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Book Review

Robert DeArment’s Book on Bat Masterson Will Delight Boxing History Buffs

Arne K. Lang

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Masterson

One of the best boxing history books that I have ever read has been around since 2005 and I just stumbled on it. You wouldn’t guess from the title but Robert K. DeArment’s “Broadway Bat: Gunfighter in Gotham” is a book that ought to be on the bookshelf of every serious boxing history buff.

DeArment, a World War II veteran, is recognized as one of America’s leading authorities on life in the Old West, in particular the lives of famous lawmen and outlaws. His 1979 book, “Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend” (University of Oklahoma Press) is considered one of the best books of the genre.

At various times, Bat Masterson was a County Sheriff and U.S. Marshall in several western hot spots, most famously Dodge City, Kansas, where his legend was born. Dodge City back then, circa 1875, was a wild and wooly town where cattlemen brought their herds and then sowed their wild oats like sailors on shore leave. When Bat said “get out of Dodge,” he did it while pointing his trusty six-shooter at the miscreant.

In truth, however, during his days out west Masterson occupied more of his time as a professional gambler than a peace officer. He ran gambling saloons, invested many hours at faro and poker, and backed other professional gamblers. DeArment’s 1979 book debunked many of the myths about Bat Masterson that were set down in magazine articles and in books aimed at young readers.

Bat Masterson’s life had a second act and the second act could not have been more different than the first. He lived the last 19 years of his life in New York City, spending the first four of those years residing with his wife, a former chorus girl, in a Times Square hotel. He hired on as a sports columnist for The New York Morning Telegraph, rose to the position of sports editor, and had the added duty of handling the accounts of racing tipsters who comprised a good portion of the paper’s advertisers.

The Morning Telegraph, the third oldest daily in New York when it folded in 1972, was part Daily Racing Form, part Variety, part Wall Street Journal, and part scandal sheet. Clergymen denounced the paper from their pulpits which, if anything, was a circulation-booster. Several notable journalists (e.g. Heywood Broun, Louella Parsons) earned theirs spurs at the Morning Telegraph but Masterson never left. He died at his desk in 1921 at age 67.

Masterson cranked out three columns a week that eventually appeared under the heading “Masterson’s Views on Timely Topics.” He had the freedom to write whatever struck his fancy but his forte was boxing, a sport with which he was associated before he arrived in New York. He didn’t like baseball or collegiate sports and had no interest in the new sport of auto racing. As for thoroughbred horse racing, he tended to ignore the subject except during his yearly pilgrimages to Saratoga and Hot Springs. He was particularly fond of Hot Springs, a wide-open town in Arkansas until the reformers clamped down on gambling.

This reporter knew the general particulars of Bat Masterson’s days in New York, but had never seen more than a few snippets of columns he had written. With the help of friends in New York, author DeArment was able to access the full catalog of Masterson’s newspaper stories and present a fuller picture of the man. He was a cantankerous SOB, constantly at war with boxing writers from rival papers and with certain members of the boxing establishment. Fight managers in general, he once wrote, were “a low conniving set of unprincipled cheats.”

A common theme in Bat’s writings was a defense of pugilism. Boxers, he argued, were in less danger than jockeys, professional bicyclists, and football players. But boxing in Masterson’s day was rife with fixed fights and Bat took it upon himself to act as something of an ombudsman for the fans. Exposing the underbelly of boxing was his way of defending the sport which, he wrote, was “a most desirable sport enjoyed by all wholesome and virile men.”

One would have thought that Bat would have supported those empowered to reform the sport, but just the opposite. Masterson, notes DeArment, repeatedly directed his ire at “onerous state laws regulating boxing, the politicians who enacted the laws and the commissioners appointed to administer them.”

This was in character as Masterson detested reformers in general. He viewed the self-appointed guardians of public virtue as mischief-makers who created more problems than they solved. In a column about boxing he might digress to take a swipe at the famous evangelist Billy Sunday or at a well-known feminist stumping for the right to vote. After a convention of suffragettes left Saratoga’s United States Hotel, Bat wrote that the hotel had to be thoroughly fumigated.

Masterson thought the fighters of his day were inferior to their antecedents, an opinion that hardened during the White Hope craze. Although Bat was no fan of Jack Johnson the man, he came to Johnson’s defense when Johnson was found guilty of violating the Mann Act, forcefully expressing the very unpopular opinion that Johnson was railroaded. He came down hard on the New York boxing commission when it banned interracial fights in 1913, likely hastening the fast turnabout; the edict was lifted in 1916. But Bat, like many of his fellow scribes, was guilty of using racial and ethnic epithets in his columns.

Masterson refused to join the Sporting Writers’ Association of Greater New York which was probably a good thing as his presence at its get-togethers would have discomfited a lot of the members. Although he didn’t name names, he was forever using his poison pen to barb boxing writers that took money from promoters and managers in return for favorable write-ups, a practice that was rampant in his day.

Masterson bumped into a lot of these writers, or at least writers that he presumed fit the profile, at the 1919 Dempsey-Willard fight in Toledo where promoter Tex Rickard had set up a free bar at the writers’ hotel. “Some of them got drunk as soon as they hit Toledo and remained in that condition until they left it. And all the time they were sending out their maudlin inventions to the papers they represented.”

Masterson bet big on Willard. For all his knowledge of the Sweet Science, he was a terrible handicapper, going back to the days of John L. Sullivan. He allowed his personal opinion of a fighter’s character to cloud his judgment.

Masterson had no need to take money under the table because he was well-heeled thanks to his friend President Theodore Roosevelt who gifted him with a juicy sinecure shortly after Bat moved to New York, a well-paying post as a federal marshal that didn’t require any work; Bat merely showed up on payday to collect his check. And so, when Masterson attacked corruption, he was a man throwing bricks in a glass house. “While he viciously attacked hypocrites and greedy public servants,” says DeArment, “he himself hypocritically held a no-show, grossly overpaid, taxpayer funded, patronage position for more than four years.”

Masterson’s best friend in New York was Damon Runyon who would immortalize him as the Sky Masterson character in “Guys and Dolls.” Runyon took money from boxing promoter Tex Rickard, but Masterson was fond of both and looked the other way. Likewise, he never railed against the racing tipster industry. As has always been true, those that marketed their product most aggressively were running a scam, but their advertising dollars helped keep his paper afloat.

Masterson was working on his next column when he slumped over his typewriter and died. Just before drawing his final breath, he was inspired to make a snarky observation about social inequality: “The rich and the poor get the same amount of ice in this world. The rich get theirs in the summer and the poor get theirs in the winter.” (In actuality, as DeArment notes, this isn’t word-for-word what Masterson wrote; his cerebration — his most famous line — would be edited to make it punchier.)

Masterson’s protégé, Sam Taub, succeeded him as the Morning Telegraph sports editor. Taub went on to achieve fame as a blow-by-blow man on radio, calling an estimated 1700 fights.

In 1982, the Boxing Writers Association of America created the Sam Taub Award to recognize excellence in boxing journalism. Twelve years later, Taub was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Perhaps Bat Masterson will join him there some day.

“Broadway Bat: Gunfighter in Gotham,” was released in 2005 by a publishing house in Hawaii that specialized in Western Americana and reissued in 2013 under a slightly different title  (as shown in the graphic accompanying this story) by the University of Oklahoma Press. The book, copiously footnoted, has 30 pages of illustrations. It’s a fun read and essential reading for serious students of the sweet science.

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Book Review

Roy McHugh’s Monument

Springs Toledo

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A Review of When Pittsburgh Was a Fight Town (2019)

Roy McHugh never met Harry Greb. He was eleven when the Pittsburgh Pandemonium passed away on a rainy day in 1926, and it’s fair to say he just missed him. He was, however, pals with Greb’s pal and sparring partner Cuddy DeMarco, which means he has one degree of separation to my fifteen from the greatest fighter of the last hundred years. As if that wasn’t enough, he also shook the hand of Mike Gibbons, whose hands had been bouncing off Greb’s head just a few years earlier at Forbes Field. McHugh was a child then and still wiping the stars out of his eyes when a package arrived at his door. Inside was a pair of boxing gloves and a handwritten note by Gibbons himself:

Put on these gloves and do your stuff,

Prepare for the days when the roads are rough;

You’ll get a little groggy, but just give life an uppercut.

Those gloves and that note sparked a lifelong passion for fighting and writing. “Some of the other neighborhood kids helped me wear out the boxing gloves,” he told me. His last bout was a “bare-knuckle affair” on a thoroughfare in Alexandria, Louisiana in the summer of 1945. McHugh was stationed there with his company where he served as a machine gun instructor. Did he win? “I thought I was leading on points when the M.P.s broke it up after a minute or so,” he said. “They took both me and the other guy to the city slammer.”

He was already in print by then. His first byline appeared in Iowa’s Coe College Cosmos in the mid-1930s and when the war came, he was on staff at the Cedar Rapids Gazette. In 1947, he was hired by The Pittsburgh Press and spent more hours than anyone else crafting three columns a week for decades. His writing, the work of a perfectionist, is pressed gold. Elegant, economical, and yet rich with little-known facts and wry humor, it appears in a dozen anthologies, among them the 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1985, and 1986 editions of Best Sports Stories.

McHugh’s career opened during the Depression and didn’t close for seventy years give or take. He could write about any subject, though his favorite—the sweet science—was never in question. No boxing writer saw so much for so long or can exceed his talent for transforming a backward glance into living color. And his purpose was plain; he sought to reintroduce his heroes to successive generations, to remind a city increasingly infatuated with ball throwers in black and yellow about the radical individualists whose fists fanned the smoke and whose feats once dominated sports pages.

He tried retirement in 1983. “What are you going to do?” The Press sports editor asked him at the time.

“Nothing,” said McHugh. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll become the biggest bum on Shiloh Street.”

“Would you consider writing a book—?”

Over the past dozen years, McHugh’s vision deteriorated and his fingers stiffened with arthritis; his typewriter quieted, but was never quite put away. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s major dailies did no more than mention Greb’s name a handful of times. They needed reminding. In 2008 a full-page feature discussing Greb alongside Billy Conn appeared in the Post-Gazette. McHugh wrote it. He was 92.

Pittsburgh has since forgotten about Harry Greb. It hardly ever knew him.

Only weeks after he was buried at Calvary Cemetery, a delegation of citizens won the mayor’s support to erect a statue in his memory in Friendship Park, not far from where he was born. It ran into opposition when a few members of city council scoffed at the idea of honoring “a pugilist.” “No proper thinking person would be for it,” griped one of them, “a great majority of the people would be against it.” The plan was forwarded to the art commission, and stalled out.

In August 2018 a petition appeared online to memorialize Greb by renaming the Highland Park Bridge in his honor. The goal was modest—1,000 signatures. It stalled out at 359. Pittsburgh’s population is 301,048. I was downtown in the lobby at the Marriott City Center that summer, leafing through a travel guide book and scoffing aloud about who was not included in either the “Famous Pittsburghers” or “City of Champions” sections. Greb was not mentioned, nor was Conn, Charley Burley, Fritzie Zivic, Teddy Yarosz, or Frank Klaus. The councilman, it seems, was right.

On February 25, 2019 I got a message from Douglas Cavanaugh. “Roy passed today,” it said. He was 103. An introvert averse to accolades, he asked for no ceremony. His ashes are buried at Calvary Cemetery, near Greb and Conn.

Much—too much—was buried with him.

Four months later, he spoke.

When Pittsburgh Was a Fight Town is a 115,000-word monument to those pugilists he idolized during his living years. Much of it was written while he was in his eighties and nineties, which strongly suggests that McHugh had the longest literary prime on record. His mastery is evident immediately, in the preface, where he launches into a treatise of his adopted city’s history as a warm up.

Writing about history is more of a hardship than reading it but McHugh shows us how it’s done. He moves quickly to ward off narcolepsy, brushing aside widely-accepted inaccuracies one after another as if loosening his tie, ushering the reader back to a time when smoke and soot hung heavily in the air and only fools and tourists wore white shirts. “The very atmosphere affected behavior,” he remembers, and taps a spell on his typewriter to conjure up streetlights piercing the gloomy noon, open sewers, and rubbish in vacant lots. And he’s full of surprises. Outsiders complained, he said, not the natives. “They liked the lurid red glow of the steel mills at night. They liked the smoke, because smoke meant jobs.” He speaks with the authority of one who was there, and sets you on a sidewalk or at ringside and lets you eavesdrop on conversations—often one of his own.

You leave these encounters edified. Was Greb really the light puncher of internet boxing forums? Jack Henry, who carried Greb’s spit bucket, said his relative dearth of knockouts is better attributed to sadism. “He’d beat the hell out of guys,” he said. “When they’d start to fall, he’d grab them and hold them up.” Another insider confirmed this. He told McHugh that Greb “never showed mercy to anybody he trained with.”

Did you know that Conn never wore a mouthpiece until Fred Apostoli persuaded him in gruntspeak while socking his jaw during a brutal bout in 1939? Me neither.

Did you know that Burley was offered a shot at Zivic’s welterweight crown? The terms are on page 151, which happens to be what Burley weighed when he stopped a heavyweight in 1942. How did he manage that? McHugh asked him for you. He met the great uncrowned champion when he was a novice filling in for The Press’s regular boxing writer before Burley faced an up-and-comer at the Aragon Gardens. McHugh dismissed Burley as over the hill and then Burley sent the up-and-comer into a slumber in the first round. “I apologized to him,” McHugh admits. “Get me a fight with [middleweight contender Lee] Sala and we’ll be friends,” said Burley. McHugh tried and saw first-hand what the problem was.

If you were watching TCM’s Noir Alley in May, you’ll remember Joan Blondell in Nightmare Alley. McHugh tells us that she wrote letters to Billy Soose “almost every week” after he enlisted in the Navy. If you watched WWF wrestling in the 1970s and 80s, then you’re familiar with Bruno Sammartino. In the 1950s, he was showing promise as a boxer in Pittsburgh and so was hooked up with Whitey Bimstein in New York. “And then one day,” (McHugh again) Sammartino was told to lace ’em up to spar with a scowling hulk fresh out of the clink. Sammartino went five rounds with Sonny Liston at Stillman’s Gym.

Curious about what happened? Buy McHugh’s book. Boxing history buffs be advised, there is much in it you don’t know. Read it and be humbled. I know I was.

The book ends with McHugh in the presence of Muhammad Ali in the early 1960s and in 1980—at the bookends. He stands unblinking in the brilliance, bemused as the twenty-year-old contender introduces himself in his hotel room by rolling out from under a bed; bemused and out of place as he accompanies him on a date to a Louisville bowling alley. We see McHugh looking up when beckoned (“You ready to write?”) and meticulously writing down lyrics.

They all knew when he stopped in town

Cassius Clay was the greatest around…

“Pretty good, ain’t it?” said the poet, eagerly.

(It wasn’t, yet, though McHugh was too polite to tell him so.)

When he met Ali again twenty years later, the ex-champion was at his Deer Lake training camp, 250 miles east of Pittsburgh and sporting an ill-advised mustache during an ill-advised comeback. He was overweight and slurring his words between gulps of grapefruit juice. But he recognized the diligent little man with the pen and pad.

“He never wanted to be the star of his work,” writes Cavanaugh, his friend and the book’s copy editor, “and remained a humble scribe from the beginning of his career until the end of his life.” Even so, McHugh reveals his worth, despite himself, in the early prints of his posthumously-published book. He did it in a most unexpected way. While reading, I noted double commas and rogue colons appearing here and there on the pages. “His original manuscript had absolutely no mistakes,” Cavanaugh told me. “I was mortified to get the report that there are a bunch of typos in there.” It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t McHugh’s either, not really. “Apparently, Roy went back and tinkered a bit,” Cavanaugh continued, “but I didn’t know it. His eyesight had been so bad at that point that it allowed for typos.” At that point, he was a hundred years old.

When Pittsburgh Was a Fight Town is his monument—a monument that carries names forward, names that must never be allowed to recede beyond reach and recognition, names that now include Roy McHugh.

 

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Available now on Amazon

Original photograph (1984) courtesy of The Pittsburgh Press.

Springs Toledo is the author of Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919 (2019).

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Book Review

Literary Notes: Rocky Marciano and More

John Jarrett has been writing about boxing since 1951 when his first article, a piece about Rocky Marciano, was published in Boxing News. Since then, he has been involved with the sweet science in myriad ways

Thomas Hauser

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Marciano

John Jarrett has been writing about boxing since 1951 when his first article, a piece about Rocky Marciano, was published in Boxing News. Since then, he has been involved with the sweet science in myriad ways including ongoing service as Northern Area Secretary for the British Boxing Board of Control for forty years. During that time, he has written nine books, he most recent of which (Rocky Marciano published by Pitch Publishing) brings Jarrett back to his creative roots.

All biographies of Marciano are written in the shadow of Russell Sullivan’s definitive work, Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times (University of Illinois Press, 2002). But Marciano is a subject who continues to inspire writers to write.

Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born into a struggling working-class family in Brockton, Massachusetts. The first time that he auditioned in the gym for trainer Charlie Goldman (who would ultimately sculpt the rough-hewn block of marble into greatness) Goldman told him, “If you done anything right, I didn’t see it.”

Shirley Povich of the Washington Post later quoted an unnamed observer of the boxing scene as saying, “Rocky Marciano can’t box a lick. His footwork is what you’d expect from two left feet. He throws his right hand in a clumsy circle and knows nothing of orderly retreat. All he can do is blast the breath from your lungs or knock your head off.”

No fighter trained harder than Marciano. That was one of the keys to his success. Asked to elaborate on his training regimen, he noted, “After a while, you get to hate all the guys around you. You get to hate the sight of their faces and the sound of their voices.”

Marciano lost four of the twelve amateur fights that he engaged in. Three decades later, Bob Girard (one of the men who beat him) reminisced, “I beat him because it was three rounds. There were a hundred guys who might have stayed three rounds with Rocco. But no man in the world was gonna beat Rocco in fifteen rounds.”

Jarrett offers an extensive recounting of Marciano’s ring career. There’s a particularly good retelling of the September 23, 1952, fight between Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott when Marciano, trailing on all three scorecards at the start of round thirteen, seized the heavyweight throne with a highlight-reel knockout.

But as is often the case in this book, the most compelling writing with regard to Marciano-Walcott I comes from Jarrett’s judicious choice of quotes rather than his own prose. Here, the choice verbiage originated with Peter Wilson of the Daily Express, who wrote, “Then, like the car you never see on the dark road, the shell which you never hear, shocking, irrevocable, came that tremendous horrifying right. It left Walcott looking down his own spine with eyes that could not see. He crumpled forward, clutching for a rope, knees grayed by the resin dust. A brown paper bag burst by a thoughtless child. A headless, thoughtless, sightless, senseless, paralyzed man. Style, skill, pacing of the fight and good punching, all had availed nothing. Youth and strength are invincible.”

In his dressing room after the fight, Walcott was asked about the knockout punch and acknowledged, “I don’t remember anything. He caught me open and that was it. I don’t know if it was a right or left. I just don’t remember anything.”

Jarrett has done a great deal of research regarding Marciano’s fights. But there’s no new scholarship in his book, nor does he do much to place Marciano in the political and social context of his times. Also, when it comes to Marciano’s personal life, Jarrett tends to view him through rose-colored glasses, painting the portrait of a man who felt ambiguous about boxing because “he hated the time it took away from his family in Brockton.”

In truth, the historical record developed by Sullivan and others suggests that Marciano was more interested in whoring around than in being a good husband and father.

That said; Jarrett’s writing flows nicely and he’s passionate about his subject. Fans of Rocky Marciano will enjoy the book.

*     *     *

Never Stop by Simba Sana (Bolden Books) isn’t a boxing book. It’s a coming-of-age memoir written by a man who grew up in inner-city poverty, escaped, and then had to navigate the world outside it. But boxing keeps popping up in his life.

There’s a warning flag of sorts in an “author’s note” at the beginning of Never Stop that states, “This is a work of creative nonfiction. The events are portrayed to the best of Simba Sana’s memory. While all the stories in this book are true, some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.”

Changing names to protect privacy is understandable. And memory is what it is. The phrase “creative fiction” might leave readers a bit wary.

But Sana writes well and his work demands attention from the start. The opening paragraph reads, “My mother never told me anything about her past – not one thing. This may be hard to believe, but she talked to herself more than she ever actually spoke to me. I grew accustomed to this at home. But as I got older, I became keenly aware that her habit of engaging in intense conversations with herself was not ordinary behavior.”

As Sana (then named Bernard Sutton) moved through adolescence, he trained at several boxing gyms and developed an affinity for the sweet science. Later, he earned master’s degrees from Howard University and St. John’s College and moved into the corporate world.

The most intriguing portion of Never Stop insofar as boxing is concerned deals with the period of time that Sana managed Beethaeven Scottland.

During his sojourn through various gyms, Sana had established a rapport with Scottland. By 1997, “Bee” had fallen out with his manager and walked away from boxing with an 11-4-2 record. In 1998, Simba began managing him on a handshake agreement. Scottland won his first fight back and, by late-2000, had a 20-6-2 record. Meanwhile, Sana was roughly $5,000 in the hole, not having cut Bee’s purses for most fights and having advanced the money for various expenses.

In November 2000, Scottland dumped him. It hurt.

“All the work I’d put in with Bee,” Sana recalls, “and then bam! Just like that. I was no longer Bee’s manager. It was like all my work meant nothing. Bee avoided me, and I didn’t go out of my way to find him either.”

On June 26, 2001, Scottland fought his first fight under new management against unbeaten George Khalid Jones and was knocked out in the tenth round. Sana watched it unfold on ESPN2 and acknowledges, “As Bee lay on the canvas, I felt vindicated. I had been wronged and part of me wanted him to pay for what he did to me.”

That’s impressive honesty given what soon turned Sana’s “sense of satisfaction” to concern. Scottland was carried from the ring on a stretcher and died six days later.

Never Stop is a good book.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Book Review

David vs. Goliath: Notes and Nuggets from Thomas Hauser

The Biblical battle of David vs. Goliath has endured for thousands of years as an inspiration for underdogs in one-on-one combat. But few people have written of that storied confrontation in a more intriguing fashion than Malcolm Gladwell.

Thomas Hauser

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Goliath

The Biblical battle of David vs. Goliath has endured for thousands of years as an inspiration for underdogs in one-on-one combat. But few people have written of that storied confrontation in a more intriguing fashion than Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell authored a collection of essays published under the title David and Goliath (Little Brown and Company). The book examines nine individuals from various disciplines who battled powerful forces in contemporary times. The introduction to the book explores the original David vs. Goliath.

Three thousand years ago, the Bible tells us, an army of Philistines was seeking to militarily divide the Kingdom of Israel into two parts which would then be vulnerable to conquest. The warring armies faced each other from opposite sides of a ravine. Neither army dared attack since doing so would require descending into the ravine and being assaulted from above.

Finally, Gladwell writes, “The Philistines sent their greatest warrior down into the valley to resolve the dead­lock one on one. He was a giant, six-foot nine at least [six cubits and a span] wearing a bronze helmet and full body armor. He carried a javelin, a spear, and a sword. An attendant preceded him, carrying a large shield. The giant faced the Israelites and shouted out, ‘Choose you a man and let him come down to me. If he prevail in battle against me and strike me down, we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down, you will be slaves to us and serve us.”

David, a shepherd boy who had come to the field of battle to bring food to his brothers, accepted the challenge. King Saul sought to dissuade him, warning, “Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him for thou art but a youth and he is a man of war.”

But David was insistent. You know the rest.

At least, you think you do.

“We consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong,” Gladwell writes. “We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are.”

Or phrased differently, in Gladwell’s eyes, David vs. Golaith wasn’t an evenly-matched fight. David had several crucial advantages.

“Goliath was expecting a warrior like himself to come forward for hand-to-hand combat,” Gladwell explains. “It never oc­curred to him that the battle would be fought on anything other than those terms. To protect himself against blows to the body, he wore an elab­orate tunic made up of hundreds of overlapping bronze fishlike scales. He had bronze shin guards protecting his legs with attached bronze plates covering his feet. He wore a heavy metal helmet. He had three separate weapons, all optimized for close combat.”

All David had was a shepherd’s staff, a sling, and five smooth stones.

“Am I a dog that thou comest to me with sticks?” Goliath demanded of his young adversary. “Come to me and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

Not so fast, big guy.

As recounted in 1 Samuel, chapter 17, verses 49 and 50, “David put his hand in his bag and took thence a stone and slang it and smote the Philistine in his forehead that the stone sunk into his forehead and he fell upon his face to the earth. Therefore, David ran and stood upon the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of the sheath and cut off his head.”

Now for Gladwell’s keys to victory.

“Ancient armies,” he explains, “had three kinds of warriors. The first was cavalry: armed men on horseback or in chariots. The sec­ond was infantry: foot soldiers wearing armor and carry­ing swords and shields. The third were projectile warriors, or what today would be called artillery: archers and slingers. Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a rock or a lead ball into the pouch, swing it around in in­creasingly wider and faster circles, and then release one end of the rope, hurling the rock forward. Slinging took an extraordinary amount of skill and practice. But in experienced hands, the sling was a dev­astating weapon. An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target at a distance of up to two hundred yards. The Romans even had a special set of tongs made just to remove stones that had been embedded in some poor soldier’s body by a sling. And projectile warriors were deadly against infantry because a big lum­bering soldier weighed down with armor was a sitting duck for a slinger who was launching projectiles from a hundred yards away.”

“Goliath is heavy infantry,” Gladwell continues. “He thinks that he is going to be engaged in a duel with another heavy-infantryman. When he says ‘Come to me,’ he means come right up to me so that we can fight at close quarters. David without armor has speed and maneuverability. He puts a rock into his sling and whips it around and around, faster and faster, aiming his projectile at Goliath’s forehead – the giant’s only point of vulnerability. What could Goliath do? He was carrying over a hun­dred pounds of armor. He was prepared for a battle at close range where he could stand, immobile, warding off blows with his armor and delivering a mighty thrust of his spear.”

“Goliath,” Gladwell quotes his­torian Robert Dohrenwend as saying, “had as much chance against David as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an oppo­nent armed with a .45 automatic pistol.”

Moreover, in many respects, Goliath seems to have been like an aging boxer past his prime.

“Goliath is supposed to be a mighty warrior,” Gladwell notes. “But he’s not acting like one. He comes down to the valley floor accompanied by an attendant – a servant walking before him, carrying a shield. Why does Goliath, a man calling for sword-on-sword single combat, need to be assisted by a third party carrying a shield? What’s more, why does he say to David, ‘Come to me’? Why can’t Goliath go to David? The biblical account emphasizes how slowly Goliath moves, which is an odd thing to say about someone who is alleged to be a battle hero of infinite strength. Why doesn’t Goliath respond much sooner to the sight of David coming down the hillside without any sword or shield or armor? When he first sees David, his first reaction is to be insulted. He seems oblivious of what’s hap­pening around him. There is even that strange comment after he finally spots David with his shepherd’s staff: ‘Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?’ Sticks plural? David is holding only one stick.”

“What many medical experts now believe,” Gladwell continues, “is that Goliath had a serious medical condition. He looks and sounds like someone suffering from what is called acromegaly. One of the common side effects of acromegaly is vision problems. Why was Goliath led onto the valley floor by an attendant? Because the attendant was his visual guide. Why does he move so slowly? Because the world around him is a blur. Why does it take him so long to understand that David has changed the rules? Because he doesn’t see David until David is up close.”

“What the Israelites saw, from high on the ridge,” Gladwell concludes, “was an intimidating giant. There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and the strong are not al­ways what they seem.

****

If you think David went in tough . . .

One man fought both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. And the loser was . . . Jack Sharkey.

On July 21, 1927, in the next-to-last fight of Dempsey’s storied ring career, the Manassa Mauler knocked out Sharkey at Yankee Stadium in the seventh round. Five years later, Sharkey won a split decision over Max Schmeling to claim the heavyweight throne. But a year after that, he lost the crown by knockout to Primo Carnera.

Fast-forward to August 18, 1936, when Sharkey had the misfortune to enter the ring against Louis. It was the Brown Bomber’s first fight after suffering a devastating knockout defeat at the hands of Schmeling. The feeling was that Louis still might not be right.

The feeling was wrong. He KO’d Sharkey in the third round.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

To comment on this article at The Fight Forum, CLICK HERE.

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