McAuliffe in his
glory had been a great friend of John L. Sullivan and of a bantamweight named
Jack Skelly from Yonkers. The three were engaged to perform in a Salzburg
festival of the Sweet Science promoted by the Olympic Club of New Orleans in
September 1892. On Sept. 5 McAuliffe was to defend his lightweight title
against Billy Myer, the Streator (Ill.) Cyclone. On the 6th, Skelly would try
to win the featherweight championship from the incumbent George Dixon, the
great Little Chocolate. And on the third, climactic night, the great John L.
would annihilate an upstart from San Francisco named Jim Corbett.
the monk would bring us all luck," the old man said. "He started good.
When I knocked Billy out in the fifteenth the monk was up on the top rope as
the referee said '10!' and hop, off onto my shoulder before the man got my hand
up. I took him and threw him into the air and caught him again, I was so
" 'Oh, you
jool of a monkey!' I said, and when I was on the table after the fight he
played in the hair on my chest like I was his brother.
fought Dixon, and when Dixon knocked him out I thought I noticed a very
peculiar look on the monkey's face, like he was glad to see Skelly get it. I
said to myself, I wonder who you are.' I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but
when Corbett stopped Sullivan, I grabbed the monkey by the neck and wrung it
like he was a chicken. I've often felt bad about it since. God help me, I had a
very bad temper."
I cite this only
to prove the ring is a continuum with fixed values and built-in cultural
patterns like Philadelphia or the world of Henry James.
Monkeys can fight
like hell when properly trained, incidentally, and Jacco Maccacco, the Fighting
Monkey, weighing 12 pounds, had a standing challenge to kill any 20-pound dog
in Jane Austen's England. He had a considerably greater public reputation than
On the second
floor of a taxpayer at the northwest corner of 54th and Eighth, the
International Boxing Guild maintains a brand-registry office for the purpose of
preventing managers from stealing other managers' fighters and renaming them.
They do not nick the kids' ears or cut their dewlaps, but they keep complete
files, so if a rustler lures a boxer under contract to a Guild member from,
say, Spokane to Toronto, both out-of-town points, word of the theft goes out.
Then no Guild manager will fight him. That is to say, of course, no Guild
manager will let his chattels fight him. It is a simpler process than going to
law, because the rustler may have an edge in his home town and you cannot carry
your own judge with you. It is a handy location, because if anybody smuggled
anybody else's fighter into town, Stillman's is where he would be most likely
to show up, like a stolen diamond on 47th Street. It is harder to ring a
fighter than a horse, because in order to disguise him you have to change his
style, which is more trouble than developing a new fighter.
The whole block
is handy to the building called Madison Square Garden, at 50th Street and
Eighth, where the International Boxing Club maintains offices and promotes
boxing matches on Friday nights when the house hasn't been rented out to
Ring-ling Brothers' Circus or Sonja Henie or the Rodeo. This is of considerable
economic advantage to members of the academic community, since they can drop
down to the Garden and talk their way into some complimentary tickets without
spending an extra subway fare. It is doubly convenient for managers who are
discontented with Billy Brown, the IBC matchmaker, a sentiment they usually
communicate by sitting around his office and making faces. By walking down from
Stillman's, bumming comps and making a face, they effect a double saving. This
advantage is purely fortuitous because when Stillman opened his place in 1921
the Madison Square Garden stood at Madison Square. Not even Stillman contends
they tore it down and built the present one just to get near him.
THE JOINT SMELLS
entrance to Old Stillman is the kind of hallway you would duck into if you
wanted to buy marijuana in a strange neighborhood. There are posters for the
coming week's metropolitan fight shows—rarely more than one or two nowadays
since television has knocked out the nontelevised neighborhood clubs. There is
a wide wooden staircase leading up to the gym. Although Dr. Stillman locks a
steel grille across the doorway promptly at 3, keeps it locked until 5:30, when
working scholars come in for the poor man's session, and then locks it again
religiously at 7, the joint always smells wrong. Dr. Stillman, like so many
college presidents nowadays, is not himself a teacher but rather an
administrator, and the smell in the hall makes him feel there are limits to
academic freedom. He is a gaunt man with a beak that describes an arc like an
overhand right, bushy eyebrows, a ruff of hair like a frowsy cockatoo and a
decisive, heavily impish manner. He has the reputation of never having taken
any lip off anybody, which is plausible, because he seldom gives the other
fellow a chance to say anything. In earlier stages of his academic career he
used to speak exclusively in shouts, but now that he is in his latter 60s, his
voice has mellowed to a confident rasp. The great educator has never, so far as
is known, himself put on the gloves; it might prove a psychological mistake.
Stillman excels in insulting matriculants so casually that they don't know
whether to get sore or not. By the sixth time Stillman has insulted a prize
fighter the fighter feels it would be inconsistent to take offense at such a
late stage in their personal interrelationship. When that happens, Stillman has
acquired the edge.