Category Archives: Boxing Articles

At The New Garden Gym When It Was Hot We Used The O.W. (Open Window)

By Bobby Franklin

Amateur Star Don Drake And Trainer Bill Ebel By The Entrance To The Gym

Today, I was in downtown Boston for an appointment, and when I was finished with my meeting I thought I would take a walk over to Friend Street where the old New Garden Gym was located. The site of the first New Garden is now a parking lot, but the building that housed the second one is still standing at 254 Friend Street and has been converted into condos.

It was quite hot today as it has been for much of this summer. The sun was shining and the sky was beautiful, but the heat was scorching. I remember many times heading into Friend Street for a workout on such a day back in the 1970s. I didn’t have air conditioning in my car so the ride in was not the most comfortable. I used what we called 4/60 air conditioning. That’s when you roll down all the windows and go 60 miles an hour to try and stay cool. It didn’t always work that well in Boston traffic. 

The Two Windows On The Right Were Our AC.

By the time I would arrive at the gym I was not in need of a warmup as I already had a good sweat going. I would climb the three rickety flights of stairs up to the 4th floor where the tiny gym was located. I don’t think many if any boxing gyms back then had air conditioning. They couldn’t afford it. I also think the old time trainers figured it would only make the fighters soft. 

When the New Garden Gym moved to its second location across the street from where it originally stood, it had to be downsized a lot in order to fit into a much smaller area. The full ring would not fit in the new space, so it was cut in half. It made for some close quarters when sparring. In fact, after having boxed in that ring for quite a few months, I was not prepared for what would happen when I had my first amateur fight. 

Jack O’Halloran Hits The Bag At The New Garden

The night I climbed into the ring in Somerset, MA and the bell rang it was the first time I was in a regulation size ring. I felt like I had walked into a ballpark. It seemed enormous, and that’s because it was at least twice the size of the New Garden ring. I also recall the surface feeling very soft under my feet, almost like walking on sand. This could have been because there was too much padding under the canvas, or more likely because the floor of the ring on Friend Street had nothing under its canvas. 

Most days when you went to the gym Al Clemente and Johnny Dunn would be there. At that time they were the two best known trainers in the Boston area. The door to the place was at about the midpoint of the rectangular shaped space. If you looked to the right when walking in you would spot Al and Johnny at the far end near two windows and a pay phone. There were actually four windows there but two were blocked by lockers.

Vinnie Curto At The New Garden

You would think such a small space that high up in a building on a sweltering summer day would be a sweat box, and while it wasn’t cool it was actually quite bearable. The reason for this was those two windows which were kept wide open. It turns out that when the old gym across the street was torn down and left as a parking lot, it left an open space over which you could see the Expressway and not far beyond that was Boston Harbor on the other side of the North End. 

In the afternoon the sun would have moved to the west which was to the back of the building, and a nice ocean breeze would usually kick up. Now, of course, that breeze would pick up a few extra ingredients on its way from the harbor to the confines of the pugilistic academy we were all training in. There would be the salt air along with the aromatic delights of authentic Italian cooking taking place in the North End, but there was also the fragrant exhaust produced from the perpetual traffic jam on the Expressway. By the time it all wafted in through the window next to Al Clemente it was quite the mixture. It then combined with the smell of cigar smoke and lineament that was ever present in the gym. 

Johnny Dunn With Ron Stander After The Frazier Fight.

Most of you who have only lived in today’s sterile environment are probably gagging at the thought of this, but in my memory it is a sweet perfume and I would give anything to be there breathing it in again. To those of us spending a hot afternoon working out on Friend Street it was as refreshing as being on the beach. 

It is said that smell is the sense that holds the strongest memories. If I could, I would bottle the scent that used to permeate the New Garden Gym back in the 1970s so whenever I wanted to remember those wonderful times in that broken down old gym I would just have to take a whiff and be back there again. I have never been in a gym since that comes close to the charm of that old place. I sure do miss it.

Godoy Was Good

Held A Prime Joe Louis To A Fifteen Round Split Decision

By Bobby Franklin

Arturo Godoy

In 1937 Joe Louis won the World Heavyweight Championship from James J. Braddock. Over the next 12 years he defended the title 26 times, a record. Of those 26 defenses only three went the full 15 round distance, and out of the three opponents who took him to the closing bell, two were kayoed in rematches. The third, Tommy Farr, only fought Joe once. 

Farr is remembered for the courageous and tough battle he put up against Joe. There have been some who have said he deserved the decision, but that is not true. In Tommy’s own account of the fight he said Louis clearly beat him. Unfortunately, Farr never got a rematch and the big payday it would have brought him. Louis was willing, and actually wanted to fight him again, but as I have written in an earlier column, the sleazy people who populate boxing sabotaged Tommy’s shot. Most notably, Joe Gould who took over his management in the United States.

In Joe’s last two title defenses he fought Jersey Joe Walcott. In their first fight Walcott took Louis the entire fifteen rounds decking the champion on the way to losing a split decision. In the rematch Louis kayoed Walcott in the 11th round and then retired after the fight. 

There was one other man who managed to take Louis the fifteen round route. This man also was the only man other than Walcott to hold Joe to a split decision. While the Louis that Walcott faced was nearing the end of his career and was past his prime, the man who gave the champ such a difficult time of it did so in 1940 when Joe was at the peak of his career. 

Oddly, out of the three men who took Louis the distance this man is the least remembered. His name was Arturo Godoy and he was quite the fighter. 

Godoy was a seasoned veteran when he fought Louis. Hailing from Chile, Arturo had a long run and was fighting his 71st fight when he stepped in to challenge for the title. with two wins over Tony Galento as well as victories over Luis Firpo, Jack Roper, and Tommy Loughran, Godoy had a reputation for being a tough customer. He also was extremely strong and had a very unorthodox style. This combined with unending stamina made him a force to be reckoned with. 

When the fight was announced it was not considered to be a difficult one for the champion. It was held at Madison Square Garden on February 9, 1940 before a crowd of 15,567 people. What that crowd got to see was a fight that wasn’t pretty to look at but turned out to be Louis’s toughest challenge up to that point.

Godoy fought from a very, very low crouch while crowding Joe and not giving him punching room. At times Arturo crouched so low that he was practically sitting on the canvas. It is no secret Louis had trouble with opponents who fought out of a crouch. Max Schmeling had kayoed hims a few years earlier fighting in that way, and Tony Galento had decked him when he threw a left hook from a crouch. 

At the end of 15 rounds the scorecards were announced and the decision was split with Joe coming out on top. The referee and one judge had it in Joe’s favor 10-5 and 10-4 respectively white the other judge had Arturo on top by 5-10. United Press saw it as a draw. The crowd booed the decision, but that may have been more about the poor performance from Louis as it was from the feeling that Godoy actually won.

Godoy and Louis On The Radio

No matter the fairness of the decision, the fact is Godoy gave Joe a very tough night. So, why is this bout not remembered in the way the Farr fight is? Well, for one thing, Joe never fought Tommy again while he stepped right back into the ring with Arturo just four months later. Louis called the first Godoy fight “The worst fight I ever had”, and he wanted to show he was better than how he performed that February evening.

One thing about Louis, he always performed better in rematches, and the Godoy fight was no exception. Joe and trainer Jack Blackburn went to work in the gym and came up with a strategy for dealing with Godoy’s awkward style, and when the bell rang at Yankee Stadium on June 20, 1940 before a crowd of 27, 286 fans it was a different Joe Louis who came out against the challenger. 

Louis vs Godoy 2

Employing a lethal right uppercut and keeping his punches very short and inside, Joe went to work busting up the game Chilean challenger. By the 8th round Godoy’s face looked like what the Associated Press called “barbecued beef”. Godoy had been dropped once near the end of the 7th round and again twice in the 8th before the referee called a halt to the carnage. Godoy tried to push past the referee and continue fighting and had to be restrained, but then went over and congratulated Louis. After the fight Joe said “That’s the worse beating I ever gave a man”.

Arturo Gody And HIs Wife

So, to answer the question of why Arturo is not remembered in the way Tommy Farr is for his galant 15 round go against Joe Louis is because Farr never fought Joe again so, as most likely would have happened, he did not get kayoed by him. While Joe got revenge on Arturo just 4 months later and proved beyond a doubt who the superior fighter was. 

Never the less, Godoy deserves to be remembered for the incredible battle he gave Joe Louis on a February night in 1940. He was the only man to take the prime Louis fifteen rounds to a split decision, and that was a monumental feat.

Arturo Godoy fought for over ten more years after the Louis fight. He ended his career in 1951 with an outstanding record of 127 fights, 91 wins (51 by KO), just 22 losses, 12 draws, and 2 no contests. He passed away in his home country of Chile in 1986 at the age of 73. 

Godoy was a popular and exciting personality who lit up a room. He was well liked in the states and loved in Chile. I’m sure Joe Louis never forgot him.

Hemingway, Spider Kelly, and the (Lost) Art of Boxing

By

Mike Silver

 “Spider Kelly taught all his young gentlemen to box like featherweights, no matter whether they weighed one hundred and five or two hundred and five pounds.”   

The above quote appears on the first page of Ernest Hemingway’s first major novel, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. Hemingway often based his characters on real people. John A. (Spider) Kelly was not a fictional character. He was the boxing instructor at Princeton University for 34 years (1902 to 1936). One of the main characters in the novel, a former collegiate boxing champion, is described as having been trained by Kelly at Princeton. 

By all accounts Spider Kelly, a former professional boxer, was an excellent teacher-trainer.  Hemingway’s sentence is further proof of that. It would do well for today’s trainers to follow Spider Kelly’s example. At a body weight of 119 to 126 pounds a featherweight boxer has to rely on speed and mobility rather than strength and power. He must strive to remain an elusive target while still capable of landing more punches than his opponent. But before he learns how to throw a punch the beginner must be taught proper balance. Like a dancer, a boxer has to maintain balance while quickly changing tempo and direction. Effective footwork is not possible without proper balance. Building on that foundation the student boxer works up to more sophisticated defensive and offensive skills, including knowing what to do when an opponent makes a certain move. 

Three of the greatest boxers who ever lived, Benny Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep, were all trained in this manner and used those foundational skills to reach spectacular heights. But any boxer trained in this manner has an advantage over one who was not. 

Willie Pep

So why do most of today’s boxers, irrespective of their weight division, fight like slow lumbering heavyweights who are looking for a knockout with every punch? We see it all the time. They plod forward or back (rarely circling), throw ill-timed punches, and appear to have no coherent strategy.  What used to be called “ring guile” or “craftiness” is missing. Classic defensive techniques such as ducking, slipping, weaving or parrying (common tactics used by the top boxers of past decades) are virtually non-existent. They become easy targets by remaining stationary after delivering a volley of punches. The most common defensive maneuver is to raise the gloves in rope-a-dope fashion and wait for the opponent to stop punching. Very few know how to effectively use the most fundamental punch in a boxer’s repertoire–the jab. Forget about feinting with a purpose or drawing a lead, or knowing how to slip and slide or clinch. Those words are not even in the vocabulary. And whatever happened to body punching? 

In between rounds the corner’s instruction to the boxer is the oft heard and expletive laced “throw more punches!” –which is akin to a basketball coach imploring his team to “put the ball in the basket!” 

Boxing may be the only sport where the further back you go, the better the athletes are.

This dumbed down version of boxing is not new. The overall skill level of boxers has been in decline for several decades. Boxing may be the only sport where the further back you go, the better the athletes are. In fact, it would be more accurate to rename the sport “fighting” because boxing, as many of us “old timers” knew it, no longer exists. There are a number of reasons for this but first and foremost is the lack of qualified teacher-trainers. 

Cus D’Amato

I don’t blame the boxers. It is not their fault. They have the potential to be much better than they are because the ability is there. I blame the trainers who cannot teach what they themselves do not know. Yes, there are a few exceptions. Among contemporary boxers three names come to mind—Gennady Golovkin, Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford. These very talented athletes display some of the old school moves. Lomachenko (who took ballet lessons as a youth) has excellent footwork. Golovkin has a fine left jab and knows how to set up his power punches. He also understands the value of body punching. Crawford’s speed and instincts are impressive but he tries too hard for a knockout and still has much to learn. If we could time travel these boxers back 60 or more years ago they would have been considered promising prospects. Despite their obvious talent, they are not yet at the level where we would place them among the elite boxers of that era. Perhaps with more experience and exposure to better competition they could have won a world championship back then. But the road taking them to a title bout would have been far more difficult than the one they have traveled. Why? Because in every decade from the 1920s to the 1950s there were dozens of Golovkins, Lomachenkos and Crawfords vying for a contender slot. The competition was brutal. To win one of the eight title belts was truly an extraordinary achievement. 

So where have all the good trainers gone? 

What happened was that boxing’s mentoring system for turning out the next batch of well-schooled trainers began to break down in the decade following the end of World War II. By the late 1950s hundreds of neighborhood arenas, boxing’s farm system for developing new talent, had closed shop because they could not compete with free televised boxing almost every night of the week. Post war prosperity and the G.I. Bill further thinned the ranks of potential professional boxers. Gym memberships declined causing many to close. In the big cities the ranks of master teacher-trainers, never a huge number, began to be depleted. They either retired or left the sport to pursue other occupations and took their knowledge with them. 

Mike Capriano

By the 1970s only a handful were left. This caused a disconnect in the mentoring system. A few dinosaurs continued to teach into the 1980s—Eddie Futch, Angelo Dundee, Cus D’Amato, and Mike Capriano—but they were the last of the breed. The next generation of trainers (who came of age after the 1980s) were not of the same caliber and lacked the knowledge and experience of the old school masters. Most of them were part time instructors who held full time jobs during the day and taught boxing in the evenings. In time mediocre fighters became mediocre trainers. It is no surprise that the two best teacher-trainers today are Teddy Atlas and Freddie Roach. Atlas was mentored by Cus D’Amato and Roach was trained by Eddie Futch. 

OK. Enough complaining. Is there anything that can be done to improve boxers’ skills in the absence of quality teachers? (I won’t even attempt to address the insane organization of professional boxing. That mess is beyond help). 

Over the past 40 years I have collected dozens of boxing instruction books from the mid-1800s to the present. Most have some useful information but I was always on the lookout for a manual that was all encompassing. My search ended with the discovery of two indispensable books that should be required reading and study for every current or wannabe trainer and boxer.

Naval Aviation Physical Training Manual of Boxing

The greatest boxing instructional book ever written is the 286 page Naval Aviation Physical Training Manual of Boxing, published in 1943.  It was prepared by and for the officers in charge of the instruction of Boxing in Naval Aviation.  Keep in mind this book was published at the height of World War II. As explained in the introduction, boxing was part of Naval Aviation training because it was thought to “quickly acclimate the body and mind to the violence and shock so foreign to modern day youth, yet so absolutely essential to fighting men.” Boxing, it was felt, helped the cadet make that transition. I am astounded by the thoroughness of this book. You will not get better and more detailed instruction anywhere else. Example: It not only describes in detail every conceivable punch and defensive maneuver but also dozens of long forgotten combinations and coaching hints. The book was obviously written by very capable boxing trainers (although none are identified by name). It includes many photos and is available on Amazon but costs about $130 dollars. For those serious about seeking knowledge it’s worth every penny.

The second outstanding instructional book I recommend is Boxing: A Self-Instructional Manual by Edwin L. Haislet, first published in 1940 and re-issued in 1982. Haislet was assistant professor of physical education, boxing coach University of Minnesota, and director of the Northwest Golden Gloves Tournament. Before I discovered the Navy book this was my gold standard for instructional manuals. It is 120 pages, illustrated, and is an excellent source of valuable information. A reprint selling for $30 dollars is available on Amazon.

I would also strongly recommend anyone interested in why and how the sport devolved over the past thirty years to read my first book, “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science”.  It contains extensive commentary by several top trainers, including Atlas and Roach. 

If there were a course given to certify and license boxing trainers (and there certainly should be) these three books would be required reading. 

One final note: Thanks to You Tube we have access to films of some of the greatest boxers of the twentieth century. It would be beneficial if these films were studied, but understanding would be enhanced if the aforementioned books were read first. There are scores of videos to choose from. I have selected five—one each from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s to serve as an example of the type of artistry in boxing that no longer exists.

Mike Silver’s newest book is The Night the Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments From the World of Boxing.






Rest In Peace Pete Rademacher

Pete Rademacher

Olympic Champ Was Only Man

To Challenge For The Heavyweight Title 

In His First Pro Bout

By Bobby Franklin

Rademacher On The Attack Against Patterson

(Pete Rademacher passed away on June 4th. I wrote this column for the Boston Post Gazette last year.)

Pete Rademacher had an outstanding amateur career culminating with a Gold Medal in the heavyweight division at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. Rademacher won all three of his bouts by knockout and won the final in first round for a very impressive finale to his performance.

Pete Rademacher, Jose Torres, and James Boyd

Leading up to his Olympic victory Pete showed he was one of the best amateur boxers in the word.. He won numerous titles including the Seattle Golden Gloves, the Chicago Golden Gloves, the All-Army Championship, and the National AAU Title in Boston in 1953. He had a final amateur record of 72 wins against 7 losses.

After winning the Olympic Gold, Rademacher got it into his head that he was ready to fight for the world heavyweight championship. Rocky Marciano had just retired and Floyd Patterson and Archie Moore were signed to fight for the vacant title. This bout would take place in November of 1956, just months after Pete competed in the Olympics. He was convinced he could beat either man. 

The Weigh In

When Patterson won the title Rademacher approached Cus D’Amato, Floyd’s manager, with the idea. Cus, always looking for a soft touch for Floyd, agreed, but told Pete he had to raise $250,000.00 for Patterson’s end of the purse plus put an additional $100,000.00 into escrow in order to ensure a rematch if the unthinkable happened and Floyd lost.

Pete found two backers and they set up a company called Unlimited Enterprises a small manufacturing firm. The idea was for the fight to publicize the new company and Pete’s purse would be his salary as vice president. 

The fight was set in Rademacher’s home state of Washington both because it was the only place it would draw a crowd and the commission there was the only one that would sanction such a bout. Pete has said he was a 10 to 1 favorite not to show up. Truth is, the fight was thought to be so one sided that the odds of 10 to 1 in Patterson’s favor were meaningless as no one was taking bets.

The fight took place on August 22, 1957 in Sick’s Stadium in Seattle. Former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran was the referee. A crowd of 16,961 showed up producing a gate of $243,030 far short of the anticipated sell out that would have brought in $400,000.00. There was no live home TV or closed circuit broadcast of the fight. 

The United Press called the match “weird” and Rademacher a “sacrificial lamb”. It is not an exaggeration to say this fight was an embarrassment to boxing. The two leading contenders for the title at that time were Eddie Machen and Zora Folley, and they were both being passed over in favor of an amateur getting a shot at the title. The heavyweight championship had now sunk to perhaps its lowest point ever with this circus. What’s really crazy is that Rademacher managed to come up with the $250,000.00 to pay Patterson. 

Pete Drops Floyd

As for the fight; well, it went longer than anyone expected and Pete showed plenty of courage. He even managed to floor Patterson for a count of four in the second round. The plodding challenger landed a right hand that did the job, but it would be his one moment of glory in the bout. Later, Pete would say it was his biggest mistake as it only made the champion mad.

Patterson would score six knockdowns before sending Rademacher to the canvas for the seventh time for the full count in round six. After the fight referee Loughran said about Pete “He is the most courageous fighter I have ever seen.”

Rademacher vs Paterson

Patterson would continue ducking the top contenders after this fight facing the likes of Brian London and Roy Harris before losing the title to Ingemar Johansson. He would go on to win the title back from Ingo and then fight him a third time. After that he would take on the unranked Tom McNeely before losing the title for the final time to Sonny Liston.

Rademacher would continue fighting and in his next bout was stopped by Zora Folley. He and Folley had been opponents in the amateurs where they traded wins over each other. Pete had a final professional record of 15 wins (8 by KO), 7 losses (6 by KO), and 1 draw. His biggest wins were over George Chuvalo and Bobo Olson. He lost to such men as Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, Archie Moore, and Doug Jones. He would later become a boxing judge and referee. 

Pete Rademacher

Pete eventually went to work for the McNeil Corporation of Akron, Ohio. The company manufactured swimming pool products and Rademacher earned nine patents for products he invented, things such as kick-board training devices for competitive swimmers and wave-quelling lane dividers for pools. After retirement, he served as golf director for the American Cancer Society helping to raise over $1 million for cancer treatment. 

The last I have been able to find out about him is he is living in a nursing home in Sandusky, Ohio. 

While the fight with Patterson was something that never should have been allowed to happen, Pete Rademacher did show real courage in the bout. He was also pretty creative in how he made it all come about. He went on to do a lot of good things for worthy causes, using his fifteen minutes of fame to good advantage, so some good did come from it all. 
 

 

100 years ago: The Law That Gave Birth to the Modern Era of Boxing

100 years ago: The Law That Gave Birth to the Modern Era of Boxing

by

Mike Silver

From 1895 to 1919 professional boxing was either tolerated or outlawed in various cities and states, including New York. The Frawley law, passed in 1911, had created the New York State Athletic Commission to oversee the sport. Some 40 boxing clubs operated under its purview. In 1917, after a boxer was fatally injured in a bout, reformers convinced the legislature to repeal the Frawley law and abolish boxing in the state. The ban lasted for three years. In 1920, after much political maneuvering, professional boxing returned to New York with the passage of The Walker Law.  

Boxing, despite its ups and downs, had always been popular with the general public. Now, on the cusp of the Roaring Twenties, what it needed to realize its full potential was a powerful and stabilizing organizational structure with tighter controls over the sport and greater safety measures. The Walker Law was the answer. Most importantly, it allowed New York City to quickly regain its position as the boxing capital of the world. 

 Named after its sponsor, state senator and future New York City mayor (1926-31), James J. (Jimmy) Walker, the law brought back the State Athletic Commission but with enhanced rules and guidelines. One hundred years ago, on May 24, 1920, it was signed into law by Governor Al Smith and took effect on the first day of September. 

Three commissioners appointed by Governor Smith supervised the sport. The new law mandated the licensing of all persons officially connected with boxing bouts—boxers, managers, promoters, matchmakers, corner men, referees and judges. All shows required a physician in attendance. Matches could not exceed 15 rounds. Within a short time dozens of armories, arenas and stadiums began presenting boxing cards on a regular basis. There certainly was no shortage of boxers. By March of 1924 New York State had licensed 6,123 professional boxers. 

Any person who violated the rules of the commission or engaged in behavior considered detrimental to boxing would risk losing his license. It was the intention of the commission to improve the public’s perception of boxing by attempting (albeit with mixed results) to curtail the influence of gamblers, criminals and other undesirables.    

Of course a prime reason for legalizing professional boxing was the tax revenues that would be realized via licensing fees and a 5 percent tax on the gross receipts of every boxing card. Three months after the first professional bouts were staged under the new law, the sport had already paid $75,000 into the New York state treasury.                                                                                                          

Politicians in other states saw opportunity for increased tax revenues, jobs, and political patronage if they followed New York’s example and legalized boxing under government auspices. Hugely motivating was the 1921 heavyweight title bout between champion Jack Dempsey and the dashing French challenger Georges Carpentier. The bout drew 90,000 fans and nearly 2 million dollars in paid admissions, breaking all previous records in both attendance and gate receipts. Whereas in 1917 only 23 states had officially legalized the sport, by 1925 the number was up to 43. They all used the template of the New York Commission as a guide.

During the 1920s boxing reached unprecedented levels of popularity, even eclipsing baseball in terms of live attendance figures and newspaper coverage. Heavyweight title fights became the most lavish and anticipated spectacle in sports. In 1926 and 1927Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney drew over 100,000 people for each of their two title fights in Philadelphia and Chicago. 

The social, artistic, and cultural dynamism of the Roaring Twenties, in concert with the media’s focus on celebrities (especially sports heroes and movie stars), glamorized boxing and made Jack Dempsey the first boxing superstar of the twentieth century. But due credit must be given to Tex Rickard whose promotional genius and reputation for integrity was instrumental in revitalizing the sport. Rickard made his headquarters in New York City and his success was responsible for the building of a new and much larger Madison Square Garden in 1925. Under his watch boxing gained a respectability it had never known before. It was Rickard who transformed boxing into popular entertainment for a mass audience. The business of sports entertainment would never be the same.  

The Walker law also was a catalyst for others to hitch their star to boxing. In 1922 Nat Fleischer, a 33 year old sports editor for several New York papers, launched The Ring magazine with Tex Rickard serving as silent partner (Fleischer acquired full ownership in 1929). For the next 50 years “The Bible of Boxing” was the sport’s most important and authoritative trade publication. Fleischer often spoke out against corruption within the sport and advocated for standard physical exams and rules. The Ring “top ten” ratings of contenders for every weight class became a monthly feature of the magazine and under Fleischer’s stewardship was a trusted resource for everyone interested in the sport.                        

Dempsey, Tunney, Rickard, Walker, Fleischer, The Ring magazine, Madison Square Garden, New York City—the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. They all came together in the 1920s to create boxing’s greatest decade. But none of it would have been possible without the passage of the law that allowed it to happen.

Mike Silver’s newest book is “The Night the Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments From the World of Boxing” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, June 2020). 

 

Jess Willard Reconsidered

The Pottawatomie Giant Deserves Respect

By Bobby Franklin

Jess Willard

In the recent heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder both men were, to put it mildly, quite large. Fury at 6’9” weighed in at 273 pounds while Wilder at 6’7” tipped the scales at 254 pounds. Wilder usually comes in lighter but was bulked up for this fight. 

While both men are among the largest to ever hold the crown, there have been heavyweights in the past who would not be out of place in the ring with either one of them. Jess Willard at 6’6 1/2” and weighing in the vicinity of 245 pounds would be able to match eyeballs with Fury and Wilder, though Fury would have a couple of inches on him. 

Willard is best known for two fights, his win over Jack Johnson when he took possession of the Heavyweight Title, and his defeat at the hands of Jack Dempsey when he lost the crown. Both fights have the shadow of controversy hanging over them that obscure Willard’s performances in  them.

When Jess met Jack Johnson for the title on April 5, 1915 at Oriental Park in Havana, Cuba he was the latest in a string of White Hopes who were sought out to take the title from Johnson. The fight was held in Cuba because at the time Johnson was a fugitive from justice and would have been arrested had he returned to the United States.

Jack Johnson On The Attack Against Willard

The fight was scheduled for 45 rounds and took place in the afternoon. One of the myths surrounding the fight was that the temperature was scorching by the time the combatants had entered the ring. Arly Allen, who wrote the definitive biography of Willard stated after exhaustive research that the hottest it had gotten that day was 70 degrees. Looking at footage of the fight you can see the fighters were dressed warm when they entered the ring; Willard had a heavy sweater on. The fans also looked quite comfortable.

Johnson Vs Willard

The other myth that has been used to discredit Willard was started by Johnson years later when he claimed he threw the fight. Every boxing historian I know does not buy in to that. In fact, all you need to do is watch video of the fight and you will see in the early rounds Johnson going all out to knock out Willard. Jess survived this assaults from the champion and came on to knock out Johnson in the 26th round. While Johnson was not in the best of shape, weighing 225 pounds as compared to the 208 he weighed against Jim Jeffries five years earlier, Willard fought a very good fight showing excellent footwork for a man his size. Jess also had a powerful right hand which he used to finish off Johnson. 

Much of the blame for Johnson not being in great fighting shape falls on Jack as he refused to face serious opposition after he won the title. His toughest opponent was Jeffries who had been out the ring for six years when they fought. Johnson also had been leading a wild lifestyle. Would things have been different if Jess was facing an in shape Johnson? Possibly, but the fact is Willard won the fight fair and square after standing up to the best Johnson had to offer. 

Willard vs Dempsey

In the Dempsey fight things turned out differently for Jess. The controversy in this fight centered on Jack, who many believe fought with loaded gloves. This story was started by his manager Jack Kearns years later after the two had a falling out. It has never been proven or disproven and, while most historians don’t believe Kearn’s story that he put Plaster of Paris on Dempsey’s hands before the fight, there is reason to believe Jack had his hands wrapped in bicycle tape. The bicycle tape was legal at the time. There is also a theory that Jack had a metal bar in his hand when the fight began. I have written about this in more detail before as have many other boxing experts. It is something that will never be fully resolved.

In the first round of the fight, which took place in Toledo, Ohio on July 4, 1919, Jess took a terrible beating being floored seven times and being saved from a knockout by the sound of the bell. (Actually, a whistle as the bell had broken before the fight.)

That is what most people remember of the fight. What happened in the next two rounds is interesting as Jess was not floored again. He put up a courageous stand before his corner called an end to the fight after the third round. 

Jess Willard vs Floyd Johnson Drew A Huge Crowd

It has been written that Willard wanted a rematch with Dempsey but he didn’t help his chances at getting another go against the Manassa Mauler by staying inactive for the next four years. 1923 he stepped into the ring against Floyd Johnson, and while having some rough moments early in the fight came on to kayo Johnson in the 11th round. Willard looked fit and on the way back at the age of 42. He was then signed to fight Luis Firpo with the winner being promised a shot at Dempsey.

The fight took place at Boyes Thirty Acres in Jersey City, New Jersey on July 12, 1923. Firpo kayoed Jess in the 8th round putting an end to any hope of the Pottawatomie getting his return bout against Jack Dempsey.

It should also be noted that both of Willard’s comeback fights drew huge crowds and the former champ remained extremely popular. A rematch with Dempsey certainly would have been a major attraction.

Jess Willard

So, what would have happened if Willard and Dempsey had fought again? I think it would have been a bit different than the first fight. Jess wasn’t imbued with the killer instinct. When younger, he  killed a man in the ring and that had aways haunted him. He believed, with good reason, that he was much more powerful than his opponents and had a certain fear of fatally hurting another. Because of this he often lacked aggression when fighting.

Before the Dempsey fight Jess was asked if he thought he might kill Dempsey. In fact many thought that was highly possible. When the bell rang for the first round you can see how Jess came out of his corner in a very calm manner. When the two went into a clinch Jess stepped back with his arms spread as if to say he wasn’t going to hurt the little guy. Willard was completely unprepared for the assault that was soon to take place. However, after taking that beating in the first round, he fought back hard and gave Dempsey a bit of a go of it.

In a rematch, Jess would have come out ready for battle. He most likely would have used his weight against Dempsey, not stepping back in a clinch but instead he would have roughed the champion up. Dempsey still would have won, but the fight would have gone longer and would have had more grappling.

Willard only had 28 fights in his entire career. He was a reluctant yet courageous warrior. In his two most notable fights he has not received the credit he deserved. Nobody though he would beat Johnson, yet he proved them wrong. Against Dempsey, he showed the heart of a champion and a strong fighting spirit. 

Jess really didn’t have the killer instinct that is needed in such a cruel sport. He did have great athletic ability, was always in great shape, and had tremendous courage. You might want to take a look at the fights I have discussed and reconsider your opinion of Willard.

Why Did Marciano Retire?

It Has Been Sixty-Four Years Since Rocky’s Last Fight

His Battle Against Archie Moore May Have Influenced His Decision To Hang Up The Gloves

By Bobby Franklin

This past September 21st marked the 64th anniversary of Rocky Marciano’s last fight, his winning defense of the title against Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore. The following April at the age of 32 Marciano announced his retirement from the ring stating: “I am retiring because of my wife and baby. No man can say what he will do in the future, but barring poverty, the ring has seen the last of me. I am comfortably fixed, and I am not afraid of the future.”

At the time of his retirement Rocky had a perfect record of 49 and 0 and would be the only heavyweight champion to retire with an undefeated record, a feat that still stands to this day.

Most boxing fans expected the champion to go for the 50th win and were surprised when he didn’t. So, is it true he retired to spend more time with his family, or was there more to it?

The Marciano vs Moore fight drew a crowd 61,574 to Yankee stadium with a gate grossing $948,117.95. Rocky’s share was $482,374.00. That is the equivalent of $4,289,456.00 in today’s dollars. Even deducting for his manager Al Weill taking a huge cut, that was still a very healthy sum of money. Combine it with the Rock’s previous earnings and it would appear he was very comfortable financially. 

It has been said that Marciano no longer wanted to fight because he believed Al Weill was taking too much of his money. While that is most likely true, it seems that some other financial arrangement could have been worked out. 

As far as spending time with his family, after retirement Rocky continued to travel, mostly without his wife, and enjoyed being on his own. I don’t buy the retirement was for family reasons.

Moore vs Marciano

I think the key to figuring out why Marciano stopped at 49 is to look at the Moore fight. While Rocky stopped the Old Mongoose in the 9th round, it was a grueling fight in which the champion took some terrible shots. Could it be that he felt he was starting to decline and did what hardly any fighter does, get out while on top? 

I asked noted boxing historian Mike Silver, the author of The Arc of Boxing what he thought. Mike replied: 

“Next to his title winning effort against Walcott this was Marciano’s toughest contest.  Moore landed some humongous punches to Rocky’s chin. During the course of the fight Marciano absorbed some of the hardest punches he had ever taken. He had to throw more punches per round than in any other fight in order to overwhelm Moore’s superior skill and experience. In a great fight it was Rocky’s chin, conditioning, relentless punching and almost superhuman durability that won it for him, but I wonder if the punishment he took in that fight helped convince him to retire while he still had his health?”

Archie Moore vs Rocky Marciano

After hearing what Mike had to say I watched a tape of the fight and it was indeed a very tough fight for Rocky. After a somewhat tame first round Moore came out and dropped Marciano at the beginning of the second with a right hand flush on the chin. Rocky was up at the count of four but was dazed. He took a lot of punishment for the rest of the round. Moore was using shoulder feints and landing very well with his left jab. It looked like Marciano was in serious danger of losing the title. By the end of the round the champion was bleeding from the nose and was cut and puffy under his left eye. 

In round three Marciano came out very aggressively throwing a lot of punches. Moore, ever the master boxer, was avoiding most of them by blocking, slipping, and rolling with the shots. 

In the third round Moore fought mostly off the ropes. Mike Silver points out that this was no Rope-a-Dope strategy. Instead, Archie was slipping and countering Rocky’s shots. Marciano threw a much larger number of punches but Moore had the more effective shots. Rocky won the round with his aggression but he paid a high price for it. 

The fifth round was Moore’s best. He was very accurate with his jab and landed a number of solid rights while taking short steps to the side. Marciano appeared to be slowing down and was missing a lot. It now appeared the tide was turning in Moore’s favor. 

Marciano must have been sensing the same thing as he came out on fire in the sixth round. He dropped Moore for a count of four at the beginning of the round and then pursued him relentlessly. Rocky was still missing with many of his punches, but the pressure and huge number of punches he was throwing was wearing Archie down. Rocky was like a freight train as he dropped Moore once again, this time for a nine count.

Between rounds the doctor checked on Moore and it appeared the fight was close to being stopped. But the old warrior was not through yet.

Moore actually looked refreshed as he came out for the seventh round and won the round with a strong jab. Perhaps Rocky had punched himself out in the previous round and the tide was again shifting. 

In the eighth round Moore’s legs were tiring. He spent most of the round fighting off of the ropes and was still very effective in making the champion miss. Watching Moore in this fight is like seeing a master class on how to roll with punches and pick spots for counters. Moore was definitely starting to fade by the end of the round. It was Rocky’s relentless pressure that was taking the toll. A Marciano right at the end of the round dropped Moore and he was up at the count of six as the bell rang. Moore’s right eye was now closing and he looked like a beaten man. Could he summon up another rally?

Marciano vs Moore

In the fatal ninth round Moore once again came out strong, but the end was near. Rocky attacked with a fury. Moore still got in a few good shots, but nothing was going to stop Rocky now. He pummeled Moore to the canvas where Archie took the ten count at 1:19 of the round. 

Moore did everything right in this fight. He boxed and punched beautifully. He seemed the superior fighter in so many ways, but Marciano would not be stopped. His incredible conditioning, heart, and brutal punching were all too much for Archie. Marciano defined what the heart of a champion is in this fight.

Mike Silver asks if it was the punishment Rocky took in this fight that convinced him to retire? I believe that was a major reason for his hanging up the gloves, and I do not mean this as a knock on Marciano. Quite the contrary, I believe it shows how smart he was. 

Marciano was a tremendously physical fighter. While his boxing abilities are often underrated, he was also almost superhuman when in the ring. The Moore fight is an example of how he would actually get stronger as a fight progressed. It seemed as though the rougher things got the more strength he would gain. Rocky trained very hard for each fight. The training grind and the brutality of the fights he was in would eventually take a toll. At this point in his career he was also experiencing back pain. 

It is not unusual for an athlete that continually pushes himself to the brink to eventually start to break down physically. It is very possible the Moore fight was Rocky’s last great fight. If he had continued, his body may have begun to fail him. I think he may have sensed that, perhaps subconsciously. Moore hurt him. Moore extended him. Moore did everything possible to beat him, but Rocky was relentless. He broke Archie down that night. 

Rocky Hangs Up The Gloves

Marciano had been fighting professionally since 1947. He was now 32 years old, not terribly old for a fighter. But when you consider how many tough fights he had and how many times he had tortured his body in training camp you have to wonder if at some point he would start to break down. 

In the Moore fight he pushed himself unbelievably. I don’t think Archie could have stopped him if he had a bazooka in his arsenal. Rocky fought many very tough fights. His two goes against Ezzard Charles and he first fight with Walcott were both brutal affairs. It’s very possible he still had a couple more great fights in him, but at some point he would have broken down; all great athletes do. 

Rocky Marciano had an amazing career, made a lot of money, and now was walking away with his brains still in tact. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest Heavyweight Champions of all time. Knowing when to retire is a lesson that too few fighters have learned. Rocky was wise enough to get out in time, and that adds to his greatness.

Can Boxing Be  Made Less Dangerous?

Can Boxing Be 

Made Less Dangerous?

By Bobby Franklin

Jerry Quarry

Recently, I watched a news story from 1995 about heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry. The very popular Quarry who had twice fought Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was being inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame. This was considered a great honor and Jerry was there to bask in the glory. Well, he wasn’t exactly there. While his body was, his mind was no longer working, and the formerly very articulate Quarry was in such bad condition he was unable to sign autographs without the assistance of his brother James. 

It was heartbreaking watching this footage. Not only was Jerry unable to sign his name he also needed assistance dressing himself. When asked questions he just stared off into space. This is something you might see in an elderly person who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, but Jerry Quarry was far from elderly; he was only fifty years old. He would be dead in less than three years. He was also broke.

Seven years after his passing, Jerry’s brother Mike would die from the same disease. Mike was only 55 and had been suffering for many years. At the time the cause was called boxing induced dementia. For years it had been confused with Alzheimer’s Disease, but it is quite different. Today, it is known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). It is caused by trauma to the head and is most common in boxing and football. It has also been found in military combat veterans, soccer players, ice hockey players, and victims of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, a true diagnosis cannot be ascertained until after death, when the brain can be dissected and studied closely. Dr. Ann McKee, Director of The Boston University CTE Center, has led the research into this terrible affliction. Doctors are becoming aware of the importance of looking at symptoms and patient history so as to be able to differentiate between Alzheimer’s and CTE. 

Paul Pender

In 2003, after former Middleweight Champion Paul Pender passed away from what was thought to be complications related to Alzheimer’s Disease,  his widow Rose asked to have Paul’s brain examined by Dr. McKee. Rose was concerned that if it was Alzheimer’s it could be genetically passed on to their children. The results showed no signs of the beta-amyloid protein found in Alzheimer’s but did show clumps of Tau Protein which is now known to form because of repeated blows to the head. The hits do not have to cause concussions as the damage is cumulative. Also, the younger the athlete when the head trauma begins, the higher the risk of developing CTE. In Pender’s case the damage may have begun while he was playing high school football.

Thanks to the courage of Rose Pender and the dogged research of Ann McKee and others, much is being learned about this terrible disease. I highly recommend the documentary “The Brain of a Boxer” which delves into the story of Paul Pender and Rose’s search for an answer to why her husband suffered so. The tragic part about this is how it is very preventable and how little is being done to stop it from happening.  

Jerry And Mike Quarry

In recent years I have had a number of conversations with people who love boxing but also are very conflicted because of the injuries caused to those who partake in it. These conversations usually circle around how to make the sport less dangerous. To be sure, there are things that can be done to lessen the danger, but seeing as the whole point of the sport is to inflict injury to the opponent’s brain it is unlikely, short of not allowing head blows, to stop participants from ending up victims to CTE. 

While it is true not all athletes who participate in contact sports will end up suffering from CTE, the risk is very high that a large number of them will. In the early years of the 20th Century President Theodore Roosevelt intervened when severe injuries and deaths were mounting in college football. There were calls to abolish the game. At TR’s urging, the rules were changed and football became safer. It is once again very dangerous, but rule changes could improve things. That is not likely in boxing as there is no way for the sport to be practiced without imposing head injuries. Rendering the opponent unconscious is the point of the sport and the thing that most excites the fans. 

Ali At Joe Frazier’s Funeral

The Quarry brothers are just one of many examples of boxers who have ended up suffering from the blows they received years earlier in the ring. Former heavyweight champions Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson both were diagnosed with pugilistica dementia when they died. Mickey Walker and Sugar Ray Robinson, two of the greatest fighters of all time, also had it. And most ironic of all was Muhammad Ali, a man who used to brag that he would never end up like the others. He  was perhaps the biggest victim of the sport. It is a myth that he would have been fine if it hadn’t been for Parkinson’s Disease. Ali, like the Quarrys, began boxing at an early age and stayed in the sport long after his skills had eroded. In the last decades of his life his mind and body succumbed to the punishment he took. One of the most gifted athletes in history ended up physically and mentally destroyed by the sport he so loved.

Everyday we face danger. Crossing the street and driving a car can lead to severe injury or death. However, unless one is crazy, we take precautions when doing these things. We also don’t do these things with the intent of causing harm to others. In boxing, while there may be some precautions taken, the aim is to cause injury. There’s just no getting around that. 

Years ago it was thought people watched auto racing because they wanted to see the crashes. It was found out that wasn’t sure. People watched because they enjoyed witnessing the skill of the drivers and the roar of the cars. When it comes to boxing, fans show up to see the accidents. 


Trailer: The Brain of a Boxer from Felice Leeds on Vimeo.

Hypothetical Matchup, Foreman vs Johansson

Thor’s Hammer

And Foreman’s Fatal Flaw

How Would Johansson Do Against Big George?

By Bobby Franklin

Ingo and Machen

Recently I wrote a column asking how well the second tier heavyweight champions would do when matched up with some of the greats when their different styles are taken into consideration. After all, even some of the best have problems with a less talented opponent because a certain technique can cause even the best difficulties. Ali always had major problems with Ken Norton, a fighter who was far from an all time great. 

While it is safe to assume the greats would have beaten the not so greats, it is interesting to try and find matchups where an upset could have occurred. 

Recently I’ve been thinking about a hypothetical matchup between Champions George Foreman and Ingemar Johansson. Johansson has never been considered an all time great, while there are many who would rank Foreman in the top ten greatest. In my opinion George is not an all time great and does not have the record to put him in the lofty company of Dempsey, Louis, Tunney, Marciano, Johnson, and Ali. But seeing that so many boxing fans do consider him to be one of the best I thought it would be interesting to consider how he would do against the Swede with the monstrous right hand.

While I believe Foreman is very overrated as a fighter, I also believe Ingo deserves more credit than he gets. George fought an incredible number of stiffs on his way up in contrast to Ingo who never faced an opponent who had a losing record. In fact, going into the first Frazier fight Foreman’s opponents had a collective record of 100 wins with 355 losses, and 48 draws. 

By contrast, going into his first title fight against Patterson, Ingo’s opposition had a collective record of 466 wins, 150 losses, and 43 draws. Quite a difference. On top of that, Johansson had some notable names among his wins. These included Joe Bygraves, Henry Cooper, Joe Erskine, Archie McBride, and most impressive of all, his destruction of Eddie Machen in one round. Machen was undefeated and the number one contender at the time and would go on to fight a prime Sonny Liston, taking the future champ the full twelve rounds while losing a very close decision. 

The most notable wins on Foreman’s record leading to to the Frazier fight were over George Chuvalo and two victories over blown up light heavyweight Gregorio Peralta who gave George all he could handle over almost 20 rounds of fighting.

The two most impressive wins in Foreman’s career part one were his victory over Frazier, though while impressive has to be considered in the light of Frazier being a shot fighter at that point in his career, and his blow out of Ken Norton. He was outsmarted by Ali and Jimmy Young, and struggled to defeat Ron Lyle in an exciting fight but not one where great boxing skills were on display.

Beyond their records it is important to contrast their styles to figure out how they would do against one another. It is here where I see Ingo being able to pull out the win. George had a serious flaw that only got worse as his career progressed. It was this flaw that would have played into Johansson’s strength.

Foreman Displaying His Fatal Flaw Against Ali. Reaching Out With Both Arms.

Early in Foreman’s career he had either gotten some instruction in parrying blows or he picked up the idea from watching footage of great defensive fighters such as Jack Johnson and Gene Tunney. The problem is, George never learned how to do it correctly. Instead of catching his opponents punches with an open hand when the fists came close to him, he would reach out and try to stop them just as they were being thrown. In doing this he also dropped his hands while his arms were extended. This left his chin exposed. Peralta, Ali, and Young all used that defect to great effect in countering Foreman. It is also the reason Lyle was able to deck him so many times. It was a very amateurish move that he never got over, in fact it got even worse as his career went on. It is also the reason any one of the great champs, and even many of the second tier ones would have beaten him. It is the reason I could not rate him as an all-time great. 

Foreman’s Flaw On Display Again

Going into a fight against Foreman, Johansson would have been very conscious of this flaw and would have exploited it. Ingo was a thinking fighter. He was quick on his feet, looked for openings, feinted well, had a tremendously powerful right hand, and knew how to set up an opponent.

In the first Patterson fight he used his left jab in a flicking manner that was employed to block Floyd’s vision so he would not see the right hand coming. The strategy worked perfectly as he destroyed Patterson and won the title. 

Ingo’s fatal flaw came outside of the ring. After winning the title he became quite the celebrity. He made the rounds of televisions shows where he would joke and sing. He loved the nightlife and his training took a back seat to the jet setter lifestyle he was living. It was this behavior that cost him the title.

In the Foreman/Johansson fight Johansson would not be a stationary target for the ponderous Foreman. Ingo, who was quite fleet of foot would be circling big George and feinting him with the jab. As he employed these feints Foreman would begin reaching out with his arms, just as Johansson would expect. This would go on for a few rounds as the Swede found the range and George became frustrated and would begin to tire. Being a patient boxer, Ingo would wait until George started pawing and reaching with both arms. At that point he would hit George with his hammer of Thor. If George got up after being floored by the punch he would get even more sloppy as he did with Lyle. Ingo, unlike Lyle, would not get wild but would continue to measure Foreman for the followup punches and would finish him off. In my opinion this would happen around the 7th or 8th rounds.

Of course, as with all of these hypothetical matchups, it is impossible to know what would have happened. The benefit of thinking these fights through is it forces you to think more deeply about the abilities of these fighters. If you had asked me a couple of years ago who I thought would win between George and Ingo I wouldn’t have blinked and gone with Foreman. However, now that I have taken the time to analyze both fighters more closely having written about each, my mind has been changed.

Great Punchers, Great Boxers

Great Knockout Artists 

Great Defensive Boxers

It Was Hard To Stop These Guys

By Bobby Franklin

Barney Ross

Recently, I wrote about Tony Canzoneri and argued that even though the stats did not show him to have an overabundance of knockouts, I still consider him to be a harder puncher than Roberto Duran. Of course, people will say if he was such a tremendous puncher why didn’t he have more kayos? The answer lies in the competition from the era in which he fought.

I’ve taken a look back at the Ring Magazine rankings of the featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight divisions during the 1930s. I choose these three divisions because many of the contenders in these weight classes fought in all three divisions during their careers. It is an impressive lot.

What is striking is the amount of all time great talent that was competing at the same time in these divisions. Even more striking is the fact that they did not avoid fighting one another. On top of this, it is amazing to read how often they fought and the total number of fights they had over their careers. 

Even more amazing is how rare it was for any of them to be knocked out. You are not looking at the records of fighters who were being fed stiffs. No, these guys were the best and they were consistently fighting the best. When any fighter during that era became a champion, he was truly a champion. Being a ranked contender was a feat in and of itself.

Henry Armstrong vs Fritzie Zivic

So who were these men? Looking through the rankings the names that show up are incredible. Men such as Tony Canzoneri, Lou Ambers, Henry Armstrong, Fritzie Zivic, Charley Burley, Cocoa Kid, Baby Arizmendi, Sammy Angott, Petey Sarron, Ceferino Garcia, Jimmy McLarnin, Holman Williams, Kid Chocolate, Andy Callahan, Sammy Fuller, Billy Petrolle, Teddy Yarosz, Fidel LaBarba, Johnny Jadick, Lou Brouillard, Battling Battalino, Andy Martin, and Louis Kid Kaplan. While there are a lot of names here, it is only a partial list and only includes top ten contenders and champions. There were also dozens of fighters competing on a level just below the top ten who were incredible fighters. After all, in order to get into the top tier a fighter had to wade through those guys. 

Looking at the records of the boxers on the list provides some interesting data. As I have pointed out with Canzoneri, many of these fighters were terrific punchers but did not have stunning knock out percentages the way many of today’s fighters do. Why is that? Because while today’s fighters are being fed a diet of stiffs to build up their records, the fighters from the 30s were fighting each other which meant they were fighting the best talent in the history of the sport. 

Another thing they had going for them is they knew how to practice the art of boxing. They had defensive skills, were highly experienced, knew how to keep calm and were able to fight while hurt. These men were professionals in every sense of the word. Even beyond that, that were highly talented artists and craftsmen. 

Something else to remember when taking their knockout percentages into account is the fact that these men were rarely kayoed themselves. When you have fighters of such high caliber fighting each other the odds of one stopping another go way down. 

Charley Burley

In the list of 23 fighters I have compiled above, they have a combined total record of 3,154 bouts. Out of that huge sum there were only 55 fights where they lost by kayo. Boxers such as Barney Ross, Charley Burley, and Fidel LaBarba were never stopped. Others, such as Teddy Yarosz (127 fights), Lou Brouillard (133 fights), Battling Battalino (88 fights), Sammy Angott (131 fights), Petey Sarron (139 fights), Jimmy McLarnin (69 fights), and Canzoneri (171 fights) were only stopped once. The highest amount of losses for a fighter by kayo was 6. One was Johnny Jadick (6 out of 153 total fights) and the other was Ceferino Garcia (6 out of 120 fights). 

Henry Armstrong had 183 fights and was only stopped twice. One of those was in his first pro fight. He was stopped one other time, by Fritzie Zivic. Zivic had a total of 232 fights and only lost four times by kayo. 

These are astounding numbers, made even more so when you look at the level of competition these men were facing. But if you think more deeply about what was going on, then it isn’t surprising to see these statistics.  

Teddy Yarosz

To begin with, none of these fighters entered the ring assuming they were going to win by knock out. They were always ready to go the distance. They would score a kayo if the opportunity presented itself, which was rare when facing such talented opposition. They also had great defensive skills. Fighting often, as did Canzoneri when he fought 13 times in 1930 alone, they were always sharp. On top of this, when in the gym they were sparring with seasoned pros. They studied the sport and knew it in depth. 

These great fighters also knew how to keep their wits about them in a fight. When hurt the kept their composure. They knew how to tie up an opponent and take time to clear their heads. They also knew not to get wild when they had an opponent hurt as often a hurt fighter could be more dangerous, and getting wild with punches would leave give that opponent an opportunity to land a shot that could turn the fight around.

When comparing fighters from today to the greats of the past it is important to look at more than just knock out percentages. You have to take into account the level of opposition. When you do that there is no comparison. Just spend some time watching these old masters at work and you will see how superior they were.