Posts Tagged ‘History’
The youngest son of heavyweight legend Joe Louis has been officially named Vice President of Operations of the World Boxing Union. Joe Louis Barrow II has stated that he looks forward to making the World Boxing Union a thriving championship organization again. “Since I have accepted this position I plan on making some important changes that I believe will not only revitalize this organization but the sport of boxing as well,” Barrow stated.
Joe Louis Barrow II, not to be confused with Joe Louis’s oldest son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr., is taking his position very seriously. “When my father was champion, he was the only champion. In the 70′s and 80′s when the sanctioning bodies started taking over, it was a bit difficult to figure out who was the real champion. Some fighters unified the titles and were recognized as the ‘Undisputed Champion.’
“That’s all fine and dandy, but today it is a little outrageous. Some organizations don’t want to do business with other organizations for a unification match. It’s despicable. It’s a circus. Organizations now have the world champion, the diamond champion, the super champion, and world champion emeritus. No wonder fight fans are crossing over to MMA. It was one thing to know who the WBA, WBC, and IBF champions were. Now we have to know who the WBA World champ is as well as who the WBA Super champ is. It’s frightening.”
Barrow is in the process of making a Board of Directors, which will include some familiar names in the sport and in politics. “I have Rocky Marciano’s nephew Lou Marciano Jr. coming on board. I plan to reach out to U.S. Senator John McCain as well. It’s about the fighters. If I have the support of legends like Larry Holmes, Eddie Mustapha Muhammad, Irish Micky Ward, Vinny Pazienza, Tommy Hearns and a handful of other boxing greats, the WBU has to be looked at seriously again.”
Barrow is talking about the 90s and the early part of this century when the WBU was based in England. The WBU was a respected organization at the time with champions like Ricky Hatton, Kevin Kelley, Micky Ward, Tommy Hearns, George Foreman and James Toney to name a few. After the death of WBU founder John W. Robinson the company was primarily just making champions in the UK. It eventually ran itself into the ground and was defunct for several years until a business group headed by Don “Moose” Lewis out of Atlanta bought the rights to the company. Since then the WBU has been in the rebuilding process.
Lewis is acting President while Joe Louis Barrow II is running the day to day operations. “We had some problems with the BBB of C when we came back. They originally refused to recognize the WBU in the UK. It’s funny, Charles Giles is the Chairman of the British Boxing Board of Control (BBB of C) and he is also the Vice-President of the WBC and the Vice-Chairman of the EBU. He doesn’t like the fact that the U.S. has taken over a former UK organization I imagine. We are trying to work on relations with them but this is what’s wrong with the sport. Questions need to be raised. Regardless the WBU has a rich history in boxing and we plan on continuing that in the future.”
Don’t let anyone tell you that being a boxing promoter is easy! With just a few weeks to go before his ‘Summer Rumble 2’ show at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, Phil Jeffries has lost his bill-topper after Martin Ward was forced to withdraw from the July 15 date with injury. The setback, however, has proved far from disastrous with Jeffries working wonders behind the scenes to substitute the Ward fight for an excellent replacement.
Already making history and breaking records for the most amount of fights ever on a single bill of professional boxing in the North East, ‘Summer Rumble 2’ will now be headlined by former world title challenger Jason Boothtaking on Ireland’s Willie ‘Big Bang’ Casey for the WBO inter-continental super-bantamweight belt.
Nottingham’s Booth, a former British and Commonwealth champion who unsuccessfully challenged for world honours in 2010, is renowned for his brilliant boxing skills, and will need to be on top form if he is to overcome Casey. The Irish fighter, who has held the European title and is a Prizefighter winner, is strong and aggressive and has won 13 of his 15 fights, with nine by KO.
“I’m devastated for Martin Ward who was supposed to box Mike Robinson for the English bantamweight title on the show,” explained Jeffries. “He’s hurt his hand in training and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m hoping to get that fight rearranged for September.
“The headline fight we’ve now got has all the makings of a classic though and is a top-class replacement. Jason Booth is a lovely little boxer who is known in the game for his great technical ability, whereas Casey is a come forward fighter and a real puncher. It’s a great clash of styles, and a real privilege to be putting it on in Sunderland for the North East fans.”
Also now appearing on the undercard, alongside fighters from every other corner of the region, will be Sunderland’s Glenn Foot. After making a name for himself with a no-nonsense style that has seen three of his six wins coming by first round KO, the unbeaten young fighter will be looking to put on an exciting performance after being out of the ring since October last year.
“Glenn is a very aggressive and exciting fighter. He doesn’t hang around and looks to take opponents out early,” said Jeffries. “All I can say is ‘don’t blink’ because he throws bombs and if he catches you it’s all over! Seriously though, I’m really pleased to get him on the show and he really is a guy to look out for.”
18 BOUTS IS THAT NOT VALUE FOR £30?
One of the greater joys of being a boxing enthusiast is the rich and interesting history that this sport has to offer. Many of the stories, lore and athletic feats surrounding pugilism are still relevant for discussion, even decades after they happened.
One boxer from yesteryear whose achievements and exploits in the ring are most definitely worthy of discussion is Henry Armstrong Jr., considered by many to be the second greatest pound for pound fighter of all time.
Henry Armstrong Jr. One of the greatest and most relentless punchers of all time. A fighter who was always in perpetual motion
Henry Jr., also known by his aliases of Hurricane Henry or Homicide’ Hank, was not only a member of the exclusive group of fighters that have won boxing championships in three or more different divisions (at a time when there were only 8 universally recognized World Titles), but also has the distinction of being the only boxer to hold three world championships at the same time. He also defended the Welterweight Championship more times than any other fighter.
He was among the first three men active in the ring after 1919 to be elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954. The others were Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis.
Hailing from Mississippi, Armstrong was born as Henry Jackson Jr. On December 12, 1912 and moved as a youngster with his family to St. Louis, Missouri, which is where he developed his boxing skills. He was the son of Henry Jackson Sr., a sharecropper of African American, Irish and Native American descent and America Jackson, an Iroquois Native American.
Armstrong was not a born fighter as a youth he had a small stature and he was often the target of school bullies, this gave him an interest in boxing as a means to defend himself against the bullies. During his years attending Vashon High School, Armstrong excelled, earning good grades and gaining the respect of his peers. He was elected class president and selected poet laureate of his class. Armstrong also worked on his athletic abilities, often running the eight miles to school. After school, he worked as a pin-boy at a bowling alley. Were he gained his first boxing experience.
Amateur Boxing Days:
Working at the “colored” Young Men’s Christian Association** (As referred to at that historical point**), Armstrong met Harry Armstrong, a former boxer, who became his friend, mentor, and trainer. Taking the name Melody Jackson, Armstrong won his first amateur fight at the St. Louis Coliseum in 1929, by a knockout in the second round. After several more amateur fights, Armstrong moved to Pittsburgh to pursue a professional career. Ill prepared and undernourished, Armstrong lost his first professional fight by a knockout. He did manage to win his second fight on points; however, he decided to return to St. Louis.
In 1931 Armstrong, accompanied by Harry Armstrong, hopped trains to Los Angeles to restart his amateur career. Upon meeting fight manager Tom Cox at a local gym, Armstrong introduced himself as Harry Armstrong’s brother, after which he became known by the name Henry Armstrong. Securing a contract with Cox for three dollars, he had almost 100 amateur fights, in which he won more than half by knockout and lost none. When Cox sold his contract on Armstrong to Wirt Ross in 1932 for $250, Armstrong entered the professional ranks to stay.
Standing five feet five and one half inches tall, Armstrong fought in the featherweight class. After losing his first two professional fights in Los Angeles, Armstrong began to consistently win his bouts. He became known for his whirlwind combination of constant movement and knockout punches, earning him numerous new nicknames, including Homicide Hank, Perpetual Motion, and Hurricane Henry. Because the purses were small, Armstrong fought often, usually at least 12 times a year, and supplemented his income by operating a shoe shine stand from 1931 to 1934.
Armstrong started out as a professional on July 28, 1931, being knocked out by Al Iovino in three rounds. Just like Alexis Argüello, Bernard Hopkins and Wilfredo Vazquez in the future, Armstrong was one world champion who started off on the losing end. His first win came later that year, beating Sammy Burns by a decision in six. In 1932, Armstrong moved to Los Angeles, where he started out losing two four round decisions in a row, to Eddie Trujillo and Al Greenfield. But after that, he started a streak of 11 wins in a row, a streak which expanded to 1933, until he lost again, to Baby Manuel. Then he went 22 straight fights without a defeat, going 17–0–5 in that span, including a win in a Sacramento rematch with Manuel and five wins over Perfecto Lopez. After that, he moved to Mexico City, where in his first fight there, he lost to former World Bantamweight Champion Baby Arizmendi. He had four more fights there, going 2–2 and losing to Arizmendi in what was considered by Mexico and California a world title bout (thus Armstrong losing on his first championship try) and to Baby Casanova by a five round disqualification. He then moved back to California, where he went 8–1–1 for the next ten bouts.
Title 1: Featherweight Champion of the World
Armstrong and his managers realized that they needed to attract attention away from the rising fame of boxer Joe Louis. In an attempt to gain popularity and therefore more important fights with bigger purses, they set a goal of winning titles in three different weight divisions, an accomplishment no boxer had ever achieved. Through 1937 Armstrong entered the ring 27 times, winning every fight and knocking out all but one of his opponents. Jolson offered boxer Petey Sarron $15,000 to defend his featherweight title against Armstrong, and the two boxers met on October 29, 1937, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Armstrong won the fight, knocking out Sarron in the sixth round, thus earning his first world title as the Featherweight Champion of the World.
Title 2: Welterweight Champion of the World
Armstrong then set out to achieve his goal, in becoming the first boxer to ever hold three undisputed titles at the same time. For his second title he set his sights on the lightweight division, but his challenge to a title fight was declined by lightweight titleholder Lou Ambers. Determined to enter a title fight, Armstrong then challenged welterweight champion Barney Ross. Armstrong had to increase his weight to 138 pounds in order to qualify to fight in the welterweight division. He made the minimum weight by increasing his calorie intake, drinking beer in the days before the fight and a lot of water on the day of weigh-in.
The promoters postponed the bout for 10 days, and Armstrong accepted Joe Louis’s invitation to train at Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, with Louis covering all expenses. Although Ross was favoured by the odds makers three to one over Armstrong; when the two met in Long Island City on May 31, 1938, Armstrong won convincingly on points in 15 rounds, earning his second title, Welterweight Champion of the World.
Title 3: World Lightweight Champion
Then, he went down in weight and challenged World Lightweight Champion Lou Ambers. In a history making night, Armstrong became the first boxer ever to have world championships in three different divisions at the same time, by beating Ambers by split decision. A few days later, he decided he couldn’t make the 126 pounds weight anymore and he vacated the featherweight crown.
On August 17, 1938, just three months after his fight with Ross, Armstrong took on Lou Ambers in front of 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden. The fight lasted 15 rounds. Ambers opened a cut on Armstrong’s lower lip, and Armstrong, afraid the referee would stop the fight, swallowed the blood throughout the fight and succeeded in winning on points. However, the fight was so brutal that Armstrong blacked out at the end and could later recall very little of what happened.
He dedicated the next two years to defending the welterweight crown, beating, among others, future World Middleweight Champion Ceferino Garcia, Al Manfredo and Bobby Pacho, before defending his Lightweight belt in a rematch with Ambers, which he lost on a 15 round decision. After that, he concentrated once again on defending the world Welterweight title, and made eight defenses in a row, the last of which was a nine round knockout win over Puerto Rico’s Pedro Montañez. Then, he tried to make history once again by becoming the first boxer to win world titles in four different categories in a rematch with Garcia, already the World Middleweight Champion, but the fight ended in a ten round draw, Armstrong’s attempt to win a fourth division’s world title being frustrated. According to boxing historian the late Bert Sugar, many felt Armstrong deserved the decision in this fight.
The final title bout of his career was a failed attempt to regain the lightweight title in a rematch with Zivic on January 17, 1941. Armstrong was knocked out in the 12-round fight. He continued to box actively until announcing his retirement in 1945 at the age of 32.
Henry Armstrong Jr. had a total of 180 fights. He won 149 of those fights and 101 of them were all knockouts, he had 21 loses, and 10 draws.
One of Armstrong’s greatest victory streaks was the 27-win bouts in a row that he won and all by a knockout. It is regarded by many boxing experts as the best winning streak in boxing history.
After In Retirement:
Armstrong may have been one of the world’s ever greatest boxers but as with many pugilists before him he was not a savvy business man and on top of that he had taken to living a playboy’s life style. Armstrong made a million dollars in his fifteen year boxing career but at the end there was precious little left to show for all his hard work.
He became a boxing manager for a time, but his increasing use of alcohol led to his arrest in Los Angeles. In 1949 Armstrong experienced a religious conversion and turned his life around. Two years later he was ordained as a Baptist minister at Morning Star Baptist Church.
In the 1950’s he created the Henry Armstrong Youth Foundation and funded the organization from the profits of two books he wrote: Twenty Years of Poem, Moods, and Mediations (1954) and his autobiography, Gloves, Glory, and God (1956).
Armstrong first married in 1934. He and Willa Mae Shony had one daughter, Lanetta. After that marriage ended in divorce, Armstrong married a second time in 1960. Velma Tartt was a former girlfriend from his high school days. She died on the way to the hospital in Armstrong’s arms, having suffered chest pains. After a brief third marriage, Armstrong married his fourth wife, Gussie Henry, in 1978. During his final years, Armstrong suffered from numerous illnesses, including cataracts and dementia. At the very end he was once again penniless.
He died of heart failure on October 22, 1988 in Los Angeles
He was featured in three movies, “Keep Punching” (1939), “The Pittsburgh Kid” (1941) and “Joe Palooka, Champ” (1946).
In 1954 he became a charter member of the Boxing Hall of Fame, inducted in its opening year along with Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey.
Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Ranked 2nd on The Ring’s list of The 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years (2002).
In his 2006 book Boxing’s Greatest Fighters, historian Bert Sugar ranked Armstrong as the 2nd greatest fighter of all-time.
Information Source: Gale Encyclopedia of Biography – BoxRec – The Henry Armstrong Foundation – International Boxing Hall of Fame – Wikipedia – BoxingStars
To any follower of boxing’s history the name of Tommy Gibbons will eventually come up, usually regarding his heavyweight championship fight with Jack Dempsey. However, there is much more to story of Tommy Gibbons. In viewing films of some of his fights, especially in slow motion, you will find for a heavyweight he was an excellent defensive boxer. In my youth I heard much from my father who did some boxing in the same era, about the famous Gibbons Brothers, Tommy and Mike. I find as I research them that he was right about their greatness.
George D. Blair
Thomas J. Gibbons was born on March 22, 1891 in Saint Paul, Minnesota – Died November 19, 1960. Tommy as he was to be known was the brother of future world boxing champion Mike Gibbons. Tommy started boxing professionally in 1911 as a middleweight. Like his brother he was a master scientific boxer who chose to outbox his opponents. In time, he advanced to the Heavyweight class and developed a respectable punch.
In his youth he began work at the Great Northern Railway rail yard for $1.10 a day, of which he was allowed to keep 10 cents. He gave the rest of the money to help his mother and father support the family. He accompanied his brother, Mike to some of his boxing matches. When their father saw that they could earn much more money boxing, than they could ever earn at the rail yard, he allowed them to go into boxing full time.
Gibbons got his start in boxing as a young man in St. Paul at the local YMCA. He turned professional in 1911 as a welterweight at the age of twenty, knocking out one Oscar Kelly in Minneapolis. He relocated to New York before his third bout and went undefeated in first twelve outings to secure a match with fellow up-and-comer Billy Miske in 1914. The fight, held in Hudson, Wisconsin, lasted a full ten rounds, but as state law forbade official decisions at the time, the bout was declared a no-decision. Still, more reporters at ringside felt that Gibbons had the better of the action. In 1915 the pair fought a rematch, to another no-decision which again was felt to be Gibbons?s fight. Almost immediately following this, Gibbons leapt into a match with Pittsburgh’s Harry Greb, a wild-swinging middleweight brawler who would later be recognized by The Ring magazine as the single greatest middleweight in history. According to reporters, only Greb’s fabled toughness saved him from a knockout. The fight went the distance and was officially a no-decision, but no one doubted who the winner was. Gibbons spent the next several months travelling and fighting less than stellar opponents in Canada, Missouri, Milwaukee, New York, and Scranton before taking on Battling Levinsky, who was the reigning light heavyweight champion of the world at the time, though, because Gibbons was only a middleweight, the title would not be on the line. Though Gibbons was by now undefeated in twenty-four pro fights, Levinsky was a veteran of an amazing 181 fights. Again the fight ended in a no-decision, but reporters gave their verdict to Gibbons.
Gibbons continued his undefeated streak for the next three years–fighting a variety of competition and fighting in places such as Dayton, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Baltimore, Akron, Terre Haute, Des Moines, Buffalo, Denver, Minneapolis, Calgary, Seattle, Peoria, and Edmonton. On May 15, 1920 he fought a second no-decision against Greb. In a rematch two months later, which took place in a thunderstorm at the open air Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the fight was closely contested in the early goings but Greb’s aggressive style made all the difference in the final third of the bout. The newspapers gave their verdict to Greb. Technically, though, Gibbons was still undefeated and he continued to be so through his bouts with moderate level fighters like Chuck Wiggins and Dan (Porky) Flynn in the next few months. On June 22, 1921 he knocked out Willie Meehan, the “San Francisco Fat Boy”, who had twice beaten the great Jack Dempsey earlier in his career. Against Gibbons, Meehan lasted less than a round. In fact, for all of 1921, Gibbons scored twenty-one knockouts, ten in the first round. On March 13, 1922, Gibbons was back in the ring with his old nemesis, Harry Greb. This time Greb was the more active fighter and walked away with a fifteen round decision, handing Gibbons his very first professional defeat. A few months later a disqualification against Billy Miske became a second defeat. Gibbons did go undefeated in his next six fights however.
His biggest fight came near the end of his career when he met heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey on July 4, 1923 in Shelby, Montana.
When Jack Dempsey’s handlers were looking for his first title challenger in two years, they picked Gibbons as a credible contender who would still be an easy mark.
The town of Shelby had dreams of prosperity and a touristic boom, riding on the back of the discovery of oil in the area in 1922. The local backers and the town of Shelby went for broke putting on the fight. A large arena with 40,208-seating had been built for this fight.
Dempsey’s manager, Jim Kearns asked Shelby officials to guarantee him and the champion an advance for their travelling costs. He also asked for the champion to have a guaranteed purse. So Kearns convinced Shelby to commit money or lose the fight to somewhere else.
Kearns eventually got a contract of three hundred thousand for his boxer – a $100,000 deposit was made, followed by a second payment and finally it was agreed that the rest of the purse was to be collected from the gate revenue. The whole idea was doomed to failure, bad planning and the bad publicity resulting from Kearns threats to cancel the show, resulted in the train company cancelling their extra schedule trips to Shelby, pre-fight ticket sales was badly organised.
The great Dempsey had to battle through the full fifteen rounds before winning by decision.
The fight was scheduled for the then almost regular distance of 15 rounds. Dempsey was considered an aggressor: He had dropped Jess Willard seven times in the first round before winning the title from Willard by stopping him in round three, retaining the title with knockouts over Bill Brennan and Georges Carpentier, among others. Because of this, the fight was thought to be a possible action bout, but instead it was quite strategic. Dempsey constantly threw punches to Gibbons’ head, with Gibbons trying to attack Dempsey’s body. As a consequence, Gibbons was able to duck many of Dempsey’s shots. Dempsey’s mobility, however, made it hard for Gibbons to punch Dempsey’s stomach and ribs.
In the end, Dempsey retained the title with a 15-round unanimous decision.Only 7,702 paying fans showed up, making the fight one of the biggest economical disasters in boxing history.
An estimated 13,000 people got to see the fight free. Four banks in Shelby went bankrupt in the months following the fight.
Tommy Gibbons record was 56-4-1 with 44 no decisions, and 1 no contest. He scored 48 knockouts, and was stopped only once by Gene Tunney on June 5, 1925. The names dotting his record read like boxing’s hall of fame. Tommy recorded wins over George Chip, Willie Meehan, Billy Miske, Chuck Wiggins, Jack Bloomfield, and Kid Norfolk. Tommy had no decision matches with George “K.O.” Brown, Billy Miske, Harry Greb, Battling Levinsky, Bob Roper, Chuck Wiggins, Georges Carpentier, and others. Only Harry Greb, Billy Miske, Jack Dempsey, and Gene Tunney were able to score wins over Tommy Gibbons.
After retiring from boxing at age 34, he sold insurance very successfully and was a member of the $100,000 Club in the 1920*s. His friends convinced him to run for Sheriff of Ramsey County in Minnesota, which included the capital city of Saint Paul, Minnesota. He won for six consecutive four year terms before retiring at the age of 68.
He died on November 19, 1960 at the age of 69.
Charley Rose ranked Gibbons as the #5 All-Time Light Heavyweight; Nat Fleischer ranked him as the #8 All-Time Light Heavyweight; Gibbons was elected to the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1963 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993
Wikipedia, Boxrec, George D. Blair, Cyber Boxing Zone
The Great Little Champion From Logan Square
By Enrique Encinosa
I met Johnny Coulon in early 1965. I was fifteen and Coulon was seventy-six. At first glance he did not impress. The Johnny Coulon that shook my hand that cold day in Chicago, was a milk-white little man who wore a white shirt, dark pants and a bowtie. He had eyes like berries on a bush and his voice was soft and friendly.
I was a young kid in love with boxing and Johnny Coulon fit me like an old shoe. The little guy was not only a topnotch trainer, but living boxing history. He had known every heavyweight champion since the Great John L. Sullivan, had been bantamweight champion of the world, had trained hundreds of fighters and was a revered celebrity in Chicago during the sixties. At seventy-six he could leave a ring by jumping over a top rope, landing softly on his feet. He celebrated a birthday by walking the length of the gym on his hands.
He was born in Canada in 1889, but grew up in turn of the century Chicago, where as a prelim fighter he became known as “The Cherry Picker from Logan Square.” He turned pro at sixteen and was champion at twenty-one. His career, managed by his father, Pop Coulon, stretched from 1905 to 1920. The hall-of-famer is listed as losing only four times in ninety-seven fights, but he claimed to have fought over three hundred pro fights.
“A lot of my fights never made the record books,” he told me, as I began pumping him for information on boxing lore, “I fought in small shows all over Illinois and Indiana. I fought in Terre Haute four or five times and not one of those fights made the record books. I also fought in Gary, South Bend, Streator and other places, like county fairs. Not even half of my fights are listed. There was a tavern near Logan Square that had a ballroom in the back and they used to run weekly shows. I think they charged twenty cents at the door and the place held maybe three hundred. My average purse for those fights was four dollars, but back then you could live on ten dollars a month. I fought at least twenty times in that ballroom, in 1905 and 1906, and not one of those fights ever made the books. During those two years I also toured eight weeks with a circus, fighting all comers for four rounds. I was paid eight dollars a fight. I had maybe twenty five fights in those eight weeks. Not one made the record books. ”
Johnny Coulon fought all the top little men of his time. He traded leather with Pete Herman, Jim Kendrick, Frankie Burns, Kid Williams, Frankie Conley, Harry Forbes and Kid Murphy. A good fighter he beat was Charlie Goldman, a tough bantam who went on to become Rocky Marciano’s trainer. Coulon won the crown from Jim Kendrick in nineteen rounds . A fighting champion, the record books tell that in 1912 Johnny Coulon beat two top contenders, Frankie Conley and Frankie Burns, in two twenty rounders that both went the distance. The Cherry Picker packed forty rounds of fighting in fifteen days.
“There were a lot of tough fighters in my time,” he once told me, “when I fought Kendrick I was sick, weak with a stomach ailment. When Conley fought me, he sprained his wrist real bad, but kept fighting even though he grunted in pain every time he hit me. Conley was tough but he was made to order for my style. I would jab him to the body, jab him to the head and use the jab to set up the right hand. And Conley was a sucker for the right hand. I was not a great puncher, but I would time him coming in and shoot the right hand down the middle and I would score every time.”
The gym was located at 1154 E. 63rd Street, on the South Side of Chicago. The L Train rumbled past the third floor windows. There was a single ring, a half dozen bags of different types, a locker room and clean showers. Johnny and his wife, Marie, ran a clean pugilistic emporium. Mrs.Coulon did not allow cursing or smoking . Visitors were allowed as long as they behaved themselves in a proper manner. Sonny Liston was expelled on his first day at the gym, then apologized and became a very good friend of Johnny and Marie.
The gym, which opened during the twenties, had been host to boxing legends. Dempsey, Louis and Marciano had sparred within these walls. Ali would often used the gym to keep himself toned during his exile years. I found myself sparring in a ring where Sugar Ray Robinson had once trod.
At the time I embarked on a modest amateur career, the well known fighters at Coulon’s included former junior welterweight champion Eddie Perkins (74-20-4) who was managed by Coulon, and Light-heavyweight contender Allen Thomas. Perkins, a steelworker, was a clever little boxer with a good chin. Thomas was a southpaw who fought Mauro Mina, Bob Foster and several other topnotchers. Other pro leather slingers included Ben Black, who lost to Cleveland Williams, and Fred Askew, who was one of George Foreman’s early victims.
At one end of the gym, in the southern side of the room, where long windows faced the elevated tracks of the L Train, Johnny Coulon had his personal office. In Christmas, holiday postcards framed the doorway. Among the cards there were best wishes from European royalty, senators, movie producers, actors and writers. Coulon knew everyone. Ernest Hemingway had visited Coulon’s and insisted on sparring with the local pugs. LeRoy Neiman had sketched boxers working out. A cult movie of the sixties, “Medium Cool,” filmed scenes at the gym, where Coulon briefly appeared, a tiny old man captured forever on celluloid.
Johnny Coulon was a special man not only for his fame as a former champion and first rate trainer. In a brutal trade he was a man of ethics. When a local community center was about to close up for lack of funds, the one man who stood to benefit from such a closure was Johnny Coulon. He knew that a dozen fighters, seeking a new gym would increase his monthly revenue of dues. Instead of ignoring the situation and waiting for new clients, Johnny Coulon sat in his office for hours, calling members of the chamber of commerce, aldermen, reporters. Within hours, Johnny had politicians and blue blood socialites donating money to the center. Coulon even wrote a personal check and helped promote an amateur boxing show and a benefit dinner to raise funds for the competition. The community center stayed open. Such a gesture was not unusual for the Cherry Picker. The night he won the crown from Kendrick, Johnny donated a thousand dollars, a large sum of money in those days of nickel beer, to the Working Boys Home of Chicago.
When Johnny Coulon opened his gym, in the early twenties, the neighborhood had been blue collar Irish and Polish. By the time I joined the gym, the area was pure black ghetto. The four or five of us from other ethnic backgrounds commuted from the suburbs, a concept that never thrilled our parents. To Coulon, ethnic or racial background did not matter. He treated everyone the same, with a Victorian courtesy dating back to the turn of the century. As a result, when the Chicago race riots of the sixties burned down and looted whole city blocks of the South Side, Coulon’s gym was neither burned nor ransacked, a true symbol of respect. Johnny was not only “color blind,” he could boast of having been a close friend of Jack Johnson., had frequented Johnson’s inter-racial restaurant the “Café De Champion,” and had even been a pallbearer at the great champion’s funeral.
“Johnson,” he once told me, “was a very smart man. The papers said some horrible things about him, and he was very hurt by the whole situation, although he put on this public display of not caring., but he did. His first wife was pretty and a real nice lady. She killed herself. The second wife was a working girl from a bordello. I liked him but I did not approve of his lifestyle. He smoked cigars and drank wine and champagne. An athlete should not do those things.”
“His restaurant, “Coulon described, “was known as the “Café Du Champion, ” and it was located on thirty-first street. It was not open for long, because Johnson had all the legal problems and his first wife, Etta, killed herself on an upstairs apartment. The Café was impressive. It had several rooms, expensive gold plated cuspidors, burgundy wallpaper and green silk curtains. The food was very good, mostly steak and chicken dishes served on good china. He had entertainment, from local talent and early jazz bands to violin players. The Cafe was like Johnson, gaudy and fun. You know, back in those days almost everyone dressed in dark suits, but Johnson would have tailors make him suits in bright colors, like mustard or mint green. They were expensive suits and they looked sharp on him. He was a dandy, but I felt sorry for him. He had demons.”
Coulon was also known for a trick he performed for celebrities. Tacked on the gym walls were several portraits of heavyweights like Primo Carnera and Sonny Liston attempting to lift the 110 pound former champion. It was a clever trick, for as a giant would attempt to lift him, little Johnny would place a hand on the man’s neck and press gently. Whatever nerve he touched was enough to incapacitate the lifter. Men twice Johnny’s size attempted to lift him, but always failed. Although I asked him where he had learned this unusual skill, he never said, but did tell me that he had toured with a vaudeville group, where he made a profitable living giving boxing exhibitions and daring members of the audience to lift him on the stage.
Nothing good lasts forever. The little Cherry Picker from Logan Square died on October 29, 1973. I was just married and living on the East Coast, so I missed the funeral. An old pug told me that Johnny was buried with honors, at a funeral attended by writers, senators, society people and a lot of men with broken noses and mashed up ears. The pallbearers did not strain much lifting the coffin with the remains of the little champion, but as the box disappeared into the snow, tears ran down scarred faces.