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Gypsy Joe: fire and music and miniculture
Mark Kram
April 10, 1967
Joe Harris burst upon New York—and welterweight king Curtis Cokes—like an infant Muhammad Ali. He danced and feinted and landed just often enough to win a fight his opponent was having little part of
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April 10, 1967

Gypsy Joe: Fire And Music And Miniculture

Joe Harris burst upon New York—and welterweight king Curtis Cokes—like an infant Muhammad Ali. He danced and feinted and landed just often enough to win a fight his opponent was having little part of

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His name is Gypsy Joe Harris, and he should be, it seems, in some toy window, along with Bellcycle Rabbit and Bruno, The Spectacle Bear. He is 5'5", his legs are bowed, his stomach protrudes, and the head, shaven and like an old, scuffed marble, belongs to some 20th Century-Fox Mongolian warrior. Call him boxing's contribution to miniculture. Last week he crashed into Madison Square Garden like a wrecker's steel ball.

Gypsy's opponent in his first New York appearance, an over-the-weight nontitle bout, was Curtis Cokes, fighting for the second time in New York. Cokes is the welterweight champion, but hardly anyone really believes this except the World Boxing Association, an organization equally unbelievable. Nobody gave Cokes much of a chance against Harris, either—not even Cokes, a laconic, inconspicuous gentleman from Dallas who does not inspire thunder-clapping flack.

"I know if I don't knock him out," he said before the fight, "I don't win."

He was right. Harris, whose name and abilities were trumpeted louder than those of any newcomer to New York in years, unanimously decisioned Cokes for his 17th straight victory, but the fight seemed much closer than most of those present concluded. True, Harris was the aggressor ("If he don't make the fight they got to fumigate the joint," said one observer), but Cokes was a neat technician at times—that is, if you were careful to watch him. Gypsy's style dominates any fight.

There has never been a style like Gypsy's. It is all fire and music. Rockin' music. It comes at you from off the wall, even from the moment he steps into the ring, a black hood over his head, a three-quarter-length, double-breasted, red-satin jacket with a black bow on the back as his robe. That alone, at least in Philadelphia, is enough to break up a place, but there is much more to come when he sheds the robe.

His punches pile out from all angles, and they are thrown from any position. He is a machine gun and a jester, with a Chaplinesque walk and the brass of a pickpocket. Frequently, with his arms dangling by his sides, he gives you his chin to hit, and sometimes, in a corner, he will hold the rope with one hand and keep cracking you with the other.

"I don't make plans," he says. "I just fight. The guys I fight don't know what I'm gonna do next, because I don't know what I'm doing."

Against Cokes, Harris was a bit more subdued than he generally is, but he did take enormous risks, rolling in with his arms folded by his chest and his chin stuck out. He wanted Cokes to bang him, to flurry with him, but the champion declined. Instead Cokes stayed outside, pawing at Harris with soft jabs and rocking him with good right hands. Harris caught more solid shots than anybody would admit.

It was obvious that Cokes was the more effective puncher in the fight. In two of the major wars, corner fighting in the eighth and 10th rounds. Cokes dealt out the most punishment. But in the end Cokes beat himself. He simply did not fight enough. He was beaten by a performer who reminds you of a ball club that knocks you over with slow rollers, bunts and pop flies that nobody can reach. Gypsy, despite a sharp, damaging left hook that was on target throughout Friday night's fight, is not a devastating puncher. He depends on volume to mark you up. He is an animal in the ring, and he has to be handled like one. Had Cokes been less timorous, he might have had his knockout, and nobody would be wondering still who the welterweight champion is.

The question now is where is Gypsy going?

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