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Interview with Lauren Chouinard on His Book, ‘Muscle and Mayhem: The Saginaw Kid and the Fistic World of the 1890s’March 4th, 2014
By John Wisniewski
EUGENE, OR — Laurent Chouinard has always been about sports. His mother was related to the mother of Kid Lavigne, the subject of this book. Moreover, he was an avid sports fan. Raised on Chicago’s south side, he grew up several blocks from the first home of Cassius Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali.
Chouinard founded the rugby team at Illinois State University while earning his bachelor’s degree in history, founded a health club in Eugene, Oregon and worked in municipal government. He currently serves at the International Boxing Research Organization and lives in Eugene with his wife, Carrie.
Chouinard wrote the story of the “Saginaw Kid,” lightweight world champion George Henry Lavigne, who held the top spot from 1896 to 1899. LaVigne engaged in bare-knuckle matches against all comers in a lumber towns in Michigan and, while turning pro in 1886, the Queensberry Rules that introduced boxing gloves, timed rounds and other rules that transformed and gave the sport legitimacy.
Why did you choose to tell the story of “The Saginaw Kid” and what attracted you to a story about boxing, Lauren?
When I was a young boy my mother told me that we had a cousin in the family who was the lightweight boxing champion of the world in the 1890s. At the time I was not entirely convinced that it was true. As I got older I wanted to learn more about him and I wanted to be sure that my mother’s assertion that he was a cousin was true. I began doing some research on the Kid and it quickly became an obsession as the stories I was unearthing were riveting. I also found that no one had written a book about such a historically significant character. I then focused on proving that he was our cousin. I did extensive genealogical work and found that my mother was correct…the Kid was our second cousin. I majored in history in college so the attraction to the story was as much about history as it was about boxing. I’ve always been intrigued by the late 1800s time period and it just so happens that the sport of boxing was undergoing tremendous changes in that period as well.
How did you begin to research the life of The Saginaw Kid-was it interesting looking at the history of your family?
My mother had sent a letter to Ring Magazine in 1987 asking for information on her cousin Kid Lavigne. The letter was published and seen by boxing historian Bill Schutte. Bill wrote her and sent her some photo copies of old newspaper clippings from the 1890s. I found a copy of the correspondence in a file after my mother died and contacted Bill. He told me he had a 173 page archive of newspaper clippings on Kid Lavigne. He had recently sold the archive to another historian Harry Shaffer (now deceased). I bought a copy of the archive from Harry. The archive was organized by year beginning in the 1880s. It became the foundation of my research. I got subscriptions to Genealogy Bank and Newspaper Archives. Between these two on-line archives I had access to full text articles in hundreds of historical newspapers across the country. I used inter-library loan to get any book I could find with any mention of the Kid. I also took a trip to Saginaw and Bay City Michigan to do some boots-on-the-ground research in his home towns.
The family history research was fun as well. It’s like being a detective and following a trail of evidence. I needed to prove that I was related to the Kid but try as I might I kept running into a blank about 1820 in my efforts to connect my lineage to his. That’s when I found the American French Genealogical Society in Woonsocket Rhode Island. Their people did some research and found that our two lines connected at Joseph Lavigne in 1755.
How was boxing different in the period of the late 1800′s as compared with modern boxing bouts?
The Queensberry rules, requiring gloved fists and timed rounds, were developed in England in 1867 and slowly made their way into mainstream pugilism in America over the next 20 years. By the late 1880s most fights were Queensberry fights. Gloves today are eight to ten ounces. In the late 1880s and early 1890s they were skin tight cured leather, called “hard” gloves, or two ounce gloves filled with horse hair padding. Often the fighters would reduce or all together remove the padding prior to the bout. The unpadded or poorly padded gloves proved to be as damaging if not more than bare fists as fighters began to target the head more.
There were no protective cups for low blows, no mouth pieces and no vaseline used. Many bouts were “finish fights” that could go on for several hours as happened when Lavigne fought a 77 rounder against George Siddons that lasted 5 hours and 19 minutes. Today the maximum is 12 rounds. If you knocked a man down you could stand over him and hammer him the second he regained his feet. Now you must retreat to a neutral corner while the referee counts. Back in the day if you suffered a severe cut or other serious injury you kept on fighting. Today a referee, in consultation with a ringside doctor, can stop the bout. Because of Kid Lavigne’s style of fighting in which he would keep pressing his opponent relentlessly, he took severe punishment. Several of his fights, if fought today, would have ended in TKOs against him as the referee would have stopped the bouts due to serious cuts, and in two cases a broken hand and a broken arm.
Fighting was illegal in all states in the late 1880s punishable by a $1,000 fine and two years in prison. Instead of the posh indoor arenas of today the fighters of old would find themselves in drafty barns in subfreezing temperatures in the wee hours of the morning to avoid detection by local police. And finally, no one questioned what the fighters drank during a bout. It could be beer, hard alcohol or it could be a mixture of brandy, strychnine and cocaine, the latter a popular concoction that certainly could change the nature and outcome of a fight.
Could you tell us about Lavigne’s bout with Australia’s champion Albert Griffiths, called “Young Griffo”?
Lavigne and Griffo were scheduled to fight five times. The first was to be a finish fight to happen in Roby, Indiana in September 1893. Griffo was fresh off the boat from Australia and was the Australian lightweight champion with nary a loss in 161 bouts. The governor of Indiana was opposed to prizefighting and shut the bout down with the help of 700 militiamen and a Gatling gun aimed at the entrance of the Columbian Athletic Club where the bout was to be held.
Lavigne and Griffo rescheduled for February 1894 in Chicago and fought an eight-round bout to a draw. Griffo was called one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time. His ring skill was instinctive; he’d sense when another fighter was about to throw a punch and slip it with subtle head movement and quick feet. Lavigne did what he always did; rush his man incessantly throwing punches from every angle to body and head. Griffo slipped many blows, not backing up and peppered Lavigne in return. In the end it was ruled a draw and most who witnessed the match felt Lavigne would prevail in a longer contest.
The two were scheduled for a rematch in early October 1895 in New Jersey. It was not to happen as the Hudson County authorities shut it down a few hours before the opening gong. Five days later the two met for a 20-round go at the Empire Athletic Club. Griffo’s one deficit was that he was not a heavy hitter but his “science” in the ring allowed him to pile up points on his opponents. Lavigne learned this from his first bout and insisted in fight negotiations that the contest be ruled a draw if both men were still on their feet at the end. This was not an uncommon element of fight contracts of the time.
Lavigne was determined to set a blistering pace and took the fight to Griffo. He chased him from rope to post, round after round getting in a good number of blows but also missing astoundingly often. In Lavigne’s words, “It would have required an adding machine to total up the number of haymakers I wasted on the air.” The fight was ruled a draw per the prearrangement of the combatants. It was a mistake for Lavigne as everyone present and all the media concluded that Lavigne got the better of the wily Australian.
After Griffo spent a year in prison for sexually assaulting a young boy Lavigne gave him another shot to get back on his feet and booked a six-round match for June 1897. Both Lavigne and Griffo were well known for their bouts with the bottle. This time it would be Lavigne who would succumb when just an hour before the fight was scheduled his manager, Sam Fitzpatrick, notified club management that “Lavigne would not be able to keep his engagement as he was in bed in the Hotel Walton in a beastly state of intoxication”. The Kid was clearly on a path of self-destruction.
For more information on the book, go to:
By Richie S. Jones
1916: Ted (Kid) Lewis W 20 Harry Stone, New Orleans. Retains World Welterweight Title.
1923: Frankie Genaro W 15 Pancho Villa, NYC. Wins American Flyweight Title.
1929: Spider Pladner KO 1 Frankie Genaro, Paris. Retains British & California World Flyweight Title. Read the rest of this entry “
By John Barsano
CHICAGO — The Illinois State Martial Arts Hall of Fame is dedicated to honoring martial artists from Illinois who participated in, and/or contributed to the Martial Arts in Illinois. Founded in 2005 by Fred Richmond, the HOF director is Mike McNamara.
The Illinois State Martial Arts Hall of Fame elects Martial Arts professionals such as officials and participants from karate, judo, wrestling and other MMA along with the recent addition of professional boxing. Read the rest of this entry “
By Christopher James Shelton
I had wanted to write a boxing story about Junebug Hudson for years. He was one of the few people who could claim to knock-down The Greatest along with the exclusive community of Sonny Banks, Henry Cooper, Joe Frazier and Chuck Wepner. Hudson was also a victim of one of the most aggressive, powerful knock-down punches from Muhammad Ali which is obligatory highlight film. I had hoped he was alive and could provide a boxing photograph/interview about his amazing amateur journey.
Unfortunately, I waited too long. I reached Hudson’s son in the same Glen Cove, Long Island, New York City that Junebug called home throughout his life. I received the following unfortunate message: “Hi Mr. Shelton. Yes, my father won the Pan-American Boxing Championship and also fought Cassius Clay. However, several years ago he passed on. Allen Hudson III, Assistant Principal, Glen Cove High School.” It greatly bothered me that many Ali biographies, internet search engines or YouTube coverage of Hudson spell his name incorrectly. An Army veteran should be treated with more respect. It is Allen Hudson, not ‘Alan’, born Allen J. Hudson Jr. on June 17th, 1936. Read the rest of this entry “
Report by Christopher Morgan
SALINAS, CA, February, 17, 2014 – Local Northern Californian junior featherweight prospect Manuel Avila was gifted a 10 round unanimous decision as Enrique Qeuvedo of Los Angeles gave him all he could handle over 10 hard fought rounds. The fight took place at the Salinas Storm House sports plex in Salinas California as the main event of Fox Sports 1 newly minted ‘Monday Night Fight’series.
Round 1 begins with Enrique ‘Cuate’ Quevedo (15-6-1, 9 Kos) pushing forward establishing his role as aggressor immediately while concentrating hard hooks to the body. Manuel ‘Tino’ Avila (13-0, 5 Kos) using heavy movement concentrates most of his countering offense to Enrique’s body with the occasional hook upstairs that fails to deter Enrique from rushing forward. The clinches come hard and are separated fast initiated by the bull rushes of Enrique who elects to crowd the longer armed Manuel to take away that lanky range. Read the rest of this entry “