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Gary Smith
February 15, 1988
Former lightweight champ Beau Jack lives out his legend
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February 15, 1988

Still Fighting Old Wars

Former lightweight champ Beau Jack lives out his legend

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That's what one man wrote. And another:

Business is slow, but Beau Jack the Boxing Champion still has to eat. and that means he must wait in a hard-backed chair and pray for a chance to drop to his knees and scrape out his living.... This is where Beau Jack works 14 hours a day, sometimes more, where he barely makes enough money to catch the 1 a.m. bus back downtown to his little house on the mean streets....

He laid aside the broom and took a few punches at a heavy bag, watching it sway from the corner of his eye as he bounced away. "Sometimes," a man there told me, "he punches himself in the guts, to see if he can take it." Beau Jack passed me, gave my knee an affectionate squeeze and smiled.

With his gums Beau gnawed at something chunky from a take-out bowl of oxtail soup. He had tried false teeth once and didn't like them, so he had gnawed and winced until he had turned his own softness hard.

"You know, sir," he said, pulling out a Bible and a pamphlet about Jesus, "I don't have no control of me. God have all of it. If there ain't no God, what about the night, the cool, the hot? How they be, sir? If I go, I don't need anything else in life but what I got now. I got friends I don't even know about. Rocky Marciano would never come this way without saying hello to me. Frank Sinatra, he still hugs me every time he sees me and says, 'This is my Beau Jack.' He was there that night I broke my knee. You see, I'd broken it three months before that night, during training. My trainer didn't want me to fight so soon, sir, but I sure wanted to.

"Fourth round, I threw a left hook at Tony Janiro. My foot got caught on something loose in the canvas. My body went with the punch but my leg didn't move. My knee made a terrible pop, split like it was sawed in half. Busted in five places, doctor told me. I could put my fist in the hole in my knee. I said, 'I'm all right.' I tried to push it back together. I got up and kept hoppin' on one knee, throwin' punches. But the referee, he made me stop. I tried to push him out of the way. I felt ashamed to lose that way. They took me off in a stretcher."

His career essentially ended that night; he fought on but could no longer be the blind attacking dervish who had filled the Garden with violence and love. " Frank Sinatra walked into the dressing room, looked at me and started cryin'," he continued. "If that man needed me any hour, any day, I'd go to him. Not walkin'. Runnin'. After I'm gone, I'm gonna remember him. When he came to Miami he would try to give me his shoes when I shined 'em, but they was so small I couldn't get two toes in. He was always worried that I didn't have money."

"How do you get by, Beau? You don't make much here, do you?"

"I get by."


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