HANK'S GREATNESS PROVED TO BRITISH (Fist Magazine, August, 1939) By Johnny Sharpe It isn't often that a British ring follower like myself has been privileged to sit at the ringside and watch one of the world's greatest fighters in act ion because for years American has had on its side of the Big Pond the cream of the world's fistic talent. Imagine the thrill I got, and with me, those who were fortunate to see Henry Armstrong in action in a London ring, either at the ringside, or via the television screen, when he successfully defended his world welterweight title for the sixth time since winning it, his victim being our own champion, Ernie Roderick. Thrill is no word to describe it. At times we who watched the double champion move about his rival at locomotive speed and shoot his blows to body and head at a mile-a-minute clip, couldn't realize that we were watching a human beings take our best welter into camp. It was an amazing exhibition, one that we British enjoyed and shall long remember. No longer shall we scoff at the reports of Henry's greatness. No longer shall we feel that the American scribes have overrated a young boy whose deeds have been compared to that of other amazing Negro fighters, the incomparable Joe Gans, George Dixon and Joe Walcott. We saw and we were satisfied. Our hats off to the lad who so far outclassed the best we could send against him. He outsped and outpunched the "Liverpool Flash" and proved beyond the shadow of doubt that everything that the sports critics of America have said in praise of him and all that Nat Fleischer, Editor of The Ring, has written about him in his book, "Holting Joe and Homicide Hank," are not in the least exaggerated. With the exception of the first round, it cannot truthfully be said that Roderick won a round, for it was only then that he was able to keep the "Chocolate Streak" at a distance. After the first it was all Armstrong. Darting hither and thither, on the move all the time, never letting up for a second, he was speed personified. Words cannot describe Armstrong's tremendous energy and his terrific speed. However, we must certainly not forget Ernie Roderick, who put up a good battle but was unable to get set for a really telling blow. Ernie showed extraordinary gameness, that will need a lot to equal it. Left eye closed and face battered, he took punch and punch, but gave plenty, too. That Armstrong won, needs nobody to say, but he certainly knew he had been in a scrap. It wasn't one-sided by any means despite the rounds score. Roderick stood and slugged with Hank and had the crowd standing on its feet, cheering both these boys on! Our hats off to Ernie Roderick, also. He fought as a real champion should. Boxing fans in Great Britain should thank Harringay Arena for giving them the opportunity to see a world's champ that is a world's champ, one who is not afraid to defend his title, and a fighter whose like has never been seen here, and whose equal will be a long time coming. Here I must pay a tribute to one of the gamest losers I have ever seen. ERNIE RODERICK, I doff my hat to you for the grand uphill battle. You proved beyond doubt that you had the guts to keep on in the face of a barrage of nonstop lefts and rights to the head and body sent out by Armstrong. I certainly must agree with Armstrong's tribute to you, at the end of the 15 exciting rounds, when he said, after thanking the British public for their great reception, that "Ernie Roderick is a great fighter, and would do well in the good old U.S.A." I can well believe this, for not all the American fighters come as good as the "Homicide Hank" Armstrong we saw this night. Roderick's rise to challenger for the world's title started in October, 1937, when he made a spectacular appearance at Wembley Pool Arena, and knocked out the tough Australian welter, Jimmy Purcell, in the fifth. Another step up the rung was when he beat Cleto Locatelli, the Italian, over 12 rounds. Then came his smashing defeat of the French tiger, Gustaf Humery, in three rounds. In March of this year he stepped into the ring at Liverpool as the challenger for Jake Kilrain's welterweight title and knocked Kilrain out in seven rounds to annex the British title. Outside of the ring, Ernie breeds rats for a hospital, and keeps a pet goat. He is, like Armstrong, the direct anitthesis of his ring self, being easy going, and good natured. He entered the ring with 23 consecutive victories under his belt and the knowledge that he had never been K.O.'d. Even in defeat he did not disgrace himself; he didn't even take a count. The Liverpool boys that came down to cheer Roderick in his fight with Armstrong kept calling, "Keep him off, Ernie!" But he might as well have tried to stop a hurricane, such was the force of Armstrong. Ernie entered the ring first and got a tremendous ovation from a poor house. Armstrong soon followed, and it was obvious that both were trained to the minute. Armstrong was not still for a minute, dancing and shadow boxing all the time, and even while being introduced he was on the move. After the referee, Mr. Wilfred Smith, had given the boys their instructions, the gong sounded, and Henry moved out of his corner with his chin tucked way down under his shoulder, and his arms moving like pistons. Roderick poked out a long left which tapped Armstrong lightly on the nose, and he kept poking this left out. "Hank" could not get toe to toe with him, and seemed slightly bewildered by the rapier-like activity of Ernie's left. However, after the first minute or two, Armstrong got to close quarters and, working away inside, forced Roderick onto the ropes. Ernie again shot the left out and pushed Henry off. Once or twice Armstrong shot left and right hooks to Roderick's chin that made the Liverpudlian wince, but nevertheless Ernie won the round. >From the second round, however, the contest was on a different par. The "sepia slugger" became the dictator. He really went to town, so much so, that many people thought it would end with Roderick taking the count, so great was the punishment he took. The same pace was set by Armstrong in round three. Roderick would score with snappy left leads to the face with Armstrong trying to work his way into close quarters by bobbing and weaving and as soon as he was close in, he would let off with left and right hooks to Roderick's head that brought him down to Armstrong's size. The fourth was of a similar nature and the crowd was kept on its toes by the pace that "Homicide Hank" had set. There were many at the ringside who were sure that it was impossible for Armstrong to keep up this pace, but they were soon dispelled when before the end of the round Armstrong straightened Roderick up with two left hooks to the head, then shot a right to the jaw which would have been curtains to any other fighter but Roderick. Roderick came out for the fifth and met Armstrong in the center of the ring, but was again compelled to retreat after landing five lefts to Armstrong's face. Now and then he would get set for a big punch or a right uppercut but every time he would let one go the colored marvel would let fly six or seven hooks to the head. In the next session the English lad was again driven to the ropes and around the ring. It was obvious to all that Armstrong was not taking any chances of a disqualification, for he rearely attempted to hit on the body. In a fierce rally, Roderick got the crowd on its feet when he scored with a hard right to Armstrong's mouth that brought blood from the colored boy, as he spit out on to the canvas, a thing he did every often. In the seventh and eighth Roderick was again on the receiving end, and it seemed amazing the way he took blow after blow from the "human tornado." He must have been in great shape, otherwise he would have certainly cracked up under the heavy bombardment. Round nine saw Roderick tiring, but he gamely kept going in the face of continual pummelling to the face, that Armstrong let fly. A new Roderick came out for the tenth session, and he met Armstrong's attacks with a nicely placed straight left and an occasional right cross, but Armstrong swiftly played havoc with his two-fisted attack and well won the round. Up to now, Roderick had only taken the first round, and we wondered whether the colored boy could keep this pace until the end and whether the Liverpool boy would succumb to this onrush of blows from Armstrong. The next two rounds were repetitions of the last, Armstrong attacking and Roderick on the retreat. Both boys left defense behind so that they could get in a finisher in this epic struggle, but neither could land it. Roderick's eye was now in very bad shape, but he gamely continued in the face of this barrage and roused the hopes of his followers in the thirteenth, scoring with hefty punches to Armstrong's body. Armstrong put on the pace and drove Roderick around the ring, crashing home loeft and right to the latter's jaw as the fourteenth round opened and a well placed right had Roderick unsteady. Now, for the first time in the contest, the referee ordered the two contestants to break. They came to the center of the ring for a quick handshake in the fifteenth and then the fireworks began anew. They went at it, Armstrong keeping the same pace as all through the bout. A spurt here and there had the crowd spellbound and toward the end Armstrong showed that he could hit to the body without going anywhere near the border line. As the gong sounded, amid loud cheers, Henry Armstrong's hand was held up, a winner, and still champion of the welterweights. The referee, Mr. Wilfred Smith, was highly complimented on his handling of the fight, which was superb. He had no need to separate the boys, for there was no infringement of the rules. It was an exceptionally clean fight. Neither boy gave any reason for cautions and the referee didn't bother either. In conclusion I can only conclude by repeating part of Ernie Roderick's tribute to Armstrong at the finish: "I did my best against THE GREATEST FIGHTER IN THE WORLD." HENRY ARMSTRONG . . . We in England salute you.
NOBODY'S BUSINESS (Chicago Tribune, Sunday, March 1, 1931) By Westbrook Pegler NEW YORK, Feb. 28 -- Reference to the newspaper files of 1892 for information on the Corbett-Sullivan prize fight in New Orleans indicates that popular history makes use of the facts only as a frame or loom on which to weave the interesting patterns of legend. I had often heard that Mr. Sullivan entered the ring that evening bowlegged from the weight of his own fat, but the ringside stories describe him as fit enjough to take 35 minutes of hard, continuous gymnasium work, 708 beats on a skipping rope and a long swim in a pool only a couple of days before the fight. He looked strong and formidable in the early stages of the running account and the bulging middle, which, in later years was to become known as a paunch of blubber and the penalty for wayward living, was then described as a deceptive characteristic of Sullivan's architecture, actually built of solid muscle. A week before the fight, Corbett, on his way from New York to New Orleans, had paused in Atlanta to issue a demand that Sullivan fight stripped to the waist, insinuating that he had a habit of girding himself with thick pads of felt when he fought in a shirt. The final paragraphs of the blow-by-blow description indicate that when Sullivan subsided, after an hour's fighting, he merely sagged down in collapse, spent by his own pursuit, his angry swings and the cumulative effects of Corbett's fire at his lips and body and convinced of the futility of going on. There is no indication that he was knocked out in the full meaning of the term. He went forward first to his knees, then flopped flat, then heaved up, rolled over on one shoulder and gave up. It was important in those days to give one's people a run for their money, because prize fighting was a betting sport. But 21 rounds had convinced John L. Sullivan and all those who were about to lose their bets that there was no chance for him to win. I am interested to observe that Mr. Corbett was not always the mannerly gentleman, but a rather tough mugg on occasions. Shortly before he went to New Orleans, a fighter by the name of Dominick McCaffrey, who had fought him and lost some time before, called on Corbett at Madison Square Garden to ask for a return match and was cordially insulted on sight. The boys in those days seem to have been pleasure fighters or amateurs at heart, for there are many references to informal encounters between the leading characters in saloons and dressing rooms and on the streets in which they would have wasted much valuable effort but for the calm counsel of their managers, who intervened to save the attractions for the turnstiles. Mr. Corbett swore fluently at McCaffrey and McCaffrey yelled back in good voice, trading dirty name for dirty name, and the whole incident was quite unlike any of the unofficial meetings between the prominent puglists of today. Jack Sharkey of Boston is the most emotional of the modern heavyweights, but he is always quite civil to his colleagues and rivals when they meet outside the ring. Often he invites them to dine at his home with the wife and kiddies and shoot a few rounds of Kelly in his billiard room. I judge from the accounts of Mr. Corbett's early conduct that he was nicknamed Gentleman Jim not so much out of compliment to his manners, but because he was a white-collar fellow who had worked on a high-chair in a bank. In time he began to assume the airs and garments of the dude and gent, much the same as Jess Willard, who had been described as a cowboy, though he never had been one, assumed the high-heels and hair-pants of that calling. Years afterward, Mr. Corbett became a landmark, and his character mellowed and softened, but the name of Gentleman Jim appears to have been premature, for he was very impolite in his younger days. I doubt that Jack Sharkey ever swore any louder in his most hysterial moments than Gentleman Jim did sometimes then. The sport writing business was an infant industry in 1892, for the baseball news consisted of no more than 40 words apiece on a couple of games, some days, with an abbreviated box score and the batteries. The umpires, for some curious reason, always were referred to as mister. Ten days before the fight in New Orleans there was only the briefest mention of the bout in the papers and the final buildup began in New York, where both fighters finished their training -- Corbett in the Garden and Sullivan in a handball court above a saloon. At that time the descriptions of Sullivan were full of warming. He was fat and wheezy, the experts said, but the opinion running through the news was that Corbett, though more healthy, was too light and delicate to "do" him, "do" being the forerunner of the modern verb to shellack. A few days later, though, the copy from New Orleans bespoke confidence for Sullivan. He was fat no longer and his wind was now improved. A week or so after the fight the boys met again in New York, boxing an exhibition with the big gloves in the old Garden before 5,000 customers at about $5 per head for Sullivan's benefit. The crowd was emotional over Sullivan and hostile to Corbett, but Sullivan made a speech asking them to give their loyalty to the new champion and Corbett, when his turn came, was generous to John. He won a few rounds of cheers for himself by his tactful address. I gather that Sullivan had been swimming in wine since his defeat, for the descriptions of the benefit bout pictured him as bloated, feeble and clumsy. Four years later, at Carson City, when Corbett was about to lose his title to Fitzsimmons, Sullivan, now old and enormously fat and roaring drunk, stumbled up through the ropes, steadied himself with a ringpost and bawled an incoherent challenge to the winner. One of the experts, writing from the ringside, described him as a pitiful and disgusting spectacle, but, by an odd quirk, another man states that this expert himself was unconscious in a saloon at the time, insisting that he ghosted the expert's description of the drunken John L. In 1892, when Corbett fought Sullivan, the residents of some streets in New York City were complaining to the administration because new, electric trolley or broomstick cars gave off blue spits of flame and clattered horribly due to their tremendous speed, disturbing the quiet of the night time which was made for the repose of decent people. They wanted the horse cars back and the soothing clop-clop of the nags. There were no accounts of any intercollegiate football games, and racing is the only sport which seems to have been covered at great length and consistently. In 1892, between sport events, the sport experts vanished from the papers and, I suppose, from the pay rolls, a disquieting thought which, perhaps, I should not stress. It might promote the idea that sport writing is a nonessential occupation.