By Tracy Callis

Stanley Ketchel was a dynamic, hard swinging warrior who attacked his foe relentlessly until he gunned him down. His punches came from the right side or the left, any angle - each as dangerous as the other - with his "true baby" being his booming right hander. He was rather crude as a boxer but the all-out pressure he applied was so intense that sooner or later the most talented of boxers would make a false move and that would spell disaster.

For years, Ketchel was the criterion by which middleweight fighters were judged. "Whenever a young, brash, hard-hitting fighter appears on the boxing scene, one who exudes confidence and shows no fear of any rival, someone is certain to refer to him as the reincarnation of Stanley Ketchel" (DeCristofaro 1982 p 29).

Ketchel was supremely confident in his ability to destroy his foe much like the hard punching heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey. Each was aggressive, explosive, fast, tough and durable. Each applied considerable pressure on his man. McCallum (1975 p 127) said, "There was a true fiendishness in the way Ketchel fought. Like Jack Dempsey, he always gave the impression of wanting to kill his man" and added "Ketchel had a savagery of temperament to match his strength." He was compared to Jack Dempsey by referee Billy Roche in his manner of style and ferocity. "Philadelphia" Jack O'Brien asserted that Ketchel was "an example of tumultuous ferocity."

Fleischer (1946 p 5) wrote, "He was game as a bulldog and tough as a bronco. There was no stopping him." Nicholson, author of A Man Among Men (Jim Jeffries), wrote of Ketchel, "Stanley's right hand was devastating, and equally conclusive was his left hook, which he sometimes threw with a `shift,' starting with a right and then unloading the other hand with tremendous full-weight force."

Myler (1998 p 189) reported, "Movies of Ketchel's fights reveal him to have been a wild slugger with a thunderous punch and a great heart, but virtually bereft of technique." Walsh (1993 p 28) penned, "His lust for destruction accompanied a numbing punch, sharp reflexes and raw resilience."

The Ring Yearbook (2003 p 23) echoed this view and described Stan, "Ketchel was no fancy boxer; he was clumsy and a swarmer. His defense was his overhand right. Aside from his punch and fierce temperament, he had excellent staying power. His record shows knockout wins in the 24th, 17th, 32nd, and 20th rounds. He was almost vulgar to watch he was so crude in the ring, but he could hit like a sledgehammer for as long as it took."

In a brief, magnificent career that lasted from 1904 until 1910 but was cut short by his tragic murder, Ketchel scored 55 wins in 64 bouts, losing only 4 and scoring 49 knockouts. Among those that Stanley defeated were George Brown, Joe Thomas (3 times), the twins - Mike and Jack Sullivan, Billy Papke (3 times), Hugo Kelly, Tony Caponi, "Philadelphia" Jack O'Brien, Dan "Porky" Flynn and Willie Lewis. He is also credited by some sources as gaining a "newspaper win" over "Philadelphia" Jack O'Brien (debatable) and Sam Langford.

My good friend, Mike Casey, the boxing historian and excellent writer, describes Stanley, "Ketchel was a natural born puncher. At first sight, he looked scrawny and pallid of complexion. He frequently looked nervous and drawn when he entered the ring. But he generated his great power from wide shoulders beautifully muscled arms and a wealth of natural talent."

Walsh (1993 p 28) wrote, "Everyone noticed his eyes. Slanted behind high cheekbones, they were cold and piercing. One look could chill an opponent." Such a hard hitter was Stan that he fought and defeated larger and heavier men as readily as men his own weight. Lardner (1973 p 176) asserted, "He was a devastating hitter with both hands, and the majority of his fights, whether in the ring or in a saloon, usually ended in fast knockouts." Max Kellerman, when asked who was the hardest puncher in boxing history on a Friday night boxing telecast in 2003, shrugged his shoulders and replied "Stanley Ketchel ? "

Of his four losses, two were experienced in his early days in the ring. He lost twice to the knowledgeable Maurice Thompson, who took him under his wing and taught him some of the key points of fist-fighting. From that time until later in his career, Stanley never lost. Opponent after opponent met the same unconscious fate dealt out by his fists. Bigger or smaller, faster or slower, slugger or fancy-dan - they all wilted under the intense firepower of Stanley.

In 1907, Ketchel fought a warrior named Joe Thomas three times. Each encounter was a battle with Stan learning something from each. The young Ketchel managed a draw in twenty rounds against the talented Thomas in the first episode in July. Then, in September, in an awesome fight, he finally took down his man in the 32nd session. In a follow-up match, held in December, Stanley won a twenty round decision.

Following knockout wins over the Twins Sullivan - Mike and Jack, Ketchel met Billy Papke for the first time - at Milwaukee in June of 1908 and won a ten round decision for the middleweight championship. Reports of this fight differ. Some say Papke took it to Stanley and deserved a win but the referee was frequently stepping between the men, giving Ketchel the advantage. Other accounts say Papke was roughing it up throughout the contest. One story contends that Ketchel hit Papke when they first came to center ring.

In August of 1908, Ketchel and Thomas got together once more, just about three weeks after Ketchel had KO'd Hugo Kelly in a title bout. Stan ended this one quickly, scoring a knockout in the second round.

Ketchel lost his crown when beaten in 12 rounds by Billy Papke in September, 1908. Instead of shaking hands at the opening bell, Papke blasted Ketchel with a power shot, knocked him down four times in the first round, bloodied him up and battered him around the ring. Referee Jim Jeffries did not disqualify Papke for this act and Ketchel never quite forgave him [Jeffries] for it. Ketchel got his revenge in a return match a couple of months later and regained the crown by knocking Papke out.  Following two contests with the great "Philadelphia" Jack O'Brien, one in which Stan knocked O'Brien out, he met Papke once more. In July, 1909, Stan stopped Billy in three rounds.

Jack Johnson once said, "He's a good puncher and a strong man. He's given me a sorer chin than I ever had before. He takes a solid punch. I hit him with some pretty heavy blows." Ketchel tangled with Johnson for the heavyweight title in 1909 so Jack should know. A look at the film of this fight shows Ketchel to be much smaller than Johnson. Nevertheless, the heavyweight champion appeared to fight cautiously against him. Much heavier, 30 pounds or so, Johnson was stronger too and, at times, lifted and tossed Stanley around. However, in round twelve, the middleweight champion shot a fast, hard right that caught Jack on the chin and dropped him momentarily. Infuriated, Johnson arose, attacked Ketchel violently and knocked him out.

Five months after his loss to Johnson, Ketchel met Frank Klaus in a No Decision bout that was about even over six rounds. He fought Sam Langford a month later in a six rounder that most reports say he won and he finished off three men by knockout in May and June. Four months later, he was shot and killed by Walter Dipley at Conway, Missouri.

Incidentally, Ketchel never forgave Jim Jeffries, the referee in the 1908 bout, for not penalyzing Papke when Billy sucker punched him instead of shaking hands at the start. When Jeffries came out of retirement and was training for his 1910 contest against Jack Johnson, Ketchel was very critical of his methods of preparation. Lardner (1976 p 182) said, "Ketchel was escorted out of the ex-champion's camp by Farmer Burns for criticizing them."

Stanley was wild in the ring - unbridled violence - and, in his clever way, was naughty outside it. No holds were barred. Inside the ropes, he winged dynamite shots at his foe like darts. Outside the square circle, he made appealing gestures to the the ladies. He liked wine, women and song - and was a prime example of the old saying "live fast, love hard and die young." This lifestyle ultimately led to his death.

Lardner (1972 p 176) wrote of him, "Stanley Ketchel, 'the Michigan Assassin,' [was] probably the greatest fighter, pound for pound, who ever lived." He even nominated Ketchel for this honor when praising Harry Greb for his fighting skills, "Stanley Ketchel may have been a better fighter pound-for-pound than Greb (although this is debatable)" (see Lardner 1972 p 253).

"Dumb" Dan Morgan, who managed fighters for forty years, called Ketchel an exception to the human race. Said Morgan, "He was a savage. He'd pound and rip his opponent's eyes, nose, and mouth in a clinch. He couldn't get enough blood. His nickname, `the Michigan Assassin,' fit him like a glove."

McCallum (1975 p 126) asserted, "perhaps the best fist-fighter of his weight in history, a genuine wild man in private life, a legitimate all-around meteor, who needed no faking of his passport to legend."
Many boxing critics, if not most, consider Ketchel among the greatest middleweights of all time. In a poll of old-time boxing men conducted by John McCallum in 1975, Ketchel ranked as the #1 All-Time Middleweight. Both Nat Fleischer and Charley Rose rated him as the #1 All-Time Middleweight.

Recently, IBRO Historians voted Ketchel as the #3 All-Time Middleweight in their poll. However, one IBRO historian, Mitch Levin, called Stanley "the greatest middleweight ever." Herb Goldman, former editor of The Ring magazine and The Ring Record Book rated him somewhat lower at #8. In the opinion of this writer, Stanley ranks as the #2 middleweight of all time and the #7 All-Time "Pound-For-Pound" performer in ring history.


Casey, M. Stanley Ketchel: Irrestible Assassin.

DeCristofaro, S. 1982. Boxing's Greatest Middleweights. Rochester, NY: S. DeCristofaro.

Fleischer, N. 1946. The Michigan Assassin. New York: C.J. O'Brien, Inc.

Golesworthy, M. 1960. The Encyclopaedia of Boxing. London: Hedgerow Books.

Lardner, R. 1972. The Legendary Champions. New York: American Heritage Press.

McCallum, J. 1975. The Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions. Radnor, Pa: Chilton Book Company.

Myler, P. 1998. A Century Of Boxing Greats. New York: Robson/Parkwest Publications.

Nicholson, K. 2002. A Man Among Men. Draper, Ut: Homeward Bound Publishing Company.

Nicholson, K. 2005. presently untitled. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, Inc.

The Ring Record Book. 1987. New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

The Ring Yearbook. 2003. The 100 Greatest Punchers Of All Time. Ambler, Pa: London Publishing Co.

Walsh, P. 1993. Men of Steel. London: Robson Books.

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