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Excerpts from “The Terror of Terre Haute . . .”

 

Excerpt from Chapter 1:

. . .  Instead, little Bud Taylor and the other restless youths ran the streets, and when they engaged in disputes, they settled them in the dirt and cinders of alleys and back lots.
 

“You had to know how to fight in my neighborhood,” Taylor is quoted as saying,20 and that he lived in an area “where a kid protected his rights with his fists.” 21, “Taylor had more street battles than any of the lads in his neighborhood,” according to a sportswriter.22
 

Taylor’s small stature would have made him a target for older, predatory boys in the area and he may have learned to use his fists out of fear or humiliation. Children often fight to bolster self-esteem, and Bud’s may have suffered from shame over being poor, a lack of male role models, or disinterest in school.

 

Floyd Patterson, heavyweight champion for most of the late 1950s, remembers a poverty-laced upbringing in which his exhausted father, a longshoreman, would come home at night so tired he would fall asleep at the dinner table before he could eat. The family’s plight made him feel terrible. Young Floyd’s self-esteem was so low he would point to a photograph of himself on a wall in his house and say, “I don’t like that boy!”23

 

Likewise, boxing history is filled with examples of great champions whose fondness for fighting begins before they learned their fractions. Joe Frazier became so tough that at a mere age eight, he accepted gifts of sandwiches or money from schoolmates in exchange for Joe’s protection from bullies.24

 

Taylor’s fisticuffs began at as early an age as Frazier’s, and McKeen School’s overburdened and underpaid teachers didn’t seem to know what to do with him. In one year alone, school officials expelled Taylor 13 times, all for fighting.25  “Gosh, it was a lonesome day when I didn’t have a fight with some other kid,” Taylor said in 1925.26  He could not have learned much in school, except perhaps a geography lesson about respect for boundaries: Fighting on school property is especially forbidden. You must cross the street before you pop the other kid. . . . 
 

Excerpt from Chapter 5 (refers to boxer Frankie Mason): 

       . . . Mason was meticulous about his appearance, and in training wore protective devices to keep from being struck in the face and head. 19 It was written that his seconds avoided fanning him between rounds so they wouldn’t spoil the part in his hair.20
 

A smitten newspaperwoman named Louise Fritz, covering a Mason bout in 1919, actually wrote in her story in the South Bend News-Times that she was glad he won “because I think Frankie is cute.”21 Mason read the article, marched into the News-Times offices and introduced himself to her. The couple married the following year.22
 

In the ring, Mason boxed patiently, specializing in the left jab and expert defense.
 

For Taylor, Mason represented his first opponent with a bona fide national reputation in the sport. Taylor’s won-loss mark had reached 14-0, but his victims had ranged from nobodies to those with only a modest measure of success in the Midwest. Tex Johnson, hearing the talk around Terre Haute’s Nash’s and Puff’s cigar stores and in the gyms, found local fans as worried about the fight as excited.23 Old Jack Tierney, at various times a boxer, promoter and gym owner in Terre Haute since roughly the turn of the century, didn’t think Taylor had a chance against Mason. Boxing fan Ed Baker, one of the city’s best bowlers, also thought Taylor would lose.24 For Johnson, the matchup was a gamble. As promoter for the card, his mouth watered at the prospect of a huge turnout. But as Taylor’s manager, he certainly didn’t want to rush him into a career-stalling defeat.

 

In a warm-up for Mason, Taylor won every round of a 10-rounder in the K of C on New Year’s Day 1921 against Bobby Moon of Gary, Indiana. 25  Taylor’s growing constituency sold the place out for the Moon fight. 26

 

Taylor enlisted the help of an Indianapolis boxer, Don Curley, who had once served as Mason’s sparring partner. Curley trained with Bud to help him learn the nuances of Mason’s style.27

 

Mason had been advised about Taylor’s dangerous right-hand punch. “I’ll probably polish him off in four or five rounds,” he said two days before the fight. “He won't even touch me with that supposed crack right hand of his.”

 

“One thing for sure,” Taylor said, “I’m going after him from the first bell and I’ll stop him in one round if I can …” 28

 

The fight on Jan. 17, 1921 stirred the boxing community with the kind of anticipation that puts circles on calendars and prompts lively chatter in offices and restaurants.

 

Taylor fans filled all 1,800 seats in the K of C, so Johnson instructed his ticket workers to sell standing-room-only stubs. Even the SRO ducats sold out 30 minutes before the first preliminary started! 29

 

Excerpt from Chapter 9:

 . . . . Chicago, 1922: a metropolis rife with the trappings of 1920s culture. Skyscrapers and traffic. Shoppers, flappers, gangsters. Mass transit, art deco architecture, jazz, The Loop …

 

In the first three months of the year, Bud Taylor divided his time between Terre Haute and the mega-city 180 miles due north. In Chicago, his managers Kane and Long pitted him against the best available competition. More importantly, the co-managers hired Jack Blackburn to train Taylor and Sammy Mandell. 1

 

Blackburn had nearly reached age 40 and was winding down his own fight career of 20-plus years. He had been a talented boxer at various weights, back in the days when fights lasted as long as 40 rounds and a fighter would be lucky to clear $35 a bout.2  Blackburn’s specialty had been his left, which he used to jab and hook in flashes, and about which he would impart his wisdom to understudies Taylor, Mandell and later, Joe Louis.3
 

Outside the ring, Blackburn liked to aim his lefts and rights to his own lips with bottles of beer, transforming an otherwise pleasant man--one who loved dogs, fishing and playing cards--into a belligerent drunk. Blackburn shot three people in 1909, one died, and he served four years of a 15-year prison sentence.4

 

Not surprisingly, a lot of people were afraid of Blackburn. Even in street clothes, he looked menacing, a balding man with a weathered face marked with a knife-scar lengthy enough to impress a pirate--the remnant of a bar fight. But inside a roped ring, the man was in his element. Blackburn knew boxing and he taught it tactfully. For example, he avoided criticizing fighters in the presence of other fighters, instead taking them aside to confer.5

 

Blackburn’s tutelage suited the promising young talent before him–and more the greener Taylor than Mandell. Bud had considered his left-hand punch merely a setup for his “sweetheart” right, but Blackburn laid the groundwork to change that thinking.6

 

Eddie Long liked what he saw in the progress of his newest acquisition. “He’s title bound, that’s all there is to it …” he boasted about Taylor to a Terre Haute sportswriter early in 1922.7

                                                                                          

    The grooming to place Taylor in such contention continued Jan. 13, 1922, against George Corbett, a south Chicago brawler. The fight took place inside what the newspapers referred to only as a “suburban arena,” its site undisclosed presumably to protect the principals from arrest.8

 

Corbett was a popular fellow among the stockyards crowd, and Taylor heard the strains of a hostile audience as the pair volleyed in the early rounds.9  The bout met its abrupt end in the middle of the third round, when Taylor rocked Corbett with a punch that broke his jaw in three places. The injury disfigured Corbett’s face, but the wounded man gamely continued to flail away with his mouth open while the crowd yelled wildly. Boxing writer Ed Smith, refereeing the fight, saw that the front teeth of Corbett’s lower jaw had been smashed back into his palate. When Smith heard Corbett making what Smith later described as “inarticulate sounds,” Smith stopped the fight.10

 

In those days, a broken jaw ended a fighter’s career. The injury forced Corbett to retire from the ring, the main source of his income. A month later, Corbett’s friends organized a benefit boxing exhibition/party for him in the visitation hall at 54th and Peoria streets, Chicago.11  The event raised $1,000 for the disabled fighter.12  Taylor traveled to Chicago to box in the exhibition, paying for his own way and that of a sparring partner, winning many friends by his kindness.13 . . . .

 

Excerpt from Chapter 28:

. . . Los Angelinos greeted Taylor with a reception befitting a dignitary when his train pulled into the Southern Pacific Station on Oct. 28, 1926. A motorcycle escort took Taylor and Long to City Hall, where they met with Mayor George Cryer.36

 

Taylor’s bout in Vernon, California with Young Montreal had been set at the nontitle weight limit of 120 pounds. 37 His opponent, 28, had grown up in Rhode Island, and had been fighting since 1916. Early in his boxing career, he changed his bookish-sounding given name of Maurice Billingkoff to the more palatable “Young Montreal.” His most noticeable physical endowment--and a big boxing advantage--was a pair of abnormally long arms, which he used to fire-hose his way to a 38-3-3 start. 38 That hot start didn’t last, and Montreal began a four-year-long habit of finishing second in boxing matches.

 

Then, in September 1926, a single, jaw-dropping victory revived Montreal’s career. Promoters had induced Bushy Graham into going to Rhode Island to fight Montreal, and the two fighters battled twice in one month. Graham won the first, but Montreal beat up Graham thoroughly in the second. Bushy left the ring with one eye closed, the other half-closed, and a bloody mouth. 39 The victory emboldened Montreal’s manager to trot before the New York Boxing Commission and ask that Montreal be allowed to fight Rosenberg for the title. The commission told him no, it preferred Graham.40

 

In Vernon, Montreal’s manager, Charlie Rose, boasted to reporters that “if anyone is champion in New York, it’s Young Montreal.” He said he would lay a $30,000 side bet on his fighter against Rosenberg or Taylor in any title fight.41

 

The Montreal fight worried Eddie Long, according to the press. Anyone who could reel in the gazelle-like Graham enough times to make his face rise like baked dough deserved respect. “I’m not patting myself on the back for making this match,” Long told a reporter. “I’ve made lots softer matches than this. I think Montreal is the most dangerous man I could ask Bud to fight. He’s smart, he’s game and he could punch.”42  Taylor went from a 2-1 favorite two days before the fight to 10-9 by show time.43

 

Taylor owned the heart of the average West Coast boxing spectator.

 

“Taylor is the idol of idols in Los Angeles,” it was written, and so adored that fans rearranged their daily schedules to attend his fights.44  Among his rabid boosters was Carlo Curtis, manager of the Main Street Athletic Club. Curtis canceled the weekly Monday night fight show at the club so that he and all the club regulars wouldn’t have to miss the Taylor-Montreal fight.45

 

Taylor needed just one round to solve Montreal’s awkward style. Taylor’s left jabs and right cross landed almost at will in the second round, and he floored Montreal twice. Before Taylor could finish him off, with Montreal clinging helplessly to the ropes, the referee interceded and stopped the bout.46

 

The victory, Taylor’s 13th straight, prompted syndicated sports columnist Bob Edgren to write that the bantamweights finally had an authentic champion, “the most aggressive and most dangerous fighter of his weight seen in recent years and nobody who ever sees him will think him a cheese champion, such as the class has been affiliated with recently.”47 Well-known sportswriter Damon Runyan called Taylor “the outstanding bantam of the land.”48 . . .  

 

Excerpt from Chapter 37:

. . . . A left hook put Phil Zwick on the canvas, but it was bad luck that counted him out on Jan. 24, 1928.

 

Taylor landed the hook in the second round in Milwaukee, then watched as the Clevelander capsized. Zwick maintained his senses, however, and kneeled as if ready to rise. While waiting, Zwick glanced over to his corner, and lost track of the referee’s count. When the ref swung his arms to count him out, Zwick leapt to his feet, but it was too late. The bout was scored as a knockout. A heavy underdog, Zwick had come out swinging and battled Taylor on fairly even terms until the odd ending, which left the embittered loser and his fans forever to speculate, “What if?”1

 

The Zwick anomaly was one of two nontitle Taylor outings in January 1928, the other being a decision over Roy “Babe” Ruth in Chicago. Taylor fought both fights around 121-122 pounds, the midway point between bantams and feathers. Fighting at this weight meant that if his featherweight opponents scaled at the limit, Taylor had to give up four to five pounds. But if Bud took on extra weight to even the poundage out, he sacrificed quickness, and the tradeoff wasn’t worth it.

 

Taylor continued to fight the more numerous featherweights, while Long worked out a deal to defend Bud’s bantamweight title. Two of those potential bantamweight title fights made it onto Taylor’s schedule: Jan. 20 against Willie Smith, who had displaced Teddy Baldock as British “world” banty champ; and in mid-February against Kid Francis, French champion of the division. Those bouts fell through for reasons not apparent; neither gained further mention in the press as their dates neared.2

 

Instead, Taylor’s attention shifted to his nemesis, Joey Sangor, for a meeting in the Chicago Coliseum on Feb. 9 with a 126-pound limit.

 

The Chicago sportswriters, well aware of the bad blood between the two fighters, exploited the rift to juice up their stories. They induced Sangor to talk at length about how he beat Taylor in their previous encounters. Taylor relies on his hook too much, Sangor said.

 

“You know that I punch straight with both hands,” Sangor said. “By doing this, I beat Taylor to the punch consistently. I’ll show you why. Put an object on a table in front of you. If you want to pick up the object, your natural impulse is to reach straight out for it. That is the way I punch … Now if you were to make a hook motion … I would be able to pick it up a second quicker than you would. That is how I beat Taylor. I punch straight. He hooks. Simple, isn’t it?”3

 

Sangor’s comments appeared in the next day’s papers, and of course, the reporters beat a path to Taylor’s feet for his retort. “Where does he get that stuff?” Taylor said. “I’ll show him what a straight punch looks like Thursday night and when I connect, he’ll think the building has fallen in on him.”4

 

Taylor needed a victory over Sangor to mount any serious campaign for the featherweight title. His record against Sangor stood at 1-2, and to lose a third straight time to him would mean any legitimate route for Taylor to the title first would have to go through a fighter who obviously had his number.

 

Ten thousand customers filled the Chicago Coliseum, with the ringsiders paying $7 a ticket. About a hundred Terre Hauteans filled the gas tanks of their Model A Fords and Durants at 15 cents a gallon and made the half day’s drive north.Taylor weighed 121, Sangor 126. 7

 

The fighters went at it like two men with a grudge to settle. . .

Copyright 2008, all rights reserved                             Mod: 11/27/2008