Young “Mike” Donavon a Boxer at 63
Lithe and straight as a young tree, pink as a boy and with keen gray eyes as snapping as the eyes of one, Professor "Mike" Donovan, instructor extraordinary in the art of boxing to those of the New York Athletic Club, slapped a six foot young man upon the shoulder. He had belabored that, young man sufficiently during the four smart rounds of the lesson, and that lesson was over. Five following young men then did he proceed to belabor —for his position is no sinecure—when he, in turn, became the victim of another art. The reporter was waiting, and what was there for Professor "Mike" Donovan but to be interviewed?
"Mike" Donovan? One closes one's eyes as one thinks of him. One thinks of the champion that he once was, of the furtive chase in coach and train that man might meet man in the staked, circle, of the rough roped ring, of the hasty crowds scampering through fields toward the place when men would struggle, of the attendants with whip and club to keep clear the space about the ring, of the stripped gladiators, of the naked fist that panted and fought in sun and sleet and rain — of the old days of the prize ring, that lived with Coaches and crinolines and the things of yesterday.
And "Mike" Donovan is one of the few men who living through them, are fitted to speak competently of the fighting records of those old times. Philosopher as well as fighter, he can touch with reflection the deeds of the old days, and, recounting them, make them live. And in those deeds he took a great part.
No fight was complete which lacked that inevitable announcement—" 'Mike' Donovan, the champion middleweight of the world, challenges the winner of this fight to fight him to a finish."
For "Mike" Donovan did not pick and choose his opponents then. In his prime he was willing and ready to fight them all and to a finish. His fights were usually with bare fists. He fought men out of his class. He went over his weight. For eight years he was the middleweight champion of the world; and though to-day time, the immutable, has dulled his edge a little, that edge is apparently yet keen enough for the young giants of the New York Athletic Club. Rugged old sixty-four is yet younger than, rugged young twenty-five. To be sure, his muscles are knotted a little and his pink scalp shows through his frosted hair, but the talisman of his skill and vitality is yet there.
In boxing be seems to have discovered Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth and his secret has given him famous acquaintance. He claims one time President Roosevelt for a friend,- he claimed him for a pupil. He has shaken hands and exchanged blows with judges, Senators and statesmen great and small. But at Colonel Roosevelt’s name the old man’s eyes light with a glow that no other reference an call, and to him he pays the ultimate compliment of an old ring champion – “he would of made as good a prize fighter as he did a President”.
Upon remarking which he turned to reminiscence. “ How did I break into the game” he began.”Well you see, I think that two things were largely responsible for me becoming a prize fighter. I had a funny habit when I was a kid on the lots of Chicago. I always took up with boys that were physically weak and deficient. I had a weakness for weak boys. I made friends with fellows that had one arm or one leg or were blind of an eye or were humpty backed. The lots of Chicago were tough pastures in those days, and many of these cripples had been hurt in battles there.
“I used to fight for them. One of the worst fights I ever had for a kid name of Cavanaugh. He was blind of an eye – someone had kicked him in it when he was fighting one day. He got in a scrap with a kid, Scranton, and I took his part. How well I remember both names !”.
The old man smiled as he looked in the Gymnasium and beyond it, and the shadows of the other days came before him, and touched to softness the grim old lines on his fighting face.
“That was the toughest fight I ever had” said he. “None of my regular ring fights ever equaled it. The other kid and I fought all over the lot for two hours. Once he got me down and nearly kicked my head in. See that scar ?.”
“Mike” Donavon pointed to the sign of his battle scarred face. It is hard to distinguish separate and individual scars there. The many marks show the battles that he has been through. At last a long scar, jagged and irregular, over his left eye, was identified. It was almost half a century old.
"I got that from the tough kid of the Chicago lots. Stanton," "Mike" went on. "Finally I managed to get up and I licked him, but I was all in myself. Those were the days when a 'lickin's a lickin',' and no one was whipped until he yelled, 'I'm licked.'
"It was the same as the second throwing out the sponge nowadays. And I thought the kid Stanton was never going to give up that day. When he finally did the other one—the one blind of an eye that I had been fighting for—helped him home. So I fought my way through the Chicago dumps by taking the parts of physically deficient boys. Finally someone wanted to put me on in a regular fight—bare fists, you understand.
There were no mollycoddles in the prize ring in those days. Then I decided to make prize fighting my business until someone licked me. I beat all the professionals that they put me up against. I had a good name for it. You know, I believe that name Mike Donovan, has scared half of the ones that I have gone up against. You see, I was born lucky. A kid born with a name like mine comes into this world with a boxing glove in his mouth instead of a silver spoon. That was the second thing responsible for me becoming A prize fighter—my name.
"Well, I started to fight when I was eighteen years old and l am still boxing. Of course, you know I have been licked, but it was some time before I knew how it felt. It's thirty-two years now since I have fought to a finish. I count that the end of my prize fighting career. Of course I have fought several four round bouts since then, but I don't count them as fights. A man can't get warmed up properly in four rounds These fighters to-day call four rounds a fight, but I never could see it. Four, round fights are only miniatures."
The reporter Intervened.
Politeness in the Ring.
"So much has been written and spoken about the tricks of the trade," said he; "that is, talking and dipping gloves in resin etc. Do you know any of these?" "Pshaw!" said "Mike" with disgust. "Listen. I'm going to tell you that I have seen just as much politeness In the prize ring as at a tea in the Ritz-Carlton, and I have been both places. "I was fighting Jim Murray at Delaware River, just outside of Philadelphia. There is his picture up there, and a fine man he is, too. He gave me that picture, and I wouldn't part with it for anything in the world, not even Rockefeller’s millions. You know money doesn't bring you so much, anyway,"
The old prize fighter and present philosopher pointed to a picture on the wall in the boxing room of the New York Athletic Club — his room. He looked at it with reverence. It was a large half tone of a powerfully built man, with muscles standing out all over his naked body. "That guy," said "Mike," "gave me, the hardest fight of my life. Because we were afraid of the authorities we could not have a ring and were fighting in a cleared space on rough ground, with nude fists. In one corner of the lot was a stump—an ugly thing which had been splintered by lightning. Murray rushed me and had me going for a minute. He was backing me into the stump. I didn't know that it was there and was giving ground. The crowd separated and Murray's backers shouted " 'Rush him, "Jim." Now you got him. Knock him over that stump” "Did he do it? No. He stepped back away from me.
"Come back here "Mike," he said. 'There's a bad stump behind you and you may fall over it and hurt yourself.' "I looked around, saw it for the first time and walked away from it. He could have rushed me and won the fight then. I never received so much punishment in my life as I did in that fight. He is a great man. There was decency in the prize ring among the old school ."
The old fighter gave by a brief silence the need of fitting reverence for the knightly old opponent that had once striven with him. Then he fixed his eye upon a leviathan young member of the New York Athletic Club who was fraternally trading blows with another in a distant corner, and came back to the present.
The Scar Murray Made.
"No, I don't, like to talk about the tricks in the ring," said he in response to a question. "What's a glove dipped in resin? The worst that it can do is to scratch a man, and what's a scratch? What's conversation? it's the blow on the jaw that counts, the square jolt on the point of the chin which shakes a man. It is said that 'Terry' McGovern was beaten by 'Young Corbett' because the latter made him lose his temper by talking to him. That may be so. But I believe in the blow on the jaw. And I repeat that I would rather have Murray for a friend—the man who punished me more than any other fighter ever did—than have Mr. Rockefeller's money."
He's a queer blend of man, this "Mike" Donovan. Born in Chicago and raised in the lots, he has been through some of the roughest parts of life. Yet, as has been suggested, he is a philosopher of no mean acumen. His philosophy is based on his experience in the prize ring, and it has no hollow sound.
"See that worst scar '' asked "Mike," pointing proudly to a ragged gash in his cheek. "That's the one '.Jim' Murray gave me in our fight. And you may talk of tricks, but the punch that closes an eye or shakes the jaw is the best trick that I know."
"Which scar did Colonel Roosevelt give you?"
"Mike" Donovan just smiled, put up his guard and worked a shift. He did not answer.