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Springs Toledo’s “The Ringside Belle,” Part 3

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Jungle Fever 

In 1927, William “Gorilla” Jones, 20, was invited to fight in Akron, Ohio by promoter Suey Welch. Jones accepted the offer, toyed with his more experienced opponent, collected his purse, and then went and blew every dime in a dice game. He approached Welch, hat in hand, and asked for an advance on his next purse. He took that and the fever took him. Off he went looking for “dem bones,” expecting to double back and square up early. Needless to say, he doubled back with his hat in his hand again. It became a routine until Welch let the dice fly himself and signed him. Jones became as much an indentured servant as a fighter under the new banner. During daylight hours, he was at the Welch Athletic Club on South Main Street; by night he was whooping it up in the red-light district. Welch’s father, Akron’s police chief, lent a hand and put out an APB to the gambling dens in the city—“Don’t let Gorilla Jones through the door!”

Jones spent a few years fighting in and around Ohio. He was a defensive specialist who often loafed his way to a decision win but was more than able to send the crowd home early. It depended on the other guy’s ambitions; if those ambitions were too aggressive, Jones would knock him silly. It also depended on Jones’s social calendar; if Jones happened to have an engagement to attend, he would plant his feet, so to speak, to get to the dance on time. Late one night before a fight, Welch heard unfamiliar snoring coming from Jones’s room and opened the door to find a double in Jones’s bed. Jones was you-know-where doing you-know-what.

Late in 1928, Mae West accompanied gangster Owney Madden to the fights at Madison Square Garden. Jones was on the undercard and doing all right. Later, the fighter spotted the movie star and her well-tailored escort in a bar and sent over a round of drinks. West liked his moxie and invited him to see her at the theatre. After the show, West found that she liked his heroic musculature too and invited him to her dressing room.

Maybe the walls caved in. Whatever happened, it must have been stupendous because West began bankrolling Jones’s career and his luck turned for keeps. He filed taxes on his 1929 earnings totaling $85,000 (that’d be $1,158,430 in 2014), drove a shiny new Lincoln Coupe, sported over 90 suits with sharp cuts and side vents, and developed a taste for diamonds that matched that of his new patroness.

By the time West was writing her lines for her Hollywood debut in Night After Night, the man winked at in one of those lines (“Hey Ga-rilla! C’mere!”) —was middleweight champion of the world.

It was 1932. Jones made one defense before losing his crown later that year to a Frenchman who looked like something from The Hills Have Eyes. He soon followed the woman he affectionately called “The Lady” to Los Angeles. Manager Suey Welch went with him and both were put on salary. By 1934, Welch was supervising fight scenes in a Mae West movie and Jones was earning $750 a week. Welch got out of the fight racket for a while and bought a string of theatres. Jones retired in 1940, and as far as the mainstream press knew, got hired as West’s chauffeur, though a chauffeur wasn’t often seen walking a diamond-collared lion on a leash along Central Avenue or fondling his blonde employer in after-hours joints near the Dunbar Hotel. Central Avenue was then predominantly a black community and the residents there knew what blue-eyed gossip columnists could only guess—Jones and Mae West were lovers.

Sometimes word leaked out. There’s a story where some bum made a rude comment about the star and Jones decked him but good. West scolded him for it. “Let ‘em talk,” she said. “I made four million because people were saying nasty things about me and you shouldn’t get in a fight to change that opinion.” There’s another story where the manager of the Ravenswood wouldn’t allow Jones past the lobby to visit West and it was West’s turn to fume —She bought the building.

West’s generosity to Jones was extended to his mother. Daisy Jones, a retired Memphis school principal, was hired on as a wardrobe assistant and travelling companion and stayed on for eighteen years. She adored West. “She is very kind and I like working for her very much,” she told the New York Age.

In the Fifties, Jones taught boxing classes at the Boys’ Club in Watts until his vision began to fail as a result of adult diabetes. In 1957, his almond eyes were obscured behind horn-rimmed glasses and his total annual income was “zero” according to Jet magazine. But West wouldn’t let him live any less than comfortably. She had wisely invested much of his ring earnings into a trust fund, purchased property for him, and paid his bills.

He loved her right back. When a motion-picture company offered him a quarter-million dollars for his story, he turned them down flat because they tried to make him admit he was one of West’s lovers. The Lady always insisted on keeping her private life private and lying to those outside her world was considered loyalty. Jones’s loyalty had no price. “All the money in the world would be no good without friends,” he said in 1974. “I would never betray a friend who has done everything to keep me on top and let me live the life I wanted to live.”

Lowell Darling is a conceptual artist, two-time gubernatorial candidate in California, and president in perpetuity of the Society for the Preservation of Lowell Darling. In the Seventies, he “fell in with hams and muscle heads” at the Cauliflower Alley Club in Hollywood where, he said, old fighters “regrouped en masse to form a constellation of faint stars.” Gorilla Jones was among them. He was damn-near blind by then and wore a wig that might have been found at the end of a push broom at dd’s Discounts the day after Halloween. Jones’s friends at the club knew the truth about the ageless star and the champ, but weren’t broadcasting it. “Let’s just say,” said one of them, “that Mae always had a soft spot in her heart for Gorilla.”

Jones was doing all right. He was living rent-free in a small white frame house in Echo Park, the one with the little figurine of a gorilla straddling the lattice fence at the front. His neighbors knew him as a “gentlemanly fellow who would hastily button his shirt if a lady approached the porch where he sat on warm days.” Inside the house was a makeshift shrine to his glory years. Darling was one of the few invited inside to see it. One day the phone rang. “That must be The Lady,” said Jones as he groped for the receiver.

“Hello Ga-rilla?”

“I have a present I want to give you,” Jones told her.

“How much will it cost me, Ga-rilla?”

“—I want to give you a telephone for your car so we can talk anytime,   24-hours a day.”

They spoke to each other, said Darling, “like lovesick kids.” Sometimes she sent a car to bring him to the Ravenswood for more than talk. By then, Jones (and millions more) had been in love with the star for over half-a-century.

In 1980, 86-year-old Mae West suffered a stroke and that purring lilt went silent. When she was brought home from the hospital, she would lie in bed watching her old movies, transfixed by a character as fascinating to her as it is to us.

Early on the morning of November 22, 1980 she went to sleep, peacefully, and took her last breath. I imagine a shimmer of sunlight reaching into her bedroom like a finger to touch her cheek.

The African-American press remembered her as a friend and a heroine. Headlines trumpeted her disregard of contrived color lines. “Mae West: Snow White Sex Queen Who Drifted” read Jet. “Mae West Had Her Black Friends” read the Call and Post. Columnist Bill Lane wrote that she had “something within that transcended clear skin and sexy hips. She had a humanness that broad-jumped unpretentiously over whiteness and blackness.”

Her funeral service in the Hollywood Hills wasn’t big and flamboyant like she was when the cameras rolled, like we thought she was. It was an intimate gathering of trusted friends, which is what she cherished most in this world. Gorilla Jones, 74, stood weeping without shame by the casket. Every now and then he’d honk his nose and the wig perched on his head would slip.

West’s body was transported back home to Brooklyn to be buried alongside her mother and Battlin’ Jack.

Jones was left behind.

He stopped going to boxing shows and the Braille Institute. He stopped going to the store. “After she passed on,” said a next-door neighbor, “he just went down.” He began passing-up rides to the Cauliflower Alley Club; and eventually wouldn’t leave the house, wouldn’t eat. His once-heroic musculature wasted away to 102 lbs.

On January 4, 1982 they found his body surrounded by his boxing memorabilia, old newspaper clippings, and framed images of The Lady, her bedroom eyes locked on him.

Her bedroom eyes

spotting someone in the distance, she puts the brakes on her strut and a hand on her hip— “Hey Ga-rilla!” she calls out. “C’mere!”  

 

 

 

 

 


Special thanks to Lowell Darling, Bruce Kielty, Alice Martin, and Alister Scott Ottesen.

Mae West: Goodness Had Nothing to Do With it (1959); Life (4/18/69); Henry Armstrong’s interviewinPeterHeller’s In This Corner…! 42 World Champions Tell Their Stories (DeCapo, 1973); Mae West: The Lies, the Legend, The Truth by George Eells and Stanley Musgrove (1984), p. 143; Jet “Snow White Sex Queen Who Drifted by Robert E. Johnson (7/25/1974); Private detective’s statements in Mae West: Empress of Sex (HarperCollins 1991); Milton Berle: B.S. I Love You (McGraw-Hill, 1987); UP (Jack Cuddy, 6/4/1937 and 9/27/1944); INS 12/6/1933, Los Angeles Herald and Express (1/16/1934); Jim Murray’s opinion in Los Angeles Times (4/25/1961); AP 8/21/1957. Details regarding Chalky Wright found in Baltimore Afro-American (12/24/1960), Milwaukee Sentinel (12/2/1946); UP 8/24/1957, Los Angeles Sentinel (8/15/1957), Baltimore Afro-American (8/31/1957), and Los Angeles Times (August 1957); Mickey Cohen, in My Own Words: The Autobiography of Michael Mickey Cohen As Told to John Peer Nugent (Prentice-Hall, 1975); Alice Martin told this writer that she believed that West paid for Chalky’s funeral. Archived autopsy report performed by Dr. Gerald K. Ridge, M.D., Deputy Medical Examiner on Albert G. Wright, August 13, 1957 at 1:45pm (rec’d 10/2/2014 from Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, County of Los Angeles). Details regarding Gorilla Jones found in “Local History: Akron’s King of Rings” by Mark J. Price (Beacon Journal, 6/8/2009); “Lady Luck’s Frown Starts Jones Upward” by Carl Crammer, AP 2/26/1932; MilwaukeeSentinel, (11/22/1931); Jet (7/16/1953, 4/3/1958 and 1/28/1982); Pittsburgh Press (6/13/1934); Lowell Darling (unpublished manuscript; emails to author); Los Angeles Times, 1/6/1982.   

 

Springs Toledo is the author of The Gods of War: Boxing Essays (Tora, 2014, $25).He can be reached at scalinatella@hotmail.com

 

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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