WAIL! The CyberBoxingZone Journal
September 2000 issue

Billy Miske …”Slick as a Whistle and Swift as a Breeze”  

By Tracy Callis and Eric Jorgensen 

Billy Miske is one of the best-kept secrets in boxing history. He was not a champion, being carefully avoided as an opponent for a title.  He was not from the bright lights of New York City.  He was from the Midwest and received little ink from the big Eastern newspapers as compared to other fighters of his ability

Miske was a clever, superb boxer who was fast and slippery. He was cool and dauntless in his approach and quick to take advantage of openings with sizzling barrages of punches. He was not a bludgeoning puncher but a blistering two-handed hitter who carried a stiff punch, especially with his left. On defense, Billy was game under attack, blocked punches wonderfully, and clinched and smothered his opponent at opportune times.

According to Stillman (1920 p 62), “Miske’s methods of offense and defense were of the first class. He could deliver a powerful blow with either hand and was a most worthy opponent of the best men of the ring.”

Stillman continued, noting, “One of his pet blows was half turning around of his body when addressing the opponent and sweeping his left hand in a sort of backhand stroke across the eyes of the opponent, following the blow quickly with his right hand, delivering a very powerful punch.”

Kilgallen and Kollmar (1999) called him “one of the best heavyweight prize fighters of his day” and wrote that he was “blond and blue-eyed, muscular and graceful. He looked like a champion.”

Not only did Miske look like a champion – he fought like one. He began his career as a middleweight and right away was thrown in with – and held his own against - the very toughest fighters in three weight divisions – middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight.  As he gained experience and muscle mass (ultimately maturing into a full-fledged cruiserweight), he became close to unbeatable. 

Among those he defeated during his career were Jack Lester, "Fighting" Dick Gilbert, Jumbo Wells, Jim Barry, Joe Bonds, "Wild" Bert Kenny, Tom Cowler, Ed "Gunboat" Smith, "Sailor" Ed Petroskey, "Wild" Bill Hart, "Fireman" Jim Flynn, Gus Christie, "K.O." Bill Brennan, Francis "Farmer" Lodge, Lee Anderson, Jack Renault, "Captain" Bob Roper, Al Roberts, Billy Shade, Martin Burke, Homer Smith, Willie Meehan, Carl Morris, Fred Fulton, Tommy Gibbons, and Harry Foley. 

Though one must always be extremely careful in attempting to assign "wins" and "losses" in no decision fights, a number of sources credit Miske with "newspaper" decisions over Jack Dillon, Battling Levinsky, Harry Greb and Kid Norfolk as well.

In the course of his career, he “ducked” no one and fought the following world-class fighters - Jack Dillon 5 times, Battling Levinsky 5, Tommy Gibbons 5, “K.O.” Bill Brennan 4, Jack Dempsey 3, Harry Greb 3, “Captain” Bob Roper 3, Fred Fulton 2, Ed “Gunboat” Smith 2, Kid Norfolk 2, and Mike O’Dowd 2.  Miske was unsuccessful in luring Harry Wills into the ring.

During a career of over 100 bouts, fighting against outstanding competition, he was stopped only once – by Jack Dempsey, the great champion. In fact, Billy was never knocked down until this bout (Dempsey 1977 p 135) and would never be knocked down again. Miske compiled a superb career record of 43-2-1 (34 KOs) with 56 no decisions.  Though, again, it is dangerous to speculate as to the "true winners" of no decision fights, it would not be going very far a field to suggest that Miske showed himself to be the better man in the vast majority of the no decision bouts in which he participated.

Early in his career, he clearly deserved title shots against Jack Dillon, Battling Levinsky, and Georges Carpentier, but never received one. Miske was so highly regarded as a light-heavyweight in those days that Kid Norfolk claimed the World Light-Heavyweight Championship after narrowly defeating him in 1917 (this was Billy’s only official loss other than the one to Dempsey).  When he finally was offered a title shot, it was for the heavyweight title - against one of the greatest champions of all-time (Jack Dempsey) - and came at a time when he was suffering the effects of a terminal kidney ailment called Bright's Disease. 

Miske is perhaps best known for his rivalry with Dempsey. They fought twice in 1918, the year before the Mauler won the title. In these bouts, Dempsey was the harder hitter but Billy displayed the better boxing skills and got in some stinging blows as well.  Jack had such difficulty landing his legendary left hook due to Miske’s clever blocking methods and extraordinary reflexes that he resorted to using his right hand most of the time.

The first bout (May 3, 1918) was a “nip-and-tuck” affair. Billy had Jack completely baffled with his boxing tactics for several rounds (see Blair 1988; St. Paul (Mn) Pioneer Press, May 4 1918). Jack’s aggressiveness and power finally gave him the edge over the long haul.

According to Dempsey, “Miske kept landing more blows than I did, and he seemed to be really piling up points.” When instructed by his manager to go out and smack Miske down, Jack thought “Easier said than done” (Dempsey 1977 p 83).

In another account, Dempsey recorded that he was as bewildered as Carl Morris and others had been when they fought Billy. “Miske had landed more telling blows than I had. He suddenly came at me with a volley that nearly put me out. I was floundering and groggy; it was all I could do to keep from going down. I clinched whenever I could. When the bell finally ended the round, I was all in” (see Dempsey 1940 p 146).

In a survey of eight newspaper writers at ringside, all expressed the view that the fight was very close. Four thought Dempsey won, one picked Miske, and three called the fight a draw (see the St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 4 1918).

As to their second bout on November 28, 1918 - which prompted Dempsey's manager Jack Kearns to call Miske's style "puzzling" (Kearns and Fraley 1966 p 95) - most sources credit Dempsey with earning a clear newspaper decision.  All sources remark on Billy’s gameness and courage, however.

Indeed, George Barton, sportswriter in Minneapolis for 53 years and a former boxer who defeated Terry McGovern in 1904, called Billy, “the most courageous fighter I have known in more than half a century of association with professional boxing” (Barton 1957). Barton asserted that Miske was “a boxer with a great fighting heart” and concluded by saying, “Maybe someone can name a gamer boxer than Billy Miske. I can’t” (also see Heinz, 1961 pp 27-29).

The third and final Dempsey-Miske match took place in 1920 and was for Dempsey's World Heavyweight Championship.  At that time, Miske was suffering from Bright's Disease – and thus operating at a level at least somewhat below his former brilliance. He nevertheless gave the champion all he wanted for the first two rounds. Billy, knowing his physical condition, decided he could not endure a long, tough fight of many rounds and so gambled on “lighting up the fireworks.”

In fact, Jack Kearns (1966 p 127) described the fight (the first Heavyweight Championship bout broadcast over the radio, incidentally) as follows, “I had a feeling we might have been conned about Miske having been so sick … Billy started throwing punches that were loaded with pure dynamite. At the end of the second round, we were definitely behind on points.”

Jack caught Billy with a crunching body blow in round one. Many believe it was the memory of this punch that kept Billy from following-up and giving himself a chance, when, in round three, he rocked the Champion with a snappy left hand shot and drove him backwards. The blow also made Dempsey aware he could not afford to take any chances with Billy (see Fleischer 1936 p 94).

As most people know, Dempsey caught up to Miske in the 3rd and ended the proceedings with typical Dempsey brutality, inflicting upon Miske the only knockout loss of his career.  Regrettably, Miske collapsing under Dempsey's onslaught is the image most fans bring to mind when they hear Miske's name. This is a terrible injustice given the level of excellence he established and sustained when performing at his peak.

Miske's ability appears even more exceptional when one considers that he compiled a record of 17-0 (12 KOs) and 5 no decisions after his last fight with Dempsey.  Incredibly, his final fight, a 4th-round knockout over the deadly hitter, “K.O.” Bill Brennan, occurred less than two months prior to his death on January 1, 1924. 

Many boxing historians point out that great black fighters like Peter Jackson, Sam Langford, Joe Jeannette, Sam McVey, Harry Wills, George Godfrey, Kid Norfolk, Larry Gains, Leroy Haynes, and Elmer "Violent" Ray never got a chance at an official World Championship. They never mention “white” Billy Miske. That’s because he did fight for the crown against Dempsey – but, as we have seen, it was not when Billy was at his peak and it was against a very, very formidable Champion.

As mentioned above, Miske started as a middleweight and boxed successfully as a light-heavyweight and heavyweight in a period of truly outstanding fighters. If he had received a shot at the Light-Heavyweight Championship, he very likely would have been a World Champion.  If he had fought at a time when there was a Cruiserweight division, he may have won that title as well.  Either way, he surely would be hailed today as having been a great fighter.  He should be, because he was.

Stillman (1920 p 62) summed him up as follows, “Billy Miske was a wonderful fighter. Unfortunately, he was too light for the giants that took up the boxing game during his time. He was a man in the 180’s and could not compete with the top-notchers who weighed considerably more than he.” (The writers of this article disagree with this assessment since Miske was very competitive even at his weight).

Jack Kearns, manager of Dempsey, called Miske “one of the greatest boxers of his weight in the history of the ring” (see New York Times, January 2 1924).

George Blair, boxing historian, ranked Miske as the #2 All-Time Heavyweight (behind only Tommy Gibbons) among those who hailed from Minnesota (see Blair 1986). Said Blair, “My opinion of Billy Miske is he is one of boxing’s all-time best. To run up a record like his against the best should qualify him to be in the Hall of Fame.” He added, “To me, there is no doubt that in today’s era of prelim fighters being ‘champions’, Billy Miske would easily be a champion …”

In the opinion of both writers of this article, at his peak, he was one of history’s top heavyweights and light-heavyweights. If one considers the modern Cruiserweight division, he possibly belongs in the All-Time Top Ten.

In summary, Billy Miske was a master boxer and all-around great fighter who should get more credit from boxing historians than he does – a lot more.


Barton, G. 1957. “Billy Miske’s Last Christmas” (contained in My Lifetime in Sports). Olympic Press. (This article is also contained in The Fireside Book of Boxing. 1961. by W.C. Heinz, published by Simon and Schuster of New York)

Blair, G. 1986. The Minnesota Boxing Record Book, Volume 3

Blair, G. 1988. The Minnesota Boxing Record Book, Volume 5

Blair, G. 1990. The St. Paul Thunderbolt. Published by G. Blair

Dempsey, J. 1940. Round By Round. New York: Whittlesey House

Dempsey, J. 1977. Dempsey. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

Fleischer, N. 1949. Jack Dempsey: The Idol of Fistiana. New York: The Ring, Inc.

Heinz, W.C. 1961. The Fireside Book of Boxing. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Kearns, J. and Fraley, O. 1966. The Million Dollar Gate. New York: The McMillan Company

Kilgallen, D. and Kollmar, R. 1999. Billy’s Miske’s Last Fight.

Online: http:// www. itschristmas. com/Story/cs2.htm ;


New York (NY) Times. January 2 1924 p 20. Miske Rated One of Best Men At His Weight by Dempsey.

Reilly, R. December 27 1999 - January 3 2000. ‘Twas the Night before Christmas (in Sports Illustrated, Volume 91, No. 25). New York: Time Inc.

St. Paul (Mn) Pioneer Press. May 4 1918. Miske and Dempsey Box 10 Round Draw in Auditorium.  

Stillman, M. 1920. Great Fighters and Boxers. New York: Marshall Stillman Association

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