The CBZ Newswire

Young Mahoney: ‘The Iron-Jawed Plumber’

by on Oct.19, 2009, under Pete Ehrmann

By Pete Ehrmann

mahoneyA native of Germany who boxed under an Irish name, Young Mahoney was famous a century ago as a fellow who could knock your block off and unblock your toilet. A natural middleweight, he brought down heavyweights — until he got into the ring with one named Jack Johnson.

Mahoney came to America as an infant with his mother, Anna Lorenz Mueller. She married William Hurtienne in 1884 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and her son took his surname. As for his ring reincarnation as Young Mahoney, his granddaughter, Nancy Hurtienne, recalls her mother saying it was to throw off his stepfather, who disapproved of boxing.

It threw off a lot of people. In 1905, an item in a national publication called Rob Roy’s Weekly mentioned the time a real Irishman told Mahoney after one of his fights, “You’re a credit to the Ould Sod!” — and then was as stunned as if conked on the head with a shillelagh when Mahoney responded, “Dat vas geschon of you. I dinks I vill yet knock dem all ous, alretty, yes?”

Compounding the confusion was that the middleweight who fought out of Racine, 30 miles south of Milwaukee, was one of several Young Mahoneys boxing in the early 1900s.

But his predominant attribute in the ring and his job outside of it gave Wisconsin’s Mahoney a nickname that separated him from the pack. He was called “The Iron-Jawed Plumber.”

One hundred and three years ago, The Milwaukee Journal described Mahoney’s style of fighting as “rushing bull-like and sweeping rights and lefts, many times without looking where they might go.”

Enough of them hit the target to make the 5’10” Mahoney “the roughest, toughest, most dangerous fighter in the middleweight division,” according to the Rob Roys’ Weekly article.

On December 11, 1905, Mahoney fought a 10-round draw with Hugo Kelly, who claimed the middleweight championship of the world. Six months later, Mahoney fought a rematch against Kelly on a week’s notice and was stopped in the third round, one of only two times in his 20-year ring career that his iron jaw crumpled.

Other body parts were less impregnable. If his specialty outside the ropes had been fixing bones instead of pipes, Mahoney would’ve been his own best customer. He broke his left arm at least three times in fights, and the right arm at least once.

But Mahoney’s bad breaks weren’t necessarily good breaks for the other guy. Fighting Tony Caponi in Fond du Lac on May 8, 1905, Mahoney’s left arm snapped in the second round. He kept fighting anyway, and the eight-round bout was a draw.

Against Billy Rhodes on October 18, 1908, Mahoney broke his left arm in the fourth round. So he used his right to punch out a decision win in the 20-round fight.

But Mahoney’s most famous fight (and the one for which he was paid the most — a whopping $400) was against a fellow even more renowned than him for his ability to take a punch.

In fact, “The Human Punching Bag” is what they called Joe Grim, whose claim to fistic immortality was that nobody ever put him on the canvas for 10 seconds in more than 300 bouts. (Sailor Burke is credited with a knockout, but Grim maintained it was a result of skullduggery.) Heavyweight champions Bob Fitzsimmons and Jack Johnson were among those who tried, and when Grim and Mahoney were matched in Milwaukee on January 5, 1906, The Milwaukee Journal noted that if the Racine boxer succeeded where they failed “the world would be sprawling at his feet.”

Mahoney gave it all he had for eight rounds, landing “a thousand and some odd blows upon every part of (Grim’s) anatomy,” according to the Journal’s account of the fight. But Grim — “a freak of human idiocy” — only smiled as if he were eating chocolates instead of punches, and the Milwaukee Sentinel doubted afterwards that “an ax stroke wielded by strong arms would make any impression” on Grim’s apparently nerveless cranium.

When Mahoney fought then-heavyweight champion Johnson in 1912, it was supposed to be an exhibition, a distinction that meant little to the Racine fighter whose battle plan then, as always, was to “go in there and sock him!”

Fifteen years later, Mahoney cheerfully recalled the price he paid for his stubbornness that night in an interview with the Racine Times-Call:

“I hit him a couple good ones right on the button, and he went ‘Woof!’ and said, ‘Mighty quarrelsome boy, mighty quarrelsome boy!’ Then I got it. He hit me so many times I couldn’t count ‘em. And I heard all sorts of canaries singing and bells ringing.”

That same year, a Burlington baseball player named Ned Carpenter joined the parade of “Great White Hopes” going after Johnson’s title. A trainload of Carpenter’s fans journeyed to Racine when he launched his new career against the much shorter and lighter Mahoney. It was a noisy train ride home, with canaries singing and bells ringing for Carpenter, who got knocked out in eight rounds.

Mahoney fought draws with Eddie McGoorty, Bud Gorman, Cyclone Johnny Thompson and a young Tommy Gibbons. McGoorty also had several decision wins over him.

The veteran of over a hundred fights (many held in private and unrecorded) had his last one in 1922, and then took up the pipe-wrench fulltime. Mahoney lived in Racine until 1943, when he moved to southern California.

Granddaughter Nancy Hurtienne, who grew up in Racine, lived with Mahoney in Inglewood, California for three years in the late 1940s.

“He was quite a character,” says Hurtienne, now a resident of Cupertino, in northern California. “He used to like to watch some boxing on TV, but often got angry with it.”

Young Mahoney wasn’t one of the greatest fighters ever, but the Iron-Jawed Plumber who died 47 years ago would probably go through a lot of today’s middleweights like Drano through a hair clog.

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