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Bat Nelson and the Toledo Whammy

Bat Nelson and the Toledo Whammy

By Aaron Lloyd

Former World Lightweight Champion “Battling Nelson,” known for his wild ring wars and even wilder antics outside the ring, attracted some rather “unwanted” press coverage of his own while reporting on the heavyweight title bout between Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard in Toledo, Ohio on July 4th, 1919.  Nelson, whose own fighting career had ended in 1917, was covering the fight for the Chicago Daily News, and being as tightfisted as he was, decided to set up camp outside of Dempsey’s training headquarters rather than yield to the disbursement of “travel expenses” as most sportswriters did.  So, living out of a big blue tent, aptly labeled “Bat Nelson,” the Durable Dane proceeded to fulfill his journalistic duties, all the while disregarding societal norms regarding personal hygiene and appeals to cleanliness.

To make matters worse, beginning in late June of that year, the Toledo area was struck by an almost unprecedented two-week heat wave that had residents and vendors scrambling to find creative ways of dealing with the triple digit heat.  Food rotted, ice cream melted, and even the pine seats of the custom-built stadium oozed sap, forcing spectators to bring (or purchase at $.50 apiece) cushions in order to avoid getting the annoying sap on their clothing.  Perhaps no one was more indirectly affected by the heat, however, then the poor lemonade vendor, who, after word of a “Bat Nelson-related contamination,” suffered the most dramatic sales decline of all.    

It all started on July 3 (the night before the fight), when Nelson, determined to beat the heat, snuck out of his tent and decided to go for a dip in nearby Maumee Bay, just as he had done the previous night.  Nelson went searching for the same swimming trunks he had “borrowed” from Dempsey’s manager Jack “Doc” Kearns the night before, but unbeknownst to him, the trunks had been burned after Kearns got wind of their previous unauthorized appropriation.  Undeterred, Nelson decided to venture out into the night wearing just his underwear and the strong scent of alcohol on his breath.  On his way to the Bay, Nelson came across six liquid filled zinc tubs that, oddly enough, were meant to hold a syrupy lemonade concoction and not the stinking, unclean body of someone looking for a little relief from the heat.  Nevertheless, Nelson climbed the ladder into the vats and plunged headfirst into the syrupy mixture anyway, quickly realizing that the contents in the container were more lethal than refreshing.  Immediately seeing the error of his ways, Nelson began flailing and screaming for help, and were it not for the quick response of a few close good Samaritans, might well have drowned in a sweet and citrusy grave. 

Unfortunately, this story, while ending happily for Nelson (he lived until 1954), was a financial disaster for the individual who had paid $1,000 for the rights to sell lemonade during the fight.  In fact, when word got out that Nelson had taken a “bath” in the vats (arguably the only one he ever had), even those with the most unquenchable thirsts were not willing to accept the one in six odds that Nelson had not been dredged from the vat that their particular glass of lemonade originated.  As a result, sales tanked, and despite the 114 degree temperatures at ringside, the lemonade vendor sat patronless; just another victim of the “Toledo whammy.”



Hard to Believe: Kearns and the Shocking Con

Hard to Believe: Kearns and the Shocking Con

By Aaron Lloyd

Throughout the vaunted history of prizefighting, there have been so many countless instances of underhandedness, that the sport of boxing alone could have fielded a women’s professional softball league with its duplicity.  However, one particular occurrence stands above others in its brilliance and treachery that it almost demands commendation based entirely on its artistic and theatrical merits. 

The year was 1920, and Jack Dempsey, the world heavyweight champion, was being shopped around by his manager Jack “Doc” Kearns in an attempt to maximize his “profit to risk” liability.  After shooting down a list of potential “suitors,” a meeting was eventually arranged between Kearns and a man by the name of Francois Deschamps, who managed the business affairs of French light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier.  Kearns immediately recognized the marketability of a fight with such international implications, especially against a fighter as revered as Carpentier, whose matinee idol looks and war-hero status made him a hot commodity at the ticket office.  Kearns initially imagined the fight taking place in either London or Paris (promoted by himself of course) with a host of eager European speculators all clamoring to foot the bill.  Unfortunately, as the scale of the event grew, so did the price tag, and Kearns became grounded in the realization that the promotional details were out of his area of expertise, and he therefore, reluctantly embraced the idea of having his long time nemesis Tex Rickard help with the fights’ orchestration.

Now, Rickard was no stranger to the intricacies of developing an effective promotional strategy for a prizefight of this magnitude, and his “Midas-like” touch on the Joe Gans-Battling Nelson lightweight championship fight fourteen years earlier, was a testament to his ability to draw a crowd.  However, when approached by Kearns, his initial enthusiasm for the project was tepid at best, and while the fight more or less sold itself, Rickard seemed less than enthusiastic about taking on the proposition.  Sensing Rickard’s spiritless tone, Kearns casually made mention of the fact that two Cuban financiers had approached him with the intention of hosting a fight in Cuba, and were willing to pay the champion $100,000 for a walkover against a little known bullfighter named John Sanchez.  Rickard’s interest was piqued, but he still respectfully declined any and all involvement at that time.   

Several days passed before Rickard had another “chance” meeting with Kearns, this time at the Hotel Claridge, a lunch spot with which Rickard was known to have been a frequented patron.  As Rickard was customarily perusing his menu, he noticed a group consisting of Kearns, sportswriters Damon Runyon and John Lardner, and two unidentified well dressed Latin businessmen, being seated at an adjacent table.  After his curiosity finally got the better of him, Rickard called the head waiter over to his table and asked him if he knew the identity of the two important looking individuals wearing silk hats, the finest suits, and smoking expensive cigars, seated with Kearns.  The waiter informed Rickard that from what he gathered they were a couple of sugar and tobacco millionaires from Cuba who were in town to discuss the particulars of “some major boxing event.”  Once Rickard could contain himself no further, he made his way over to the table to see what information he could gather firsthand, and was met by a most gracious and accommodating Kearns.      

“Tex, allow me to introduce Senor Juan Rodriguez,  and Senor Manuel DeCosta.  They are here to discuss the fight in Havana.”

Puzzled, Rickard responded, “You meanthe fight with the bullfighter? Sanchez”

“No, that’s all changed.  These gentlemen have a certified check worth $500,000 to guarantee  Dempsey-Carpentier.”

“Si , si,” replied Rodriguez.  The fight will draw a million dollars in Havana.”

After taking a moment to process this interesting new development, Rickard excused himself, gathered his things, and on his way out, he leaned in to Kearns and whispered, “See me tomorrow.  I’ll match their offer.”

The rest as they say, is boxing history.  Two days later, the “Battle of the Century” was signed, with Rickard taking on promotional duties for boxing’s first million dollar gate.  On July 2, 1921, over 80,000 spectators paid more than $1.7 million to see Jack Dempsey knockout Georges Carpentier in the fourth round to retain his National Boxing Association sanctioned title. 

As for the two Cuban financiers who had originally agreed to bankroll the event in Havana, well, after returning the rented duds, and collecting their just compensation, they went back to their unassuming day jobs as bus boys at the restaurant across the street.


Hard to Believe: Chambers vs. Edwards, 1872

On September 4, 1872, lightweights Arthur Chambers and Billy Edwards met at Squirrel Island Canada in order to settle the matter of one vacant lightweight championship.  Edwards entered the contest with a record of 2-0-1 with two wins coming by way of knockout, while Chambers the vastly more experienced of the two, sported a record of 5-0-1 with 3 wins inside the distance.  All indications pointed to an evenly contested bout fought under the auspices of the London Prize Ring Rules; however, as the day wore on and the heat began to take its toll, things began to take a turn towards the truly bizarre.       

Over the first half of the fight, things seemed to be progressing in a relatively normal fashion, as Edwards put rounds away and appeared to be pulling ahead by a comfortable margin.  In fact, after twenty-five rounds of action, the consensus at ringside was that Chambers was not long for the fight, and it was believed that Edwards was just mere moments away from stopping Chambers and claiming the vacant title.  Unfortunately, something happened at the start of the twenty-sixth round that had boxing fans scratching their heads for many years to come.

As the bell sounded to start round number twenty-six, Chambers staggered slowly from his corner to ring center and immediately engaged Edwards in a clinch that reeked of desperation.  Before referee Bill Tracy could intervene and separate the two, Chambers let out a loud scream and recoiled in pain, with one glove clutching the back of his neck.  Tracy rushed over to examine Chambers and quickly confirmed the existence of several distinct bite marks on the back of the man’s neck.    Confronted with such an obvious foul, Tracy had no choice but to disqualify Edwards and declare Chambers the winner by virtue of disqualification.  The bout went into the record books as a win for Chambers and very little afterthought was given to the fight until after Chambers’ retirement in 1879, when a host of speculations and allegations began to surface regarding the circumstantial nature of the encounter.

According to some sources, the heat and fatigue, combined with the humiliation of losing the fight, prompted Chambers to make a very odd request to his chief second, Tom Allen, upon returning to the corner at the end of the twenty-fifth round.  It is widely believed that Chambers, fearing defeat, had asked his corner man to do the unthinkable, in order to assist him in winning the fight by a foul, meaning that it was Allen, and not Edwards, who was responsible for the mysterious teeth marks that prompted the disqualification.  To this day, the fight still shows as a disqualification victory for Chambers, despite a large contingent of people who believe that foul play was the deciding factor in the outcome.

The rest is boxing history…..