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OF BOXING NAMES: CHICKEN AND CHOCOLATE
BY ENRIQUE ENCINOSA
Tom Archdeacon is a good friend and fine sportswriter -one of the best anywhere- and his forte is boxing. In our time, during his days in Miami, we shared a few ringside seats and lunches. In one of many conversations over the years I remember one of his comments that defined some of the magic of the fight game.
Tom had been interviewing Raul Hernandez -aka "The Cuban Fury"- a prelim fighter with more defeats than victories and a previous career as a fire-eater in a circus. Telling me how Raul had demonstrated his fire eating techniques and almost torched himself in the process, Archdeacon said: " That's why I love boxing. You don't find characters like this in golf or swimming."
True, so very true. After slightly more than a half century upon this planet -and almost four decades as a boxing nut- boxing never ceases to amaze me in its ambiance and picturesque characters.
Take ring names, for example. Some are created by sportswriters but most are made up by the fighter, his manager, a buddy or a promoter looking to spark a little interest in a local card.
Remember the scene in Rocky where Balboa admits he came up with the Italian Stallion monicker on his own? Happens all the time.
Kid Gavilan (Hawk) took his name from "El Gavilan," a cafeteria-tavern owned by his first manager. A fighter who drove a truck for Guarina Ice Cream -in Havana during the fifties- became Kid Guarina. Future comedy star and icon Bob Hope fought under the name Packy East because his buddy was using the name Packy West.
No other sport is as wildly creative in describing its performers as boxing (No, wrestling doesn't count). Oh, yes, we all know about Dick Tiger and Kid Chocolate...but there are others, my friends, fighters with monickers that defy imagination.
Kid Gavilan sounds tough -the Hawk- but how about Kid Chicken? No joke, two battlers honored poultry in their ring names. The original Kid Chicken was a European pug who lost to Eugene Criqui back in 1912. The second Kid was active as a welter and middle during the early forties. Kid Chicken was good enough to fight a draw with Tommy Bell and score a win and draw with Joe Blackwood -so the chicken was not so chicken after all- although he probably never scared any opponent with his ring name. Hell, it probably helped him get fights. Who would worry about an opponent named Kid Chicken?
Nor were the two namesakes the only poultry in the fight game. Another journeyman of the forties was Billy "Chicken" Thompson -a heavyweight active in the Philadelphia area- Pollo (Chicken) Gabino, Hen Pearce -"The Game Chicken" of bare-knuckle days- and Chick Suggs, who fought a lot of top guns of his era.
Other food products of the ring included Sugar -several dozen of those- Corn -as in Corn Griffith- Cornbread Williams, Salchicha (Beef Frank) Gonzalez, Kingfish Levinsky, Turkey Thompson, Cecil Coffee, Pepper Gomez, Arnold Cream, Benny Bass, Victor Taco Perez, Mantequilla (Butter) Napoles and old warrior Ike Chestnut, a pretty fair lightweight of decades ago. The most unusual name of the food chain belongs to sixties middleweight Charlie Tuna, who fought for Chris Dundee in the prelim ranks of Miami undercards.
Chocolate appears in its purest form -as in the names of Kid Chocolate and Cocoa Kid- and in variations of chocolate such as Cuban lightweight of the fifties Bonbon Oriental.
In the animal kingdom of the ring we find the Tiger -Dick, Billy and others - an African fighter of the fifties named Lion Rose, tough Gorilla Jones, a good middleweight named Garth Panther, Buffalo Vega, Bulldog Fisher, Pantera Negra, a lightweight of the thirties known as Baby Bear, plus the Nebraska Wildcat Ace Hudkins and some wild kingdom cross-breeding in a welterweight of the twenties known as Leon Buey (Lion Ox).
On a less threatening level of the animal kingdom we find the likes of Pajarito (Little Bird) Hernandez, Sparrow Golden, Songbird Williams, Bunny Sterling, Bunny Johnson, Topo (Groundhog) Gerena, Termite Watkins, Spider Kelly, Nicaraguan flyweight Raton (Mouse) Mojica and the other fighting rodent, Bruce Mouse Strauss.
In the animal kingdom category the most unusual name is that of Mutt Daniels, a club fighting Fernandina Beach middleweight of the eighties. What is amazing in this case is that Mutt is the name on the fighter's birth certificate.
The royally inclined can find King Solomon, welter King David, Honolulu heavyweight Duke Sadebong, and assorted princes. The socially aware have Society Kid Hogan at the upper crust, Bummy Davis and Hobo Wiler at lower levels and Kid Agrarista (Agrarian Kid) for the ecological minded. Those who seek anonimity favor Unknown Winston and the fashion oriented will favor Boots Nelson -a California middleweight of decades ago- Satin Barroto or middleweight Kid Charol (The Patent Leather Kid).
The geography buffs have heavyweight Mount Kilimanjaro, Joe Africa, Kid Havana, Manila Tiger, Allentown Joe Gans, Panama Al Brown, Yama Bahama and Canada Lee. For those with a historical, literary interest or even a penchant for toon characters boxing history offers middleweight Bull Halsey, featherweight Babe Ruth, heavyweight Jack London, willing scrapper Michael Corleone, Jack Tarzan, Tarzan Gonzalez, Popeye Murphy, Lance Goofy Whittaker and a couple of Joe Palookas.
For those interested only in specific body parts we have Elbows McFadden and a featherweight of the forties with the grandiose name of Woody Woodcock.
On an ethnic potpourri we encounter Kid Blondie, Kid Goldie, Mongol Ortiz, Fast Black, Yaqui Lopez and Nero Chink, a pioneer of Puerto Rican boxing whose name was originally Negro Chink, a not politically correct monicker. On another descriptive level not seen today we remember Midget Wolgast, Dummy Maxon and Baldy Fritch.
Light heavyweight Gentle Daniels was true to his name. The British West Indies fighter grew up in an orphanage and continued to reside there as part of the staff, donating many of his purses to the charitable center that gave him warmth as a child. The Gentle one fought a couple of draws with Kid Tunero, a worthy achievement.
Other interesting names include Indiana lightweight of the seventies Tulip Turnipseed, middleweight Matador Loving, Bong Arlos, Mighty Joe, Easy Dynamite, Super Human Power, Digger Stanley, Greatest Crawford, heavyweight King Kong Kellar and Ping Pong, a prelim fighter of a century ago.
One of my all time favorite names among ring warriors is that of Battling Bozo, proud monicker of an Alabama warrior who started out as a welter and matured to heavyweight in a distinguished career that saw him score two wins over Pete Latzo and lose to Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom. Bozo's real name was Curtis Hambright, also interesting in its own unique way.
I will close out with an anecdote, an incident that happened in the eighties, when boxing historian Hank Kaplan and Ramiro Ortiz promoted fights at the War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale.
One of the regular performers in the shows was Reinner Hartmann, a German heavyweight trained by Angelo Dundee. Big, blonde and well-muscled, Reinner was an honest fighter who was limited by his lack of speed. Hank Kaplan named him the "Frankfurt Adonis," a nom-de-guerre that usually appeared prominently displayed next to his photographs on the fight posters.
So it came to be that a printer was distracted at his job and letters were shifted around...then Hank and I picked up the posters and were surprised to see that the handsome German heavyweight was now billed as the "Frankfurt Adenoid."
I guess that would be in the body part category
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