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Unless Rocky Marciano knocks out Britain's Don Cockell quickly and efficiently next Monday night in San Francisco, the world's heavyweight champion may literally be bled of his title. Cockell's professed strategy is to jab at Marciano's battle-scarred nose and eyes in the hope of opening wounds that will give him the championship on a technical knockout. If these tactics succeed, Rocky's defense may depend less on his own explosive fists than on the gentle, skillful hands of a man named Freddie Brown.
For in trade parlance, Marciano is "a bleeder." Though he hurts hard, his facial skin, strong and weather-beaten in appearance, is actually so tender that a head butt or glancing blow can lay it open. Because of this, Marciano, like many other fighters, must have a blood-stemming specialist—a "cut-man"—in his corner. And since he is world champion, he can afford the best, and one of the best cut-men in the boxing business is Brown.
Freddie Brown is a calm, silent little man of middle age with sparse, unruly hair and the flat features that mark most boxing men. A trainer and cut specialist for 30 years, he has never read a medical book, never taken a first aid course and never tried to master any of the bewildering technicalities of anatomy. But in the words of his partner, the acknowledged dean of boxing's blood-stoppers, Whitey Bimstein, "Freddie can stop the flow of more blood in less time than anyone alive."
The rules of boxing give each fighter one minute's rest between rounds, the time from bell to bell. No one can put a foot on the apron of the ring until the bell sounds, and the handlers must get out of the ring at the 10-second warning buzzer. Since it takes about five seconds to climb up the steps, through the ropes and into position to tend his fighter, a cut-man actually has only 45 seconds to work.
"If I don't get my guy fixed up in those 45 seconds," says Brown, "he don't fight any more. I gotta keep calm and work fast, and get complete cooperation from my fighter. Keeping calm—that's the big thing.
"But I gotta get help from my man. The guy's bleeding like a stuck pig. He figures to be a little scared, but he's gotta sit still while I work on him. I can't be stabbing at him with swabs all night. First thing you know, the bell rings and there he is, still bleeding. So he loses the fight because the referee won't let him go out for the next round.
"Now Marciano, he's the worst bleeder I ever handled. But he's a great cooperator. He never gets upset. Just sits there and lets a guy do his work. Take the second Ezzard Charles fight. Rocky comes in after the sixth and looks like he's got two noses both bleeding like it was water out of a faucet. Rocky don't know he is cut; he thinks it's just a bloody nose. But I never saw a cut like that before. Rocky's cool and so am I. Between the two of us, we get him fixed up and he knocks Charles out. Course, I had to use my own emergency stuff to do the fixing."
Brown's "emergency stuff" was Negatan, a cauterizing drug normally used by gynecologists for female disorders. Negatan contains formaldehyde, which turns skin to leather in a matter of seconds. If any of the substance, however, drops or splashes into a fighter's eye, it may permanently scar the cornea. For this reason the use of Negatan has since been banned by the New York State Athletic Commission.
ALARMED AND ASTOUNDED
While ring-wise physicians are often alarmed at the methods cut-men use, particularly the unsterile habit of swabbing with a stick that has been in their mouth, most doctors and surgeons are frankly astounded at the speed with which these practiced but uneducated artisans can patch a bleeding cut. To a cut-man, it's just his job, and the good ones can command from $500 to $1,000 for a night's work.