From Beyond the Grave: the Loss

From Beyond The Grave is a series focusing on writings and quotes surrounding various happenings in boxing history. In this installment, Patrick Connor shares headlines and reactions from the days boxing lost some of its most notable icons.

Three Icons: Jack Dempsey makes to pummel Harry Houdini, who is behind held from behind by lightweight legend Benny Leonard

Loss must be accepted in boxing, one way or another. For one fighter to be victorious, the other must lose. Every fighter experiences it.

And then there’s the empty space and grief to contend with when the boxing community loses the fighters themselves.

Not every boxer dies a hero; many fade away, unsung and forgotten. But some fighters were so renowned, so beloved that their passing sparked country-wide mourning.

Jack Dempsey – 5/31/1983

Jack Dempsey refereed the greatest fight I ever had. It was in Los Angeles, in 1949 against Enrique Bolaños. I won by a knockout in the fourth round. Best fight I ever had.

All during that fight, Bolaños’ manager, George Parnassus kept yelling, “He’s thumbing him. He’s dirty. He’s doing this. He’s doing that.” I knew I wasn’t. But he was a good manager. He was just trying to do whatever he could for his fighter.

Well Jack Dempsey knew I wasn’t fighting dirty. I wasn’t a dirty fighter. So he came over to my corner between rounds and pointed at me. It looked like he was going to give me hell. But all he said was, “Okay, Ike. Knock this son of a gun out and let’s get back to New York.”

He was a beautiful, beautiful man. It’s a sad day for boxing.

Ike Williams, 1940s and 50s lightweight champion
Jack Dempsey officiated the 1949 brawl between Ike Williams and Enrique Bolaños (Courtesy: Los Angeles Times/Newspapers.com)

Theodore “Tiger” Flowers – 11/16/1927

With a prayer on his lips, Theodore “Tiger” Flowers, the “praying deacon” of the prize ring, died in a private hospital last night after a minor operation. Clad in the “tiger” bathrobe bearing the huge yellow head of a jungle cat across the shoulders–a familiar sight in rings all over the country–the taciturn Georgia negro who once held the world’s middleweight championship, climbed upon the operating table in the sanitarium of Dr. W. G. Fralick, to undergo an operation for a growth over his right eye.

As the anesthetic was being administered the “Tiger,” a deacon in his church at Atlanta, Ga., murmured:

“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Without gaining more than semi-consciousness after the operation, performed by Dr. Fralick, Flowers died suddenly at 8:30 p.m., when his heart collapsed, after he had been thought out of danger. The surgeon pronounced his death due to status lymphaticus.

Associated Press
Middleweight legend Theodore “Tiger” Flowers’ grave (Credit: FindAGrave)

Salvador Sanchez – 8/12/1982

In the beginning, he was like a thousand carbon copies of himself — young men who are drawn each day to the crowded, airless gyms of Mexico, passionately sure that with nothing more than their fists they can assault the poverty that is a mother to the type of despair few of us north of the border can understand.

The resemblance between Salvador Sanchez and an army whose movement traceable solely to an empty stomach ends there. He didn’t become one of those squat, angry Mexican fighters whose managers never bothered to tell them their courage preceded their skills by a quarter mile. He became, instead, the kind of boxer who could have been deposited here by a time machine — so genuine were his skills… so out-of-time were his classic moves.

To watch Salvador Sanchez at work was to watch the kind of artistry that is so rationed in this age of media-hype fighters and challengers of synthetic skills that people often didn’t understand what they were seeing.

He was one of the five or so best fighters in the world during his time. He was an artist who transcended the mediocrity around him.

He was not a 1982 fighter.

Jerry Izenberg, journalist
Salvador Sanchez featured in the October, 1981 issue of The Ring

Stanley Ketchel – 10/15/1910

Fully 10,000 Springfield people assembled at the Elks club house Sunday afternoon at three o’clock to attend the funeral services conducted over the remains of Stanley Ketchel. The lodge room was filled to its seating capacity and for more than an hour while the services were in progress, men stood in the aisles, while hundreds who could not gain entrance to the room stood in the adjoining banquet hall.

Ketchel’s casket was covered with roses, carnations, chrysanthemums and other flowers from lodges and friends.

When the Elk’s quartet began singing the first verse of “Lead, Kindly Light,” the undertone of the conversation which had previously been heard here and there died entirely away and as the music of the song floated through the room, women wept while the men bowed their heads in sorrow. A prayer was offered and then the quartet sang “One Sweetly Solemn Thought.”

Springfield News-Leader
Stanley Ketchel’s funeral procession back in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Peter Jackson – 7/13/1901

The remains of the late Peter Jackson, pugilist, were buried at Toowond Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon. The coffin was covered with beautiful wreaths and the hearse was preceded by a drag, containing a brass band, which played a funeral march. The cortege consisted of thirty-three vehicles, the sporting community being largely-represented at the funeral.

The Age

There is a movement on foot at present in Australia to erect a monument to Peter Jackson, and it is meeting with success. He certainly deserves some such tribute to his memory, for he was a man through and through, both in the ring and away from it. As a fighter, he never avoided a match or punished an opponent unnecessarily; as a private citizen, he was good-natured, intelligent and courteous. In all his dealings he was the soul of honor.

W. W. Naughton, “Kings of the Queensberry Realm”
“The Black Prince” Peter Jackson’s monument in Australia

Rocky Marciano – 8/31/1969

At the end of the trail
When the master calls
However we stand
We must surely fall
Our memories will be measured
By our good deeds
We know you have spread them
Large and Small wish you Godspeed

Archie Moore’s poem for Rocky Marciano, 1969
The wreckage of the plane Rocky Marciano died in when it crashed in a Newton, Iowa field (Courtesy: Des Moines Tribune/Newspapers.com)

Panama Al Brown – 4/11/1951

It was in 1927 that Brown made his first trip to Europe. He went over originally with a contract for three bouts in Paris, but he made such an instantaneous hit in the French capital that he remained for a year and ten bouts. His best performances were a knockout of Edouard Mascart and a decision over the former world featherweight champion, Eugene Criqui.

For the next 12 years, Brown was a regular commuter between the Old and New Worlds, and it was estimated that he covered about 200,000 miles in his industrious ramblings.

There have been greater ring champions than Panama Al Brown, but never a more unique one than the tall, lanky kid who became ruler of the world’s bantam roost, squandered a fortune on the gay boulevards of Paris, and died recently, at the age of 48, in Sea View Hospital, Staten Island.

Billy Williams, The Ring, June of 1951
Panama Al Brown waves the flag for French publication Paris-Soir during a cycle race

All of the funeral processions and glistening horse-drawn chariots in the world couldn’t bring these fighters back. For some of them, fans didn’t even know to want them back until it was too late.

News of Peter Jackson’s death was so slow to reach U.S. shores that it literally arrived on a steamship named Moana. Friends of his in the Bay Area who wished to say their goodbyes never got their chance.

Maybe at some point boxing will stop replacing lost fighters with new ones, leading to what would truly be the death of pugilism. But until such time, the loss is a part of loving boxing, and always will be.

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