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George Plimpton
October 24, 1977
In 1959, when participatory journalism and the author were both young, he was brash enough to get into the ring with the light-heavyweight champion
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October 24, 1977

The Youthful Plimpton Vs. The Wily Moore

In 1959, when participatory journalism and the author were both young, he was brash enough to get into the ring with the light-heavyweight champion

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One of them read, "If you get belted and see three fighters through a haze, go after the one in the middle. That's what ruined me—going after the other two guys.—MAX BAER."

Another, on the back of a postcard that had a cat sitting next to a vase of roses on the front, announced succinctly, "Go on in there, he can't hurt us.—LEO P. FLYNN, FIGHT MANAGER."

Another had the curious words Eddie Simms murmured when Arthur Donovan, the referee, went over to his corner to see how clear-headed he was after being poleaxed by Joe Louis in their Cleveland fight: "I'm all right. Let's you and me go up on the roof."

Joe Louis' famous remark about Billy Conn turned up one morning: "He can run, but he can't hide." So did James Braddock's description of what it was like to be hit by a Joe Louis jab: " someone jammed an electric bulb in your face and busted it."

One of the lengthier messages was a parody of a type of column Jimmy Cannon occasionally wrote for the New York Journal-American, in which he utilized the second person for immediacy and dramatic effect. "Your name is Joe Louis," a column might start. "You are in the twilight of your career...." The one I received read as follows: "Your name is George Plimpton. You have had an appointment with Archie Moore. Your head is now a concert hall where Chinese music will never stop playing."

The last note I received was a short description of a fighter named Joe Dunphy, from Syracuse, a fair middleweight, who, while considering his prospects against a top contender from Australia named Dan Creedon, stood motionless in his corner at the opening bell, until Creedon, carefully because he was looking for some kind of trick, went over and knocked him down, much as one might push over a store-window mannequin.

On the morning of the fight, to get a flavor of what a boxer goes through on the day of his bout, I turned up at the office of the boxing commission, just south of Madison Square Garden, to get weighed in with the rest of the boxers scheduled to fight that evening at the Garden. John F. X. Condon, of the Garden, who was involved with the proceedings, had said he would see to it that if I wanted to I could get weighed in along with everyone else.

I got in line. The fighters who were staying in nearby fleabag hotels came ready for quick disrobing—overcoats over a pair of underwear shorts. One or two of them were wearing shoes with the laces already untied, so that all they had to do was shuck their overcoats and step up out of the shoes onto the scales. The official at the scales jiggled the weights and announced the figures. We shuffled forward. I had my overcoat over my arm. I was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, a vest that I was affecting at the time, a button-down shirt with a striped regimental tie, calf-length socks and a pair of dark shoes.

When I was within eight boxers of the scale I began to take off my clothes. I removed my suit coat, tossing it and my overcoat on a chair as I passed, and I started taking off my tie, just picking at the knot. But then I saw someone staring at me—a journalist, probably—nudging the man next to him to attract his attention, the two of them staring at me as surprised as if the boxing commissioner himself had decided to step out of his trousers. That was enough. I could not go through with it. My fingers slipped off the tie, and I rolled my eyes ceiling-ward to suggest how stifling I felt the room was.

I did not tell my corner men at lunch about my experience that morning. It was not appropriate to the temper of the day to dwell on bungles of any sort. We had the lunch at the Racquet Club. My friends stared at me with odd smiles. We ordered the meal out of large, stiff menus that crackled sharply when opened. I ordered eggs Benedict, steak Diane and a chocolate parfait. Someone said neither the place nor the meal was in accord with going up against the light-heavyweight champion of the world. I said I was having the meal to quiet my nerves; the elegance of the place, and the food, arriving at the table in silver serving dishes, helped me forget where I was going to be at five that afternoon.

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