The CBZ Newswire

King Tut: The Life of Lightweight Henry Tuttle

by on Jan.07, 2011, under Pete Ehrmann

Henry Roland Tuttle: "King Tut"

Henry Roland Tuttle: "King Tut"

By Pete Ehrmann

When 12-year-old Henry Roland Tuttle ran away from his home in Wonewoc, a flyspeck on the Wisconsin map 50 miles north of Madison best-known for a local Spiritualist Camp offering “Serenity…Peace…Harmony…Healing…Soul Nourishment” for 136 years, not even the boldest swami there would’ve predicted he would be reincarnated down the road as an Egyptian pharaoh who punched like a pyramid falling down.

Twelve years later the runaway would be King Tut, the most feared lightweight boxer in the world, conqueror in 34 seconds of future Hall of Famer Billy Petrolle, and referred to by newspaperman as “HRH” — His Royal Highness. Or, when they were feeling less whimsical, as the “Wonewoc Wasp.”

Even before that Tuttle’s life was colorful and adventurous. He cowboyed in Montana and was a wildcatter in Wyoming oil fields before drifting back to the Midwest and hooking up with a traveling circus as a take-on-all-comers wrestler. According to one account, he got that job by coming out of the audience himself to defeat the outfit’s reigning champion – a female grappler who outweighed Tuttle by 30 pounds.

It would take a swami to divine which version of Tuttle’s conversion to boxing is the right one. According to one, after some amateur bouts in Iowa he was KO’d in his first three pro fights by the same unnamed opponent. A piece under Jack Dempsey’s by-line said Tuttle put the gloves on when he was with the traveling circus.

In a different interview, Tuttle said he started out in Minneapolis beating hotshot local amateur Jimmy Fliegel in his first two fights. Fliegel’s brother, Ernie, a well-known pro featherweight, was so impressed that he became Tuttle’s co-manager (with Leo Leavitt) in 1927.

“Henry Tuttle” sounded like an insurance man or church deacon. A two-fisted slugger needed a racier handle, and they had only to look at the newsreels for inspiration. The world had been on an ancient Egypt kick since the discovery in 1922 of the treasure-laden tomb of King Tutankhamen, who became pharaoh at age nine and died before he was 20. Headline writers made him King Tut, the most famous pharaoh of all.

To boxing experts if not Egyptologists, the new King Tut was definitely a throwback to olden times.

“There is something almost ancient about King Tut,” wrote Sam Levy of The Milwaukee Journal after Tut beat Cowboy Eddie Anderson at the Auditorium on November 27, 1928. “This little juggernaut has revived the old-fashioned brand of attack which has been almost desolate since the days of Battling Nelson, Ad Wolgast and others of their time.

“Such brute strength! Such endurance! Such a natural fighting instinct!”

Teddy Murphy once managed Nelson, but Tut reminded him of another old-time great. “He is a white Joe Walcott,” said Murphy, referring to the famed “Barbados Demon” who ruled the welterweights at the turn of the 20th century. “(Tut) has one of the best left hooks I ever saw on a fighter. Besides, he is a little giant (with) the strength of a 175-pounder.”

In the late 1920s and early ‘-30s, there was no greater drawing card in Midwestern boxing than the blond lightweight who, according to Dick Collum of the St. Paul Post-Dispatch, “has limitless vitality, supernatural recuperative powers, great ruggedness, a heavy punch in either hand, a flaming enthusiasm for his work, and absolute fearlessness.”

The Milwaukee Sentinel’s Jim Delaney worried about Tut’s victims. “The boxer who is fated to fall before Tut is better off if the undertaker is called in a very early round, for Tut starts in to wear them down until they finally fall from sheer weakness and pain, and they are not any good for a long while after.”

That wasn’t just the view from press row. “He’s a great little fighter,” groaned former 135-pound champion Jimmy Goodrich after Tut wrecked him in 10 rounds before 6,000 Milwaukee fans on April 21, 1929. “A few more bouts and nobody will fight him. A boxer likes to make a good show – win or lose. You can’t box him and if you fight him you take a licking.”

Among others who did were junior lightweight champion Tod Morgan and ranked lightweights Billy Wallace, My Sullivan, Ray Miller, Stanislaus Loayza, Bruce Flowers, Dick Finnegan, and, most famously, Petrolle, boxing’s “Fargo Express.”

They fought six times. Petrolle won the first two in 1927 on a foul and newspaper decision. He might’ve won the third bout a year later but for those supernatural recuperative powers Dick Collom raved about.

“He had me out on my feet in the second,” Tut later recalled about that fight. “Only fighting instinct kept me up. I hid behind my stubby arms, did not know what had happened when I came back for a minute’s rest and was still in a daze for several rounds. After that I saw a dozen or more Petrolles in front of me, but when the storm cleared it was my turn to get busy.”

Then he ran the Express off the rails, knocking Petrolle down and giving him a beating second only to the one Tut dished out when they fought a fourth time in Detroit on September 12, 1929, even though he broke his right hand in the second round.

Tut “butchered his opponent in eight of the 10 heats,” wrote Sam Levy from ringside, so badly that “Petrolle’s friends couldn’t recognize him at the finish,” and that after the fight Petrolle announced his retirement.

But first he told Tut, “You’re the best lightweight in America, King. I hope you get a chance at [world champion] Sammy Mandell in a 15-rounder. If you do, you’ll be the next champ.”

Another member of that choir was George Barton, dean of Minnesota boxing writers. “Tut, with his power punches, his speed, and his amazing endurance, would make life miserable for Mandell,” he predicted.

The champion knew it, too. Mandell turned down several lucrative offers to defend his title against Tut, and in 1930 when the Illinois boxing commission gave him 30 days to sign for a championship match against HRH, Mandell got out of it by signing instead to fight Al Singer, who knocked him out in less than two minutes.

Meanwhile, Petrolle came storming back after a brief rest, and victories over future lightweight champ Tony Canzonari and future welterweight king Jimmy McLarnin made him a big favorite when he and Tut resumed their rivalry in St. Paul, Minnesota, on February 2, 1931.

“Petrolle knows Tut’s style like the first-grader knows his A-B-C’s,” said Jack Hurley, the Fargo Express’s manager. “We expect the King to jump from his corner in the first round like a maniac, swing both arms and try for a KO. He’ll run out of gas in three or four heats, and then Petrolle will work on him.”

He was right about Tut’s battle plan, but the rest was wishful thinking. At the opening bell, Ernie Fliegel yelled “Go! Go!”, and before Petrolle had even turned around Tut was on him. Petrolle didn’t land a punch, and after 24 seconds he was out cold on the canvas.

“If there was any doubt about the greatness of the Wonewoc Wasp,” wrote Ronald McIntyre in the Milwaukee Sentinel, “it was dispelled” by the ruthlessness of the “cruel-hearted warrior with murder in his eye.”

Boxing writers in New York weren’t sold, however. Tut might be something out in the sticks – defined by them as anyplace outside of Gotham – but the local cynics figured him for, as one of them wrote, just a “ring clown who can hit.”

That hurt Tut more than any punch he ever took.

“I’ll make those guys in New York eat their nasty words,” he vowed after signing to fight Petrolle again at Madison Square Garden just three weeks after the St. Paul blowout. “I know my fighting style doesn’t make me a Benny Leonard, but what’s the difference? Don’t I give the customers a thrill with the way I fight?”

He gave the 14,000 fans at the Garden one by punching Petrolle around the ring in the first round of the February 27 fight. But then it was all Petrolle, who knocked Tut down four times and put him out for good in the fourth round.

The abrupt turnabout and an equally abrupt switch in betting odds in Petrolle’s favor at fight time prompted boxing commissioner John Phelan to freeze both fighters’ purses pending an investigation into a possible fix.

Speaking for most who saw the exciting brawl, Mayor Jimmy Walker declared, “If that fight was a fake, let’s have more of them!”

There was no fix. What happened was that Tut, who had long suffered from appendicitis, had an attack the morning of the fight. Word got out, causing the shift in betting.

Tut got his money and two weeks after the fight surgeons at the Mayo Clinic removed his inflamed appendix. But though he was a fixture in The Ring’s welterweight Top-10 for another couple years, he wasn’t the same fighter. After Ceferino Garcia stopped him in seven rounds in 1933, Tut saw the hieroglyphics on the wall and announced he was through with boxing.

But not with the ring. “I’m going places as a wrestler,” Tut proclaimed before resuming his mat career against the “Masked Marvel” in San Francisco on April 28, 1934.

For the next few years, he wrestled and occasionally put the gloves back on. In early 1935, Wonewoc’s famous prodigal son returned home for the first time since hotfooting it out of there 18 years earlier.

At a banquet, members of the local Commercial Association sang “Welcome home, King Tut, welcome home!” and presented him with a key to the village. “I’ve been all over the world, but I’ve never had a thrill like this,” said the native idol who the following night demonstrated both of his athletic specialties by wrestling Morris Moon and losing on a foul after belting him in the chops.

By Ernie Fliegel’s estimation, Tut earned about 100 grand with his fists. But in 1938, when he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in Milwaukee and fined $4.35, he told the judge, “I ain’t got it.” Blowing his fortune was the curse of this King Tut. Six years earlier when Tut was in Reno to box Madison Dix, he reportedly dropped $6,000 in local casinos.

A 1939 KO by Dick Demeray finally ended Tut’s boxing career for good at an unofficial 87-28-3 (51). He died on November 14, 1988.

Petrolle’s in the Boxing Hall of Fame, but Tut isn’t even mentioned on the Village of Wonewoc’s official website. It says the two best-known natives are Belle LaFollette, wife of long-ago Wisconsin Senator Bob LaFollette, and Theodore Fisk, “famous throughout the Midwest for his trained animals and circuses.”

They ought to correct that before the ghost of the most famous Wonewocan of all drops around to remind them why it was written after he relentlessly pounded Pinky Kaufman for 10 rounds in Milwaukee, “There was no mercy in Tut’s heart. Was there ever?”

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