink all over their hand. They put belts on upside down. And they can be downright dangerous. Congress should ban their unfit hands from handling sharp items never designed for them –such as scissors. Prefer blood on your bread? Ask one to cut the loaf. And if you see a left-hander in the cockpit of heavy machinery, run for your life.

Boxing managers recognize the danger. “Them southpaws,” jibed Jim Wicks, “should be drowned at birth.” For decades a left-handed novice would be converted to the conventional stance. Some trainers still do, although most see real advantages for southpaws.

And there are. Approximately 12% of people are left-handed. This means that southpaws are far more acclimated to sparring with conventional boxers than conventional boxers are to southpaws. Conventional fighters are often confused by southpaws because the left-handed attack comes from opposite angles. Some would even argue that they are inherently stronger. The greatest active fighter today happens to be a southpaw, but it was Lew Tendler who was the first great, and quite possibly the best southpaw in boxing history.

Benny Leonard’s own prejudices may have been on display over those few years that Tendler had to wait for a title shot. Public clamor grew to fever pitch before the champion finally agreed to meet him in Philadelphia, but that bout was cancelled after Leonard broke a bone in his hand during training. Tendler promptly took the $5,000 forfeit put up by both fighters as a guarantee to show up and fight. Leonard demanded that the money be returned but was rebuffed. Tendler’s manager then propped him up as an alternative claimant to the lightweight throne without consulting the man who kept the seat warm since 1917. Tendler became a mirror image with a make-pretend crown and the Bizarro world of the boxing southpaw was writ large.

Leonard and Tendler met for their first title bout in the summer of 1922. It was a rude introduction. Tendler crossed a left onto Leonard’s right eyebrow in the opening round and blood streamed. Leonard’s shellacked hair was a disaster area in no time at all, and his face resembled a child’s first finger-painting. Before it was over, he’d be missing teeth too.

The second round was Tendler’s.

The third round was Tendler’s.

By the fourth round Benny was wishing that boxing, like polo, would ban lefties from the sport altogether.

Eventually, inevitably, Leonard’s brilliance enabled him to start solving the painful puzzle before him. He began to find the range with lead rights –the foil for the backwards boxers, and started stepping around Tendler to force him to reset. Tendler, who also happened to be one of the greatest body-punchers in history, disrupted Leonard’s progress by sinking a deep left into his stomach. Ringsiders heard Leonard gasp.

The fifth round was Tendler’s.

He took the eighth round as well after landing a left to the head that made Leonard’s knees sag. Benny clinched, spun him, angled off, and threw shots as if he could still see straight. According to the New York Times, there was laughing afoot in the clinch. It was another indication that Leonard was a yiddisher kop; he was talking to the fierce man in front of him –cutting jokes and making remarks to convince Tendler of the lie that he wasn’t hurt. Ringside observers heard him talking to Tendler in the ninth round as well. He was bluffing to buy time.

As the bell clanged for round ten, Leonard smiled and those at ringside saw a gap where a front tooth had been earlier.

Most ringside scribes had the Ghetto Wizard very slightly ahead after twelve rounds, some saw it as a draw. It was a no-decision bout, which meant that Tendler had to knock the champion out to take the title. He didn’t. A relieved king with an uneasy crown admitted that even his royal boxing I.Q. was barely enough: “Southpaws are hard to solve,” he said, “I found difficulty in solving Tendler’s style from the outset.”

The rematch, held under the blue and white lights of Yankee Stadium on July 24th 1923, was a fifteen round title bout. Babe Ruth was among those cheering at ringside. He witnessed how great a slugger Leonard was, and watched him leave the ring with barely a mark on his face and get hoisted up onto shoulders in the crowd. “Tendler,” Leonard remarked after his most decisive victory over his most dangerous opponent, “is the greatest southpaw and one of the greatest lightweights I have ever seen.” The southpaw also had something to say. It was as sincere as the cut over his eye and the pulp of his nose:

“Benny,” he said, “is a master ring general.”

With that resounding in the ears of fight fans everywhere, the champion vacated his seven-year rule over a fearsome division, with a wink and a smile.

…The stone that Daniel Mendoza tossed into history’s pond generated a small army of great Jewish fighters in the opening stanzas of the twentieth century. Charley White and Lew Tendler were in those ranks. But it was Benny Leonard who ascended higher than them all, higher than just about any ring general who ever lived, ultimately reaching a place where the reflected brilliance of the Star of David shined upon him …and he upon it.
 

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The Seventh God of War: Mickey Walker

By Springs Toledo




“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” ~ Mark Twain



Mickey Walker was born with a pug nose; “A throwback from the old breed of game,” said the legendary journalist Westbrook Pegler, “fighting Irish who fought for hours and days and weeks with anything at hand merely to see which was the better man.”

The man who called himself “Toy Bulldog” was all of twenty-one years old when he challenged Jack Britton for the world welterweight title at Madison Square Garden in 1922. The champion had been fighting professionally since Mickey was a four-year-old sporting a propeller on his cap. Five months earlier, Britton faced the “Ghetto Wizard” Benny Leonard and was in command when Leonard hit him when he was down and got disqualified. Against Mickey Walker, Britton barely won a round. He took a knee about six times and paid homage to conquering youth. Before the decision was even announced Britton knew he’d been beat and so walked over to the opposite corner to congratulate the new champion. “I wish you luck, boy,” he said.

The victor was smiling from ear to ear as if he had shamrocks in his socks. He usually did.

After four defenses of the world welterweight title, he jumped up two divisions to outclass light heavyweight champion Mike McTigue, and then bit off more than even a bulldog could chew when he faced middleweight champion Harry Greb six months later and lost a decision. Mickey withdrew back to the welterweight division and licked his wounds. Exactly six weeks after Greb was safely dead, he re-emerged and took the title from Tiger Flowers.

MICKEY 1, THE WORLD 0

The first time the Toy Bulldog met the Nebraska Wildcat Ace Hudkins was at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in the pouring rain. Walker took the judges’ decision; he did not, however, take the crowd’s decision. The more outspoken among them gave vent to their dissent by throwing bottles and shattering the arc lights overhead. Most of the boxing writers scrambling at ringside preferred the skill displayed by the judges’ pick, even if it was Hudkins who had forced the fight.

Ace Hudkins had been forcing fights almost from the moment he came out swinging from his mother’s womb. He was one of nine siblings from the wrong side of town. We all knew him –he was that kid with ill-fitting clothes and a chip the size of Gibraltar on his shoulder. Frank Roche of the Los Angeles Times met him at his training camp for the return match and said that Hudkins was the kind of man who could “chew iron and spit rust.” His pen trembled just a bit when Hudkins snarled at him, “You can put this down right now, I’ve ruined more fighters than any other guy in the ring today –any other guy in the ring today… nobody can lick me… Maybe Mickey Walker would like to read that.”

If Walker’s training camp up in the Ventura Hills was a delivery stop for the Times, we can be assured that the sports pages held up in his meaty paws were steady –barring a breeze.

Come fight time, those meaty paws steadily de-clawed the ripping, slashing brawler. Any lingering doubt about Mickey’s supremacy over all middleweights was banished for good when he took every round against Hudkins, save one scored even. The bulldog tamed the wildcat, took it for a walk, yanked its tail, booted it until it screeched, and showed it who’s boss. He did so less like a bulldog and more like a park ranger who set bait and sprung traps in every round. Hudkins’ relentless, devil-may-care attack was reduced to impotence this time. “Come on and fight! Come on!” Hudkins yelled between left hooks that cut his eye and tore his lips. Walker staggered Hudkins repeatedly, picking off his strenuous swings with ease and countering to the body and head with short, powerful shots. It was the worst beating Hudkins absorbed in 103 career bouts. After the final bell, Hudkins was a bloody mess as he lurched over to congratulate his conqueror.

After the fight, the fans went home and read the evening edition of the Times, which blared an alarm: “[Stock Market] Crash Severest Recorded in Modern History…Bottom Drops Out.” The date was October 29th 1929, Black Tuesday. The Great Depression had begun.

Feeling blue at the dawn of a new decade? Don’t. Eighty years ago your grandparents had it much worse. Breadlines stretched for blocks as the proud were humbled and the humble were hungry; speakeasies were full, and so weren’t the churches where mothers lit candles and men in suits sobbed in pews. Radio personality Will Rogers remarked that people had to stand in line to get a window to jump out of and speculators were selling space for bodies at the bottom of the East River. Everything in the country seemed to crash at once.

Poor Ace Hudkins teetered but did not himself crash to the canvas the night he faced a peaking Mickey Walker. He crashed later. His boxing career wound down quickly after 1929 and he became a roaring alcoholic. He was sued twice, once for fracturing the skull of a pedestrian and another after his live-in girlfriend accused him of assault; he was arrested no less than ten times for drunk driving and drunken brawls, including one with the police. In 1933, at the height of the Depression, his bank account was shot, and so wasn’t he –twice in the chest.

Meanwhile, Mickey Walker, who at fight’s end sported a pinkish hue on his cheeks from the moderate exercise, would become an artist.

Indeed, Walker’s prudence at Wrigley Field stood in stark contrast to both the feral fighting method of Hudkins and the panic that wrecked Wall Street. He’d need such prudence where he was going. Big investments bring big risks. Big purses do too. It’s nice to get rich but one must be careful when dealing with large sums… or large someones…

The bulldog got out of the yard and went charging into the land of the giants.

SNAPPING AT THE HEELS OF HISTORY

“When I got in the ring and got a look at him,” Mickey Walker recalled about Bearcat Wright, “I nearly fainted before I got out there to throw a punch.” Bearcat Wright was no little middleweight wildcat like Ace Hudkins. He was a big, bad, black heavyweight who stood over six feet tall and weighed a rock solid 210 lbs, by some reports he was over 250. He fought out of Omaha, Nebraska and held wins over faded legends Sam Langford and Jack Johnson. Mickey stood only 5’6 ½ with his shoes on and was outweighed by at least 42 lbs. When they stood facing each other at ring center, Bearcat looked liked he could pick him up like a favorite nephew and give him a kiss.

“It was my idea to fight the big guys,” Mickey said, “The big guys were slower.” In other words, after almost 125 bouts in twelve years, and just as youth and speed were beginning to fade with age, Mickey began fighting heavyweights as a matter of course …because they were easier.

Bearcat Wright took offense to that big idea, and he began his quarrel with Walker the way that every heavyweight should when little guys have aspirations –he went straight at him. A monstrous shot spilled Walker onto the canvas like a bucket of paint. But Walker not only got up, he carried the fight to his opponent from that moment on. Along the way he must have borrowed a ladder because it was Bearcat who went down in the second round. At the last bell, Mickey had the heavyweight cornered and was still snarling and snapping at the bell.

Mickey trotted fearlessly in his new yard. Sometimes so fearlessly he’d forget to be prudent. He’d blow off training, put on his glad rags, and hit the gin mills. On the eve of the Kentucky Derby in 1930 he was scheduled to fight heavyweight Paul Swiderski, but it was called off that afternoon. So off he went pub crawling with a few boxing writers (including Hype Igoe) and “really tied one on.” Negotiations went on without him and ended well. The fight was back on, but half the main event (i.e. Mickey Walker) wasn’t even found until 8pm. No coffee was black enough and no shower cold enough to sober him up before fight time. He wobbled down the aisle; half held up by his manager Doc Kearns and crawled into the ring. Sure, the dailies will tell you that Walker went down several times in round one, but there should be an asterisk attached. Swiderski had less to do with it than the bartenders around Louisville. In the first round, Walker was on one knee and when the count reached nine, the bell suddenly clanged. Kearns had grabbed a water bottle and reached over to hit the bell with thirty seconds still left in the round. An enraged Swiderski ran over and socked Walker in the nose. Bedlam broke out and cops flooded through the ropes. Dizzy Mickey thought he was in a street fight and started swinging at whomever –and popped Kearns on the jaw. The fighter had to drag his manager to the corner.

In the next round Walker was down again, and then the lights went out. It was strongly suspected that Kearns had hired someone to do it. After the delay, Walker went out to blast –and burp– his way to a decision win.

All told, Mickey whipped about sixteen big dogs –“big bums” he called them, including ranked contenders Johnny Risko (sixth) and King Levinsky (fourth). The biggest among them was Arthur De Kuh who was 6’3 and 223 lbs. The best among them, though far from the most popular –was number one contender Jack Sharkey.

22 July 1931, Ebbets Field. Westbrook Pegler watched as Mickey Walker walked confidently past press row and stepped into the ring to face Jack Sharkey. Pegler just sat there and shook his head, not only because of Walker’s age and size, but also because of his lifestyle: “During the last four or five years,” he wrote in the days before the bout, “Mickey has been a member of the night side, so, for one thing, there isn’t enough of him and, for another thing, what there is of him isn’t as good as it would have been if he had always gone to bed at 9 p.m.”

Pegler didn’t hide his cynicism under a spit bucket. “Naturally,” he quipped, “in promoting the prizefight, the shrewd thing to do is keep on suggesting this remote possibility [that Walker can win] until, by force of reiteration, it becomes a live, tingling hope.”

His lucid mind then drifted to horses:

“Often times, at a horse track, a party will bet more or less money on some poor weary steed at odds of 50 to 1 or some such figure and, just by wishing alone, will develop a beautiful picture of that horse winning the race by the time they go to the post. Then the horse jumps a few yards and sits down to bat a whisker of hay out of his ear with a hind foot and finishes nowhere at all, but the customer had the fun of hoping, anyway.”

…Evidently, Pegler didn’t take a trip to Orangeburg, New Jersey to watch Walker train. Now pushing thirty, Walker was in better shape than he’d been in for years. By the end of the first round Pegler’s eyebrows were askew. By the third round, he sat in silence with the rest of the scribes watching his elegant cynicism evaporate under the lights. Yesterday they were laughing behind typewriters, setting their own odds against Walker at 50-1. Today they sat with invisible dunce caps squinting at ring-wise brilliance while twenty-five thousand fans cheered behind them. The short ones stood on their chairs.

In the seventh, Pegler watched Walker come “swinging in under Sharkey’s cautious defensive works with the low roll of a vaudeville baboon on roller skates” and land a right that sent Sharkey stumbling backwards to the ropes. Mickey took a right flush on the chin in the eleventh but shook it off and landed an uppercut that sent Sharkey to the ropes again on rubber legs. For fifteen rounds, he treated giants the way that little guys should –with a persuasive prescription of overhands in combination and in close, where long arms get in the way and short arms rule the day.

Walker’s style was once compared to watching major surgery done with a boat oar. This was the observation of a neophyte who confused aggression with mindlessness. This performance spoke for itself. Mickey was as highly skilled as he was ferocious. He bobbed and weaved while the future heavyweight champion of the world missed and missed again “–in the manner of a man throwing shoes out a window at a singing tomcat,” wrote Pegler. “Walker blocked many of these blows, squatted under many others,” he added, “and soaked up some with a curious rolling away motion which eased the impact.” As the bells tolled and the rounds waned, Sharkey grew desperate.

He landed low blows. Mickey ignored them.

He put his hands up to protect his face. Mickey switched the attack to the body.

He stood straighter or leaned back to draw on his height advantage. Mickey jumped.

Sharkey, known for a high level of skill in a division never so acclaimed in that department, was facing a superior ring general hell-bent on exploding the stubborn myth that bigger means better.

After the bout, the humbled heavyweight was unusually gracious. Mickey Walker, he said, “is a great little fighter and don’t let anyone tell you he can’t hurt.” Walker was still chomping at the bit. “I could fight fifteen more like it right now,” he said as his eyes twinkled over a contagious smile, “I thought I won all right but that don’t matter.” The official result of the bout was a draw, but it was Walker who gave Sharkey a “pretty thorough licking” outscoring him “by the difference between fifteen dollars and fifteen cents”; so said the scribe who compared Mickey to a poor weary steed only the week before.

Westbrook Pegler may not have realized it yet, but he had just witnessed Mickey Walker’s greatest performance; and the assumption here is that Pegler promptly became an enthusiastic convert to the cause of short people, fighting Irish, and long odds.

The next afternoon he was almost certainly spotted ten miles west, jumping up and down at Jamaica Racetrack… where he lost his shirt.
 
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