Name: Joe Choynski
Career Record: click
Alias: Chrysanthemum Joe
Nationality: US American
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Age at Death: 74
Joseph Bartlett Choynski (coy-en-ski) was one of the outstanding heavyweights at the turn of the 20th century, despite fighting at around 170 pounds. Choynski fought draws with Jim Jeffries, who outweighed him by 50 pounds, and Bob Fitzsimmmons. His greatest victory came in 1901 when he knocked out future heavyweight champ Jack Johnson in three rounds.
After the fight the two were arrested for staging an illegal bout. While in jail, Choynski tutored Johnson in many of the tricks of the trade that he had learned. Ironically it was Choynski who helped train Jim Jeffries for his comeback fight against Johnson. In retirement, Choynski toured with Peter Jackson in a production of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and consulted on the production of the Jim Corbett biopic "Gentleman Jim."
Choynski's father was a writer, and his mother a musician.
The Days of Finish Fights
By Joe Choynski
BIG crowds watched me through my training stunts. My bag punching created excitement. The Australians had used only heavy bags. They were, fascinated by the speed and skill I showed with the light bag and in a short time were practicing on their own punching bags Imported from the U.S. The night of the fight came around and I was stripping .in my dressing room when in. walked the "Jawbreaker." "I propose that we save a score," said Fogarty. "I don't get you," says I. Then Fogarty explained that "saving a score" was the Australian way of proposing a loser's end of twenty pounds instead of fighting winner take all, as the articles of agreement stipulated.
I agreed that the loser should have something. The fight with Fogarty went the scheduled ten rounds. I jabbed him almost out and did not receive a scratch in return. The newspapers hailed this victory as a remarkable performance and the Australians were so impressed with my work they sent for Joe Goddard, known as the "Barrier Champion' to come from Melbourne to fight me.
This Goddard was one of the greatest natural fighters I ever saw. Unlike the other Australians he was not clever, but he was fast and prodigiously strong, with a head like a lion. He was almost a glutton for punishment, almost impervious to knockout punches. He was then rated as one of the great heavyweights of the World, on a par with Peter Jackson, Frank Slavin and even John L. Sullivan. In fact I believe that Goddard would have beaten Sullivan then, considering the condition of John L.
This match with Goddard was quickly made and I realized it was my most ambitious. undertaking so far Goddard outweighed me by fifty pounds. I finished my training in the hottest weather I ever experienced. The newspapers said the temperature went up at times to 120, and I believe it. It certainly gets hot in Australia in the summer time.
The first round opened at a terrific pace. Before the fight had gone one minute I knocked Goddard down with a blow that split the massive chin. The Australian rings are twenty four feet each way and the referee stands outside the ropes. When Goddard went down, the referee was on the opposite side and he ran all the way around the ring before he began counting. The "Barrier Champion" was on the floor at least six seconds before the count began, and he took the full ten.
Then Goddard began a series of rushes such as I never experienced. Each time he rushed I ducked and his hurtling body would ram with great force against my shoulder or elbow. The referee ordered me not to do this, asserting that it was foul for my shoulder or elbow to collide with Goddard's body. This was a .new ruling for me and there was nothing left for me to do but trade wallops with a far heavier man and one of the most dangerous hitters in the world.
The fight became a slaughter. First Goddard would be knocked down and then It would be my turn. Talk about thrills. The crowd was standing from the first exchange. The Sydney referee described the battle as "the most terrible ever seen in. Australia." In the fourth round I was knocked out. In my scrap book is a remarkable description of the combat which I wish space permitted to reproduce in full, both for the details it gives of: a memorable battle and to show, the vivid handling of boxing events by Australian, sports writers. I will content myself with the referee's description of the third round of this battle with Goddard.
"Round 3—Like two whirlwinds the men went at each other and smash, smash with sickening force fell the hailstorm of blows. 'Keep away, Choynski,' yelled some one in the crowd, but he could not, or would not, for. Foley had given the Australian his orders, and he was never to leave his man for a second. Fight for his body, Joe, was Larry's mandate, 'He's slippery with his head.' And well was It for-Joe Goddard that, he had the king of seconds at his heels last night, for never in the world did a man need wise counsel In time of desperate. need more than did Joe Goddard last night.
"Smash'on the point went Choynski's left with a peculiar swing. Chop went his right, and down flop on his knees went Goddard. Then the frantic, furious, maddening struggle sped on, and the men, locked together from sheer exhaustion, swayed like two drunken men, and fell in. their tracks all in a heap on the floor. "As they struggled up Goddard was bleeding from nose and mouth and gash over the eye, and Choynski did not show a mark, but his body, neck and side of the head must, have felt as if one of the posts of the gates of hell had fallen upon him.
"Now for a moment it looked as if America had the battle won. Again and again did the plucky lad send home left and right on the iron frame of the giant, but he pegged away in vain. Flesh and blood would have quitted beneath the powerful blows Choynski had landed, but the Barrier man' is iron and road metal, with a heart of steel.
"Once on the ropes there was a .fearful rally, and' Choynski got his back on them to support himself while trying for a. knockout blow. Goddard did then as he did the first night he fought Owen Sullivan he drew back and hurled his' gigantic frame upon the slim Tankee lad, and crushed ,him over, the ropes,, and Joe, poor, game, dashing lad, slipped down looking, as If the ribs had been brushed out of him.
"A cry of 'Foul, foul!' was raised, but the fight went on, though now both men were helpless. Neither could lift a hand to deal a blow, .and If the fate of the nation had been in the balance then neither would have hurt a child. A few seconds they stood there thus, then the vitality that comes of a vigorous frame and good training, set them on their legs and again they, fought, and to the astonishment of all, Choynski dashed in his left four times hard and banned Joe Goddard so hard with his right that he dropped his hands and stood In the centre of the ring, rocking on his heels with a sickly smile."
Despite my defeat by Goddard, or Perhaps because of it, the Australians regarded me with great favor, and offered me a. match with Owen Sullivan, another leading heavyweight six feet five Inches tall. Sullivan had fought two terrific battles with Goddard. The match was made, and an admirer of mine whose name I cannot now recall, startled the Sydney sports by offering a wager of 300 pounds that I would stop Sullivan in four .rounds. The wager was promptly accepted of course.
San Francisco’s Own...”Joe Choynski”
by Tony Triem
Born: November 8, 1885, San Francisco, CA
Died: January 25, 1943
Height: 5’ 10”
Weight: 168 lbs
From the Gold Rush days through the turn of the century, San Francisco enjoyed a most distinguished and influential Jewish population. Choynski was one of these men. Coming from an intellectual background, it is difficult to imagine how young Joe, the son of Isador N. Choynski (a raconteur, antiquarian bookman and publisher of “Public Opinion”), could have evolved into such a preeminent world renown boxer-puncher. In one of the world’s roughest and toughest businesses, he is undoubtedly the greatest Jewish heavyweight of all time.
San Francisco’s Joe Choynski began boxing as an amateur in 1884 and turned professional in 1888. Although he never captured the heavyweight title in his career, he fought eight world champions: John L. Sullivan, James J. Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, Jim Jeffries, Marvin Hart, Jack Johnson, Joe Walcott and Kid McCoy. He also met such stalwarts as: Joe Goddard, Tom Sharkey, Peter Mahar, Gus Ruhlin, Ed Dunkhurst and Pete Everett. After his match with Choynski, the great champion James J. Jeffries had this to say: “He hit me so hard, he broke my nose and wedged my lips between my teeth...I have no regrets, I had taken a boxing lesson from a master and an artist.”
Years later, after Corbett had been the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, he praised the man with whom he had engaged in more contests than anyone else. “Joe Choynski, in my estimation, was one of the gamest and best fighters that ever lived, though a little bit too light for the heavyweight class. He was really as good as most champions I have seen.” Jack Johnson was knocked out in three rounds by Joe Choynski in Galveston on February 25, 1901. Years later, Johnson admitted that the knockout punch was the hardest he ever received.
Joe Choynski was not a brutal fighter. He achieved knockouts by skill and science. Brutality was against his nature. A sister-in-law, Mrs. Edwin Coe, described him fondly as a “kindly, soft-hearted, truly great personality whom everyone called a marvelous man.” She remembered his “handsome slenderness and his compassionate blue eyes.” He retained his comely appearance throughout the twenty years of his boxing career.
Not only was Joe a reader and a truly literate person, he was also known as a collector of antiques. When asked the secret of his longevity, he said it was important to retire early each night, abstain from tobacco and intoxicating liquor. In later years, Joe went back to school and graduated as a chiropractor. He also spent many long hours at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association teaching youngsters the fine art of boxing.
Choynski died on January 25, 1943 and was survived by his wife Louise, a former actress and member of a non-Jewish Cincinnati family. Although he never held a title, he was nevertheless a ‘TRUE CHAMPION.”
15 January 1927
by Joe Choynski
OWEN SULLIVAN was not only of gigantic proportions, but he was one of the clever boxers of the Larry Foley school. My friend who wagered I would stop. Sullivan in four rounds was considered "balmy," and I confess I believed. he had acted rashly. But I knocked Sullivan out in the first round with a punch to the ribs. He had to be carried from the ring and we were afraid he was going to die. It was a week before he could leave his bed.
Still believing I could beat Goddard, I asked for a return match, and the Barrier Champion consented. The second meeting was held at Melbourne and was almost a repetition of the first. Goddard again beat me in four rounds of desperate fighting. Again I came, against the referee's ruling prohibiting me from "striking'' Goddard with my shoulders and elbows when his body collided with me as I ducked.
While it does not belong at this point to tell about it, I think it fair to record here that I met Goddard a third time, two years later at Philadelphia, with an American referee, and gave him a bad beating in six rounds! In that contest Goddard did not lay a glove on me.
Despite my two defeats by Goddard the Australians rated me as a. great fighter. In that country a defeated man is not thrown in the discards. I like several other characteristics of the Australians. For example, after I knocked out Owen Sullivan I went but to the race track the next day and was nearly floored when .strangers would introduce themselves to, me and tell me they won on me and offer to divide their winnings with me. Who ever heard, of such a thing in America?.
Another delightful custom, was the way they paid over the stakes. A banquet was held the day after the fight, to which the principals their seconds, managers and members of the press were invited. Complimentary things were said, and the fighters were given their money.
One day In Melbourne I was sitting In a popular oyster house conducted by .Jack Warner, a well-to-do Australian sporting character. Suddenly I heard a fearful, uproar accompanied by a crash of broken glass. I looked around and saw a man riding through the front door on a horse. I was amazed to recognize the rider as Duncan Harrison, manager of John L. Sullivan, who was then touring Australia with his melodrama, "Honest Hearts and Winning Hands."
Harrison was. arrested for drunkenness and fined the customary, Australian "seven and six," meaning 7 shillings, 6 pence, equivalent in American money to about $1.85. The Sullivan show was a flop in Australia.The Australians are lovers of art and patrons of the drama, but the spectacles of Sullivan playing the, role of a poor blacksmith whose family was threatened with eviction from home— Sullivan dressed in silk shirt, black velvet pants, silk hose and wearing big diamonds—was too much for their critical Judgment.
I was next matched with Mick Dooley; cleverest of all Larry Foley's pupils. Dooley had also fought Goddard' two hard fights, losing the last in 18 hard rounds. Doolev had also fought hard-battles with "Frank Slavin. then generally regarded as the equal of Goddard. Dooley weighed only 168 pounds, and was the first man of my own weight I had met. But Dooley's wonderful skill was not much greater than my own by that time, for I had profited by my, study of the, boxing of Australians, adapting much of it. to my American knowledge. I knocked Dooley cold in the first Round.
My last public appearance in Australia was in an exhibition bout with Steve O'Donnell, another remarkably clever boxer, 6 feet 2 inches tall; who afterward became Jim Corbett's sparring partner. Steve had every natural advantage except courage. The next day I ran into John L. Sullivan on the street and he invited me into an ale house to have a drink. He told me was tired of the poor, patronage his show had attracted and suggested that, as I was about to return home, we book passage on the same ship. I readily agreed. Just before I departed for home after 14 months in Australia, a banquet was given for me at Melbourne, and I was presented by the sports of Melbourne with a silk purse containing-200 sovereigns.
The Sydney Referee, of which Bill Corbett (no relation to Jim) was editor, gave me a fine eulogy in the issue of that week. This was writtenby Smiler Hale, able boxing-authority in Australia, perhaps - in the entire world. The articles contained more compliments for me than I care, to quote.
A great crowd was at the pier to bid farewell to John L Sullivan and myself as we sailed for America, where I had in store for me more important fighting than I dreamed of at that time. I was to fight such great men of the ring as Jeffries, Fitzsimmons, Sharkey three times, Kid McCoy three, times. Peter Maher "three times. Jack .Johnson, Jim Hall twice, Denver Ed Smith, Geo.Godfrey, Gus Ruhlin , Joe McAuliffe, Dan Creedon and 'Joe Walcott—to name only the more prominent—and a whole army of lesser-known, fighters.
Each of these fights was a real battle full of drama and action. I believe the story as told by one of the participants will be decidedly interesting to lovers of sports. Many interesting details of these battles, such as flings, of repartee in the ring, have never been told. In subsequent articles I will endeavor to recall these events of a bygone generation
those saw the moving pictures of the Jeffries-Johnson fight will remember that Jeffries scarcely tried to lead. Several times when he came to his corner I pleaded with him to try something. He’s hitting you plenty Jeff. I said. “He’s cutting you up, you might as well lead at him” and Jeff would say ”Yes that’s right, I’ll go after him next round”. But there was no spirit In his words and he would continue on the defensive.
But there is one memory of that Battle that I cherish with some satisfaction and that is that Johnson was frightened nearly to death in the first three rounds. "it took him threeto wake up to the fact that :Jeff was not going to bite his head off, was incapable of putting up a fight, and then Johnson sailed in to punch. The once mighty Jeffries into complete helplessness.
Tom Sharkey and I met for a shindig in "San Francisco in 1898. Those who regard Sharkey as a rough-and-tumble fighter without cunning have another thing coming. Sailor Tom was about as canny a bruiser as ever rubbed resin on his soles. He was as cunning as Kid McCoy.
I had seen Sharkey almost murder Jim Corbett with his rough house style. He had Corbett beat when the referee stopped the affair. Jim was so weary he had to sit in his corner a long time before he could make a start for his dressing room. I had also seen Sharkey knocked out In eight rounds by Bob Fitzsimmon’s Only to have the decision awarded to Sharkey on a foul by the illustrious Referee , “Wyatt Earp " The only foul Thing about that was the decision. Fitz afterwards got his revenge by beating the sailor almost to death in two rounds.
But trusting Joe thought nothing Could be handed to him in his home town. George Green, known to the sporting world as Young Corbett, was to have been my chief second, and when he did not snow up on the night of the fight I thought it rather strange. The referee was to be picked at the ringside. I will connect these two facts in a moment.
Sharkey was already in his corner when I climbed through the ropes. Later I learned that Tom remarked when he saw me: "He looks like a sheep” to which "Spider" Kelly, his second, replied, "and he kicks like a mule."
Sharkey had not received a warm welcome from the crowd. recollections of his affair with Fitzsimmons and his tactics with Corbett had left a bad taste in the mouth and there were more hoots than cheers for him. A long wrangle ensued over the selection of a referee, Sharkey pretended to be terribly suspicious and uneasy. The names of Peter Jackson. Jim McDonald and Dan O'Leary were suggested but none was acceptable to Sharkey.In fact, not a single suggested suited Sharkey.
Finally someone in the gallery in a loud voice yelled, "How about Wyatt Earp?" and hardly had the hisses, and groans subsided when another wag called out: "I suggest Sharkey's brother This caused a laugh, but the wrangle went on. The crowd began to whistle "Home, Sweet Home." An hour passed and Eddie Graney, my chief second, proposed that the newspapermen name the arbiter. This suggestion was refused by Sharkey also.
All the while . I was sitting in. my comer wondering just what made Sharkey so suspicious. Suddenly some one yelled, "How about George Green" and instantly it was announced that Sharkey had accepted Green. I smelled a rat. but being weary from the wrangle and confident I could knock Sharkey out, I offered no objection.
The bell rang, and then began one of the craziest exhibitions ever staged In a prize-ring. Talk about a mixed match of wrestling and boxing, it was there. A spectator could not have told whether it was Queensberry or London Prize Ring rules or, whether we were boxing, wrestling or using Jiu jitsu. Sharkey committed every kind of Io-«i5 Imaginable except biting.
I did not want the fight on a foul and I offered little protest against Sharkey's tactics. I was more rugged than Corbett and felt I could stand a lot of the wrestling and mauling ,while waiting a. chance to flatten Sharkey with a punch. In fact the audience did much more complaining about Sharkey's rough work than did my seconds. But as the battle went on the sailors work got more and more crude and my strength was gradually sapped. In the eighth round I began to tire from the furious pace Suddenly Sharkey. who was much the heavier man, rushed me to the ropes and then deliberately flung me bodily out of the ring. My head struck a chair corner as I fell to the floor and I had to be assisted back, into the ring. To the surprise of the crowd referee Green walked to the centre of the ring, and yelled: "It's a draw."
Commenting on this decision, W. Naughton, the boxing, authority of that .day, observed.:- "In a contest such as last nights there should have been a clean-cut decision. Sharkey's work was rough and damaging whether intentional! or not Either he should have lost the fight on a foul or he should have been hailed as the winner."
Among the notables at the ringside were John L. Sullivan, Bob Fitzsimmons. Jim Corbett and Kid McCoy. The truth of the matter, as I see It clearly after these years, is that I gave away too much weight to an extraordinarily powerful man who used the rough house tactics habitual to Sharkey I was overconfident to the Point of recklessness in match making. It was folly enough to concede so much weight to giants who fought fairly, but when I had to endure the mauling, heeling, gouging, butting and general slamming around of by Sharkey it was too much.
Joe Choynski - Vintage Original Holograph Letter from Joe Choynski to Nat Fleischer, Editor and Publisher of The Ring - 11-11-1939
Joe Choynski's offers his views on the Mace v. Donovan Benefit fight and Mike Donovan in particular and the John L. Sullivan...
"...Donovan who thought that I was the greatest ever offered to pay my expenses and give me another $100 to second him"...
"...when I ask him for my expenses he told me a hard luck tale and ran out on me? A lie detector can prove my assertiion. When I first started to box a man told me one you could only trust a boxer a far as you could sling a bull by the tail ? and was he right..."
Sullivan boxed Donovan and grabbed John around the waist fearful of his right and John hit him on the back - flattened him and every man he fought thereafter he did the same thing until Corbett go
He thought Mace was trying to get his job?
On Jem Mace... "...that Mace could not box but he insisted so I intimidated Mace before the event talked to him psychologically and agitated his nerves..."
"...I told Mike remember he does not know how to hook left hand; collect yourself and lead for stomach his left will go over your head and he did just that and found himself. I had to admonish him that Mace was 72 years old or more. Mace had to remove his false uppers..."
and the solar plexus punch... "there is no solar pelxus punch. The plexus is behind stomach a bundle of nerves. Fitz punched Corbett in liver . I taught it to Bat Nelson, ask him."
Joe Choynski has his dates confused, the benefit exhibition between Mike Donovan and Jem Mace took place on 14 December 1896. Choynski fought Jem Hall on 20 Janauary 1896. Choynski was present at the benefit according to contemporary press accounts and he was correct that the benefit was held at the Broadway Athletic Club.
I look towards you. Cincinnati O - Nov 11-39
I attended some bouts last week Buddy Knox and Pross. (November 8, 1939 at Cincinnati Ohio.) Pross a protege of Dempsey? ...was out in two rds..wherever they get the idea they can box? Ben Leonard was referee of () bouts. did OK.
December Ring your Mr. Phillips speaks of Donovan and Mace meeting at London Theatre on the Bowery. I think he errs. I fought Jim Hall Australia in N.Y. Donovan had me at club NYA a few days before event to spar his pupils? after I beat Hall Donovan asked me to second him against Mace who had returned to America on a trip around the world. Al Smith's renowned racing man, a book living in hotel corner of 34th Donovan named me and Parson Davies promoted a benefit for Mace and Donovan. Donovan who thought that I was the greatest ever offered to pay my expenses and give me another $100 to second him. He thought Mace was trying to get his job? I told him he was foolish, that Mace could not box but he insisted so I intimidated Mace before the event talked to him psychologically and agitated his nerves. they met in Old Broadway A.C. instead of London- Broadway near B.oone looking on Wash. Sq? I was want to live in hotel next door. The Colonade? the first round and Mace landed his left unexpectedly early on Mike's nose End 2 min on return to corner. I told Mike remember he does not know how to hook left hand; collect yourself and lead for stomach his left will go over your head and he did just that and found himself. I had to admonish him that Mace was 72 years old or more. Mace had to remove his false uppers. two rounds no decision. The both received $1,300. Mace cried when the promoter refused to take part of his money, Donovan counted all the tickets? and when I ask him for my expenses he told me a hard luck tale and ran out on me? A lie detector can prove my assertiion. When I first started to box a man told me one you could only trust a boxer a far as you could sling a bull by the tail ? and was he right, wish I could get to N.Y. Sullivan boxed Donovan and grabbed John around the waist fearful of his right and John hit him on the back - flattened him and every man he fought thereafter he did the same thing until Corbett go If you have date of my contests the between Donovan and Mace occurred when I beat Jim Hall
There is no solar pelxus punch. The plexus is behind stomach a bundle of nerves. Fitz punched Corbett in liver . I taught it to Bat Nelson, ask him.
The following is from the October 1930 issue of 'Fight Stories', a great old pulp style boxing magazine that was published from 1928 to the 1950's. They always seemed to include at one great biographical feature in each issue:
‘ I Fought ‘Em All’ as told by Tom Lewis by Joe Choynski
“Some men are born to preach. Others are born to teach. Still others are born to dream. But I was born to fight. I was born Joseph Bartlett Choynski, in San Francisco, California, November 8, 1868, and for eighteen years of the sixty-one so far spent in this world, I met and battled the iron men of the ring.
Who were these men? Well, the records show that they were among the best in the world. Among others, I fought Jim Corbett, Joe Goddard, Jack Johnson, Kid McCoy, Dan Creedon, Joe McAuliffe, Tom Sharkey, Peter Maher, Bob Fitzsimmons and Jim Jeffries. No one of these famous men of Fistiana was rated as a walk-over or an easy setup.
More than once, my fate trembled in the balance and I was very, very close to championships. But fate is a tricky jade. She plays many strange pranks.
Eddie Graney, the famous old San Franciscan, who recently passed to his reward, has called me the best educated pugilist in the world. Perhaps this isn’t literally true, but it speaks well of my environment, and affords me an opportunity to laud my father and mother.
My father was I.N. Choynski, a native of Poland. He was an educated man, a fluent writer and talker, and he was Collector of the Port during Abraham Lincoln’s administration.
His friends and intimates included Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller and Bob Ingersoll. These men and other celebrities, including famous actors, were frequent guests in my father’s home. My mother, a gifted woman of English birth, entertained them royally. I knew them well.
My mother, incidentally, was one of a group of twelve girls who comprised the first graduating class in a California high school. Possibly this explains, in a measure, the statement of Eddie Graney as to my own education. Who could help getting an education with parents of this caliber?
As a boy, I was tall and slender – with a mop of blonde hair. This was always flopping. It gave me a wild appearance and thus hung on me the sobriquet of “Chrysanthemum Joe.” This clung to me through life.
I can’t remember when I had my first fight. But, if you know anything at all about old San Francisco, you must understand that we were always fighting. First, we battled for the championship of our block. Next we fought to see which kid would be the king-pin of his school. Ultimately, of course, we had gang fights.
There was jealousy and keen competition. You fought well, or you didn’t. and, if you didn’t, well, that was just too bad. You took a licking as often as a seal takes a bath.
My mother hated fighting. But I didn’t. I loved it. Like Bob Fitzsimmons, I acquired must of my strength in a blacksmith shop; also in a candy factory, by rolling and carrying 300 pound barrels of sugar up three flights of stairs. Then, too, I did a lot of “pulling” on fifty-pound batches of gooey candy. If those things won’t develop a man’s back, legs, and arms, nothing will! Hence, my punch.
But, in spite of all this, I knew little or nothing of real fighting when I had my first clash with James J. Corbett. Corbett, on the other hand, was even then regarded as a wizard. He was fast, as light and keen as a razor.
Naturally, there was rivalry between us, for I had my following, and Jim had his. We were born to clash.
One day, like a bolt from the blue, I got an invitation from Corbett. He wanted me to come to the Corbett livery-stable for a little set-to. History was in the making.
Up to this time, I had never seen Corbett. He had been tutored at the exclusive Olympic Club under the watchful eye of Walter Watson, an excellent boxing instructor who had come to California from England. I had been tutored in the streets and on the sandlots. There is plenty of difference. I accepted Corbett’s invitation. I went to the stable accompanied by my brother Maurice.
Corbett and I started boxing, there in the stable, among the horses, and it didn’t’ take me long to tumble that he had me stumped as far as science goes. We fought with bare knuckles.
Corbett’s speed dazzled me. He moved like a flash of lightening. The first round was fast as thought. Before the initial session was over I realized I would have to pick up many pointers if I hoped to hold my own with Corbett. He danced around that stable like an apparition.
He gave me a boxing lesson for two rounds. I was busier than a bird-dog. When I wasn’t ducking Corbett, I was trying to doge the flying heels of the excited horses. There was no referee and no decision. But I gave Corbett credit for out-boxing me. We shook hands and parted. But I knew there was going to be bad blood between us. Trouble was brewing.
It wasn’t long developing. My brother Maurice worked at the City Hall. So did Corbett’s brother Harry. They took up the feud. Maurice issued a challenge to Corbett through Harry. It was arranged that we should meet at the Dog Pound.
I went to the Dog Pound with Maurice and Frank Nichols. Corbett was there. And he had eight or ten members of his Hayes Valley “gang” with him. This didn’t look so good.
Jack Gallagher was timekeeper. There was no referee. We went into it – with bare knuckles.
Again I was dazzled by Corbett’s speed. That lightening-like left of his tapped my beezer before I could think. His feet were twinkling like a tap dancer’s. Blows came so fast I couldn’t begin to dodge them. I stopped plenty.
Bank! This is a left to my chin. Bam! That is a left to my nose! Smack! Another left to my eye! Corbett kept repeating the dose.
Then, with no secret hope that I could even land the lick, I started a mighty heave for Corbett’s head. It landed, biff! on his temple – and Corbett toppled to the ground. That thrilled me!
Instantly, Gallagher called “time.” But here my friend Frank Nichols set up a yell: “Run, Joe – you and Maurice – you’ve got no chance here now!” I knew he referred to Corbett’s gang. After that knockdown of their favorite, I wouldn’t have even a dog’s chance, here in the Dog Pound.
So Maurice and I started to pull out. But here Corbett jumped up. He was sore as a goat. He paid no attention to me. He leaped at Maurice. “You’re responsible for this!” he yelled, and then he handed poor Maurice a peach of a wallop on the nose! To this day, I don’t know why he took it out on my brother.
Well, I wasn’t faring so badly. First, I met Corbett among the horses – and he outpointed me. Next, I tangled with him among the dogs – and knocked him down. And this paved the way for our third meeting.
And this was to be a regular club – with gentleman present – and everything!
Corbett had been matched to box Joe McAuliffe, the famous Mission Giant at the Olympic. There was a hitch somewhere, and the bout was called off. I was asked by Corbett to take the place of the Mission Giant – appear before the gents – in tights and everything.
This made me laugh. I told Corbett I had never been in a ring, and that I owned no tights. Corbett said he’d get me a pair. And he did. But he got ‘em so tight I was afraid to bend. They were three sizes too small for the present Battling Battalino.
Corbett was well seconded. He had Billy Delaney and Walter Watson in his corner. They provided no seconds for me.
I guess Corbett made a monkey of me for the first two rounds. He speed was indecent. I didn’t know it then, but I realized later that I was in there against the fastest thing in heavyweights that the ring has ever developed.
That left hook shook me repeatedly for two or three rounds. Then, feeling pretty sure that Corbett couldn’t stow me away, I sailed in and cut loose with everything I had.
I forgot the swell club, ignored the clustered gentlemen and the influence of Corbett, and pegged away at him for all I was worth. I kept this up for the third, fourth and fifth rounds. We had agreed to box five rounds. We did – and although Corbett knocked me down, I doubted whether he could knock me out. I was strong, but untrained, I guess I fooled him.
Corbett was, of course, in perfect condition. He had been training every day – often spending hours on the development of one punch – while I knew nothing of gyms, and spent my time wielding a sledge hammer and wrestling with 300-pound sugar barrels. So I was pretty badly winded when we finished the five-round bout at the Olympic. There was no referee, but I agreed that Corbett outpointed me.
Out in the shower-room, where I sat blowing a little, some fellow poked his head in the door and pitched a pair of five-dollar gold pieces on the floor at my feet. I had never seen the man before.
Then Corbett came in. He asked: “Did Brown give you some money?”
I showed him the gold coins. Corbett grabbed one of the fives. “Half of it is for me,” he snapped, and I let it go at that. But there was a queer aftermath to this bit of business. It was one of those quirks of fate I mentioned in the beginning. Odd, how those things bob up!
These preliminary skirmishes with Corbett taught me a number of things. For the first time, I began to see the real possibilities in scientific boxing. Corbett himself was far advanced along those lines.
I therefore began a determined effort to master some of the finer points of the game. Up to this time, I had relied on my amazing strength and fine recuperative powers. Now I began an earnest study of footwork. I developed my left. I paid closer attention to feinting and countering. But of course, I was far from perfect. I had no shrewd trainers such as Corbett had.
Then the Golden Gate Athletic Club staged a tournament for amateurs. I weighed less than 150 pounds but entered the heavyweight class just the same. I won with the greatest ease.
Later I met and defeated such promising heavies as Jack McCauley, Pat O’Sullivan, Jim Hall (colored) and a fellow they called “The Tipton Slasher.”
Now they matched me with Billy (“Forty”) Kenneally. He was Corbett’s sparring partner. He weighed 180 pounds and was hard as Bessemer steel.
I was to meet Kenneally in an amateur inter-club tournament – but imagine my feelings when club officials called me on the carpet. My amateur standing had been challenged. This fellow Brown was there, though I didn’t recognize him until someone asked:
“Mr. Choynski, didn’t a man named Brown give you money for boxing Corbett at the Olympic?”
I replied: “A man I didn’t know threw two five-dollar gold pieces into the shower-room, but Jim Corbett came in and took one of them!”
This stopped them cold. Their phony objections vanished like magic.
So I went after the 180-pound Kenneally.I thought I was going to have a cinch. But those are the fights that fool you. It was a dog-fight; the rough-and-tumble Kenneally almost scoured the chrysanthemum off my dome before I got going good. He pounded me to the floor in the opening round and when I got up I was reeling like a merry-go-round. But I weathered the storm, and we slugged it out until the fourth. Then I nailed Kenneally with a left that was reminiscent of the blacksmith shop. Whereupon, Corbett’s big sparring partner dropped out for the night. They didn’t have to count over him. What they needed was smelling salts.
Then, oddly, as such things happen, I went professional. But I was full of ice cream and cake, not to mention port wine imbibed at a wedding, and it all happened so suddenly that I scarcely knew how the trick was turned. Eddie Graney was with me at the time. But he knew nothing of the affair. I think he was even more surprised than I was.
Eddie Graney and I had gone downtown to see a fight between Ed Cuffe, of Buffalo, and George Bush, the Maine Giant. Bush, who stood six feet three inches tall, had come to the Golden Gate to condition George Godfrey for a battle with the great Peter Jackson.
Graney and I waited for the two giants to appear. But there was a delay. Suddenly the announcer yelled:
“I am sorry, but there has been a hitch in the arrangements. Ed Cuffe has a poisoned hand, and the club physician will not allow him to go on with this fight.”
There was bitter disappointment. Part of the crowd began booking. But others demanded: “A substitute. Get a good man and give us a fight!”
Eddie Graney looked at me. “But where’ll they find a substitute?” he demanded. “There’s nobody-“
I jumped up. “Oh, yes, there is!” I said, and, on the spur of the moment, I agreed to turn professional and take on a man as big as a piano-box!
They thought I was crazy, and I suppose I was a little balmy at the moment, but I had made my announcement and I meant to stick to it. The crowd ate this up. The sportsmen gave me a rousing cheer as I started for the dressing rooms. They hated disappointments as much as I did. I’ve always hated them.
Well, here we were in our corners – and I felt somewhat of a thrill. Yes, and I felt a little guilty, too! My first professional fight! What an hour that was!
Then the wedding we had attended rose up to taunt me and I thought, with horror, of the cake, ice-cream and port wine in my stomach!
“This fight,” I said to myself with considerable conviction, “has got to end quickly. If that giant ever hits me in the lunch – good-bye wedding feast!”
The Maine Giant looked terribly big, standing over there, big and hairy, and full of fight. I guess he rated me as a joke, a skinny little apparition, to be pushed over with a wave of the hand.
The bell banged, and we went at it. Bush must have been in a hurry. He began rushing me and plastered my chrysanthemum with sledge-hammer rights. One caught me on the beezer and the claret was flowing freely. A fierce yell went up.
But I had enough red-ink on board to satisfy all the customers. I took four swats to give one. Then I laced the giant’s bread basket, swarmed him against the ropes, and was beating him like a drum as the gong rang. The crowd was wild. I could hear ‘em roaring like Yosemite Falls.
Two minutes then sufficed to finish the task I had set myself when I hopped up and proclaimed myself a professional. After some of the hottest and fastest milling of my whole ring career, I found the giant’s whiskers with a sugar-barrel right and he decided the unpadded floor was the right spot for him. He didn’t get up until long after the cheering subsided.
For prostrating this mammoth I received the purse of $900. But the fans were so tickled with my demonstration they insisted on passing the hat. This netted me $760 more. When I went home and showed my mother all this wealth, she scolded me. I think she wanted to cry, for it seemed terrible to her for me to become a fighter; but I consoled her and eventually she was reconciled to the idea.
Next came the case of Frank Glover, of Chicago. He had come West in the confident belief that he could whip the terrible Joe McAuliffe, the Mission Giant. And he made a pretty fair stab at it, too, for it took McAuliffe forty-nine rounds to stop him.
Then they offered Glover a consolation match – with me as the consoler. Glover was a big man, and a good one, but I was putting all I had into my professional fights – blacksmith sledges, sugar-barrel wedges, candy-pulling muscles, and everything. As it turned out, there was not much consolation in the match for our Chicago friend.
But I made a mistake in the opening round. I hit Glover too hard. Or I didn’t hit him hard enough. I don’t know which. Anyway, I knocked him clear through the ropes and into the laps of the customers. They hoisted him back, after some difficulty and a lapse of time, and after this he covered up like a crafty gopher when the cats are stalking the fields. So, for the ensuing rounds, I had to risk breaking my hands in an effort to convince him that the consolation was something different, after all.
Still, I knocked him out in thirteen rounds, whereas it required forty-nine for the Mission Giant to topple him. And for thus consoling Glover I received $1,750 – and the boys began calling me the best man on the West Coast. Jim Corbett didn’t like this, and it was this jealousy that led to my finish fight with him. He had boxed Mike Cleary and Jack Burke at the Olympic Club, where he had inveigled me into boxing an exhibition with him and then tried to knock me out, and failed.
So when I had won a reputation, Corbett challenged me. Upon my acceptance, the California Club offered us $20,000 to fight to a finish. He refused, and would only agree to fight me in private! And for $1,000 a side!
Here we have one of the most striking situations that has ever bobbled up in the annals of American pugilism.
“Joe Choynski,” said a writer, “the toughest and gamest little man in the fighting game, is going to fight Jim Corbett, one of the greatest of boxers, for $1,000, when he could have twenty times this amount. What sort of business do you call this?”
Many people, including the leading sports writers and the world’s best fighters, asked the same question. But I have given you the facts. It was Corbett and not I, who refused to fight in a regular club for that unheard of purse of $20,000.
Hasn’t it ever struck you as odd that Corbett and Choynski should fight in private, running the risk of arrest and prosecution, when they could have had ample club protection and twenty thousand dollars for the winners?
Well, it was queer, whether you’ve ever thought about it or not, and I think I can give you the real reason. It didn’t strike me then, but it does now. And here it is! I am convinced that Corbett wanted to make sure that I had no possible chance to win!
There was a certain saying current in San Francisco at that particular time. This saying was that two men might fight “win, tie, or wrangle.”
In other words, if a man’s friends and backers found a fight going against their favorite, they would break it up in a row – a free-for-all wrangle – with the usual consequences. Anything could happen under those circumstances.
But in a regular club, with supervision and everything, the “win, tie, or wrangle” racket wasn’t so good. And nobody knew this better than Corbett.
However, I agreed to meet Corbett at any time or any place. To avoid possible police interference, we consented to keep the rendezvous secret. There was a side bet of $1,000.
I wanted skin-tight gloves. But Corbett insisted on two-ounce gloves. They tossed a coin for it. Corbett called the turn, and got his two-ounce gloves. Then an argument arose as to the number of spectators we would tolerate. I narrowed it down to ten men on each side.
But where to hold the fight? Everybody in San Francisco knew about the grudge. How could we escape them? Finally we agreed upon a barn at Fairfax, a picnic grounds across the bay from San Francisco. Corbett trained at the Olympic. It was here that he had boxed with Nonpareil Jack Dempsey.
I did my little work at Sausalito. It was agreed that Eddie Graney and Jack Dempsey should be my seconds.
Nat C. Goodwin, famous as an actor and sportsman, was one of my strongest supporters. He was appearing in the Baldwin Theatre in San Francisco. That is, he was appearing there until May 30, 1889. This day – Decoration Day – was the date of our fight. And that day Nat Goodwin refused to work. Instead he sent a telegram.
“Taken seriously ill. Cannot appear today. Dismiss the matinee audience.”
So, the manager of the Baldwin had to make a certain speech to his big audience, and then refund their money. Nat couldn’t be bothered with theaters when a real prizefight was on the boards. And he gave the messenger a fifty-dollar tip for taking his telegram to San Rafael, to be sent from there to San Francisco.
At this point, it is interesting to note the differences between the contestants in this, the strangest fight ever pulled off in America – a finish fight between two men of our class – with absolutely no “gate”!
What a wow Tex Rickard could have made of this one!
I was twenty years old and weighed 155. Corbett was twenty-two and outweighed me fifteen pounds, possibly more. Although we had limited the “crowd” to twenty men, ten on a side, fully one hundred crept through the dawn toward the barn at Fairfax.
The time was set for six o’clock. There had been a lot of wrangling, and I think it was nearer ten o’clock before we struck the first blow.
Patsy Hogan, the pugilist, was referee. The timekeeper was T.T. Williams.
Corbett, looking debonair as usual, turned pink when he saw Jack Dempsey in my corner. He hadn’t figured on that.
But he quickly recovered his nerve and offered to bet Dempsey $500 he could whip me. Mose Gunst backed me for $1,000. The Olympic Club backed Corbett.
At last, with the hay pushed back in the dusty loft, we sprang to the center of the ring and began the opening scenes in the strangest fistic drama this nation has ever recorded.
We came together like wildcats released from the leash. Corbett had “kneaded” his gloves until the knuckles were almost bare. I could feel his hard, bony hands against my face.
I crashed a hard right to his head, and then scoured his ribs with lefts. We clinched, parted swiftly, and then exchanged long, looping punches that cut and scarred.
All around us, there was the low hum of excited voices. Here, in the misty barn, were the two dandies of Market Street – the fashioned-plates of the Golden Gate – determined to cut each other to ribbons because of a grudge. And our partisans were there to cheer us on!
I have heard some men say that a grudge fight is the bunk. That nothing ever happens. Well, it wasn’t that way with this grudge fight. All the rivalry, all the bitterness, all the imaginary grievances were aired and magnified. It was a grim business, a finish match, to be fought out in sweat, in blood and in agony.
Corbett hit me. And I hit Corbett. Up to this time, men of San Francisco had never seen Corbett’s face marred. But I marred it. And he marred mine.
The crowd, for the most part, was fairly quiet. But Corbett’s partisans grew noisy as he began landing more often. And once, when he floored me briefly, they roared right out. Whereupon Nat Goodwin scored them roundly.
“Do you want the sheriff on us?” he demanded. “Keep still, you idiots, Choynski will give him plenty!”
In the first round honors were fairly even. It was give and take. We both bled. In the second I took a short fall. I was up quickly and feeding Corbett that right.
The third saw us mixing it a bit more furiously. I fancy Corbett was amazed at my improvement.
But, grudge or not grudge, we kept joshing each other. I would tell Corbett where to hit me – then try to make him miss. He would dance around me, in that tantalizing way of his, and dare me to land a blow on his chin. And I did. With returns!
Here, however, I want to dispel a common error. I have heard men say that Jim Corbett could not hit effectively. Jim Corbett had plenty of punishing power. He could hit a man and make it hurt. But he was always extremely cautious. He was like Tommy Ryan in that respect.
Corbett, while never a punishing socker like Sullivan, Fitzsimmons or Maher, was able to deliver some very effective blows. Yet he was unwilling to take a chance. He never tore in and risked things. It was this extreme caution that lost him his memorable battle with Fitzsimmons.
The fourth round in the barn found us socking away to a fare-thee-well when there came a sudden commotion. The man on the door was shoved aside. An authoritative voice began bellowing loudly:
“I’m the Sheriff of Marin County.”
Then the sheriff, mumbling apologetically, stumbled up the stairs and informed us that the battle was over.
But it wasn’t over. The grudge had not been satisfied. Not enough blood had been spilled. We were to meet again – when we could find a spot free from molestation by the police.
My next dramatic, and final, meeting with Corbett was staged a week later on a grain barge belonging to Tom Williams, Corbett’s wealthy backer. The barge shoved her snub nose into the Straits of Carquinez, and there, tossing in the water and with the California sun blazing down on us, we battled it out to a finish.
Eddie Graney, that rare old sportsman who had viewed every fight of any prominence over a period of forty-five years, wrote:
“That fight on the barge, between Choynski and Corbett, was the greatest battle I ever saw. No two men alive today could even hope to duplicate it.”
We arrived in the little town of Benicia after nightfall on the fourth of June. We were to meet on the barge at sunrise the next day. I went to bed early, but not to sleep, for I kept thinking of the fight. I was working out a plan to beat Corbett.
I arose early. I thought I knew exactly what I was going to do. But, sad to relate, fighters often listen to the advice of others.
By 6:30 a.m., we were on the rough flooring of the barge. Jack Dempsey and Eddie Graney were with me again. Corbett had Watson and Delaney.
We were hemmed in by a wall of sixty men. Soon the barge was out in the bay. No fear of police interference. The time had come for Choynski and Corbett to settle their differences. Once man would emerge the victor. The other man would be battered into insensibility. Which would it be?
At 6:48 a.m., time was called. Patsy Hogan again refereed.
Corbett, twenty pounds heavier and considerably taller, immediately began his tricky maneuvers. He kept working me around so that the bright morning sun would be fully in my eyes.
Then he swung down on me, reaching for ribs and mouth, but I began driving my left at his head and heart. We hit hard, with no thought of the small bones in our hands, and time and again we injured those delicate bones.
The crowd was deathly still. There wasn’t much sound – only the sloshing of the water and the terrible impact of the gloves. It was grim business.
Back in my corner Nonpareil Jack Dempsey began drumming it into me that I must keep away from Corbett. This was the wrong thing to say. No fighting man ever received worse advice from another.
I went out, at the beginning of the second, determined to follow instructions and fight cautiously. That was what the Nonpareil insisted I should do. But in my heart I felt that Dempsey was wrong.
Then strangely, Corbett and I suddenly began joshing each other again. As the blows thudded and the blood flowed we set up a current of banter that continued for many rounds.
As Corbett would launch a blow he’d yell: “All right, Joe – let’s see you stop this one!”
And in the same vein, I would bark: “Okay, Jim – both together now!”
Then we’d smash the blows home and our heads would jerk backward and upward – first Corbett’s and then mine.
The first five rounds were wicked, blood flowed freely. Corbett winced as his hands back-fired. I groaned inwardly as I felt my own knuckles cracking. Men at the ringside began shouting hoarsely. Sea gulls, wheeling high, swooped now and then as cigar butts and bits of bloody cotton were tossed upon the pitching waters of the bay.
I am no judge, of course, but from what I could gather between rounds, we were putting up some of the most beautiful boxing and slugging ever seen in a ring.
After I got wise to the “morning-sun racket,” I vied with Corbett to get a fifty-fifty break on the glare. I simply had to keep that blaze out of my puffed eyes. If you have ever looked into the California sun, morning or evening, you can appreciate my position. There is nothing brighter in America.
Corbett, however, was slippery as an eel. The moment I’d swing him around into the glare, he’d wiggle away, and the next thing I knew I was squinting like a Chinaman. Then the hail of blows would break over me like gun-fire.
Before we had reached the tenth I was thoroughly convinced that Dempsey was dead wrong about me keeping away from Corbett. In the first place, it tired me out to play Corbett’s own game, and the reason for this is not far to seek. I was not the gym worker that Corbett was.
Corbett trained in a gymnasium every day. He spent hours perfecting his footwork. It was his regular practice to work with fast men each day from 4 to 6, or from 8 to 10. H seldom missed those hours.
As for that left-hand body punch, the one he used on me so repeatedly, it was perfection itself, as it should have been, as for months he spent an hour a day practicing that one blow.
I do not say this in detriment of Corbett. I say it in admiration. I only wish I had been able to get as much work for my furious battles. But I didn’t.
This, then, was the reason I felt that Jack Dempsey was all wrong in urging me, round after round, to stay away from Corbett. Deep in my heart I knew what I should do.
I should have waded in. I should have kept on top of Corbett. I should have slugged him to a standstill. Had I done this, I feel sure that I would have stopped Jim Corbett.
From the foregoing, it will be surmised that I consider Jack Dempsey’s help a liability rather than an asset. I am sorry to say it, but I do.
And, just to show you that I was right in this view, Eddie Graney took the same stand when the bout was a little more than half finished.
As I slouched to my corner at the end of the fifteenth Graney say that I was tiring rapidly. No mortal could set a fast pace with Corbett and not tire. Here Graney shoved Dempsey away from me. Then Eddie bawled:
“To blazes with this cautious stuff, Joe! Corbett’s cutting you to pieces at long range. Now, you go in there and fight him. Fight him! That’s your game. The man’s making mince-meat of you!”
There was no doubt about the truth of the latter statement.