A Chat with the Champ

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Evening News/January 19, 1934

A bulky man in a tight-fitting, slate-blue sports suit with a pinch-back coat eased himself into the chair alongside me on the lawn at Tropical Park.

His face, round and plump, was shiny with perspiration induced by the sun. His eyes, a milky blue and cold, fastened themselves upon me in a slightly sinister glare. But the voice that addressed me seemed friendly enough.

“Hello,” it said.

“Oh, hello,” I replied, somewhat uneasily.

“Nice day,” argued the voice.

I had to concede the point. It was a nice day.

And, presently, there we were, talking along as amiably as two peas in a pod, or a couple of bugs in a rug, or Damon and Pythias, or Sears-Roebuck, or any of those other agreeable combinations.

There we were, your correspondent, and the erstwhile terrible Sharkey man, of Boston, Massachusetts, one-time heavyweight champion of the whole world. Several acquaintances who remembered how the Sharkey man and your correspondent didn’t seem to care for each other in the good old days almost swooned as they viewed us chatting there, chat-chat-chat, without the slightest ill feeling on either side.

Sharkey Undecided

“You gonna fight again?” I asked Jack Sharkey.

“I don’t know,” he replied, slowly, as if thinking it over. “I really don’t know.”

Then in a regretful tone he added:

“I only wish I had been allowed to go along the last few years as I did in the beginning of my boxing career, fighting every few weeks.”

This had no particular connection with my question, but it indicated that Jack Sharkey has been reflecting to some extent of late over the lost opportunities of his ring life.

He held the heavyweight title just a year. And since losing the title to Primo Carnera he has been whipped by King Levinsky and Tommy Loughran. Yet Jack Sharkey is still young enough in years to have gone on fighting for some time had he kept in continuous action.

Well Fixed Financially

He is in Miami with his wife on a sort of vacation, though as a matter of fact life with Sharkey nowadays is pretty much of a general vacation. He must be well fixed financially, and he never had any business or interests beyond fighting, so between fights he always enjoyed himself according to his own lights.

He is one fighter who never bothered with show business or any sideline whatever. If he is through with the ring he probably has enough money to live on the rest of his days. Sharkey has never gone in for extravagances.

It was here in Miami that he fought Stribling, and then Scott, the Englishman. I gathered from what he said that this year he expects to be a ringside spectator when his conqueror, Carnera, fights Tommy Loughran next month in the arena whore Sharkey met Scott.

“Gob” Picks Carnera

“What do you think of that fight?” he asked.

“Why, it ought to draw fairly well,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t mean the gate,” he said. “How do you think it will come out?”

“Well,” I said, “I think Loughran may bother the big guy somewhat.”

“What with?” Sharkey demanded, quickly. “What’s Loughran got to bother him with? Mind you, I like Tommy. We’re friendlier than most fighters who have met in the ring. He’s a nice fellow. But I don’t see how he can bother Carnera. I don’t see how he can reach Carnera.

“You can’t hit that big egg with a right hand,” Sharkey continued. “Lord knows, I threw enough of them at him, and didn’t reach him very often, and when I did I couldn’t hurt him. I admit I’m not a puncher, but usually my right hand had some effect when it landed.

“You can’t left hook him. If you try, he’s apt to knock your brains out. You can’t use an uppercut on him. You can jab him occasionally, but it doesn’t bother him, and in close he’s so strong that it’s like trying to handle a horse. He is fast for a big man and has improved amazingly since I fought him the first time. No, I don’t see how Loughran can bother him a bit.”

And then the Sharkey man left me, hurriedly, to buy himself a two-buck ticket on the next race. Even as you and I.

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