The office of Nat Fleischer, the founder, president, publisher and editor of The Ring, a monthly magazine devoted unblushingly to boxing and blushingly to professional wrestling, is located on the second story of Madison Square Garden in New York. Fleischer's office has two exposures. The north windows overlook the Garden's outer lobby; through the east windows Fleischer can read the Garden's marquee. These are melancholy sights for a man who, at 74, is firmly and sentimentally rooted—all live feet two of him—in the humus of the past. No longer is the lobby thronged with the wise and humming fight crowd; the marquee usually displays the names of second-raters. "Boxing," says Nat Fleischer with feeling, "is at its lowest ebb."
To reach Fleischer's office a visitor must pass, as in a decompression chamber, through The Ring Museum (which includes the Boxing Hall of Fame), a clutter of incunabula, memorabilia, gimcrackery and junk in glass cabinets recalling, more or less, the heyday of boxing and Nat Fleischer. There are hundreds of old boxing gloves like great beef tongues; gilded replicas of fighters' fists, cast by an indulgent dentist, including "The Astonishing Large Fist of Floyd Patterson, which is bigger than Jack Johnson's. Jack Sharkey's or Jack Dempsey's"; a pipe belonging to John C. Heenan, The Benicia Boy; "The Personal Bible of Stanley Ketchel"; Bob Fitzsimmons' top hat; "A Four-Leaf Clover Found by Nat Fleischer in Timaru, New Zealand"; the head of a leopard shot by Johannes van der Walt, a South African wrestler; James J. Corbett's silk handkerchief; "Indian Relics Found by Nat Fleischer in Yucatan in 1913"; and 368 watches, among them timepieces that belonged to Oliver Cromwell and Ann Livingston, the sweetheart of John L. Sullivan.
Not open to the general public is The Ring's morgue: 62 filing cabinets containing innumerable clippings and 40,000 photographs. " Joe Louis has an entire cabinet," Fleischer says, "and there is a whole drawer only on me." Among the photographs is one showing Fleischer at a soccer match in Argentina. Nat is depicted pushing a button to raise the U.S. and Argentine flags. "There were 102,000 people there," Fleischer recalls, "and when the U.S. flag went up there was a wild cheer. Our ambassador sent for me later. 'Nat,' he said, 'I've been down here for 10 months and I've had a heck of a time. You did more when you pressed that button than I've done in 10 months.' " In the office safe are 10,000 cigarette cards portraying boxers and other athletes, and tickets to every fight promoted by Tex Rickard and Mike Jacobs. Not on display are 200 pieces of antique jewelry Nat has collected over the years, including a brooch that belonged to King William IV, a King James II ring and a necklace and crucifix worn by Cardinal Richelieu.
Fleischer, who has a conspicuous nose and a compelling, resonant, nonstop delivery, often is called Mr. Boxing, or in the cant of masters of ceremony, "Mr. Boxing, himself," an introduction uniting man and legend. There are no contenders, worthy or unworthy, for his crown. Besides putting out the highly regarded Ring—which for most of its 40 years ran the only authoritative rankings of fighters—Fleischer has, since 1942, published
Nat Fleischer's Ring Record Book and Boxing Encyclopedia. This is an annual compendium (1962 edition: 904 pages) of the records of all active boxers, champions and former champions, and selected oldtimers, as well as a mishmash of facts, figures and such recherch� items as Father and Sons in Boxing, Giant Boxers, Fighters Who Have Appeared in Broadway Shows, and Odds in Heavyweight Championship Fights. Fleischer publishes only 3,000 copies a year and, at $8.75 a copy, loses money. "But they are collector's items," he says. "I've spent $30 to buy back my 1942 book."
All told, Fleischer has published 57 books of history, biography and instruction on boxing and wrestling, including Reckless Lady, the life story of Adah Isaacs Menken and her husband, John C. Heenan; Black Dynamite, a five-volume history of the Negro in boxing; and Commando Stuff. Three of his instructional books have sold more than 100,000 copies each. A nonstop author, too—when Corbett died in 1933 Nat wrote a 30-chapter biography in 36 hours—with a confessedly nonliterary style, Fleischer has a dozen unpublished manuscripts in the safe. Among them are a sixth volume of Black Dynamite, Famous British Fighters I Have Known, Crimes and Politics in Pugilism and a 268,800-word "bibliography" of boxing. "Famous stories of past masters," says Fleischer. "Take Hugo, take Dickens, take Conan Doyle. But no publisher will take it. It's too long." Counting his articles for The Ring and serials and pieces he dashes off in an hour or so for foreign publications, it has been estimated that Fleischer has written 40 million words in his lifetime.
Mainly in the interests of boxing, Fleischer has made 37 trips to Europe and has gone around the world six times, furiously writing all the while. "I keep a regular log," he says, "including the name of the pilot and the name of the plane. You never know when it is going to come in handy." He has had 20 passports. Discounting entertainers, Fleischer is probably the most widely known U.S. private citizen abroad. He has received La M�daille d'Honneurd' Or de l'Education Physique et des Sports, the Costantiniano Ordine Militare di San Giorgio di Antiochia, the Commandatore della Stella al Merito Sportivo, the Order of the White Elephant, Third Class, from King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand—all on display in The Ring Museum—and he is enshrined in the Helms Hall of Fame in Los Angeles. "I can be in any foreign country and I have no trouble," he says. "No matter where I go—I don't care where it is—someone knows me and puts at my disposal a car and sometimes a chauffeur."
The Ring is an international publication with a circulation of 157,000 in the U.S. and 93,000 abroad; a British edition is printed in London. On his journeys Fleischer relentlessly ferrets out obscure newsstands to see how The Ring is selling and, invariably, increases sales. "In an old store under a railroad crossing in Japan I picked up the February 1962 issue," he said the other day. "In the Nathan Road in Hong Kong I picked up the April and May issues. 'Ah, you Nat Fleischer,' the proprietor said to me. 'You here year ago.' Constantinople—Istanbul, that is—Rome, Karachi, I always find a copy of The Ring. Whereever I go I get a little kick out of it."
Fleischer has refereed and judged more than 1,000 fights. Because of his age he no longer referees, but he is in great demand as a neutral judge, particularly in South America and the Orient. Last May he judged the Pone Kingpetch-Kyo Noguchi flyweight championship in Tokyo, and this September he will judge the Eder Jofre-Joe Medel bantamweight championship in S�o Paulo, Brazil. His career as an official has not been without incident. In 1939 he refereed a bout between Joey Archibald, the featherweight champion, and Simon Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela. The night before the fight, Fleischer was sitting in his room in his pajamas when two men entered. "They told me," Nat says, "that they had a load of dough on Chavez, took out a load of dough, which they flung on the bed, and flourished a gun. 'You know what you're going to do,' they told me. 'Put that gun away,' I said. 'I am going to call police headquarters the moment you leave the room,' and I swept the money onto the floor." Hearing this Dick Rover declaration, the men left. The bout went on under heavy police guard. Alas, Chavez won. "Without explaining what had happened," Fleischer recalls, "I asked Archibald to go all out for a knockout, but the high altitude sapped his strength. After the fight I told him why I had done this, and expressed my regrets. "Gee, Nat,' Joey told me, 'I just thought you wanted me to put the U.S. on top of the heap.' "
Fleischer has also been instrumental in discovering, either in person or "by extolling the deeds of these fellows in The Ring," close to two dozen fighters. The most successful was Max Schmeling, with whom Nat held a contract as a 10% American manager. According to Fleischer, Max wouldn't have fought in the U.S. unless he felt he was in reliable hands. Fleischer never honored the contract, which would have earned him $200,000. "I simply held it as a souvenir," he says. "It was just a ruse to get him over here. I never had a desire to manage." Other fighters Fleischer discovered didn't fare as well as Schmeling. There was Ted Sandwina, for instance, another German heavyweight. "That fellow," says Fleischer, "was a flop."
Carrying on what he calls "the romance of the ring," Fleischer has given out 198 championship belts since 1922. "They stand me close to $500 apiece," he says, "and they go to champions of all classes, including foreigners. With reference to the belts, this is one occurrence worthy of note. In 1948 I brought to England a championship belt for Rinty Monaghan, the flyweight champion. I was told that I would have to pay a duty of 22 pounds. I protested. I told them that the British government should be honored to have this handsome trophy of international recognition. I thereupon left the belt with customs and said I would take the matter up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The next day I received a letter by messenger from The House of Commons. It said that the matter of the belt would be taken up tomorrow and that the House would be honored to have my wife and I present for the debate. We had a lovely lunch in the House, sat in the front row and listened to the discussion. A member got up and said, 'Will it please the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his intentions are relative to the belt?' Somebody else got up and said, 'I understand the American Nat Fleischer is in the audience. If he will return to the hotel a check will be there in the sum of 22 pounds.' Since then there has been no trouble. A trophy given to a British subject comes in free of duty."