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Articles of 2006

“Honest John” Morgenroth: Milwaukee Boxing’s Best Friend

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On the first floor was a huge tavern/restaurant that served only Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a sumptuous free lunch of roast beef and ham. On the third floor was a gym where many of the most famous boxers in history trained, including Battling Nelson, Stanley Ketchel, Jim Jeffries, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey and Benny Leonard.

Between them on the second floor was what really made Morgenroth’s emporium at 756 N. Plankinton Ave. what the newspapers of the time winkingly referred to as Milwaukee’s “sporting headquarters”: a roulette wheel, dice and card games, news ticker reports from horse tracks and ballparks around the country, and the opportunity to lay down a bet on the next big fight, the next election for President, and even whether the sun would shine tomorrow.

On September 1, it will be exactly 75 years since Morgenroth’s closed its doors for good. John D. Morgenroth, grandson and namesake of the owner and proprietor, John C. Morgenroth, was only three-years-old then, but he still vividly recalls accompanying his grandfather downtown on the No. 15 streetcar and being plopped down by him atop the ornate cherry wood bar inside what one newspaper article called the city’s “grandest tavern.”

“This is my grandson,” the elder Morgenroth would announce to the invariably packed house. “I want everybody in the place to see this kid!”

It was, said John D. Morgenroth, now 79, “kind of like a god dragging me around as a baby.”

A resident of California, Morgenroth was in town recently with his daughter, Meredith, doing family research, visiting old friends, and reminiscing about the man he called “Papa John,” and boxers and everybody else who knew him revered as “Honest John” Morgenroth.

Born in Milwaukee in1865, as a young man John C. Morgenroth worked as a puddler in a steel mill for $20 a week. He was, according to his grandson, earnest, industrious, and very conservative in his habits and demeanor. This made him just about the polar opposite of his older brother, Charles, who enjoyed fancy clothes, nights out on the town, gambling, and just about anything in a skirt. In the late 1890s, Charles convinced his brother to go into the saloon business with him, and the first Morgenroth’s opened at what was then 210 W. Water St. (later N. Plankinton Ave.).

Charles eventually died of paresis. (Encouraged by his daughter to “go layman” for his interviewer, John Morgenroth translates: “That’s syphilis.”) John C. took over the business and built a local institution that became known all over the country and was the first stop for famous and non-famous boxers alike when they hit town.

Gambling in Milwaukee was illegal then, and over the years Morgenroth’s was periodically raided by the authorities. But since the restaurant and tavern were the unofficial headquarters of local lawmakers and movers-and-shakers, the middle floor was never padlocked for long.

“Honest John” himself was not much of a gambler, although his grandson says he really cleaned up betting on President Woodrow Wilson’s reelection in 1916, scoring enough money to buy up lots of real estate near his residence on the city’s south side, which he turned over to relatives.

But family members weren’t the only ones to benefit from Morgenroth’s epic generosity. If a patron lost more than he could afford on the second floor of Morgenroth’s and came to Honest John with a sob story about the wife and kids at home, Morgenroth refunded his losses with one condition: that the loser do his gambling elsewhere from then on.

Morgenroth was an especially soft touch for the prize-fighters who trained at his gym. Boxing was illegal in Wisconsin until 1913, but before that fights often were held in private. When Morgenroth saw a fighter called Whitey Berghausen banged up after a bloody bootleg bout, he went to Berghausen’s family and advised them not to let the flat-nosed, cauliflower-eared Berghausen fight again.

“Well, then you take him,” he was told.

Morgenroth put Berghausen to work cutting meat at the free lunch counter, training boxers in the gym, and as a chauffeur for him and his wife, Harriet. As a boy, John D. Morgenroth – who lived with his grandparents after his mother died giving him birth –was driven by Berghausen every morning to Trowbridge St. Elementary School, even though it was just three blocks from the family home.

“We always joke about the fact that the Morgenroth home served as a ‘boxer retirement center,’” says Meredith Morgenroth. “The ‘help’ were always older men with cauliflower ears and broken noses.”

In early 1918, a rough-bearded heavyweight from Colorado hit town for a fight with Bill Brennan. He put in a training session at Morgenroth’s, and was on his way out when Honest John hailed him.

“Hey there! Where are you going to eat tonight?”

“Oh, eat. I hadn’t given that a thought. Why do you ask?” replied Jack Dempsey, still a year away from the big money.

“If you don’t now where you’re eating tonight, sit down and be my guest,” Morgenroth told him, indicating a big spread of corned beef and cabbage he’d set up at a corner table just for Dempsey.

The weigh-ins for all the big fights in Milwaukee in the first third of the 20th century were always held at Morgenroth’s and Water St. was always clogged with fans hanging around to watch the fighters train at the gym. Only a couple hundred could squeeze inside, and hundreds more milled around out front. Once when local lightweight contender Richie Mitchell stopped outside the emporium to chat with former champion Ad Wolgast, the cops had to come unravel the traffic snarl caused by all the rubberneckers.

When Benny Leonard came to Milwaukee to fight Mitchell in 1917, Morgenroth hosted a banquet for the New York fighter at which he offered the toast, “To the next lightweight champion of the world – Benny Leonard!” Leonard won the title a month later, and always sent Morgenroth a Christmas card reminding him of his prediction.

Not as thrilled with Morgenroth was Leonard’s manager, Billy Gibson, on account of what happened the day before the first Leonard-Mitchell fight. Gibson was at the bar in Morgenroth’s when a Mitchell fan walked in, slapped fifty $1,000 bills down and offered to bet the whole wad on the Milwaukee hero at 5-1 odds. Gibson had only $40 in his pocket, and begged the Mitchell man to wait while he frantically called all over town in search of Morgenroth to cover the bet. But for once Honest John was nowhere to be found, and the high-roller pocketed his money and walked out. The next night, Leonard knocked Mitchell out in the seventh round.

The beer sold at Morgenroth’s for a nickel a glass was strictly Pabst Blue Ribbon because Milwaukee beer baron Fred Pabst was a regular customer. Morgenroth was loyal to Pabst, but not awed by him. Pabst was on hand one day when someone loudly inquired of Morgenroth, “Why don’t you sell Blatz (beer) in here?”

With an eye to Pabst, he dryly replied, “Because flies will not land in that beer.”

Prohibition, the Great Depression and tougher law enforcement eventually took their toll, and The Milwaukee Journal of August 20, 1931 carried the banner headline, “Morgenroth’s Famous Quarters to Close Sept. 1.”

“It isn’t going to seem like the same town,” lamented the two-column obituary.

Honest John died four years to the day after his emporium shut down. “Generous to a fault, he gave without regard to creed or class,” eulogized the Milwaukee Sentinel. “Funeral expenses for scores of friends and friends of friends came out of John Morgenroth’s pocket. He was usually available for a ‘touch’ for weddings, divorces, emergency trips. Many Milwaukeeans owe their educations to timely aid from him.”

In a story headlined “Honest John Fed ‘Em and Lent ‘Em Money,” Journal boxing writer Sam Levy recalled that “feting and feeding fighters was an old custom of John Morgenroth,” and that “making handouts to broken down boxers was another (one).”

Richie Mitchell never needed any handouts, but in his own memoir about his fighting days he said of Morgenroth: “A finer sportsman never lived. No down and outer ever went hungry when John was around, and he is still always willing, even anxious to help any worthy cause or fellow. I guess he has helped a lot of unworthy ones, too. ‘They all have to eat,’ I once heard him say.”

Articles of 2006

Peter/Toney Ii: Peter Has The Brutal Punch

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Samuel Peter claims he has dynamites in my two hands?

Heavyweight contenders Samuel “The Nigerian Nightmare” Peter and James Lights Out? Toney get it on a second time this Saturday from the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla. (Showtime).

The hard-slugging Peter, unlike Toney, is one of those strong, silent types notorious for letting their fists to the talking one the opening bell sounds, but the Nigeria Nightmare is as confident as ever and determined to turn Lights Out’s lights out for good.

I have got dynamites in my two hands,? said Peter, according the Lagos, Nigeria Vanguard, and I will crush James Toney once and for all. The Toney camp made the mistake of their lives by protesting and seeking a rematch. I am ready to teach him a bitter lesson.?

Sam Peter walked away with the W for Peter/Toney I at the Staples Center in LA last September, but it was by disputed split decision a verdict so disputed, there was even a dispute about the dispute which forced the WBC’s hand into mandating Saturday’s rematch.

Samuel Peter is the biggest thing to hit African boxing since Ghanaian superstar Azumah Nelson rocked the feather and junior welterweight divisions. The President of the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control, Prince Olaide Adeboye, admitted, according to allAfrica.com, We are rooting for Samuel Peter, of course. He is one boy we believe in to bring back the country’s lost glory in professional boxing. I am personally making arrangement to be at the ringside to see him fight Toney again. I was at the first fight in Los Angeles in September.

Peter has the brutal punch, and to me he was the clear winner of the first fight. But the WBC Board of Governors, of which I am a member, voted 21-10 for a rematch. There was nothing those of us Africans on the board could do in the circumstances. But I believe Peter will confirm he is better than Toney and will then go ahead to meet the champion and claim the belt for Nigeria and Africa.?

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Articles of 2006

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings for Asia

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There are claims that boxing is dying. Hogwash. The heavyweight division isn’t the only division in boxing and 2007 promises to be a banner year in boxing; especially for boxers hailing from Asia.

While Asia isn’t Vegas or Atlantic City, it is a region packed of diamonds in the rough; undiscovered gems and potential superstars who wait for their moment in the sun.

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Asia

1) Manny Pacquiao – There’s no way to dispute Pacquiao is the best fighter in Asia, if not all of boxing. He’s exciting, he wins with Je Ne Sais Quois and is definitely “the man” in boxing.

2) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam – Although his competition leaves much to be desired, his longevity and skills are undeniable. He is currently Thailand’s only world champion and is undefeated in ten years. Need I say more?

3) Chris John – A victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, however controversial, shows he belongs at the top of the heap. He easily outpointed Renan Acosta to close out 2006 and should have no trouble defending against Jose Rojas in February. A fight with Pacquiao would not be a good move on his part but a rematch with Marquez would not hurt – especially if he defeats the Mexican again.

4) Hozumi Hasegawa – Hidden away in Japan, Hasegawa is a sharp punching southpaw who put former champion Veeraphol Sahaprom to sleep. He recently bested Genaro Garcia and his herky-jerky style will give fits to any one who steps in the ring with him.

5) Masomori Tokuyama – Tokuyama has never shied away from a good fight and although he only fought once in 2006 (UD12 Jose Navarro), he ledger shows wins over Katsushige Kawashima (twice), Gerry Penalosa (twice) and In Jin Chi (twice). A fight with Hozumi Hasegawa is a distinct possibility in 2007.

6) Nobuo Nashiro – With only seven fights under his belt he took on WBA champion Martin Castillo – and defeated him. Although he’s only fought a total of nine fights, nearly all have been against quality opposition. A victory in a rematch with Castillo would cement his claim as the king of the 115-pound division.

7) Yukata Niida – This light-hitting minimumweight defended his title twice in 2006, winning a technical decision against unbeaten Eriberto Gejon (Tech Win 10) and the other on points over Ronald Barrera (W 12). Scheduled to meet Katsunari Takayama early next year – the best has yet to come for this WBA belt holder.

8) In Jin Chi – Won back the title he lost to Takashi Koshimoto in January from Rudolfo Lopez. While there’s little uncertainty to his skills, at thirty-three, 2007 may provide some insight as to just how much he has left.

9) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai –Sor Nonthachai is an exciting, top-shelf fighter with an iron chin. Has no trouble making mincemeat of mid-level opposition and deserves a title shot in 2007. Time is running out.

10) Rey Bautista – He’s young, relatively inexperienced in big-time boxing, but will continue to shine in 2007. One of the better prospects in boxing, he should snag a title in 2007.

Asian Fighters Ranked in Ring Magazine

Pound for Pound:

Manny Pacquiao (Philippines): #2

Jr. Lightweight

Manny Pacquiao (Philippines): #1
Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai: #9

Featherweight

Chris John (Indonesia) #1
In Jin Chi (Korea) #3
Takashi Koshimoto (Japan) #5
Hioyuki Enoki (Japan) #7

Jr. Featherweight

Somsak Sithchatchawal (Thailand) #4

Bantamweight

Hozumi Hasegawa (Japan) #2
Veeraphol Sahaprom (Japan) #3
Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (Thailand) #6
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Thailand) #10

Jr. Bantamweight

Nobuo Nashiro (Japan) #1
Katsushige Kawashima (Japan) #7
Pramuansak Phosuwan (Thailand) #10

Flyweight

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Thailand) #1
Takefumi Sakata (Japan) #7
Daisuke Naito (Japan) #10

Jr. Flyweight

Koki Kameda (Japan) #1

Minimumweight

Yukata Naiida (Japan) #2
Eagle Kyowa (Japan/Thai) #4
Katsunari Takayama (Japan) #5
Rodel Mayol (Philippines) #7

Boxing in Thailand

There’s no shortage of boxers in Thailand. With a huge pool of Muay Thai fighters to draw from and several talented amateur boxing prospects turning pro after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Thailand seems destined to remain a boxing powerhouse in Asia.

The country is known for having tough, determined and disciplined fighters who give their all whenever the step in to the ring. However, consistently losing while fighting abroad and padding their records with no-hopers has done nothing to enhance their reputation.

Whether because of a lack of marketability, a lack of funds or their unwillingness to travel abroad, the vast majority of boxers from Thailand remain a mystery to fans in the west. If anything though, the boxing scene involving Thai fighters will be active. In fact, it’s one of the most active in the world; since 2000, the number of fights has nearly doubled in the country.

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Thailand – August 2006

1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
2) Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym
3) Somsak Sithchatchawal
4) Wandee Singwancha
5) Sirimongkol Singwancha
6) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai
7) Veeraphol Sahaprom
8) Pramuansak Phosuwan
9) Terdsak Jandaeng
10) Oleydong Sithamerchai

Current Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Thailand

1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Flyweight) – Definitely the top dog in Thailand

2) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai (Super Lightweight) – He’s a seasoned fighter who has proven himself in the big-time. He’s one Thai who can fight outside of Asia. He has an abundance of skills and one-punch power. His overall ability and ease in dispatching anyone other than championship caliber get him the runners-up spot.

3) Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Super Bantamweight) – After losing to Vladimir Sidorenko he’s bounced back. He’s young, he can punch, but the former interim champion needs to prove himself against a name fighter.

4) Somsak Sithchatchawal (Super Bantamweight) – Was his win over Monshipour a fluke or was Celestino Caballero just that good? Did Sithchatchawal catch Monshipour at the right time and can he rebound from the devastating loss? The jury is still out.

5) Wandee Singwancha (Flyweight) – He doesn’t have much of a punch which will be his downfall in the end. He can box, as was evidenced in his recent victory over Juanito Rubillar, but this won’t be enough. He can no longer make the Jr. Flyweight limit and with no punch he’ll have a hard time competing against the “big boys.” Although he’s now rated second by the WBC, he doesn’t deserve to be.

5) Sirimongkol Singwancha (Super Lightweight) – Get this guy a fight. He’s better than Jose Armando Santa Cruz and would have beat up Inada had the fight taken place. He’ll fight anyone but his biggest obstacle is staying motivated fighting tomato cans in Thailand. Like many Thais, he needs a fight against a name opponent.
6) Wandee Singwancha (Flyweight) – He doesn’t have much of a punch which will be his downfall in the end. He can box, as was evidenced in his recent victory over Juanito Rubillar, but this won’t be enough. He can no longer make the Jr. Flyweight limit and with no punch he’ll have a hard time competing against the “big boys.” Although he’s now rated second by the WBC, he doesn’t deserve to be.

7) Pramuansak Phosuwan (Super Flyweight) – A genuine tough guy. Always calm and focused no matter how heated the battle. But at thirty-eight, he’ll be in trouble should he fight one of the division’s elite.
8) Veeraphol Sahaprom (Bantamweight) – Will be lucky to get another crack at the title. Although he has a puncher’s chance of winning a belt, that’s about all he has left at this point. A third shot at Hasegawa is unlikely.

9) Oleydong Sithamerchai (Minimumweight) – He’s fought better than the usual opponents faced by Thais at his level and he moves up one spot with the departure of Terdsak Jandaeng. He lacks the punch and is in the wrong division to become a superstar. He’ll need to defeat a name opponent to convince me.

10) Saenghiran Lookbanyai / Napapol Kittisakchokchai (Super Bantamweight) – These two square-off in early March, supposedly to see who deserves a shot at Israel Vasquez. Kittisakchokchai has the edge in experience but some feel Lookbanyai has the edge in heart and is the favorite.

Neither has defeated a top twenty fighter and yet are ranked number one and two respectively in the WBC’s world.

In Kittisakchokchoi’s lone shot at the big-time, he was TKO’d in 10 by Oscar Larios. His dreadful performance against Larios and lack of quality opposition leads me to believe Saenghiran might have more of a shot at beating him than some suspect. Regardless, neither of them lasts longer than six rounds with Israel Vasquez.

Honorable Mention: Wethya Sakmuangklang, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Devid Lookmahanak, Nethra Sasiprapa, Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Pornsawan Kratingdaenggym

Thai Fighters Ranked in Ring Magazine

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam: #1 Flyweight
Pramuansak Phosuwan: #10 Jr. Bantamweight
Veeraphol Sahaprom: #3 Bantamweight
Ratanachai Sor Vorapin: #6 Bantamweight
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym: #10 Bantamweight
Somsak Sithchatchawal: #3 Jr. Featherweight
Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai: #9 Lightweight

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Articles of 2006

Iceman Stops Tito Ortiz Win Streak

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LAS VEGAS—UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck “Iceman” Liddell’s fists proved too much for Huntington Beach’s Tito Ortiz who was stopped in the third round before a sold out crowd at the MGM Garden Arena on Saturday.

The punching machine Liddell (20-3, 13 KOs) repeated his victory in UFC 66 over the much-improved grappler Ortiz who has improved his punching and blocking. Ortiz was trying to avenge his loss of April 2004.

Despite all the new weapons displayed by Ortiz it wasn’t enough as Liddell pummeled the former champion and retained his title with a technical knockout at 3:59 of the third round. Referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the bout.

“This was the most satisfying victory of my career,” said Liddell, 36, of Santa Barbara. “Tito came back real tough.”

Ortiz (15-5, 8 KOs), a former wrestler, worked on his boxing technique knowing he would need it against the former boxer Liddell. But Liddell’s experience allowed him to find the right moment to pounce on Ortiz.

“I had him hurt, I just kept throwing punches,” said Liddell who also knocked down Ortiz in the first round with a left hook.

Ortiz was gracious in defeat.

“Chuck is the best fighter Pound for Pound in the (mixed martial arts) world,” said Ortiz, 31, who suffered a gash on the side of his left eye from a punch. “I’m disgusted by myself. I let my fans down.”

Other bouts

Underdog Keith Jardine (12-3-1) knocked out Forrest Griffin (13-4) at 4:41 of the first round in their light heavyweight showdown. A right uppercut followed by a left hook wobbled Griffin who was sent to the floor by a barrage of punches. On the ground Jardine landed right after right until referee John McCarthy stopped the fight for a technical knockout.

“I couldn’t believe he was hurt,” said Jardine about Griffin who is known for his resiliency. “I was so nervous coming into this fight, but now I know I belong here.”

Canada’s Jason McDonald (18-7) choked out Chris Leben (15-3) in a middleweight bout that was up for grabs. Though Leben seemed to control the fight with stunning left hands, once the fight went to the ground McDonald managed a chokehold at 4:03 of the second round. Referee Steve Mazagatti saw Leben was unconscious and stopped the fight.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (12-5) caught Brazil’s Mario Cruz (2-2) with a sneak right hand while both were tangled on the ground. Then the Belarusian pummeled Cruz until referee Herb Dean stopped the fight at 3:15 of the first round.

Third season winner of the Ultimate Fighter television reality season Michael Bisping (12-0) of Great Britain won by technical knockout over Eric Shafer (9-2-2) at 4:29 of the first round. A knee knocked Shafer groggy then Bisping knocked him to the ground and pounded him. Referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the bludgeoning.

Thiago Alves (16-4) caught Peru’s Tony De Souza (15-5) with a knee as he attempted to dive for his legs in a welterweight contest. After that it was pretty much over as Alves pummeled De Souza at 1:10 of the second round forcing referee John McCarthy to halt the bout.

Gabriel Gonzago (7-1) proved too strong for Carmelo Marrero (6-1) in a heavyweight bout. At 3:22 of the first round Gonzago of Massachusetts manipulated his way into arm bar forcing Pennsylvania’s Marrero to tap out.

Japan’s Yushin Okami (19-3) pounded Georgia’s Rory Singer (11-6) into submission at 4:03 of the third round of a middleweight bout. Okami seemed the more-rounded fighter with effective kicks to the head and more accurate punching.

Christian Wellisch (8-2) jumped to a quick start with an accurate left hook that rattled Australia’s Anthony Perosh (5-3) in a heavyweight bout. During the first round it seemed the Sacramento fighter might end the fight but the Aussie hung tough. Wellisch won by unanimous decision.

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