The Gob Showed Brilliance
In His One Sided Defeat
by Bobby Franklin
“Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”
The works of great artists show us something new no matter how many times we view them. I have yet to walk away from viewing or reading a play by William Shakespeare without seeing something in it I had not seen before. That is sometimes true because of the way it is directed or performed, but I have the same experience when I read his works. Great art is always open to interpretation. It also effects different people differently, and even can have a different effect on the same person each time he views it.
Often times there are subtleties we miss during a previous experience. Many times I have noticed something in a movie I had missed before even if I have seen the film multiple times. I have watched The Third Man at least two dozen times and I still find new things in it.
Over the past few years I have enjoyed revisiting fights from the past. I have found it interesting how many times I have been surprised at how different a fight was from my memory of it from either having seen it when it occurred or having watched it many years ago and seeing it again for the first time after all those years. The first Louis vs Conn fight and the Ali vs Foreman fight are two that I have written about that turned out to be very different from what my memory told me. In the case of the Louis Conn bout, there seems to be a collective memory that has grown into a legend about that match that is really quite different from what actually occurred that night.
There is something else I have learned from reviewing these fights from boxing’s great past. It is possible to learn a lot from watching a great fighter at the end of his career even in a one sided defeat. I recently watched the Joe Louis vs Jack Sharkey bout and found it very interesting. The match lasted only seven minutes and was a one sided win for the Brown Bomber, but Sharkey was very interesting to watch as he fought the last fight of his career.
The bout took place on August 18, 1936 at Yankee Stadium. Just two months earlier Louis had suffered his first career loss, a knock out at the hands of Max Schmeling. Close to 30,000 fans showed up to see if the loss had a lasting effect on Joe.
Jack Sharkey, also known as the Boston Gob, and his manager, Johnny Buckley, had talked their way into the fight with Louis and even managed to get a guarantee of 25% of the gate. It looked like a good final payday for the ex champ. Unless Louis had been completely demoralized by Schmeling, it didn’t appear Sharkey would have any chance of beating him.
Sharkey had lost the title to Primo Carnera in 1933. After that, Jack had six fights leading up to the Louis fight. He only won two of them with three losses and a draw. Given his record it would appear he would be a perfect comeback opponent for Louis, and maybe that is why they were agreeable to giving him such a good payday. He still had the cache of being a former Heavyweight Champion of the World.
When the opening bell rang it didn’t take long to see that Joe was not at all gun shy. The loss to Schmeling had not hurt his confidence. If anything, it had only made him more determined and focused.
Jack came out to meet Louis in the first round only to run into a sharp young opponent. Max Baer once said “Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.” Well, Sharkey may not have felt that when he stepped into the ring, but he certainly knew that’s what he was dealing with seconds into the bout.
Now here is where my comments about seeing things that have gone unnoticed in previous viewings come into play. Jack Sharkey was definitely an artist in the ring. He was a master boxer who’s biggest fault was his lack of consistency. Given that, he still possessed outstanding talent. At this point in his career he was well over the hill. You can see that in his lack of leg movement. Jack had been light on his feet when younger, but now they looked to be stiff and tired. It is not good being in a race with a young athlete while having two flat tires.
Once the bout got underway Jack had to know he had no chance of beating Louis. But Jack was also a champion and wasn’t going to just quit. So, what could he do? Well, this is where you get to see some amazing moves.
Jack reached down for every trick he knew. He used body feints, arm feints, he rolled with the punches, he tied Louis up when he could. He attempted to counter Louis’s jab, but no longer had the reflexes to be effective.
What you end up seeing when watching this fight is a once great boxer preforming some amazing moves, only they are now being done in slow motion, which makes them easier to see. Nothing worked to save him from being stopped, but they did prevent Jack from suffering a much worse beating.
The treat for students of boxing in watching this seven minute fight is in studying how Sharkey attempts to survive the Louis onslaught. Yes, it is a one sided fight, and Sharkey goes down four times, but in between you get to see a formerly great artist reaching to his palate in an attempt to paint one more masterpiece. He is not able to do it, but he does still show amazing skill. A lot can be learned from watching Jack Sharkey during his final few minutes in the ring.