Beau Jack: Bury My Heart

By Clarence George on September 8, 2014
Beau Jack: Bury My Heart
All hell broke loose when he took on Tony Janiro at the Garden on February 21, 1947.

“The hands are good,” said Beau, holding a fist high, as he was taken to the hospital. “But the knee’s bad…”

“Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”—“American Names,” by Stephen Vincent Benét

Sergio Martinez’s knee hasn’t been the same since the 12th and final round of his September 15, 2012, bout with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. The Argentine decisioned the Mexican, but his victory over Martin Murray by unanimous decision on April 27, 2013, may well have been a gift. In his most recent fight, on June 7 of this year, Miguel Cotto retired a crippled Martinez in the 10th, thus winning the WBC middleweight crown and becoming the new lineal champ.

Thirty-nine-year-old “Maravilla,” who has nothing left to prove, would be well-advised to hang up the gloves. But before making that life-changing decision, perhaps he should know of another boxer whose knee let him down…and put him down.

Beau Jack is one of the greatest lightweights of all time—the greatest, according to legendary trainer Cus D’Amato. He fought from 1939 to 1951, returning for four more bouts in 1955, winding up with an impressive record of 91 wins, 44 by knockout, 24 losses, four by knockout, and five draws. He’s perhaps best remembered for his four-bout rivalry with fellow great, Ike Williams, drawing one and losing three.

Jack won the vacant lightweight championship on December 18, 1942, kayoing Tippy Larkin in the third. He followed up this triumph by decisioning Fritzie Zivic, twice, and Henry Armstrong. Beau lost his crown to Bob Montgomery by unanimous decision on May 21, 1943, winning it back from “Bobcat” by unanimous decision on November 19, 1943, only to lose it again to Montgomery by split decision on March 3, 1944. Their fourth meeting, a non-title match, took place on August 4, 1944, Jack winning by majority decision. All these bouts, by the way, took place at Madison Square Garden, where Jack headlined 21 times, a record that has yet to be broken.

Beau injured his left knee while sparring with Gene Buffalo in preparation for his November 15, 1946, bout with Willie Joyce, and was replaced by Nick Castiglione. Despite three months of recuperation, all hell—anyway, that knee—broke loose when he took on Tony Janiro at the Garden on February 21, 1947. Janiro floored Jack with a left hook in the fourth, and that’s when the knee went. “I missed a hook, and felt it give out,” was Jack’s recollection. “The pain was awful, and I fell. I fell on it, I guess, twisting. It was awful.” It sure was. His knee the size of a grapefruit, and agonizingly painful, Jack couldn’t continue, losing by fourth-round TKO, the first time he was stopped in his illustrious career. “The hands are good,” said Beau, holding a fist high, as he was taken to the hospital. “But the knee’s bad.”

Though out of commission for nine months, Jack fought on for another four years, back for four bouts in 1955, winning 25 of his remaining 39 bouts. He beat a whole bunch of guys named Johnny, including Bratton, Greco, Gonsalves, and Potenti, as well as Livio Minelli, Lew Jenkins, and Philip Kim.

Would I have advised Jack to hang up them gloves after his loss to Janiro? Uh-uh. No disrespect to Sergio Martinez, a gallant warrior, but they made them a lot tougher in Beau Jack’s day. This is a guy who fought three bouts in one month, losing to Bob Montgomery on March 3, 1944, but beating Al Bummy Davis on the 17th and Juan Zurita on the 31st. All at the Garden, of course.

A shoeshine boy in his youth, Jack returned to that profession after leaving the ring. He had a stand at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach for more than 25 years. ‘‘Some of his customers still call him the Champ,’’ reported sportswriter Jimmy Cannon in 1964. “But many address him as boy. They couldn’t have seen him fight because there was never more of a man.’‘

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  3. Clarence George 01:21pm, 09/10/2014

    Voltaren, Beaujack?  I don’t think the cream is available in this country, but the pills are, although only by prescription.

  4. beaujack 12:20pm, 09/10/2014

    Yes Clarence , I have had therapy in the past with negative results. So I just
    grin and bear it…Now I’m known as Hopalong Cassidy…I use Ben Gay, Capsaicin, etc, it helps somewhat ...

  5. Clarence George 08:14pm, 09/09/2014

    I “only” have ligament damage, Beaujack, which is nowhere near as severe as your condition.  Have you exhausted all the options other than surgery, such as physical therapy?

  6. beaujack 07:45pm, 09/09/2014

    Clarence, I have no cartilage left in my right knee causing severe pain while active. Have been taken cortisone and Hyalgin injections every six months with very little relief from pain. Short of a knee replacement, have you any tips?

  7. Clarence George 02:19am, 09/09/2014

    It’s true that a man who had twice been Lightweight Champion of the World shouldn’t have had to return to his days of shoe shining, but it’s nevertheless an honest and honorable way to make a living.  As Beau said, “I’ve worked hard all my life”—in and out of the ring.

    Up until relatively recently, ladies who shoeshine were this side of nonexistent.  But they constitute a significant number today.  Don’t hold with it myself.

    I don’t know if Beau should be best remembered for being the only man to stop Sammy, but I recognize the validity of the opinion.

  8. ch. 12:19am, 09/09/2014

    Only man to stop Sammy Angott. That might have been Beau Jack’s greatest accomplishment.

  9. Billy Batts 08:21pm, 09/08/2014

    Women shining shoes? Happy endings with a shoe shine? Sounds like something that stays in Vega$. Gimme the old guy with some rag poppin’ skills and polished stained hands.

  10. FrankinDallas 05:20pm, 09/08/2014

    I respect shoe shine men/women. Usually get my shoes fixed
    up in the DFW airport before I go overseas, although there is a great
    shiner at Heathrow, in terminal 5.  Many times I get my laces
    replaced as well. When I buy laces on my own, I generally get them
    too short; these guys know their business.
    However with old boxers it IS a shame as it’s not really what they want
    to do….circumstances have forced them into it.

  11. Clarence George 02:20pm, 09/08/2014

    Outstanding reminiscences, Beaujack, per uje.  Bring back the hands of time…amen.

    I, too, have a problematic knee (the right), which means we stand proud, if somewhat painfully, with Beau and Sergio.

  12. beaujack 02:01pm, 09/08/2014

    Clarence I was at that fight between Beau Jack and Tony Janiro at the old MSG. Remember it well when the most exciting fighter I ever saw Beau Jack injured his knee badly and rather than retire, Beau hopped about on one leg until the referee stopped the fight in the 4th round. If Beau Jack was a racehorse, he would have been euthanized that night. In too have a bum knee now and I can appreciate the pain old Beau went through that night in 1947. I also saw him against Bobcat Bob Montgomery at MSG, and his terrible beating at the hands of Ike Williams in Philly when he was helpless and pinned against the ropes, semi-conscious until we in the crowd screamed for the ref to stop the bout….Beau Jack in his first 3 years had 50 fights and he was worn down by the time he was tko’d by Ike Williams…Too darn bad boxing fans today cannot see the prime Beau Jack on film…What a class of great lightweights I saw in the 1940s such as Ike Williams, Beau Jack, Bob Montgomery, Sammy Angott, and Willie Joyce…Bring back the hands of time as the song goes…

  13. Clarence George 01:54pm, 09/08/2014

    Absolutely right, Eric.  But better than watching a shave is getting one yourself.  I haven’t indulged since the jackass who gave me a John Waters mustache.  But I’ll recover from that trauma…one day.

  14. Eric 12:01pm, 09/08/2014

    Clarence: I’ve always enjoyed watching some of those old school shoe shiners do their thing. They make shining shoes an art form. Always enjoyed watching old school genuine “barbers” shaving someone, relaxing as hell, and better than Ambien or a Dempsey punch for putting you to sleep.

  15. Clarence George 11:19am, 09/08/2014

    Eric:  Beau Jack himself would agree with you, saying, ‘“I’m happy doing what I’m doing.  It’s an honest job and a good living—and I met a lot of nice people.”

    Irish:  I won’t be in Vegas this weekend, and will thus miss out on having a lovely show me around my room.  Titty, er, pity.  Whatever Harry Reid does post-retirement…just so long as he retires.

    By the way, if Jesus didn’t chastise the woman who “touched the hem of his garment,” why should Superman raise a ruckus if someone tugs at his cape?  Bit prickly, I think.

  16. Vinny Vega$ 09:58am, 09/08/2014

    And you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Slim.

  17. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:11am, 09/08/2014

    Clarence George-Which reminds me….“Never eat at a place called Mom’s, Never play pool with a guy named Fats”, and Never take your socks off in a sporting house. The last precept was actually related to me by a fallen angel in a sporting house in Wheeling, WV in one of my former lives….the other two have been in circulation forever.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:50am, 09/08/2014

    Clarence George-One more thing…post retirement Harry Reid is planning to start a round trip helicopter service from Vegas to his old home town of Searchlight, NV for those like myself who would like to “tour” the “sporting houses” there including the one where he used to change the sheets and empty the chamber pots and contracted his first STD .....this guy is a blooming genius

  19. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:40am, 09/08/2014

    Clarence George-In Vegas they even have escorts on call that will come to your hotel room to “escort” you around your room while your significant other is downstairs playing bingo….you gotta love it!

  20. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:18am, 09/08/2014

    Clarence George-Will you be in Vegas this weekend for the fight….you can still get a room at the MGM Grand at the lowest room rate of $405 (three times the regular rate)and a floor seat in the arena for $4,800 on….if you think about it Floyd is the perfect fighter for Sin City….including the fact that on top of everything else he’s a crazy ass gambler.

  21. Eric 08:13am, 09/08/2014

    I have never understood why people think shining shoes is a degrading occupation. I think it is comparable to being a barber, manicurist, masseuse, etc. Some of those guys might make a pretty decent living if they happen upon the right location. Certainly nothing to flip out over when some mug tells you to get your shine box. Irish, I agree, what the hell was the referee waiting on?

  22. Clarence George 07:10am, 09/08/2014

    Yes, and reminiscent of Max Schmeling’s fight with Mickey Walker.

  23. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:02am, 09/08/2014

    Ike Williams clearly had the measure of the man…..yet even in the heat of a tooth and nail, hammer and tong go round he had way, way more compassion for Beau Jack than the referee as shown in the video.

  24. Clarence George 04:30am, 09/08/2014

    Thanks, Matt.  And you’re of course right about Montgomery and Joyce.  The latter, in particular, is disregarded.  Indefensible.  After all, the man beat Henry Armstrong, Ike Williams, and Chalky Wright, among a host of others.  He was feather-fisted, true, but he was also never stopped, not once in 10 years and over the course of more than 100 fights.

  25. Matt McGrain 04:15am, 09/08/2014

    Nice detail.
    Joyce and Monty get low-balled today even by folks that know about them.

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