The CBZ Newswire

A Look Back at Longtime Ad Wolgast Sparring Partner, ‘Hobo’ Dougherty

by on Jul.03, 2013, under Boxing News

By Pete Ehrmann

Ad Wolgast (photo courtesy of -- no photo could be found of Hobo Dougherty)

Ad Wolgast (photo courtesy of — no photo could be found of Hobo Dougherty)


These days it’s anybody who wears the uniform of the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks, but long before the Cream City sports landscape was littered with such overpaid nuisances the idols of kids like Burke Cantor were the pugs who traded leather at the Hippodrome on Wells Street and in downtown theaters like the Star and the Gayety.

Even though prizefighting was technically outlawed in Wisconsin, in the eighth year of the first decade of the 20th century the sport thrived in the state’s largest city thanks to the patronage of city fathers and the appeal of such homegrown fighters as Charley Neary and Maurice Sayers, both lightweights of national renown.

But when it came to hero worship, the case 15-year-old Burke Cantor developed for a newcomer to Milwaukee boxing in 1907 beat just about anything ever seen before. From the minute he and Kid Wolgast shook hands at Tom Larkin’s gym in the Patton building on 6th and Grand Avenue, Cantor was totally enthralled by the sawed-off tough guy who’d come from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to kick his ring career into high gear under the management of Frank Mulkern, Milwaukee’s “Millionaire Newsboy” who knew a gink from a goldmine and realized the first time he saw the “Cadillac Kid,” as Wolgast first called himself because he grew up in Cadillac, Michigan, in the ring back of Paddy Dorrell’s famous Wells Street beanery that the 5’4” featherweight had a heart made for boxing.

Nobody thought that about Burke Cantor. He ”idolized Wolgast and tried to copy Ad’s every move,” according to famous Milwaukee referee Walter Houlehen, who ran the Star Theater when Cantor starting fighting there under the handle “Young Dougherty” (after Jack Dougherty, a top Beertown welterweight). But, added Houlehen, “we felt sorry for him. He tried so hard but always finished a loser. He had a habit of closing his eyes and sticking out his tongue when he would start a punch.”

Dougherty got $7.50 for each fight, and as Frank Mulkern recalled later, “he was always willing and ready to share it with Ad.” By September of ’07, when Wolgast was singled out by The Milwaukee Journal as “the most promising new arrival” on the local boxing scene,” he and Dougherty shared a second-floor room above Mulkern’s newsstand on 3rd and Grand.

“Milwaukee now has a featherweight championship possibility,” exalted The Journal’s “Brownie” Rowland after Wolgast beat Harry Baker in his first local main-event on February 14, 1908. “He is always dangerous when he tears loose, while … he has a shell-like defense which is hard to penetrate.”

Ring science was as foreign to Wolgast as chemistry or zoology. “I was never taught to box,” he said, “and the style I have is natural. I think that where most of the fellows make their mistake is by trying to learn cleverness. They can’t because it has to come natural, and if they try to learn it, it spoils their style.”

When Wolgast fought Owen Moran of Great Britain in New York City on April 7, 1908, wrote Rube Goldberg, he “wrapped himself in a package the size of a pickle and shot out lefts and rights in such a mysterious way that the clever Moran was wondering for a couple rounds whether or not his opponent was a centipede.”

Three weeks later, Wolgast was on Kid Beebe “like a little demon” throughout their 10-round bout in Milwaukee, and according to Brownie Rowland he won the no-decision fight “by a mile.” In the first preliminary at Schlitz Park that night, his roommate Dougherty “had a hard time in the first couple of rounds keeping off the canvas” against Freddie Andrews. “Sometimes it was Andrews’ fault,” added Rowland, “while other times it was his own desire.”

In mid-September of that year Wolgast and Mulkern headed west because the Milwaukee authorities now frowned on boxing and increasingly invoked the statute banning it. Arriving in Los Angeles, Wolgast went into training for a 20-round match with Danny Webster on September 28.

A couple days before the fight, Ad was stunned by the appearance in his camp of a pair of filthy, hungry boys who, after several layers of grime and road dust were scraped off, turned out to be Young Dougherty and another Wolgast acolyte from Milwaukee named Louis Meripole. They’d ridden inside and under boxcars for 3,000 miles to reunite with their idol. Wolgast was delighted, and in honor of his Milwaukee roommate’s cross-country pilgrimage he rechristened him on the spot as “Hobo Dougherty.”

For the next three years Dougherty faithfully served as sparring partner, second, masseur and valet to Wolgast and occasionally fought on the undercard of the West Coast bouts that were the stepping stones to the historic 40-round fight against Battling Nelson on February 22, 1910, that made the “Flying Dutchman from Milwaukee,” as Wolgast was introduced that afternoon in Port Richmond, California, the lightweight champion of the world.

Both Dougherty and Louie Meripole — who’d become, through Wolgast’s sponsorship, a successful West Coast jockey known initially as “Kid Wolgast” — were in Ad’s corner in Port Richmond. [Frank Mulkern, by the way, was not. Wolgast had replaced him with Tom Jones.] Dougherty’s scheduled preliminary bout against Abe Label reportedly was cancelled after Label was arrested outside the arena for ticket scalping.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, a thousand people welcomed Wolgast back to Milwaukee. Accompanying him on — not under — the train was his perpetual sidekick, whose stylish new threads and baubles were as resplendent as the champion’s.

“When it comes to diamonds it looks as though Wolgast is the champion of champions,” wrote Brownie Rowland. “But when talking about Wolgast, Hobo Dougherty does not want to be overlooked. He is a regular little shining light himself.”

The friendship of Wolgast and Dougherty was the subject of several newspaper stories. “Damon and Pythias certainly have nothing on Ad Wolgast, the champion lightweight, and Young Dougherty, his second and sparring partner,” said a syndicated piece in 1912. “In their relations is to be had a glimpse of the gentler and finer side of human nature, which the person unfamiliar with boxers and boxing would hardly expect to find among Queensbury craftsmen.”

The article noted that Wolgast had given Hobo $500 after his successful title defense against Owen Moran, and another $500 to Dougherty’s mother to buy a house in Los Angeles.

A less erudite description of their relationship was offered by a street punk who called Hobo “Wolgast’s doggie” in a scene witnessed by R.A. Wynne of the LA Daily Times as Dougherty, “arrayed in fine raiment, was conscientiously busy attending to small details for Wolgast.”

Ad overheard the taunting of his pal, reported Wynne, and “like a flash the little champion stepped out to the curb in front of the bully and turned his broad shoulders squarely on the thug and asked Dougherty: ‘Anything wrong, Hobo?’

“’Awe, nix,’ said Hobo, shuffling his feet. ‘This guy was just panning me a little for knowing you so well.’

“Wolgast turned slowly to face the talkative one, and, lo and behold, he was half a block away and going fast.

“The incident shows the affection that exists between Wolgast and Hobo,” concluded Wynne. “They play together like two young puppies and are never so happy as when milling away with each other in the training quarters.”

In fact, even when sparring Wolgast was pure pit bull. Heine Miller, another native Milwaukeean who later was president of the National Boxing Association, once subbed for the ill Dougherty as Ad’s sparring partner in a series of burlesque house “exhibitions.”

“As champion of the world,” wrote Miller, “we found Ad the same good-natured, mischievous fellow he had been as a preliminary boy around Milwaukee. (But) he made no attempt to ‘pull punches’ in those burlesque show workouts. He banged away for all it was worth and enjoyed the going, the rougher the better.”

Maybe Wolgast’s inability or unwillingness to hold back eventually put a strain on his relationship with Dougherty. Or maybe Hobo got tired of the other nickname by which his benefactor addressed him: “Jew.” For whatever reason, by late 1912 there was a rift between them so great than when Ad fought Joe Mandot in New Orleans on November 4, Dougherty was Mandot’s sparring partner and in his corner for the fight.

When he heard about Hobo’d defection on a stopover in Milwaukee a couple weeks before the fight, Wolgast responded with a mixture of amusement, consternation and magnanimity.

“Well, Hobo won’t help the southerner much, that is in the way of showing him how I fight. Hobo is a good old trial horse, but when it came to mixing it with me he was not there. I am always glad to see the boys get the money and if Hobo has the opportunity to grab off a little loose change, all I can say is, go to it, kid.

“Just imagine Hobo and I kidding each other when Mandot and I get in the ring. You can bet that I will have a circus with him. Say now, to tell the truth, won’t it look funny to see him working against me. Here we have been together ever since I left Milwaukee. Hobo went to the coast with me and has traveled the best part of the country as my helper. I surely can’t imagine that Hobo thinks I am through and is picking up Mandot for a live one. But then there will be a few laughs coming my way when I get through with Mandot, and Hobo will be the goat.”

A week later, in response to a reporter’s reference to Dougherty as his one-time trainer, Ad was less amused and magnanimous.

“In all the years he was with me, Dougherty never had a word to say about my training. He doesn’t know anything about it… Now, I’ll say this for Hobo, he’s a dandy rubber. And a year ago he was a good valet. But he got the swelled head because I treated him too good and he didn’t want to valet anymore. He used to be a good boy — up until he got the big head.

“You see, wherever we went we always took Hobo because he was a good kid… We treated him like a prince, treated (him) too swell for his own good. So that’s what he does — ducks out and goes to knocking. But I know if I’d crook my finger Hobo would leave Mandot on the rubbing table and join me. But I’m not going to take him back, for he’s not the good kid he used to be.”

After Wolgast was widely judged the loser to Mandot in their no-decision 10-rounder, he denounced Dougherty as a full-blown Benedict Arnold — and a chiseler, to boot. A newspaper item said Ad “remarked that Dougherty would have to pay him $200 the Hobo owes him before he fought a man Dougherty was connected with again. He added that he had given Hobo more presents than any member of the Wolgast family and that Dougherty was the rankest sort of traitor.”

On May 1, 1913, the Los Angeles Athletic Club announced that Hobo Dougherty was its new boxing instructor, and on July 28 it was reported that Hobo and Charley “Kid” Dalton would fight with the provision that “the loser is to retire from the ring forever.”

Dalton had also been a Wolgast sparring partner, and the champ was pulling for him against Hobo.

“Ad Wolgast, with whom Dougherty used to train, says Hobo is the rankest quitter in the world,” reported The Milwaukee Journal. “Hobo says this battle with Charley Dalton is to be a combat for vindication. He is going to prove to the world that this was a base slander.”

The result of this deathless battle — if it ever occurred — has been lost to history. But there was a gloved encounter between Hobo and Kid Dalton that September widely reported both in the sports and drama sections. Dougherty was hired to appear in a comedy called “Bill Manages A Fighter,” part of the “Bill the Office Boy” series that had audiences slapping their collective knees in silent film palaces around the country. Hobo’s role was that of a boxer who gets knocked out, which was fine until he learned that the fighter knocking him out would be played by his nemesis, Kid Dalton.

“I ain’t going to flop to nobody I can lick with one hand!” protested Hobo to director Eddie Dillon.

In one version of the story, after Dillon rejected Dougherty’s offer to “flip up a nickel with him to see who has to flop,” Hobo stormed off the set.

According to another version reported in the press, actress Fay Tincher persuaded Hobo to flop as directed, and as the referee tolled over him he made it a point to tell Dalton, “Remember, I wasn’t really knocked out!”

In the mid-1930s, Walter Houlehen reported that Dougherty was still living with his mother and running a profitable poultry farm in Los Angeles.

He was also back in Ad Wolgast’s corner.

The former lightweight champion had lost the title in 1912 to Willie Ritchie and started to unravel mentally five years later. Heavyweight champion Jess Willard brought Wolgast to a Milwaukee sanitarium in 1917, and 10 years later Wolgast was permanently remanded to a California hospital as a hopeless head case thanks to the punishment he’d sopped up in the ring.

“Ad took too many punches on the top of his head,” Hobo said in 1954. “He used to fight from a crouch and the only part of him open to hit was the top of his head. He caught too many.”

The breach between the old friends was healed long before Wolgast’s institutionalization. On October 26, 1918, The Milwaukee Journal reported that Dougherty — then teaching boxing to swabbies at a US Naval base near San Francisco — had been appointed custodian of Wolgast’s California real estate holdings valued at $45,000.

Over the course of the former champion’s last 28 years, Hobo not only visited Wolgast regularly in the hospital, but had Ad spend weekends at his house until Wolgast’s health no longer permitted the outings.

“Ad has been in a bad way for the last year,” wrote Burke Cantor — he’d gone back to his birth name — in a letter to Sam Levy of The Milwaukee Journal in early ‘54. Blind and down to 90 pounds, “the only time he seems to know me is when I mention old times. Then he smiles a little. I have been up to see him often. He is in bed most of the time. Occasionally, though, he sits up in a wheelchair. I have found him in a coma on some of my visits. Have been expecting him to pass away any time.”

Wolgast finally went on April 14, 1955. When Burke Cantor hoboed off into eternity in Glendale, California on September 3, 1968, it didn’t even make the papers in his old hometown. But 14 years earlier the man who introduced them at Larkin’s gym in 1907 wrote Cantor’s epitaph when Frank Mulkern said, “I have seen many close friendships in my life, but none can compare with the one between Wolgast and Dougherty.”





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