Bob Fitzsimmons VS Peter Meyer

By Richard E. Baker

Bob Fitzsimmons

Peter Meyer

When we think of Beantown we think of the big city. The early days. Towering skyscrapers, smoking vehicles, trolleys, open markets, and boxing, the national sport. Boston has a long history of boxing and a long history of boxers, especially Irish boxers. BostonGarden, designed by boxing promoter Tex Rickard, opened in 1928 with a boxing match between Dick Finnegan defeating Andre Routu.

Many great fighters were from the area and fought in Boston including Paddy Duffy, the first gloved welterweight champion. Every quality of boxer fought in Boston including, Saul Benton, Dicky Ekland, Marvin Hagler, Johnny Indrisano, Tom Kirby, Rocky Marciano, Paul Pended, Sandy Saddler, Jack Sharkey, John L. Sullivan and Jimmy Walsh.

What a time it was, one of many golden eras in Boston. But, that is a different Beantown. To find our Beantown think west and south, somewhere near the border with Mexico, a land barren of vegetation, miles and miles of featureless flatland with only a bit of cactus and sagebrush to break the monotony. Now imagine the town of Langtry, Texas, a nothing spot in the middle of nowhere, a place that boasted the only law west of the Pecos, a town built Judge Roy Bean, a con-man and entrapaneur, a bold dreamer who set himself up as a judge although he was not much more than a justice of the peace, or a notary public, or maybe not even that. All his credentials are suspect and more a product of boldness than fact. He dolled out justice from his combination saloon and court house, The Jersey Lilly, both the town and saloon named after the actress, Lilly Langtry and a time when boxing was illegal in much of the United States.

Bean enjoyed a challenge. Figuring out how to legally stage a heavyweight boxing championship peaked his interest.

Bean was born in Tennessee, a bad boy constantly in trouble, a man who staged several duels, fought with the law, and was even sentenced to hang, although he was cut down by a woman who loved him. He worked his way to Texas and became a successful businessman before moving to Langtry, a town of 75 that he named, and setting up his saloon and law practice. Most people were convected in his court and fined as much money as they had. With enough money one might expect to get a light sentence, or none at all. One could expect as much justice as one could afford, much like today.

Men like to fight and like to watch others fight. Bean sensed an opportunity. With some businessmen from San Antonio, he decided to hold a championship fight between Bob Fitzsimmons and heavyweight champion Peter Maher.

Fitzsimmons, known as Ruby Bob, was the former middleweight champion having defeated Nonpareil Jack Dempsey in a vicious battle that saw Dempsey hit the canvass 13 times by the 13th round. Fitzsimmons pleaded with Dempsey to quit, but Dempsey, with a fighter’s heart, refused. When Fitzsimmons finally knocked him out, he helped carry the former champion to his corner. Later, during training, He knocked out, and killed, his sparring partner Con Riordan. Today, Fitzsimmons is rated as one of the most deadly punchers in history. He had developed his upper body strength while working as a blacksmith for his father.

The true heavyweight championship was in limbo because Jim Corbett, who had won the title from the great John L. Sullivan, claimed to have retired and named Peter Maher as his successor. Corbett disliked Fitzsimmons. Although just a middleweight, Fitzsimmons wanted that title, and if he had to travel to Texas to get it, he would.

Bean quickly developed a reputation in Langtry, more as an oddity than as anything else, and people traveling near the town dropped in for a visit. He even had a pet bear. The word son spread that Bean was going to hold a world heavyweight championship fight. People from both coasts and everyplace in between, started making preparations. He managed to contact Fitzsimmons and Maher and proposed that the two settle the biggest boxing championship in the biggest state in the union. Fitzsimmons had already challenged Mayer so all the were waiting for was a venue and an offer. Bean and is partners squeezed $15,000 from the citizens of El Paso. The two heavyweights agreed to the deal.

Fitzsimmons had learned to box from one of the greatest bare-knuckles boxers in history, Jem Mace. The most outstanding thing he noticed about Fitzsimmons was his power. Mace convinced him to develop that power over all his other skills.

Mace was considered one of the most scientific boxers of his day and had a remarkable life. He was an accomplished violin player, acted in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” owned and managed hotels, saloons, race horses, and a circus. In his spare time he fathered 14 children by 5 different women. His managing of money was no different than many boxers. He lost everything and ended up living on an olde age pension and earning coins by performing on the streets with is violin.

The Texas authorities, hearing about the contest, reminded Bean that boxing was illegal in Texas and he would be arrested if he persisted ins adventure. Bean liked nothing better than to outsmart authorities, and the Teas Rangers. The fight was on.

People from across the country boarded trains and headed to Texas. Several traveled as far away as the east and west coasts, a difficult journey for anyone. Trains had improved greatly over the years, but still remained hot and dusty, especially when traveling through Texas. They had cars for drinking, eating, and smoking to pass the time, although much of the trip consisted of boredom, especially when the scenery turned flat with only an occasional sprig of sagebrush or cactus to brake the canvas-colored landscape. Bean had prepared for the discomfort and ushered customers into his bar for food, beer, and whiskey marked up one hundred percent. Sporting girls offered special delights who preferred personalized attention. A troop of 26 Texas Rangers were sent to Langtry and 200 Mexican soldiers waited across the river in case the event slipped across the border.

Bean and his backers were forward thinking men and knew how to squeeze a dime to get eleven cents. They hired an Edison kinetoscope to film the fight, the film to be shown across the country for a tidy little sum, the early version of pay-for-view. 

Bean had the perfect place for the fight: a large sandbar in the Mexican side of the Rip Grand River. The Texas Rangers could not touch him there and he decided the Mexicans would not swim across the river to cause any trouble. Forty men worked all night to erect a suitable ring, the sand packed hard, covered with boards, and blanketed with a resin-coated canvas. A walkway was built to the sandbar and a high fence erected to prevent the view from non-paying onlookers.

Mayer’s best punch was a right hand. By all accounts the punch was devastating. He was not much on movement. He was no stranger to Fitzsimmons and had lost by retirement in 1892 when he was still a fairly new boxer. He was fully confident he could beat “Ruby” Bob this time. During his career, Mayer, from Galway, Ireland, beat some of the best including Joe Choynsky, George Godfry, and Frank Craig. He also received a draw against Tom Sharkey.

The fighters arrived the day of the fight, no time to rest up, just exit the train, climb into the ring, collect the cash, and move on to more comfortable surroundings and bigger paydays.

The crowd, suitably lubricated, pressed around the ring and waited for the action. They toasted one another with quickly warming bottles of beer and good cheers. Side bets were laid and the dry air tingled with excitement and anticipation as Fitzsimmons entered the ring, his five ounce gloves already battling each other. He weighted 165 pounds, fifteen pounds less than Mayer. He straightened his midnight blue trunks. Not a man given to joviality, he looked all business, his face like granite. He glanced up at George Siler, the referee. Just minutes before they had had a confirmation over money. Martin Julian, Fitzsimmons manager, asked where the money for the bout was. They were not inclined tone cheated. Siler said he did not know as he was only the referee. Fitzsimmons said to forget it, he just wanted to fight. (This is why many fighters need managers. Fighters are interested in fighting, managers are interested in money.) Siler was the only judge for the fight and his decision was final. Fitzsimmons did not want to get on hissed side.

The extra 15 pounds shown on Mayer as he entered the ring followed by his seconds. Confidence brewed behind his eyes. Like Fitzsimmons he was fully confident of victory. He looked briefly around the ring. The fence erected to keep out the freeloaders was a failure. Made of canvass it came down easily and high banks, crowded with anxious men and the Texas Rangers, offered free seats to anyone willing to grab a free view from a distance.

Meyer’s black trunks might have signaled doom as he moved forward at the bell, anxious to finish the fight sand retire to the saloon for cold beer and the accolades of an adoring public. Fitzsimmons circled slightly and met Mayer’s enthusiasm with a strong left followed by clubbing right that knocked Mayer slightly backward and into the corner. The crowd yelled its approval, sensing a great fight, one for the history books.

Maher clinched, landed a sharp right and, still clinching, pushed Fitzsimmons back, until separated by Siler. Bets were passing fast and furious between the crowd. The operators working the Edison kinetoscope could not get the matching to work. Fitzsimmons briefly smiled to show the punch was nothing, a fly speck on a stone wall. Mayer immediately followed up with a blow to the neck as the two danced from side to side. The blows were hard. Five ounce gloves are not much different than no gloves at all.

Again the two moved together, a sweet dance of violence. Maher stepped back slightly, then stepped in again landing a stiff uppercut. Blood squirted from the lip of Fitzsimmons as Meyer’s confidence continued to grow. he was on the attack and winning and he knew it.

Fitzsimmons started to retreat leaving a trail of blood spots on the canvass. He wiped at is lip and surveyed the crimson on his glove. Maher barreled in, head slightly lowered, and tossed several rights and lefts - a vicious barrage of leather. They clinched again, rocking from side to side, each man attempting to show his strength, to let his energy flow through his body like a storm on the Texas plains and sweep away everything in its path, to leave the ground barren of all life and eventually even barren of the wind and energy that started it all.

Maher landed more shots, pushed ahead with his stubby and muscular legs. A few more hard blows and the fight would be his. Fitzsimmons retreated. Mayer loaded up his left, put all the force into the punch the would leave him in glory. To give the blow more force he moved his whole body forward - and missed. Fitzsimmons had disappeared, had slipped to the side and caught Maher and all his forward movement with a right hand. Maher fell hard, his lips moving against the canvass like a landed fish. He rose as far as his knees before he was counted out at 1:35 of the first round, then tumbled back to the canvass to dream about a lost future.

The crowd dispersed to the saloon and surrounding area for drinks and food, cigars and the usual boxing talk, various boasts mixing with the smoke.

The event was not financially successful, but, Bean, being a business man seldom used his own money on anything risky. Bean mellowed as he aged and spent much of his wealth helping the poor. He also supplied free firewood to the local schools.

A year later Fitzsimmons beat Jim Corbitt, who had returned to the ring, to gain the legitimate heavyweight championship. He later won the light heavyweight championship from George Gardiner, a new weight division formed after the Langtry fight. Unfortunately, his career went the way of most boxers, just another cliche’ in the fight world. He married four times, had six children, and gambled away his money, finally dying in poverty from pneumonia.

The Strange Case of Randy Turpin

By Richard E. Baker

Boxers have cookie-cutter histories. One can almost use a template to describe their early lives.

Scotland Yard claims to “always get its man.” Not a problem. When they cannot find a suspect in a possible homicide they simply declare the death a suicide. The death of boxer Randy Turpin is an example.

I was in Britain for my annual investigation of boxers, new and old. Britain is the birthplace of boxing as we know it. I was in Wales, home to the best British boxers, especially those from history. Clouds whipped the blue sky with thin white streaks. Sheep rose from the grass like clumps of daisies. Slate fences held the road together. In the fields stone houses seemed rooted to the earth as if they had been pushed up through the ground by submerged glaciers then, exhausted, left them there.

Ahead I saw whiffs of smoke rising from the stacks of Llandudno homes—just a few for the Welsh are a frugal bunch and do not use energy unwisely, especially on such a lovely summer day. (Welsh names are easy to pronounce providing you have two tongues.) Wales holds the remnants of about 500 castles and ancient fortifications. The English built most of the castles in an effort to conquer the people. The Welsh fought bravely, often attacking these mighty fortifications. They have a long heritage of toughness and resistance. The country is one of stone, slate, and coal. It is cleaner than England, the people more personable and sociable. Their history has been one of hard work, tough physical labor under the thumb of the conquering English who kept them underground digging slate and coal. Welsh miners often went to work in the dark, stayed long hours digging in the black, and returned home in the dark of the evening. They saw daylight only on Sundays. Richard Llewellyn gives a decent account of the life in his novel “How Green Was My Valley.” A simplistic, silly, and romantic movie was later made based on the book that seldom resembles the harsh life of the novel. There is nothing romantic about being a human mole with a slow death from black lung disease as your only reward.

The severe life of the Welsh produced tough boxers, as harsh and poor lives often do everywhere. One of the greatest boxers in history, Jimmy Wilde, came from the coal mines as did Freddie Welsh, Tommy Farr, Howard Winstone, Jim Driscoll, and Joe Calzaghe. I was on my way to visit the haunts of Randy Turpin. Although he was born in Leamington Spa, in England, his happiest times were in Wales.

I could see the Great Orme beyond the town and rising almost 700 feet like a giant knuckle beside the sea. Keeping my eyes on the road was difficult. Driving on the left side of the road is often annoying for Americans. Not me. I drive on both sides of the road in Britain just like I do in the U.S. I was headed to the Summit Complex. Turpin bought the Great Ormes Head hotel and built a training camp there. A long pier juts from the base of the Great Orme. A tram runs up the side of the hill. I decided to drive. I find hanging on the edge of a cliff exhilarating.

A gate at the base of the hill stretches across the toll road. I pulled to a stop. A ruddy-faced man wearing a tweed driving cap leaned in toward the window. In spite of the heat, he wore a dark green oiled jacket with black buttons. He withdrew a well-chewed pipe from between his cracked lips.“Going up?” he said.

“If I’ve been good enough,” I said. “I want to have a look-see at Randy Turpin’s Bar.”

“A Yank,” he said, a smile surrounding his yellow and twisted teeth. “I’ve not been there, the States. The Welsh aren’t much for travel.”

“It’s not going anyplace. Falling apart, maybe, but going no place fast except downhill given the present situation.”

“Me Da worked for Turpin.” He stood upright and looked over the top of the roof to make sure no one had driven up. With the coast clear, he leaned back down. “He worked the grounds. Said Turpin was a fine fellow, a real boyo (male friend), all friendly like. He gave money to everyone and always had a smile on his face. He built a ring for sparring and to bring in some customers. The place wasn’t a go and, along with his friends, soaked up all his money.”

“The life of a boxer,” I said. I handed him the money as a car pulled in behind me.

“Enjoy,” he said, replacing the pipe between his lips.

The drive up was long and pleasant giving me time to think of Turpin. Boxers have cookie-cutter histories. One can almost use a template to describe their early lives; just fill in the blanks. Turpin was no exception. His father was a black man from British Guyana who went to Britain to fight in the First World War. He was badly wounded and gassed in the trenches in the Battle of the Somme. After leaving the hospital, he married Beatrice, but he never recovered from the injury to his lungs and struggled with jobs due to his health. He died soon after Turpin’s birth. He had four brothers and sisters. The small military pension left the family in poverty and his mother sent several of the children to live with family members while she cleaned houses to bring in extra cash.

The family was reunited when Beatrice married Ernest Manley. Beatrice’s father was a bare-knuckles fighter and she was fond of telling her kids of his exploits in the back fields of Britain punching for pounds to feed the family. The boys developed a great respect for boxers and all entered the game. Dick eventually earned a record of 81-20-6 and held the British Middleweight title. Jackie Turpin retired with a record of 85-35-8. Randy was the one who interested me, especially his “suicide.”

I have always enjoyed a good mystery and have even written a few. “Gecko” and “The Hands of Esau” are two of my best. They are fiction, of course. Nothing beats the real thing.

On May 17th, 1966, Turpin, having lost his fortune on bad business deals, generosity, and sycophants, was found shot to death in his apartment above his wife’s Leamington Spa’s Transport Café. His youngest daughter, shot twice, lay on the floor. She managed to survive. Turpin’s wife, Gwen, had just stepped out to the corner store. She said her husband was quite happy when she left. He had been playing with their daughter and was getting ready to put her down for a nap. He was not the least bit depressed and, although no longer a rich man, he was not close to being broke. He was excited about getting back some of the money he said was stolen from him, stolen by his manager and by gangsters. He claimed it was a considerable amount of money and he had gathered all the proof he needed to get the money.

I continued to the hill top weaving from one side of the road to the other. My rental car was a diesel Peugeot. Unlike diesel engines here this one did not smoke or stink and had plenty of zip. Shifting with my left hand and backwards is always fun like a right-handed man trying to eat peas with his left hand.

The hotel stands like a muffin overlooking the entire countryside and sea. A flat area can still be seen where the ring had been erected. Turpin worked out, sparred, and held exhibitions in the ring hoping to bring in customers. The complex and hotel are whitewashed and soak up the colors of morning and evening, blues in the morning and yellow, orange, and red in the afternoon.

Inside, accouterments are mostly wood. The Welsh are not much on plastic and everything they have is mostly built by skilled craftsmen. It costs more. What counts is understanding that everything in the world is not mass produced and pride in craftsmanship trumps programming a computer.

Randy’s bar is spectacularly clean and bright. Whiskies from around the world glow in various colors of tan and clear from behind the bar. The bartender wears a white apron and bowtie. The wooden bar is the texture and color of a Latina’s bare shoulders, and just as inviting. Light streams in from the large windows and pools on a tile image of Turpin on the floor. Behind the bar, on a large screen, Randy Turpin is in the process of removing Sugar Ray Robinson from his newly acquired middleweight title. Turpin has been fighting that same fight for 40 years, or more, the same rough tactics, the same crushing blows, the same hand raised in victory, the same arm around Robinson at the end of the fight, Robinson’s right eye battered almost shut, Turpin exiting the ring as the new champion, only to reenter the ring a few seconds later and repeat the fight over again and again until the end of time. He did not hold the title for 64 days, as the records show, he has held it since 1951.

A large-shouldered man sat hunched at the bar. He wore a rough cloth jacket cut like a sports coat. His upper arms stretched against the sleeves and he wore tan work pants and rubber boots a foot high. His short hair grew like a hedge around a bare field. I could just make out a pint of a dark drink contrasted to a frothy top, probably stout, probably Guinness. I sat at the bar and ordered a pint. I don’t drink unless necessary. Sitting in Randy Turpin Bar a beer seemed necessary.

“What do you know of Randy Turpin?” I asked the bartender.

“A good boy, he was,” he said. He wiped his hands on his apron.

“Women done him in,” said the man at the bar. He did not look my way.

“Really?” I said, as if he had revealed a great secret. Recognizing a secret gets people to thinking.

“The Yanks figured it out—Robinson’s boys. They done it for the rematch and the fix was in with the judge.”

“That’s Mr. Davies,” said the bartender. Even long time friends are addressed as Mr. in Britain. “He worked here with Turpin.”

The man still did not look my way. He had a slight cut on his cheek. He dipped his finger into the stout and rubbed the liquid on the cut.

“You worked with Turpin?” I said. He nodded, but said nothing.

“Almost everyone working here today had some connection with Turpin,” said the bartender. He did not say Mr. Turpin. Maybe the custom did not apply to the dead. “Mr. Davies is a bit twip (crazy) in the head.” I sipped at the warm beer, a slippery, bitter taste. “Turpin bought the castle with his business partner Leslie Salts. It needed work. Salts owned the tram and he thought it would fit nicely with the hotel. Salts had money and took what he did from anyone he could.”

“That’s why some people have money and the rest of us don’t,” I said. “The big fish eat the little fish, has always been that way and always will. I heard the hotel didn’t go well.”

He kept looking at my glass and seemed disappointed that the liquid had not dissipated. We all need hope so I took another sip. For a moment his eyes lit before dropping back into despair at how little I took. I expected him to ask if I wanted my beer warmed up.

“His sister and her husband ran the place,” he said. “They knew nothing about running a hotel and bar but they give her a good shot. Cleaned up the place right smart. He had it for about 10 years, but it never made a profit so when his money ran out he couldn’t keep it up. He put up the ring to bring in some customers. They seldom came. Most of his sparring was over at Gwrych Castle above Abergele.”

I had been to Gwrych Castle the previous day, a very Welsh day with gray clouds, gloomy light, and occasional downpours of rain between scattered sprinkles. The castle is a “folly” meaning it was privately built to show the commoners how foolishly the rich can spend money. It is a magnificent structure snaking on a hillside over Abergele. Too expensive to maintain the erection has gone from owner to owner and is presently in disrepair. Even the famous Hesketh formula—one race car and engine building family could not afford the upkeep.

I drove down a long gravel road shaded with dripping trees and through several archways before reaching the main building. Once a glorious structure she is now a countess who has lost her fortune and stands in shabby wrinkles. The roof has fallen in on the principal building, the huge beams now leaning against the walls as if in support. The stone outside still looks good, good enough to be used in the filming of the latest version of Prince Valiant.

Leslie Salts set up a ring on the grounds so Turpin could train and spar. It was strictly a money-making venture with Salts making all the money. He charged admission. As many as 10,000 people showed up in a single day to watch the action. I understood Turpin received none of the money. I decided to ask Mr. Jones, the bartender, what he knew.

“How did the training go at the castle?” I said. Mr. Jones answered.

“Poor bastard,” he said. “Never give him a farthing, they did.” He was on his second stout. I watched Mr. Jones pour. The stout was Guinness. “They took him for everything, they did. He was more good-natured than smart. The treatment made folks around here tampy (angry) but there weren’t nothing they could do about it. They didn’t treat him any better when he was down; didn’t even know him. All the money he lent out was never repaid.

“There was talk that he was going to get paid 500 pounds a week for the sparring, but it never came about. Salts gave all the sparring partners room and board and Randy accepted that as payment.”

I understood how Don King must have felt whenever a new fighter said, “I don’t care about the money; I just want the title.”

Turpin winning the middleweight championship came as a shock to everyone. He had never fought past 8 rounds and people thought he lacked the experience. To his credit, he had won the British Middleweight championship and the European Middleweight championship. He was going up against one of the best boxers in history. Robinson had been on a European tour and had demolished 6 opponents before he landed in London with his Pink Cadillac and complement of Hoovers sucking up his money. He rode in style to the event at Earls Court, a procession just short of a Royal Knighthood, where 18,000 fans waited for a glimpse of the great man. Turpin had received little recognition before the bout; everyone was focused on Robinson.

While Robinson rode in his Cadillac, Turpin took the tube, a jerkily moving mole weaving its way underground. The tube is a contemplation booth, void of conversation and eye contact where even good friends seldom talk. The cars rock along in cold silence.

I looked at the screen at the start of round 3. Turpin caught a hard shot to the head and rocked back. Near the end of the round he repaid Robinson. As I occasionally glanced at the fight I never saw so many rabbit punches thrown. Turpin kept barreling ahead refusing to give Robinson a break. Turpin had the strongest legs in boxing and popped up and down as if doing deep knee bends. He had a magnificent body, but not a boxing body. Arthur Batty had put him on a weight-training program to build up his muscles. Boxers seldom do any weight training because they feel the extra muscle showed them down. The muscles did not slow down Turpin.

Outside I saw two tourists wandering about. The man wore a polo shirt tucked into an expensive belt. He wore white shorts and, at the bottom of his thorny legs, a pair of penny loafers where there should have been white boat shoes. His longish hair was suffering a crop failure in the usual spot. His female companion was dressed in similar fashion with a white blouse and proper shoes. On her head was a floppy flowered sun hat with floppy brim. Her long blonde hair framed a mascaraed face that verged on attractive in the usual way most blondes are attractive. They moved toward the door.

“What about the women?” I asked Davies.

“Them’s the ones that done him in,” he said. “He was a healthy boy, you see, and they couldn’t keep their hands off him, not them. Robinson’s boys knew that and they set him up for the rematch. The lad traveled to the States as ignorant of life as a hedgehog. During training they sent a woman or two up to his room, just to keep him company, you see. By time of the fight he was hanging (worn out) pretty well. Just to make sure they cut the referee in on the deal to throw the fight.”

The bartender shook his head. The two tourists entered and sat at a table near the window. They must have been new to Britain. They looked around as if a waitperson might help them. Finally the man, looking slightly frustrated, came to the bar. He ordered a glass of wine.

“Doris, what do you want?’ he said. “Doris came to the bar mostly out of curiosity. She looked over the bartender, Mr. Davies, and me. Up close she was not as attractive as I thought although at my age I find almost any woman under 300 pounds to be good looking. She seemed pleasant enough.

“I’ll have a cup of tea.”

“What’s with the boxing?” the man said. “Can you switch it over to football?”

The bartender turned around and was just subtle and skilled enough to spill a bit of the wine when he put it on the bar.

“That’s Randy Turpin,” he said. “British boxing’s greatest middleweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons.”

“The only boxer I know is Mike Tyson,” said the man. “How about the football.”

“It’s a tape,” said Mr. Jones. “It goes round and round.”

“Why?”

“This is his bar. There are a good many plaques and pamphlets in the complex to learn about him.” He poured the lady a cup of tea and they returned to their seats.

“The Yanks had it in for him,” said Mr. Davies, as if he had only paused to take a breath. “The fight was a close one but he was clearly ahead when sometime around the 10th or 11th round (10th), I can’t remember exactly, Robinson put him down with a right hand. Robinson was desperate. Turpin had sliced a large cut over his eye. Turpin got right up, he did, and Robinson jumped on him on the ropes. Almost all the blows missed. Then the referee, knowing his job to the Yanks, stepped in waving his arms and stopping the fight. Turpin, the poor lad, was dumbfounded. He should have put up a big protest, but weren’t never the chopsy (argumentative) type. He held the title for 64 days.”

“Turpin didn’t seem to do well after that,” I said.

He beat Don Cockell for the British Commonwealth Light Heavyweight title. He then had a chance to fight for the middleweight world title against “Bobo” Olson. For some reason Turpin did not even train for the fight. He spent the fight resting on the ropes and was knocked down twice. Something seemed a bit fishy about the fight. Olson was a decent boxer, but not a great one. The downhill slide had started.

“He suffered a lot of monetary problems,” said Mr. Jones.

I took another look at the screen. I was surprised to see how often Turpin bulled his way in, completely open and winging shots in wide horizontal loops. Robinson could have caught him easily with straight punches. He didn’t. Maybe he was too battered and worn out by that time. He was pretty chopped up, eyes swelling up, especially the right one, and bleeding from several cuts.

After the loss of his title, Turpin continued to fight, but without the same success. Then the government came knocking. If money’s involved the government, or the mob, wants it. Like far too many boxers, Turpin had not kept track of his money. He had earned an estimated 4 million pounds and had paid no income taxes. The government claimed he owed them 100,000 pounds. He assumed that his manager, his accountant, and Salts had paid the taxes. His lawyer got the amount reduced to 17,000 pounds. Still he could not pay. He claimed he never received much of the money. Since he had kept no records, there was no way he could prove it. Legally his manager took 25% of the earnings, his trainer took 15%, his business partner took an amount, he paid for gyms, sparring partners, travel expenses and lodging. Everything could have been deducted, had he kept any records. Unable to pay the taxes, he went bankrupt.

He continued to earn a living by wrestling and working at a scrapyard. In the beginning he earned 100 pounds an event. As people started to forget him, the money was reduced to 25 pounds. He bought a small café for his wife in a condemned building. According to her, he seemed contented working at the scrapyard and playing with his three daughters. He was especially fond of the youngest one. His wife claimed they were not rich, but they were also not broke. Everything was fine until he was found dead in the apartment above the café.

“What about the suicide?’ I said. On the screen, Turpin was just climbing into the ring for the start of the bout against Robinson.

“Weren’t no suicide,” said Mr. Davies.

That’s what I was after. The mystery. Was his death suicide or murder?

“The law said it was,” I said. “What makes you think it wasn’t?”

Mr. Jones leaned a crossed the bar and spoke quietly.

“There was this suicide note, see,” he said. “Sort of a suicide note, anyway. No one was sure. The note said a lot of things.”

“Things like what?”

“It never really talked about suicide, only that he had made many mistakes and he was sorry for them. It was the other note that said everything. He said he had the goods on some people.”

“Mob guys,” said Mr. Davies. “That was the note they kept hushed up. Didn’t want nobody to see it so they hushed it up.”

I could hear the tourists talking quietly as if they were in a library. He said something about a Morgan car. Maybe he wanted one to go with his loafers.

“What did it say?”

“A lot of his money was taken by the mob guys, maybe the Krays. They were the biggest gangsters in his time and had their fingers in boxing.”

I thought of our own Blinky Palermo and Frankie Carbo.

“Might have been someone else, it might,” said Mr. Jones. “Don’t go spreading rumors.”

“Yes, someone else,” said Mr. Davies. “Somebody had the money, that’s for sure. Turpin was tired covering up for them. He said that in the letter. He also said they tried to kill him three times to shut him up. A gang beat him up pretty bad one night—left him for dead. That one was in the news.”

“So you don’t think he committed suicide?”

“Not him. He weren’t the type. He was playing just as pretty as can be with his little girl when his wife goes out to the store. Everything’s quiet when she get back so she goes upstairs and sees him dead from two gunshots, one to the head and one to the heart, and the little girl shot two times.”

“I heard about it,” I said. “The little girl lived.”

“Sounds suspicious,” said Mr. Jones. He looked at my glass. I was tempted to knock over the glass accidentally so I could order another one.

“Everyone knew he loved that little girl. His wife said the same thing, said she was his favorite.”

“His favorite she was,” said Mr. Davies. “A man don’t kill his little girl. At first they said that either bullet would have killed him. Imagine; a man shoots himself in the head and kills himself, then comes back to life and shoots himself again in the heart, then shoots his daughter.”

The boxers on the screen were again in the middle rounds. Turpin was rushing in with the wide punches. Nothing had changed. My thoughts turned to the Errol Spence vs. Shawn Porter fight coming up at Staples Center in September.

“Then what happened,” I said.

“Things got changed around so’s it would make more sense, not much more, but some. They said the bullet to the head didn’t penetrate the skull. The bullet got caught between the scalp and the bone.”

“You don’t buy that?”

“If a person shoots himself in the head and it don’t kill him he would be mighty stunned to shoot himself again.”

“At the least,” said Mr. Jones, “he would think about it for a while.”

“It’s all pretty strange,” I said. “I suppose the mystery will never be solved.”

The tourists finished their drinks and brought the empty cup and glass to the bar. That surprised me. They seemed like leave-it-on-the-table types. I tipped my glass toward them. The blonde gave me a smile. When they left they walked across Turpin’s leaving no footprints.

Training Techniques of Victor Machado

By Richard E. Baker

The birds flew at each other in a rage of passion, wings out, heads bobbing and jabbing, spurs slicing the air. (Photo: Richard E. Baker)

The crowd gathered around the cockfighting pit. A piece of torn tin, hanging loosely from a roofing nail, shuttered gently against a stud chipped and furrowed with knife cuts. Heat waves radiated from the tin. The man in the green hat held up two dollars. Another man nodded, accepting the bet.

Inside the pit the two cock handlers displayed their fighters, a large red, his comb torn in two places from previous battles, and a black whose wings attempted to escape the hands of his handler. The handlers, in ragged nicotine-stained tee shirts, passed the cocks near each other and working up the blood. The birds swelled and pecked the air in anticipation of the fight. Once released, the birds flew at each other in a rage of passion, wings out, heads bobbing and jabbing, spurs slicing the air.

The red cock drew first blood, a spur to the side of the black’s cock’s leg. The black cock faltered, slumped to the side, but managed to avoid the next blow. The small crowd waved money in the air, spat tobacco, drank from ancient and scarred bottles. The volume of voices, a rattled cacophony, settled into a screeching tenor of ubiquitous harmony. The man in the green hat smiled and parted the still air with his fist. This time, when the red cock pecked for an eye, the black cock spun around and drove his spike into the red’s chest. The red staggered back pumping his head in pained bewilderment, then slumped across the dust.

“Fighting is born into cocks,” said veteran boxing trainer, Victor Machado, the last time I saw him twenty years ago. “Nothing can stop them. They will kill each other with their own spurs or with the ones supplied by man. The only things that separate winning cocks, like winning boxers, and losing ones are training and heart. You can supply the training; the cock must supply the heart.”

The biggest game in Puerto Rico is cock fighting, a game into which Machado was born. His father, one of Puerto Rico’s top cock fighting trainers, had a huge stable of birds, many of them champions. Machado learned to train fighters by watching his father train birds.

Machado was the head trainer at the famous “Blue Velvet Boing Club” in New York City. He was in Washington State to train three-time world champion Greg Haugen at the Hillman City Gym for his fight against Paul Nave in California.

“My father was a great man,” he said. “One of the best fight trainers that ever lived. I constantly watched him with the birds and eventually realized that you train a boxer to fight the same way you train a bird to fight.”

Machado leaned back against the ring ropes. The ropes sagged too much to be effective for anything except a hammock. In the ring, Haugen started his cool-down. His young son, Brady, banged shots to the heavy bag. Machado drifted back into his memories. His eyes sparkled with reverie and remembered good times and when he smiled, which was often, his cheeks balled up with good cheer.

When they were kids, Machado, and his brothers, all found their way into the gym. His brothers became very skilled as fighters. Machado drifted in a different direction. He enjoyed teaching fighting and was proud to see his boxers develop with his help. As he sat, punches from other boxers landed in his memory. More and more young men started asking him for help.

“I was a student of the game, and still am.” He rubbed his bald head and leaned forward. “I read everything I could about boxing and I read about great trainers like Angelo Dundee and Gil Clancy.”

After years of study Machado realized there were no great Latin trainers. Some of the greatest boxers, like Carlos Ortiz, who stopped Kenny Lane in the third round to become Jr. welterweight champion, and Jose Napoles, went from one Anglo trainer to another. Machado wanted to change that. If there could be world champion boxers, there could be at least one world class Latin trainer.

During the 50’s Machado traveled to the U.S. to further his studies. Working in various gyms in New York he carried spit buckets just for the opportunity to learn from the best.

“I listened to the ideas and the strategies offered by various trainers. I wanted to know their philosophies on how to deal with different styles and the ways to overcome difficulties using the skills a fighter possessed.” He credits Cus D’Amato with being the most useful in that respect.

With all his boxing knowledge Machado needed a fighter. His break came when Wilfred Benitez hired him as his chief trainer. When Benitez knocked out Maurice Hope in the 12th round, he became the first man to win titles in three different weight divisions. Machado was now off and running.

He was soon training Juan LaPorte, Iran Barkley, and Greg Haugen. In some way, over his career at that time, he had already worked with over 30 world champions.

“They were all different and all interesting. Benitez refused to listen to anyone and I was lucky to do anything with him. Still, it worked out.”

He called Brady over to his side and reminded him to turn his knee in when he throws the right uppercut. “I worked with them all and I learned from them all.”

As for other trainers he has always considered Gil Clancy the best. “He’s from the old school like I’m from the old school. Your fighter should work hard in the gym, then go home and not hang around.”

Machado, however, seems to never stop working. When he goes home he throws on fight tapes, tapes he has seen 10 or 15 times. He learns something with every viewing.  Imitating punches he said “I want to know why this guy misses, when to use the right, when to use the left, and when to counterpunch. I am always studying.”

Being able to communicate with his fighter is most important to him. If he cannot get his point across no progress can be made. Using images is very important.

“I might say the man is winging his shots. You know, his arms are like a bird’s wings.” Machado flaps his arms and throws a punch from outside. “Don’t wing. Keep your elbows tight to your ribs. Don’t wing. Guys like Sugar Limon wing their shots. They do O.K. but they can only go so far.”

Machado climbed into the ring and motioned Brady to join him. “I can give them tools,” he said to me. “I can show them what is right and what is wrong. What I cannot give them is heart.” He has plenty of that.

© Copyright Left Uppercut