When Art Freeman, Wichita oil operator, launched Dan Hodge, the intercollegiate wrestling champion, as an amateur boxer last fall (SI, Nov. 18) he promised, "We aren't ever going to do anything that might make [Dan] ridiculous.... He's going to go at his own speed, and if he ever decides he's had enough, or if he gets hurt, he can stop."
Last week Art Freeman's promise looked pretty good. Hodge had won his first 15 fights (11 by knockout) and had wrapped up the heavyweight championship of the western team of the Golden Gloves. At no time had he appeared ridiculous, and "his own speed" was near that of a sputnik.
To Dan Hodge the road to boxing fame had been short and successful. He found boxing neither harder nor easier than wrestling, "just different."
While waiting for his big fight in Chicago last week he explained the difference. "In wrestling," he said, "you keep your muscles tight and tense; in boxing you keep them loose and agile. That's what I've been doing, loosening up my muscles—jabbing long, working on my combinations, not pulling with my muscles like I would be in wrestling."
Another difference: "In boxing, you're working for two or three minutes, then rest a minute. In college wrestling, you work nine minutes before you get a rest."
In running up a string of 46 consecutive collegiate wrestling victories—including 36 pins (23 in a row)—Hodge rarely had to work nine minutes. "My average last year," he admits, "was around 1:33."
Curt Kennedy, the professional trainer who is in charge of conditioning Dan, is concentrating on converting the fighter's extraordinary strength from wrestling to boxing. "He has tremendous natural power," says Kennedy. "He's just learning to utilize that power."
So far Dan has little style in the ring. He keeps walking forward, moving in, hoping to break through with one of his knockout punches.
The thing he finds hardest to master in his three-and-a-half-hour daily workouts with sparring partner Johnny Gray are combinations—and he hasn't learned them yet.
His opponent last week was 20-year-old Louis Coleman, whose own brother dropped out of a Golden Gloves preliminary against Louis in order to clear the way for him. Coleman was—and is—a much better boxer than Hodge and has a relatively strong punch.