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A. J. Liebling
December 05, 1955
A distinguished writer on the fistic arts illuminates the history of an extraordinary institution, the center of boxing in America: Stillman's Gym. First of two installments
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December 05, 1955

Part I:the University Of Eighth Avenue

A distinguished writer on the fistic arts illuminates the history of an extraordinary institution, the center of boxing in America: Stillman's Gym. First of two installments

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The club in Holyoke, one of the few stubborn survivors, functions Tuesday nights because of television boxing Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

All the great minds of the university have gone a few rounds with this problem, but none has come up with a thesis that his colleagues at the lunch counter couldn't flatten in the course of a couple of cups of tea. One school of savants holds that if the television companies are going to monopolize boxing they should set up a system of farm clubs to develop new talent. Another believes the situation will cure itself, but painfully. "Without the little clubs, nobody new will come up," a leader of this group argues. "The television fans will get tired of the same bums, the Hooper will drop, the sponsors will drop boxing, and then we can start all over again." Meanwhile a lot of fighters have had to go to work, a situation the horror of which was impressed upon me long ago by the great Sam Langford, in describing a period of his young manhood when he had licked everybody who would fight him. "I was so broke," he said, "that I didn't have no money. I had to go to work with my hands." Manual labor didn't break his spirit. He got a fight with Joe Gans, the great lightweight champion of the world, and whipped him in 15 rounds in 1903, when Sam says he was 17 years old. The record books make him 23. (They were both over the weight, though, so he didn't get the title.) After the fight he was lying on the rubbing table in his dressing room feeling proud and a busted-down colored middleweight named George Byers walked in. "How did I look?" Langford asked him. "You strong," Byers said, "but you don't know nothing."

Langford wasn't offended. He had the humility of the great artist. He said, "How much you charge to teach me?" Byers said, "$10." Langford gave him $10. It was a sizable share of the purse he had earned for beating Gans.

"And then what happened?" I asked Sam. He said, "He taught me. He was right. I didn't know nothing. I used to just chase and punch, hurt my hands on hard heads. After George taught me I made them come to me. I made them lead."

"How?" I asked.

"If they didn't lead I'd run them out of the ring. When they led I'd hit them in the body. Then on the point of the chin. Not the jaw, the point of the chin. That's why I got such pretty hands today." Sam by that time was nearly blind, he weighed 230 pounds and he couldn't always be sure that when he spat tobacco juice at the empty chitterling can in his hall room he would hit.

But he looked affectionately at his knees, where he knew those big hands rested. There wasn't a lump on a knuckle. "I'd belt them oat," he said. "Oh, I'd belt them oat."

When I told this story to Whitey he sucked in his breath reverently, like a lama informed of one of the transactions of Buddha.


"What a difference from the kids today," the schoolman said. "I have a kid in a bout last night and he can't even count. Every time he hook the guy is open for a right, and I tell him: 'Go twicet, go twicet!' But he would go oncet and lose the guy. I don't know what they teach them in school."

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