A Gallery of Boxiana’s Greatest Battlers

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Evening News/April 21, 1925

R. H. Benton, whose nom deplume as a sportswriter was “Rob Roy,” called on this writer out in Los Angeles not long ago and left an interesting collection of photographs and data on American Boxiana.

“Rob Roy” is now seventy years old. For more than fifty years he has been writing on sports, mainly boxing. That has always been his favorite.

Kindly consider that his observation covers the boxing game for some years before the time of John L. Sullivan and the Marquis of Queensbury rules.

He has rubbed elbows with the pugilistic giants of a bygone day, whose names and exploits run through the early chapters of American boxing history. He knew Tom Allen, Mike McToole, Paddy Ryan, Joe Gone, Tom Mace, Joe Coburn, Johnny Dwyer and Jimmy Elliott.

These were men who fought on the turf with their bare knuckles for the title that is now quoted at $1,000,000. He saw the great Sullivan appear as a mere novice, saw his rise to the heavyweight title, was on intimate terms with him.

“Jack Dempsey could have whipped Sullivan,” said “Rob Roy” Benton. “I think Dempsey could have beaten any heavyweight we had in my time, with the possible exception of James J. Jeffries.”

“Rob Roy” Benton, still hale and hearty, and carrying his seventy years well, now makes his home in Los Angeles. His son is one of the best known writers on the subject of the movies in the country, using the pen name “Tamar Lane.”

For many years “Rob Roy” was an institution in Boston. He has managed scores of boxers in his day. His last fighter was a negro, Sailor Darden, still active in the game. For a time “Rob Roy” handled Harry Wills.

He left a number of photos of “The Brown Panther of New Orleans” as he was in the days of his management with the writer. They show Wills a lean flanked, sinewy looking fellow. “The Brown Panther” was younger then than he is today.

A set of three photograph of the same present a curious study.

They are pictures of James J. Corbett, one as he was when he won the championship from Sullivan, a boyish looking, robust chap with black hair standing straight up on his head in the fashion that gave him the nickname of “Pompadour Jim.”

Another photo shows Corbett at the zenith of his career, still champion immaculate in evening clothes, with a spray of sweet peas in his lapel, his hair still pompadoured, his lace and bearing more sophisticated than in the first photo.

A third photo shows Corbett after he lost his title. He has his hair parted in the middle, and brushed back flat on either side of the part. His face looks tired.

The writer, running through the photographs left by “Rob Roy” Benton, finds one of Joe Gans, the greatest lightweight that ever lived, taken when he was at his best.

It shows the spidery Gans in a characteristic flat-footed boxing pose, his deadly skinny left thrust well forward, his right across his flat stomach, his bullet head dropped slightly forward.

No trace in this picture of the tuberculosis that came on Gans from trying to reduce his weight for grueling battles.

Here is a picture of James J. Corbett taken soon after he won the title. He was a burly looking man, every line of his body suggesting his prodigious strength.

Here is Patsy Shepard who came over from England years ago and remained to run a cafe in Boston. He was accounted a good fighter in his day.

“Rob Roy” Benton has mixed in a little modern history with the ancient. Here’s Jack Denning, a New York middleweight of some little ability, and of only about a decade back. The once familiar face of “Knockout” Brown, the New York lightweight, is in the stack.

Brown was then a fair haired, nicely built, pleasant looking lad. In his day he was the greatest drawing card on Manhattan Island.

Frank Gotch, the great wrestler, champion when this picture was taken, looks powerful, formidable, as he stands with his arms folded across his chest.

This would be Jimmy Britt, has body crouching backward instead of forward, his left leg well out in front, left hand extended almost straight. Britt was San Francisco’s favorite lightweight years ago. He might have been world’s lightweight champion if he hadn’t lived his pugilistic life in the time of two good fighters, Gans and Battling Nelson.

This is Matt Wells, former champion of English lightweights. He fought over here many times. George Ashe, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien. Bill McKinnon, Jack Britton as a youngster. Tony Ross, the Pennsylvania heavyweight. Andy Morris and Harry Foley, a Pacific coast middleweight of some years ago, can be found in the stack.

Finally there is a photo of a pleasant looking man with a heavy moustache.

This is Siler, the referee—George Siler, of Chicago, perhaps the best known referee the game has ever had. He is dead.

He refereed the famous Gans-Nelson fight at Goldfleld, among others. He finally disqualified Nelson for fouling. Frankie Murphy, featherweight champion of England years ago; Jem Driscoll, the British marvel who died not long ago, and many others are in the list.

Here, in conclusion, in evening clothes and a nonchalant attitude is Jack McAuliffe, who signs himself “Only Unbeaten Retired Lightweight Champion of the World.” He will have to change that now if Benny Leonard keeps his threat. Or perhaps you esteem it a promise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s