Were the Old-Time Fighters Tougher? Part II

By Robert Jackson - While moving into a new house (and being cheap) I decided to do all of the manual labor involved, myself. In my mind I foresaw a smooth transition from one house to the other, boy was I wrong...AGAIN!! As my body ached all over from the physical labor I wandered off to my place that I go to when I'm under pressure or engaged in very strenuous activity. While there I began to think about the old-time pugilists, the the no-name combat athletes of days-gone-by who engaged in the 'Sweet Science', many of whom worked 'day jobs' to supplement their fighting incomes and families. In those times they didn't have PC's like we do today, so we know that fighters back then who did work didn't earn their wages in front of a computer screen. Some were bankers, other accountants but MOST were laborers engaged in one form of physical labor or another provided by the many factories, steel mills, Ice houses, railroad yards and docks around during those times. Many of those businesses no-longer operate in modern day America whose primary commodity is INFORMATION. Fight purses where only LARGE for the more charismatic, CONTROVERSIAL, and SUCCESSFUL fighters. The journeyman or fringe fighter needed to supplement his ring income with 12-16 hours a day of REAL work!

Fighters like Joe Choynski known for his toughness and punching power worked in a candy factor and manually stirred HUGE pots of thick taffy, resulting in the very strong shoulders and arms that Chrysanthemum Joe used to KO 34 of his opponents. It has been said that Joe knocked out Jack Johnson in 3 rounds when Johnson was starting out. Other fighters like Jack Dillon were farmers, when farms were owned by and tended to by individuals, not corporations. These farms were institutions of day-in-day-out HARD work where animals may be tended to, crops planted and gathered, and grains stored, along with other obscure tasks unknown to modern day carpal-tunnel sufferers. Jim Jeffries was a 'coal man' on a locomotive-shoveling coal into the locomotive furnace that keeps the engine turning. The Manassa Mauler worked in the mines of Colorado. Bob Fitzsimmons was a blacksmith shoeing horses. In the boxing publication 'Training for Boxers' Ring Magazine Editor Nat Fleischer suggested manual labor-chopping wood, digging ditches, or graves as excellent muscle builders. The old-timers developed their strength and toughness through hard manual labor.

Fast forward to 2009, today's pugilist engages the services of a boxing trainer, a nutritionist to make weight, and a strength and conditioning coach, while using modern gym apparatus to prepare himself/herself for the task at hand. In addition to good old manual labor, the 'boxing gym of old' employed 3 very important training implements to physically prepare combatants-the stationary bicycle with a weighted wheel, wall mounted pulley machine and the rowing machine which imitated the action of the Olympic sport of rowing. The old-time trainer coached boxing skills and technique, oversaw physical conditioning and in most cases cooked and provided nutritional oversight to his charge. 15 or more round fights, and fighters fighting once a month was the norm for the Old-Time fighters. On top of it all was the 'same day' weigh in where main event and undercard fighters made weight just prior to the start of the boxing show. Same day weigh in meant that a 'short notice' fighter was a dangerous fighter because he had to stay in shape, it also meant that highly competitive bouts could be expected. In addition to toughness, good technique and technical fluency was expected from fighters thus the term 'Sweet Science' was coined.

As I stated in the Part I the 'fighter of old' worked more, worked harder, and worked for less pay in-general then his modern counterpart. In fact old-timers in every trade did as much. Only the exceptional fighter made it to the top, the middle and lower ranks of the boxing profession was loaded with legends who NEVER got a chance to shine and faded into the 'oblivion' that Mike Tyson has spoke about. Modern conveniences have made life easier, which is as it should be. Modern factories now employ 'mechanical men', to grind out monotonous physical labor once performed by mortal men. So I ask you Were the Old-Time Fighters Tougher?

Part I:
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Article posted on 21.10.2009

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