Johnny Paychek: From Bellboy to the Garden

boxingBy Ted Sares - You don’t go into the ring with Joe Louis unless you’re tough. --Bob Pastor

Known as the “Corn Belt’s Pride” by his rabid fans, a tough looking guy by the name of John J. Paychek was making some noise in Des Moines, Iowa back in the late-thirties. In fact, in 1938, he chalked up 15 wins without a loss, including a TKO over the well-traveled Harris Krakow (Alias King Levinsky and 75-32-7 at the time) and the well-worn Charley Belanger, 96-50-2 coming in.

Paychek was working as a bellboy at the Hotel Chamberlain and sports writers began to wonder how this stylish Polish lad could run up a 15 (KO 11)-0 mark in just one year. Hell, where did he come from? Where did he learn his trade? Their inquires soon paid off. It turned out that one Johnny J. Pacek had been a tough amateur fighter in Chicago in the ‘30s. Though the exact date he turned pro is somewhat in question, I make it 1933 shortly after he won the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament. In short, he had an excellent boxing background and was well schooled to make some noise in the heartland..

Turning professional (and changing his name), he had early success both in Chicago and LA before inexplicitly making his home in, of all places, the Corn Belt city of Des Moines. When he first fought in Iowa on April 25, 1938, his record was a deceptive 10-3 with one loss coming by stoppage to Art Lasky at the storied Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Fighting at 180 pounds, he was stopped due to a bad cut.

Speaking of cuts, the tall and balding Johnny (both of which made him look much older) was a slasher himself using a stiff jab to leave many of his opponents a bloody and bruised mess. As well, he was a busy and extremely accurate puncher fighting in the orthodox style. However, he lacked one-punch finishing power, though up until he fought Maurice Strickland in June 1939, it appeared he had a very solid chin.

Al Ettore and Maurice Strickland (1938)

After dispatching the hapless Steele in April 1938, Paychek began his run of wins that included eight more in 1939 and by the time he met Maurice Strickland on June 26, 1939, he had won 23 in a row including 19 stoppages. These wins came over some stiff opposition in the form of Red Bruce, Chicago cutie Art Oliver (thrice), and Al Ettore, 62-15-4 coming in. His second win over Oliver came by way of KO and raised eyebrows as Oliver was known for his granite chin. Ettore, though near the end of his long career, had wins over Gus Dorazio, John Henry Lewis, and an eight round KO of Jersey Joe Walcott. Incredibly, he also won a DQ from James J. Braddock in 1933 when the “Cinderella Man” was disqualified for “not trying.” The well trained Paychek stopped Al in six. As Sec Taylor reported in Ring Magazine’s June 1939 edition (page 25): “…Ettore, Nelson, Rugierello, and Wasser looked like some on had used a butcher’s cleaver on them…’

After icing Frank Rowsey and Willie Davis, Paychek’s chin was tested by Strickland and it failed the test as Johnny was decked in the fifth and the seventh. He avenged this decision defeat in August, however, by solving Strickland's stand-up style of fighting. During this time, he ran off nine bouts without a defeat including a KO over tough Pietro Georgi out of Buffalo.

Joe Louis (1940)

By the time Johnny was matched against the great Joe Louis on March 29, 1940 in Madison Square Garden, his record was an admirable 41-4-1 while The Brown Bomber was at 40-1. The Hawkeye state was hopeful it could brag about something other than corn. It was not to be.

Louis fought and beat Chilean Arturo Godoy seven weeks before fighting Pacek with less than satisfying results, but he would avenge that performance later. He seemed to take out his frustration by totally destroying Johnny in two cantos. He decked him for nine counts in the first before sending him to Corn Belt Dreamland in the second with a viciously economic, albeit typical Louis finish. It was frightening as the handlers needed to dump a bucket of water on Johnny’s head to revive him.

During this time, Mike Miley of the New York Post is given “credit” for calling this succession of less than compelling opponents the “Bum-of-the-Month Club, supposedly as a takeoff of a then recent phenomenon known as the Book of the Month Club. Of course, to do this, was a great show of disrespect. To quote Bob Pastor, “You don’t go into the ring with Joe Louis unless you’re tough.” Certainly, Miley, behind the safety of his typewriter, never would.

Post Louis

Returning to his roots three months after his loss to Louis, Paychek was KOd in the tenth stanza by Altus Allen at the Chicago Coliseum. Allen, no slouch, had gone 1-1-1 with Lee Oma and later would beat future Hall of Fame enshrinee Joey Maxim and then tough Joe “The Sergeant” Muscato. Paychek’s last bout came in 1941; a SD loss to limited Selman Martin after which he announced his retirement. His final slate was a fine 41 (KO 26)-7 (KO 3)-9.

Johnny passed away in 1988 at the age of 74. Prior to his death, he held several coaching jobs in Lyons Township near Chicago. While he never reached the top, he managed to do what others could only dream about; he earned a title bout at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunatelyfor him, it was against Joe Louis.

Article posted on 16.01.2009

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