Subj: The BAWLI Papers No. 63
Date: 99-03-06 12:11:04 EST
The BAWLI Papers
(Boxing As We Liked It)
Edited by J Michael Kenyon
Issue Number 63
Friday, March 5, 1999
New York City, New York, US of A
IN THIS ISSUE: SULLIVAN-CORBETT, PLUS A
TASTE OF WHAT 'HOMICIDE HANK' WAS LIKE
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(Chicago Tribune, Sunday, March 1, 1931)
By Westbrook Pegler
NEW YORK, Feb. 28 -- Reference to the newspaper
files of 1892 for information on the Corbett-Sullivan
prize fight in New Orleans indicates that popular history
makes use of the facts only as a frame or loom on
which to weave the interesting patterns of legend.
I had often heard that Mr. Sullivan entered the ring that
evening bowlegged from the weight of his own fat, but
the ringside stories describe him as fit enjough to take
35 minutes of hard, continuous gymnasium work, 708
beats on a skipping rope and a long swim in a pool only
a couple of days before the fight. He looked strong and
formidable in the early stages of the running account
and the bulging middle, which, in later years was to
become known as a paunch of blubber and the penalty
for wayward living, was then described as a deceptive
characteristic of Sullivan's architecture, actually built of
A week before the fight, Corbett, on his way from New
York to New Orleans, had paused in Atlanta to issue a
demand that Sullivan fight stripped to the waist,
insinuating that he had a habit of girding himself with
thick pads of felt when he fought in a shirt.
The final paragraphs of the blow-by-blow description
indicate that when Sullivan subsided, after an hour's
fighting, he merely sagged down in collapse, spent by
his own pursuit, his angry swings and the cumulative
effects of Corbett's fire at his lips and body and
convinced of the futility of going on. There is no
indication that he was knocked out in the full meaning of
the term. He went forward first to his knees, then
flopped flat, then heaved up, rolled over on one shoulder
and gave up.
It was important in those days to give one's people a run
for their money, because prize fighting was a betting
sport. But 21 rounds had convinced John L. Sullivan
and all those who were about to lose their bets that there
was no chance for him to win.
I am interested to observe that Mr. Corbett was not
always the mannerly gentleman, but a rather tough
mugg on occasions. Shortly before he went to New
Orleans, a fighter by the name of Dominick McCaffrey,
who had fought him and lost some time before, called on
Corbett at Madison Square Garden to ask for a return
match and was cordially insulted on sight. The boys in
those days seem to have been pleasure fighters or
amateurs at heart, for there are many references to
informal encounters between the leading characters in
saloons and dressing rooms and on the streets in which
they would have wasted much valuable effort but for the
calm counsel of their managers, who intervened to save
the attractions for the turnstiles.
Mr. Corbett swore fluently at McCaffrey and McCaffrey
yelled back in good voice, trading dirty name for dirty
name, and the whole incident was quite unlike any of
the unofficial meetings between the prominent puglists
Jack Sharkey of Boston is the most emotional of the
modern heavyweights, but he is always quite civil to his
colleagues and rivals when they meet outside the ring.
Often he invites them to dine at his home with the wife
and kiddies and shoot a few rounds of Kelly in his
I judge from the accounts of Mr. Corbett's early conduct
that he was nicknamed Gentleman Jim not so much out
of compliment to his manners, but because he was a
white-collar fellow who had worked on a high-chair in a
bank. In time he began to assume the airs and garments
of the dude and gent, much the same as Jess Willard,
who had been described as a cowboy, though he never
had been one, assumed the high-heels and hair-pants
of that calling.
Years afterward, Mr. Corbett became a landmark, and
his character mellowed and softened, but the name of
Gentleman Jim appears to have been premature, for he
was very impolite in his younger days. I doubt that Jack
Sharkey ever swore any louder in his most hysterial
moments than Gentleman Jim did sometimes then.
The sport writing business was an infant industry in
1892, for the baseball news consisted of no more than
40 words apiece on a couple of games, some days, with
an abbreviated box score and the batteries. The
umpires, for some curious reason, always were referred
to as mister. Ten days before the fight in New Orleans
there was only the briefest mention of the bout in the
papers and the final buildup began in New York, where
both fighters finished their training -- Corbett in the
Garden and Sullivan in a handball court above a saloon.
At that time the descriptions of Sullivan were full of
warming. He was fat and wheezy, the experts said, but
the opinion running through the news was that Corbett,
though more healthy, was too light and delicate to "do"
him, "do" being the forerunner of the modern verb to
shellack. A few days later, though, the copy from New
Orleans bespoke confidence for Sullivan. He was fat no
longer and his wind was now improved.
A week or so after the fight the boys met again in New
York, boxing an exhibition with the big gloves in the old
Garden before 5,000 customers at about $5 per head
for Sullivan's benefit. The crowd was emotional over
Sullivan and hostile to Corbett, but Sullivan made a
speech asking them to give their loyalty to the new
champion and Corbett, when his turn came, was
generous to John. He won a few rounds of cheers for
himself by his tactful address.
I gather that Sullivan had been swimming in wine since
his defeat, for the descriptions of the benefit bout
pictured him as bloated, feeble and clumsy. Four years
later, at Carson City, when Corbett was about to lose his
title to Fitzsimmons, Sullivan, now old and enormously
fat and roaring drunk, stumbled up through the ropes,
steadied himself with a ringpost and bawled an
incoherent challenge to the winner.
One of the experts, writing from the ringside, described
him as a pitiful and disgusting spectacle, but, by an odd
quirk, another man states that this expert himself was
unconscious in a saloon at the time, insisting that he
ghosted the expert's description of the drunken John L.
In 1892, when Corbett fought Sullivan, the residents of
some streets in New York City were complaining to the
administration because new, electric trolley or
broomstick cars gave off blue spits of flame and
clattered horribly due to their tremendous speed,
disturbing the quiet of the night time which was made for
the repose of decent people. They wanted the horse
cars back and the soothing clop-clop of the nags.
There were no accounts of any intercollegiate football
games, and racing is the only sport which seems to
have been covered at great length and consistently. In
1892, between sport events, the sport experts vanished
from the papers and, I suppose, from the pay rolls, a
disquieting thought which, perhaps, I should not stress.
It might promote the idea that sport writing is a
HANK'S GREATNESS PROVED TO BRITISH
(Ring Magazine, August, 1939)
By Johnny Sharpe
It isn't often that a British ring follower like myself has
been privileged to sit at the ringside and watch one of
the world's greatest fighters in action because for years
American has had on its side of the Big Pond the cream
of the world's fistic talent. Imagine the thrill I got, and
with me, those who were fortunate to see Henry
Armstrong in action in a London ring, either at the
ringside, or via the television screen, when he
successfully defended his world welterweight title for the
sixth time since winning it, his victim being our own
champion, Ernie Roderick.
Thrill is no word to describe it. At times we who watched
the double champion move about his rival at locomotive
speed and shoot his blows to body and head at a mile-a-
minute clip, couldn't realize that we were watching a
human beings take our best welter into camp. It was an
amazing exhibition, one that we British enjoyed and
shall long remember.
No longer shall we scoff at the reports of Henry's
greatness. No longer shall we feel that the American
scribes have overrated a young boy whose deeds have
been compared to that of other amazing Negro fighters,
the incomparable Joe Gans, George Dixon and Joe
Walcott. We saw and we were satisfied.
Our hats off to the lad who so far outclassed the best we
could send against him. He outsped and outpunched
the "Liverpool Flash" and proved beyond the shadow of
doubt that everything that the sports critics of America
have said in praise of him and all that Nat Fleischer,
Editor of The Ring, has written about him in his book,
"Holting Joe and Homicide Hank," are not in the least
With the exception of the first round, it cannot truthfully
be said that Roderick won a round, for it was only then
that he was able to keep the "Chocolate Streak" at a
distance. After the first it was all Armstrong. Darting
hither and thither, on the move all the time, never letting
up for a second, he was speed personified. Words
cannot describe Armstrong's tremendous energy and
his terrific speed.
However, we must certainly not forget Ernie Roderick,
who put up a good battle but was unable to get set for a
really telling blow. Ernie showed extraordinary
gameness, that will need a lot to equal it. Left eye closed
and face battered, he took punch and punch, but gave
That Armstrong won, needs nobody to say, but he
certainly knew he had been in a scrap. It wasn't one-
sided by any means despite the rounds score. Roderick
stood and slugged with Hank and had the crowd
standing on its feet, cheering both these boys on! Our
hats off to Ernie Roderick, also. He fought as a real
champion should. Boxing fans in Great Britain should
thank Harringay Arena for giving them the opportunity to
see a world's champ that is a world's champ, one who is
not afraid to defend his title, and a fighter whose like has
never been seen here, and whose equal will be a long
Here I must pay a tribute to one of the gamest losers I
have ever seen. ERNIE RODERICK, I doff my hat to
you for the grand uphill battle. You proved beyond doubt
that you had the guts to keep on in the face of a barrage
of nonstop lefts and rights to the head and body sent
out by Armstrong.
I certainly must agree with Armstrong's tribute to you, at
the end of the 15 exciting rounds, when he said, after
thanking the British public for their great reception, that
"Ernie Roderick is a great fighter, and would do well in
the good old U.S.A." I can well believe this, for not all
the American fighters come as good as the "Homicide
Hank" Armstrong we saw this night.
Roderick's rise to challenger for the world's title started
in October, 1937, when he made a spectacular
appearance at Wembley Pool Arena, and knocked out
the tough Australian welter, Jimmy Purcell, in the fifth.
Another step up the rung was when he beat Cleto
Locatelli, the Italian, over 12 rounds. Then came his
smashing defeat of the French tiger, Gustaf Humery, in
three rounds. In March of this year he stepped into the
ring at Liverpool as the challenger for Jake Kilrain's
welterweight title and knocked Kilrain out in seven
rounds to annex the British title.
Outside of the ring, Ernie breeds rats for a hospital, and
keeps a pet goat. He is, like Armstrong, the direct
anitthesis of his ring self, being easy going, and good
natured. He entered the ring with 23 consecutive
victories under his belt and the knowledge that he had
never been K.O.'d. Even in defeat he did not disgrace
himself; he didn't even take a count.
The Liverpool boys that came down to cheer Roderick in
his fight with Armstrong kept calling, "Keep him off,
Ernie!" But he might as well have tried to stop a
hurricane, such was the force of Armstrong.
Ernie entered the ring first and got a tremendous
ovation from a poor house. Armstrong soon followed,
and it was obvious that both were trained to the minute.
Armstrong was not still for a minute, dancing and
shadow boxing all the time, and even while being
introduced he was on the move.
After the referee, Mr. Wilfred Smith, had given the boys
their instructions, the gong sounded, and Henry moved
out of his corner with his chin tucked way down under
his shoulder, and his arms moving like pistons. Roderick
poked out a long left which tapped Armstrong lightly on
the nose, and he kept poking this left out. "Hank" could
not get toe to toe with him, and seemed slightly
bewildered by the rapier-like activity of Ernie's left.
However, after the first minute or two, Armstrong got to
close quarters and, working away inside, forced
Roderick onto the ropes. Ernie again shot the left out
and pushed Henry off. Once or twice Armstrong shot
left and right hooks to Roderick's chin that made the
Liverpudlian wince, but nevertheless Ernie won the
From the second round, however, the contest was on a
different par. The "sepia slugger" became the dictator.
He really went to town, so much so, that many people
thought it would end with Roderick taking the count, so
great was the punishment he took.
The same pace was set by Armstrong in round three.
Roderick would score with snappy left leads to the face
with Armstrong trying to work his way into close quarters
by bobbing and weaving and as soon as he was close
in, he would let off with left and right hooks to Roderick's
head that brought him down to Armstrong's size.
The fourth was of a similar nature and the crowd was
kept on its toes by the pace that "Homicide Hank" had
set. There were many at the ringside who were sure that
it was impossible for Armstrong to keep up this pace,
but they were soon dispelled when before the end of the
round Armstrong straightened Roderick up with two left
hooks to the head, then shot a right to the jaw which
would have been curtains to any other fighter but
Roderick came out for the fifth and met Armstrong in the
center of the ring, but was again compelled to retreat
after landing five lefts to Armstrong's face. Now and
then he would get set for a big punch or a right uppercut
but every time he would let one go the colored marvel
would let fly six or seven hooks to the head.
In the next session the English lad was again driven to
the ropes and around the ring. It was obvious to all that
Armstrong was not taking any chances of a
disqualification, for he rearely attempted to hit on the
body. In a fierce rally, Roderick got the crowd on its feet
when he scored with a hard right to Armstrong's mouth
that brought blood from the colored boy, as he spit out
on to the canvas, a thing he did every often.
In the seventh and eighth Roderick was again on the
receiving end, and it seemed amazing the way he took
blow after blow from the "human tornado." He must
have been in great shape, otherwise he would have
certainly cracked up under the heavy bombardment.
Round nine saw Roderick tiring, but he gamely kept
going in the face of continual pummelling to the face,
that Armstrong let fly. A new Roderick came out for the
tenth session, and he met Armstrong's attacks with a
nicely placed straight left and an occasional right cross,
but Armstrong swiftly played havoc with his two-fisted
attack and well won the round.
Up to now, Roderick had only taken the first round, and
we wondered whether the colored boy could keep this
pace until the end and whether the Liverpool boy would
succumb to this onrush of blows from Armstrong.
The next two rounds were repetitions of the last,
Armstrong attacking and Roderick on the retreat. Both
boys left defense behind so that they could get in a
finisher in this epic struggle, but neither could land it.
Roderick's eye was now in very bad shape, but he
gamely continued in the face of this barrage and roused
the hopes of his followers in the thirteenth, scoring with
hefty punches to Armstrong's body. Armstrong put on
the pace and drove Roderick around the ring, crashing
home loeft and right to the latter's jaw as the fourteenth
round opened and a well placed right had Roderick
unsteady. Now, for the first time in the contest, the
referee ordered the two contestants to break.
They came to the center of the ring for a quick
handshake in the fifteenth and then the fireworks began
anew. They went at it, Armstrong keeping the same
pace as all through the bout. A spurt here and there had
the crowd spellbound and toward the end Armstrong
showed that he could hit to the body without going
anywhere near the border line.
As the gong sounded, amid loud cheers, Henry
Armstrong's hand was held up, a winner, and still
champion of the welterweights.
The referee, Mr. Wilfred Smith, was highly
complimented on his handling of the fight, which was
He had no need to separate the boys, for there was no
infringement of the rules. It was an exceptionally clean
fight. Neither boy gave any reason for cautions and the
referee didn't bother either.
In conclusion I can only conclude by repeating part of
Ernie Roderick's tribute to Armstrong at the finish: "I did
my best against THE GREATEST FIGHTER IN THE
HENRY ARMSTRONG . . . We in England salute you.
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