Round 7: The cauliflower industry

Between 1934 and 1935, in the booths and the halls, I box maybe over 100 bouts, and never go to bed with anything less than a shirt full of sore bones. I get the classic ‘cauliflower’ ears and a broken nose. (The ears are obvious. But no-one – not even me, and I must get punched on it plenty – notices that my nose is broken till after the war.)

Smuji/Seconds Out

Life’s a great big game when you’re young, and recovering from sore blows doesn’t take long when the bloom of youth is strong. And yet, as I box in the booths, I see too many men who have gambled their wits in the ring and lost. From the first, I’m aware of the dangers to my health as well as to my handsome-ness.

In an early bout, I face a big sailor, fresh from foreign parts with a host of Far Eastern championships under his belt. I’m beating him easily, but he keeps hitting me on the chest. Later that night, I’m in terrible pain every time I breathe: not very comforting for a budding champion, and I feel forced to call on the local doctor.

As I lie on the examination couch, I tell the doctor that I think I may be having a heart attack. He gives me a thorough once-over, but bursts out laughing when I tell him about my boxing exploits. This kindly over-worked man explains that I have a perfectly sound heart – just a bit of muscle bruising. We have a nice little chat, and he tells me he’ll be on-call any time I need him. Before I leave, I ask about the punch-drunkenness I see in older boxers. The only remedy, he suggests, is not getting punched in the first place. So I try to make it part of my strategy to take as few blows as possible: developing an acute sense of counter-punching. The aim – to make opponents more wary of throwing punches and to minimise the force of any blows which do land – isn’t always achieved, but I manage to come out of each bout with my faculties more-or-less intact.

But not every case is sad. Billy Andrews laughs when I land a punch. “Hee-hee-hee!” I hit him again. “Hee-hee-hee!” He is driving me crazy till my corner man explains that Billy has nerve damage that makes him giggle every time he’s hit.

You’re aware of the blows during a fight, but when the real punch that takes you outcomes along, there’s not much you can do about it. There’s only pain and misery and hurt pride. I love reading about great fighting men who say they have never been onthe floor. But, in my opinion, the true measure of a man is his ability to pick himself up, gather his scattered wits and take the necessary action to win the fight. It’s not always possible, but it’s surprising how often it’s done.

And so, sick of the booths, I pick up my gloves once more for a tilt at The Big Time.

Round 8: Seconds out