he took heart from stories of the great Irish fighters. Sullivan and Corbett. Tunney and "the Toy Bulldog," Mickey Walker, who fought in every division from welterweight at 147 to heavyweight. We listened to Don Dunphy give the blow-by-blow description of the Louis-Conn fight.
I remained a fight fan through the years because I was as fascinated with the science and the art of boxing as I was with the men who dared to put every ounce of body and soul on the line, I was as taken with the losers of boxing as I was with the champions, because they had risked every bit as much as the winners.
But what did the "manly art of self-defense" actually mean? What made it possible?
What intrigued me most on the physical side of fighting was how boxers could fight round after round, do it again and again, fight after fight. Taking a horn in bullfighting is always a possibility even an inevitability, but many more times than not a bullfighter leaves the ring unmarked. But a boxer getting ready for a fight takes punches daily, and then the punches increase with murderous intensity during the fight. Hit and don't get hit, that is basic to boxing. But all fighters get hit, even the best ones. So what kind of men were these who could take that kind of punishment long enough to become contenders, much less champions?
And what was it, and how much exactly did it take, before some kid with a dream of glory could learn enough to climb between the ropes? And how hard is it, not only to train and to fight, but to learn the science of the game, the actual mechanics of throwing punches--throwing them again and again?
Damn hard. And underneath it it all is the question What makes a fighter?
In my mid forties I decided to learn. I did my best for a year or so in a bust-out gym in Ocean Park, California. I didn't learn much because I didn't have a trainer, but I did manage to get my nose broken another time -- because I was sparring with
In my mid and late forties I came to boxing by choice and by chance. But I had already been there as far back as the mid thirties. I huddled with my father in front of the radio and listened eagerly to the driving voices of ring announcers like Bill Stern and Clem McCarthy as they covered the great fights of the time. Weeks later, at ten-cent matinees, I would watch grainy newsreels of the same fights. Watched in 1939 as "Two Ton" Tony Galento knocked down "the Brown Bomber," Joe Louis.
Madison Square Garden would become Camelot for me. I saw Bobo Olson fight Paddy Young there in a middleweight elimination bout in June '53. But I saw the Garden for the first time in 1952. Eighth Avenue between Forty-ninth and Fiftieth, slinky-eyed fight guys standing out front. Greek restaurants, Irish bars, four-dollar whores. The Garden was home to me as much as Shubert Alley.
My father was an ardent fight fan, and I adored him for making me a part of something he loved. Like many another Mick and Paddy who came over as indentured slaves in the bottom of boats, who saw 30 percent of their own dumped dead at sea, he
He died as he had lived, wanting to write. His last words... "Doc, get me a little more time, I gotta finish my book".
dummies like myself. A pro would have played with me, because pros know when it's time to "work" and when it's time to fight.
It was about that time that I had to quit my boxing education to pursue family issues. But a couple of years later I was back at it. That's when the magic of boxing caught up to me and saved my
I went to a gym that's a parking lot now. Gym guys spot a beginner in a New York minute. After I'd been working out a few weeks, I had reason to show up in the gym dressed well. Harris tweed jacket and tie, flannel pants, that sort of thing, a
splash of paisley in MY coat pocket. All sorts were in the gym, from bantam to heavyweights, black and Hispanic, but I was the only white boy--white boy is what whites are most often referred to
in fight gyms, whites being in the minority. You never hear blacks, old or young, referred to as black boys-although you will hear that a black fighter was robbed of the fight because of his paint job.
After I had finished my workout, I waited at the desk to speak with the gym manager. As I stood there, a middle-aged black trainer I'd noticed in the gym came up next to me. I thought he was waiting for the manager, too. His heavyweight watched on the far side of the desk. But instead of speaking with the manager, the trainer whispered to me and held out a Buck 110 jackknife with brass fittings and a bone handle. It's the kind of knife... more