Laughs from the Ringside
By William S. Duncan
DOWN through the years of a long and illustrious boxing career a sense of humor is a great defense against the jabs and hooks of Old ~Man~ Fate .Battling Levinsky has found that to be true, and he should know, because twenty years have rolled around since he first answered the clang of the gong.
"Boxing isn't all cuts and bruises and knockdowns and jeers," says the Battler."There are a lot of funny things happening every day in the gymnasium, dressing room and in the ring itself to give the game a humorous side." Levinsky began his boxing career under the name of Barney Williams but five years later changed to Battling Levinsky and became light - heavyweight champion of the world from 1916 to 1920 and light - heavyweight champion, of America from 1920 to 1922, being dethroned by no less a personage than Gene Tunney himself.
The Battler is still a very good man, however, and only last year was rated among the leading light-heavyweights of America by Tex Rickard, whose selections are to boxing what Walter Camp's once were to football. To date he has fought a total of 412 opponents and has lost only eight decisions, two to Jack Dillon and one each to Carl Morris, Charley Weinert, Gene Tunney, Bill Brennan, Gunboat Smith and Matt Adgie. Two men—and it might be added very good men—Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier, have knocked him out. Incidentally, in return bouts, he has won decisions from some of the best of those who outpointed him, winning the light heavyweight title from Jack Dillon, whom he fought ten times, and subsequently defeating Dillon. Smith and Adgie. He boxed Porky Flynn nine times. Harry Greb seven times and Jim Flynn three times, the majority being no-decision bouts.
HERE are some humorous ring reminiscences and opinions from one who has fought the best in his class, from Jack Dillon. Tommy Gibbons, Bob Moha, Jimmy Coffey, Al Kubiak, Leo Houck and the other headliners mentioned above on down through the years to Young Stribling, a headliner of today. He says: "Just a few weeks ago I was out in Pittsburgh.and I boxed a draw with Sandy Seifert. When I was in my dressing room before the fight started the policeman on the door said: 'Barney,there's a fellow outside who says he knows you well. I'm gonna show him in.' "He did and there before me stood Paddy Burns, the first man I ever fought in the ring, or course, I didn't recognize him at first, but when he told me who it was we had a good laugh over our first fight.
"We met at Tumbling Run Park in Pottsville in August of 1909. I was afraid of Paddy and he was afraid of me so we agreed before the fight not to knock out each other. Well, my career as a frame-up boxer lasted exactly thirty seconds, because Paddy broke my nose right at the start. I broke his nose in the fifth round and won the fight. I got fifteen bucks for that fight and never had a desire to fake anything after that.
"A funny thing happened during my first fight in Philadelphia, which was held at Lew Baileys old Broadway Club. My opponent was Tom Jones, who drove a wagon for the Jones Company and named himself after his firm. .Before the bout Jones called Nick Hayes, the referee, over to his corner, whispered something in his ear and then Nick announced: 'Gentlemen (there were no ladies there), Tom Jones wants me to announce that this is his first professional fight.'
"The bell rang, we came out of our corners, I crossed my right and Tom went down and out. After being revived, Jones again summoned Nick to his corner, again whispered in his ear and Nick, holding up his hand for silence, and shouted: 'Gentlemen, Tom Jones wants me to announce that this is his last professional fight.'
"In all my ring career I never met a man who gave me so many laughs as that good old Irishman Dan Morgan, who piloted me to the light-heavyweight title. "Dan had many Irish friends In New York, none of whom thought, of course, that a Hebrew could possibly be a good fighter. One day we were strolling down Broadway and Dan met a particularly good old friend who was very deaf. Dan stopped him and shouted: 'Mike, I want you to meet my latest and, Battling Levinsky, the new light – heavyweight champion of the world. He's a great fighter.'
Please speak a little louder, Danny, me boy,' said Mike. I didn't catch that name. Dan did. He shouted again. with the same result. So the third time he put his mouth right to Mike's ear and bellowed: 'Battling Levinsky, Mire; he's a great fighter ."The old man shook his head and said: It's no use, Dan. It sounds like Levinsky to me.'
AFTER wining the title from Jack Dillon I was in great demand in various parts of the country, so Dan and I were soon on our way to New Orleans, where I boxed a twenty-round draw with Gunboat Smith. Several nights before the bout Dan ran into an old friend of his, Raymond Hitchcock, stage celebrity, who has many friends in the boxing game. Hitchey was playing in New Orleans and presented Dan with two complimentary tickets.
The production failed to please Dan. We were sitting in the front row and the people were greatly amused as Dan fell asleep and snored loudly. At the end of the first act he awoke and started out.
Hey, where are you going!' I asked. Outside but I’ll be back, he answered. What are you going out there for?' I asked. Why, Tm going out and buy a ticket so I can hiss this show, said Dan.
I had several tough fights with the late Billy Miske, whom ring followers of a dozen years ago will recall as a leading heavyweight contender. I won my title from Jack Dillon in Boston, October 24, 19I6, and had been signed to box Miske in Boston six days later, so had to go through with it. "Miske won the fight, In my opinion, but it didn't affect the title any, because those were the days of no-decision bouts Billy cut me under the eye and I didn’t look so fresh when the bout was over. However he insisted on meeting me after the bout, saying Battler, I want you to meet my wife. Mrs Miske was naturally very proud of her husband cutting up a brand new champion that way.
A few months later Miske and I met again, this time I did the cutting and Billy’s face was a mess at the end of the bout. I kept my eyes open when in the dressing room and finally saw him ducking for the exit. Just a minute Billy, I shorted as I grabbed him. Come back here. Now I want you to meet my wife.
Another man who has been connected with the fight game for a long time and also seen the funny side of the “racket” as we call it , is Jack Stanley my present trainer. One time when I was to fight the wind up in Pottsville Jack took as his protégé an unknown. Jack hadn’t been guaranteed much money for his fighter and was anxious to catch a train back to Philadelphia so as to save the hotel bill.
They were fighting the second bout of the evening and there had been some delay, so it began to look as if he would miss his train. At the end of the first round Jack’s boy was out in front but said between the rounds – I think I can beat him, but he’s a tough guy and I can’t knock him out. Just lead with your chin kid and you will knock him out, said Jack who had thew money tucked away and was thinking only of that train. The boy led with his chin all right and was promptly knocked out. Jack’s boy lost the fight but he made the train and from a financial standpoint that was a victory.
That was only one of many funny things pulled of by Jack. He is one of the most optimistic fellows I ever met and it’s a tonic having him around the gym.
There is no man in the ring today better qualified to give an unbiased opinion of great fighters of yesterday and today than Battling Levinsky. He has not only met them all but defeated most of them and as one of the most clever big men of the century and a close student of the art, never fails to note the strong and weak characteristics of his opponents. He is one of the few men still in the game who has met both Tunney and Dempsey. Here is what he says of them.
Tunney is not considered a great champion by most followers of the game, but he should be. I think he got himself wrong after winning the title by putting on the high hat to the newspapermen and giving out his view on philosophy and all such stuff as that. Tunney really is a great fighter. He can hit harder than most people think. He is very fast and very smart and learns with every bout. After he won his second bout from Harry Greb, who had previously beaten him. Harry said to me “That fellow is going to be champion. I never saw a man improve as fast has. Why, he can hit too, he nearly tore my head off.
Tunney is not the killer type, but he is a good short puncher. "Don't forget this: Tunney has been judged the last few years on his showings against Dempsey, who is far superior to the other so-called contenders. With Dempsey out of the picture It will be easy sailing for Tunney. He'll be champion for a long time to come.
"As for Dempsey, I can vouch for his hitting ability, because only he and Georges Carpentier have knocked me out In 412 ring battles to date. Dempsey in his prime, was a cruel puncher and very fast. His punch always was a mental threat, too. You kept saying to yourself: 'Well, if I miss this time I guess he'll land and knock me out. That's why Tunney was careful when he boxed Dempsey. act careless with the Dempsey of old and It meant curtain.
"Most of the fans will tell you they believe Dempsey In his prime would kill the Tunney of today. I don't. It's a question in my mind if Dempsey could ever get through Tunney enough times to knock him out. I know he knocked him down In Chicago, but I doubt If he could have done better In 1920."Tunney probably will never be a very popular champion, because he is not the type the fans like. The great majority of them do not appreciate the science of boxing. They do not want to see the boxer but the killer, and Tunney is not a killer. But, killer or no killer, he is a great fighter, in my estimation.
"For being a generally good all-round fighter Jack Dillon right up with all of them. I fought him ten times, so I should have a fair idea of his ability.For boxing ability only I rate Tommy Gibbons as the best man I ever met. Gibbons' was a past master at 'rolling' with punches. He was very fast mechanically and mentally, being just about the quickest thinker I ever boxed. When he saw an opening he didn't lose an instant in shooting for it. As to punching ability, I pick Dempsey without question. When In his prime that man surely could hit.
"Strange as it may seem, non of these so-called Immortals of the ring gave me what I consider the hardest fight of my career. Frankie Mantel! did that in Brown's gymnasium, New York City, in 1911, and I received $62 for the fight. "In the first round Mantel! clipped me on the chin, and from then on I didn't know what was happening. People knowing nothing about boxing might think I was telling a fairy tale when I say I fought the rest of that bout by instinct and actually won the decision, but It's the truth.
Just recently Tommy Loughran said he didn't know what It was all about for several rounds after Leo Lomski clipped him In the first round. I for one, knew Tommy was telling the truth, because I had been in the same predicament myself.