Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From Beyond the Grave - Classics in Print

Photo: Cottrell-Ashley Studio

"In two rounds other than the deciding one the crowd was lifted to its feet by knockdowns. In the sixteenth Ketchel landed a right and left swing to the body and the jaw that stretched Thomas flat on his back, near the center of the ring and it looked as though everything was over. But the Californian was on his feet at the count of 'four,' and succeeded in keeping away until the gong gave him a vital respite. He came up groggy for the seventeenth, and had the Butte boy pressed his advantage, instead of pecking away and clinching, the fight might have ended then and there. In the twenty-seventh a right cross to the jaw as they came out of a clinch took Ketchel off his feet and sat him down with a bump. Here he displayed his wonderful coolness. With thousands of people splitting their throats for Thomas, Ketchel deliberately drew his knees up to his chin, clasped his hands around his shins and looked the referee squarely in the eye, while that official, Timekeeper Harting being unable to make himself heard, stooped over him and went through the pantomime of counting. At the count of 'nine' he was up and backing away from a rush. He was doing his dizzy best to cover up at the ropes when the gong saved him."

     - San Diego Union, Stanley Ketchel vs. Joe Thomas II, 1907


"Saddler, who went into the ring favored at 7 1/2 to 5 after a strange see-sawing in the betting price, hammered Pep's face with explosive punches until Willie looked as if we were wearing a mask of ground steak. But the game Connecticut warrior kept fighting on although his right eye was nearly closed and he was bleeding from gashes over both eyes and on both cheeks and from a cut upper lip. Pep was staggered in the seventh, ninth, 10th and 15th rounds, but he never was knocked to the floor. And in most of the other sessions, his 'painting' left jab, and swiftly following rights--coupled with his elusive circling from side to side--enabled him to pile up the points and rounds that won the fight. There were no knockdowns during the rough, fiercely contested bout. However, Saddler wrestled Willie to the floor in a neutral corner in the seventh round, and they both wrestled half through the ropes in the 11th."

     - Plain Dealer, Willie Pep vs. Sandy Saddler II, 1949

"Aside from an abrasion or two each sustained on cheek or jowl, neither left the arena with a mark that would have hinted that they had been in one of the toughest ten-round jousts of their career. Each man took enough solid wallops to both wind and mush to have stopped many a classy fighter, but they were inadequate at slowing up either of these little warriors, although White did evince a faint suggestion of weariness or lassitude in the last stanza, which was certainly a honey cooler, with both men in a terrific whirl of bone crunching cannonading on the east ropes when the gong clanged for a cessation of hostilities. It was like the sweet singing of the birds in the ears of both men, and they grabbed each other's fins as well as they could  with those pillows on them and wrung them in mutual congratulation."

     - Omaha World Herald, Charlie White vs. Tommy Brosnahan, 1913

"He waded into McLarnin from start to finish last night, took everything the Irishman had to offer, and used a sweeping left hook to such advantage that McLarnin constantly was in danger of a knockout. McLarnin gave a magnificent display of courage, especially in the fourth round, when Petrolle caught him flush on the jaw with a looping left hook. Jimmy crumpled to the floor but got up at nine, only to meet another left that sent him to the canvas again for a similar count. Try as he might, Petrolle could not finish the Vancouver Celt and at the end of the round the Fargo slugger was arm weary, while McLarnin had shaken off the effects of the terrific punches and was coming strong. Thereafter Jimmy took so much punishment that the crowd yelled for the referee to stop the slaughter."

     - Trenton Evening Times, Billy Petrolle vs. Jimmy McLarnin I, 1930

"Floored once himself, his face a bloody mass as the dynamiter from New York's lower east side turned loose his famed "rock-a-bye punch," the one-time Indiana steel mill hand caught up with the challenger midway through the sixth to drop him with a lightning left hand and put him away for keeps at 1 minute and 43 seconds of the sixth session of their scheduled 15-rounder. It was the second knockdown of the fight for Rocky the Rock, in as vicious and bloody a brawl as has been seen in any ring. But this second time, apparently softened up by the body bombs that are Tony's specialty, he couldn't make it to his feet again. He sat on the ring canvas, holding the middle strand of the ropes, as referee Ruby Goldstein, himself a classy welterweight of a bygone era, counted the full 10 to leave the 160-pound crown on Tony's head as his first defense as champion."

     - Morning Star, Tony Zale vs. Rocky Graziano I, 1946

"Lavigne was frightfully punished, but Walcott did not escape without marks of battle. The left ear of the white boy hung to his cheekbone, and his right eye was nearly closed. Blood poured from his nose as well as from a cut on his right cheek, and his body also bore the marks of the colored man's terrific blows. Walcott's nose was cut and his body will pain him for some days to come, the result of Lavigne's straight arm punches. The result of the battle was a great surprise, as it was thought to be any odds that Walcott would win, and $100 to $80 was freely offered that Lavigne would not last ten rounds. There is no doubt that the eight or nine pounds that Walcott had to take off to make the required weight weakened him somewhat, especially in the latter rounds, but Lavigne was then so strong that it looked as if he could put the colored man to sleep in a few more rounds."

     - New York Herald, Kid Lavigne vs. Joe Walcott I, 1895

"In the first round honors were about even, though both went right in for business. Both landed often and hard, West getting in several hard jolts on Ryan's nose. In the second round Ryan was knocked down twice and seemed all but out when the gong sounded. At the first knockdown Ryan took almost the full count. The third and fourth round were West's and the fifth was Ryan's, swinging wild. In the sixth round Ryan's right cheek was open and soon his breast was crimson. Then West landed on Ryan's nose and there was more blood. Ryan was the aggressor in this round, but West blocked and landed at will and but for the gong might have finished his man. In the seventh Ryan's lip was split and West's nose was broken, his right eye places and his cheek split. Blood poured from the wounds, as time after time Ryan landed on the injured places. He played continually for the broken nose and for the next half dozen rounds made a veritable chopping block of West. The punishment West took was wonderful, blood pouring from nearly a dozen of his wounds. West's corner looked like a slaughter house and the fight announcer actually had to wipe blood from the ground with a mop. So bloody, indeed, was the fight hat several persons near the ring were nauseated and had to leave the hall. Still during round after round West came up, only for pounding on the nose, eye and cheek. In the seventeenth round when it was seen that West was fighting a hopeless fight Terry McGovern threw up the sponge for West, and, therefore, gave the decision to Ryan."

     - Age-Herald, Tommy Ryan vs. Tommy West III, 1901

Many fights of decades gone by that would have been snatched up by television networks today simply weren't even recorded on video, much less distributed. There are fights, however, that were indeed captured, but for whatever reason are either kept hidden or have been misplaced and lost, if not destroyed. 

Stylistic norms have changed over the years, and there's a good chance that many of today's fans wouldn't even find these bouts worthwhile, much less enthralling. It would be nice if we were given the opportunity to judge for ourselves though. 

Until then, ancient scrolls and codices show us the way. 


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