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"Oh, St. Nick's was a beautiful place then," Moore continued. "It was a dance hall too, you know. They had a big dome up there of cut glass and a beautiful marble staircase leading up to the hall. And postal cards, like they have in restaurants, depicting that glass dome, which you could send to friends. A beautiful neighborhood too; steak house on the corner with a high-class trade; people in show business. We'd get one of those show-broads sneaking into St. Nick's every so often dressed in men's pants.
"I remember one night Sam Langford was to fight Battling Johnson, a big heavyweight who had fought them all. Before the fight Johnson says he's sick and won't go on. Dr. Thompson was the ring doctor then, a very natty little fellow and a great talker, but he couldn't do a thing to convince Johnson otherwise. But there was a fellow around named Paulie Bracken who trained jockeys. Jimmy Johnston told Paulie to pretend he was a doctor, examine Johnson and tell him he was all right so they could get on with the fight. Paulie took off with a black bag which he thought was the doctor's, put the big man on a table and opened the bag so he'd have some instruments to fiddle around with. Inside, though, it's full of screwdrivers and tape because it was left around by some electrician and wasn't Dr. Thompson's at all. Didn't bother Paulie, though. He flipped Johnson on his stomach, pounded on his back, turned him over, tapped his lungs, took his pulse and said: 'Mr. Johnson, you're the strongest man I've ever seen. Get your tights on and go out there and fight.' Johnson did."
TEDDY TAKES OVER
In the 1940s, after a succession of promoters, St. Nick's was taken over by Mike Jacobs to develop star-bout performers for his Madison Square Garden shows and to maintain the continuity for his radio broadcasts when the Garden was dark, as the parochialists in the fight game say. This means that the circus or rodeo is playing there. In 1947 Jacobs' matchmaker at the arena was a forthright young man named Teddy Brenner. Brenner today is promoter and matchmaker of his own New York Boxing Club which puts on the fights from—this, an insidious TV term—St. Nick's.
Brenner was born in Brooklyn 39 years ago. He got his first boxing job through a palship with Irving Cohen, the manager of Rocky Graziano, who in 1946 was making matches for a club in New Brunswick, N.J. The way Brenner relates it, he kept nudging Cohen for the rationale of matching so-and-so with so-and-so and not so-and-so, until one day, driving back from Jersey, Cohen turned to him and said: "You're always talking of why I should have done what I didn't. I'm busy. You do it from now on in." Brenner's most celebrated work from then on in until St. Nick's was as matchmaker at Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway.
Running a fight club in the television era requires, first of all, television. Otherwise you don't run a fight club. You do something else. Brenner concedes that he would be able to operate without it only if there were no televised bouts at all. "If people can watch fights for nothing on a Wednesday and a Friday," he says, "why should they come to my place and pay something on a Monday?" Next in importance is making the matches. Some managers leaving Brenner's office moan up and down Eighth Avenue about favoritism, deals, high-handed methods. As: "Who does he offer me for an opponent? An animal, that's who. They have to bring him up from Baltimore in a cage." Or: "The only way he gives you a fight is to lose two in a row. Only how can I get my fighter in so I can drop the pair?" That, though, is the way things are in the game and not a condemnation of Brenner. It is said that there are barely 10 managers in the country making more than $100 a week from boxing.
Bouts have to be much more evenly matched for TV fights than before too, for, as Brenner explains it, "If there are too many quick knockouts the sponsor gets jobbed out of his commercials." He also finds that good boxers don't come across on TV as well as punchers. A puncher and a clever fellow who is also evasive—i.e., able to keep out of the way—make the ideal match. And if it's a mixed bout, one between a Negro and white performer, it pulls even better.
It was one of Doc Moore's warm, workingman nights at St. Nick's last Monday. Smoke blued the high hall, and the guys in the narrow wooden gallery stamped on the boards and told the fighters what to throw, needled the ref. It was all there but the masters with their lovely, learned moves. It is said that their clever likes won't be seen again. TV is the villain of the piece, foreclosing the small clubs and gyms where the fighter learns by watching and imitating. "I used to make my boys watch the masters for hours," Moore says, "but who is there to watch now?" The club and the gym are the necessary corpus of the game, and must be protected. Otherwise, it's like the guy hollered in St. Nick's: "Hit him in the stomach, kid. Hit him in the stomach. If you kill the body, then the head must die."
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