Bob Satterfield: Part One

By Ted Sares on October 26, 2015
Bob Satterfield: Part One
When Count Basie or Duke Ellington played Chicago, he was always a big part of the party.

His style was simply to let it all hang out and let the good times roll. To Chicago fans, Satterfield was neither black nor white. He was simply Bob…

Several years ago, the late Hank Kaplan got a call from a sportswriter in San Diego who was finishing up a feature story on Bob Satterfield, a bruising heavyweight who fought in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The writer had found “Satterfield” destitute, a wine-addled man living under a bridge. He called Kaplan, the noted historian, to check on a few facts about Satterfield’s career.

“The only trouble is that Bob Satterfield died seven years earlier,” Kaplan said. “Good thing he called me.’ Kaplan pauses to think about Satterfield. ‘A very important fighter, who came very close to being a world champion,’ he says. ‘But he was completely forgotten. There are countless others who didn’t win the so-called championship but who could beat most of the champions around today. ‘I say this: Why should these guys be forgotten? It’s a sin to forget them.’” (Kathy Glasgow, “Lord Of The Ring.” January 15, 1998: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/1998-01-15/news/lord-of-the-ring/full)

When you make a film based on a true story, albeit a true story about a lie, you raise the likelihood of misinterpretation five-fold.

“Just who was Bob Satterfield?” some might ask.

Bob “Rapid Robert” Satterfield (1923-1977)

Every kid who boxed or followed boxing after World War II had his favorite fighter. Joe Louis was just about a unanimous choice, but I was the exception. My favorite was not called “the Brown Bomber.” My favorite was called “Rapid Robert” and he was a heavyweight out of Chicago by the name of Bob Satterfield. He was the Chicago City Golden Gloves 147-pound champion in 1941, and served in the United States Army from 1942–45. As an amateur, he had 27 knockouts in 35 bouts.

Satterfield never fought for the title and retired with a record of 50-25-4 (35 KOs). He made The Ring’s list of 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.

He was 58 on the list. Below is Boxing Illustrated 10 Hardest Punchers P4P of All-Time. (Hank Kaplan, “Too Much Ring ‘Rage’ in DeNiro’s LaMotta.” September 30, 2005: http://www.thesweetscience.com/boxing-article/2691/too-much-ring-ragedeniro-lamotta/

Interestingly, Earnie Shavers is number 7 on the list.

1. Jimmy Wilde
2. Max Baer
3. Bob Fitzsimmons
4. George Chaney
5. Charles Ledoux
6. Bob Satterfield
7. Earnie Shavers
8. Joe Louis
9. Jack Dempsey
10. Sandy Saddler

There was almost a palpable quality—maybe Chicago noir—about being a Satterfield fan back then. It was right up there with post-war blondes or grooving on Charlie Parker’s alto sax. In a word, it was “cool.” What attracted me most to Bob was his complexity. On the one hand, he was a sensitive modern jazz enthusiast and art student; on the other, a menacing fighter whose principle was the last man standing is the winner.

To add to his depth, he reportedly was a close friend of the great jazz artist Miles Davis, who hailed from downstate Illinois. When the Count or Duke played Chicago, Bob was always a big part of the party. He was a muscular, handsome man who magnetized the pretty Chicago women. The incongruity of it all was the attraction. The following was posted in August 2005 by a blogger named rocky111:

“Hey, I loved Satterfield as a kid. What a build. Ya had to see him live to appreciate it. What a guy he was from what ive heard. Too good looking for his own good, he became a devoted playboy and lost his chin, but never his wallop. What a great fighter he could have been with discipline. He had the gifts.” (“10 Hardest Punchers P4P of All-Time,” Strictly Business Boxing: http://www.strictlybusinessboxing.com/7.html)

Many of his fights were at Chicago’s Marigold Gardens and I got to see them live. The crowd was made up mostly of devil-may-care types back from the war, and it was a kind of “let the good times roll.”

And that’s just what Bob did for us. His style was simply to let it all hang out and let the good times roll. To Chicago fans, Bob was neither black nor white. He was simply Bob.

Though I always believed the Anton Raadik vs. Tommy Bell fight in 1946 was the first live one that I witnessed, upon reflection it was Satterfield’s first-round KO of Art McWhorter in 1945 at the Marigold Gardens. Art went down three times: first from a left hook, then a brutal flurry, and then another left hook iced him.

Though closer to a light heavyweight, Bob could hit like a super heavyweight and had massive sledgehammer power with either hand. In spectacular fashion, he chilled some of the best heavies of this very tough era, including Bob Baker, Marty Marshall, Vern Mitchell, Lee Oma, Nino Valdes, Oakland Billy Smith, Johnny Summerlin, and Harold Johnson.

However, there was one major problem. He himself went to dreamland 13 times during his career, but still, he could he punch! It was chill or be chilled. When he missed, it made his opponents wince. His first round KO of favorite Bob Baker in July 1953 was brutal for its finality. Baker had Satterfield hurt, and then—bam—Baker went down like he had been sapped. Whether going down or putting someone else down, his fights almost suggested the “fix” was in. That’s how dramatic they were, whether caused by his granite fists or his porcelain chin.

Cleveland Williams, another monster bomber, began his career in 1951 and won his first 27 fights, 23 by knockout, but in 1954, he met Bob Satterfield and was KO’d in three.

“Tampa Tommy” Gomez (1950)

In 1950, Satterfield met another savage bomber, “Tampa Tommy” Gomez (75-8-2, 65 KOs), who had an astonishing KO percentage of 87 percent coming in. The gritty Gomez, who was a brutal hitter for his size of 5’10”, sustained a fractured rib in the first round but refused to give up. Satterfield scored four knockdowns in all; he decked Gomez for an eight-count in the first round, and twice in the seventh round, and again in the ninth for a nine-count. Gomez was out on his feet at the end of the seventh and ninth rounds but managed to last out the full 10 rounds. This was a great display of courage on his part and savagery on the part of Satterfield. It’s no wonder Gomez retired after losing the UD. The fight was held at the Chicago Stadium. Unfortunately, I missed it.

Gomez had turned pro in 1939 and was ducked by many of the contenders of his time due to his fierce knockout power. In fact, he was named to the Ring magazine list of the100 Greatest Punchers. He is number 72; Satterfield is number 58.

But there was something else that endeared Tampa Tommy to the fans in those days. Like many other fighters of the late 1940s and early 1950s (including Satterfield), he was a World War II veteran, but in Tommy’s case he was more. He was a Purple Heart recipient who had been wounded 16 times in Germany. Tommy Gomez was one tough hombre.

The Excitement

What made Satterfield so exciting and a great fan favorite was that he would try to lure his opponents into punch-outs in which he would begin winging and then move inside, closing the gap and shortening up on his punches. However, he was not overly strategic and seldom had a contingency plan. This was dangerous, as he would tire badly if the fight went into the late rounds. Never known for great durability, he nevertheless had the “baddest” of intentions. He either got you, or you got him. Being hit by Satterfield was once reportedly described as being struck by electricity. His fights bring to mind the excitement generated by Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Julian “the Hawk” Jackson, Jaime Garza, John “The Beast” Mugabi, Gerald McClellan, and Felix “Tito” Trinidad. Arguably, if he were fighting today, it would be sweet dreams for many of the smaller heavyweights out there—and God forbid if he fought as a cruiserweight.

As a testament to Satterfield’s great appeal, virtually all of his fights were held in well-known venues, places like the Chicago Stadium, the Chicago Coliseum, the Miami Beach Auditorium, St. Nicholas Arena, Madison Square Garden, the International Amphitheater, Comiskey Park, the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Oakland Auditorium, and the New Frontier Sportsdrome in Las Vegas. See: http://www.boxing.com/the_memory_bank_part_ten.html

By now, Satterfield really should have reminded you of someone else, someone who fought in the ‘70s—another great era for heavyweights. That’s right, Earnie Shavers. Satterfield was a smaller version of Earnie who came out bombing, throwing caution to the wind and with no “what if” plans in sight. He too tired badly in the later rounds…but his punches were like jackhammers! He too was pure excitement

Ring historian Hank Kaplan in describing the courage of Jake LaMotta once said, “It is not every man’s kind of guts that will put you up close to Bob Satterfield’s brand of fireworks and Jimmy Reeves’ and Sugar Ray Robinson’s” (Hank Kaplan, “Too Much Ring ‘Rage’ in DeNiro’s LaMotta). LaMotta later said Satterfield was one of the hardest punchers who ever lived.

Rex Layne (1961)

Satterfield’s fight with Rex Layne (29-1-2 coming in) in 1951, and one I witnessed on TV, was typical. He came out bombing and quickly knocked the granite-chinned Layne down for an eight-count in the first round—no easy trick. Layne appeared out on his feet, but somehow survived the round.

Satterfield had let him off the hook, and Layne slowly came on until he began to gradually dictate the pace and control matters. They exchanged incredibly violent blows winging from all directions, but hardcore Satterfield fans, of which there were many, knew what was going to happen. Layne floored Satterfield with a crunching left hook in the eighth. Satterfield went down hard but somehow, tapping his inherent courage, got back up at the count of six. He was totally out on his feet, and, after a left and two more rights, referee Mark Conn moved in and stopped the bout. After the fight, Layne reached over and, in a gesture of pure human decency, touched Satterfield on the cheek. Those who saw it will never forget it.

The normally clumsy but hard-punching Layne really impressed in that fight, displaying an effective jab, decent speed, and showed how good his chin was by taking a flush Satterfield right hand and getting back up. This was a closet classic in which two contenders both in their prime brought their top game into the ring in a fight that included thunderous punching and a great display of heart and humanity.

Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKUlBPErrn0

Lee Oma(1950)

But perhaps the classic example of a Satterfield fight was in the Chicago Stadium in 1950 against mean and dirty Lee Oma (62-26-3 coming in). Satterfield was floored for a nine-count in the fifth round and barely made it to his feet. Oma moved in for the kill, but Satterfield then suddenly dropped him with a right. Oma, still on the floor when the round ended, was saved by the bell. Satterfield then knocked him cold with a savage right in the next round that had the Stadium crowd oohing and aahhing. That was an indelible boxing memory—the beautiful oohing and aahhing.

In 1953, he met 214-pound swarming bomber Bob Baker (30-2-1 coming in) at the Chicago Stadium. The high ranking Baker was a big favorite but after 152 seconds of pure fury, Rapid Robert KO’d Baker. They both had been throwing menacing shots in this slug-o-rama and even when they missed, the crowd roared. Sooner or later, the fans knew that the first one who connected flush would walk away the winner. It happened at the 2:32 mark as Satterfield unloaded on the much bigger Baker and that was that… 152 seconds of mutually exchanged violence.

Throughout his career, Satterfield would lose to such tough opposition as Joey Maxim, Bert Whitehurst, Holman Williams (who had an astounding record of 147-30-11), Jake LaMotta, Ezzard Charles, and the great Archie Moore. He dropped two out of three to future light heavyweight champion and Hall of Famer Harold Johnson, considered the best technical fighter to emerge from the City of Brotherly Love. Each of these fighters owned tremendous won-lost records.

Bob was scheduled to fight Wayne Bethea at Chicago Stadium in January 1958 but was forced to retire due to a detached retina. Thus, he closed out his exciting and fan-pleasing ring career with a decision win over Howard “Honeyboy” King (34-11-6) on November 21, 1957. Honey Boy had gone 0-5-1 against the great Archie Moore and 3-1-1 against Roger Rischer.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several world and state records. He enjoys writing about boxing.

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  1. The Thresher 09:41am, 09/05/2016

    Thanks Dino. If you could jump on Bob early, you had a good chance of taking him out, but if not, then oh oh.

  2. Dino T. 09:30am, 09/05/2016

    My uncle, Al Tribuani, fought Bob Satterfield in the 1941 Chicago Inter-City Golden Gloves Tournament and was fortunate enough to defeat him in the first round.  That was my uncle’s next to last amateur bout prior to turning pro where he eventually fought Lew Jenkins, Al “Bummy” Davis, Carmen Notch, Henry Armstrong, among others.  He knew that Bob was dangerous and attacked him from the opening bell and did get to his chin for the knockout.  They both fought as middleweights at the time.  Sorry to learn of his misfortune but he was a class fighter in the golden age of boxing.

  3. KB 06:06pm, 11/03/2015

    Thank you John. He was my favorite so I wanted to get the true story documented some how some way.

  4. John aka L.L. Cool John 05:46pm, 11/03/2015

    Ted: The late Bob Satterfield was before my time, but thanks for bringing him back to life with this piece.  Both parts one and two were great reads.

  5. KB 05:16pm, 11/02/2015

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR IMPRETURE TEX

  6. Tex Hassler 04:54pm, 11/02/2015

    Bob brought great excitement to boxing the way few have ever been able to do so. He was exciting to watch.

  7. KB 07:11am, 10/30/2015

    Yes, Chuck was considered one of the greatest colligate boxers of all time. Was undefeated and very technically sound. He beat Basilio and Graziano in the [rose, I think.

    His life reads like an American tragedy.

  8. bikemike 07:24pm, 10/29/2015

    too bad Chuck Davey didn’t catch the ‘KEED’ at the right time…eh Ted…!?!?

    In any case…..Chuck was a hell of a boxer…and showed ...not intentionally…he had a pretty good chin…

  9. bikermike 07:11pm, 10/29/2015

    sorry Ted..cry’n in my beer I guess…

    That C note for pbf and pacman still hurts worse than my prostrate test…ffs

  10. KB 06:02am, 10/28/2015

    Thank you Don from Prov and be aware that I am competing in the Nationals in Johnston, in late November. At the Ocean State Gym

  11. Don from Prov 05:25am, 10/28/2015

    “The drama back then was—well—drama. Today, it’s very sterile with lots of glitz, glitter, and bling”—Well said, Mr. Ted.  As us old dinosaurs limp off the stage, most of us will not miss the world anymore than it misses us.
    Very good article.

  12. Ted 04:49pm, 10/27/2015

    I don’t know how to answer that, Biker

  13. bikermike 03:58pm, 10/27/2015

    with no scheduled ,,,event…nor time line…...Boxing has excused itself from mainstream Sports coverage,,,,,hard to say who’s the best…cuz they never fight…...not like tennis…..or even baseball teams..etc

  14. Ted 03:10pm, 10/27/2015

    This is an important link insofar as Chicago boxing is concerned. J.J. is great friend of mine and has that subject down pat.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=i-n2DDO6r50C&pg=PA96&lpg=PA96&dq=chicago+boxing+history&source=bl&ots=TVbEPhoKdn&sig=n4BBpOQQ_PxCBtyiWJ1pJEnNdDQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CFUQ6AEwCGoVChMIn4D728XgyAIVCjk-Ch2cqwea#v=onepage&q=chicago boxing history&f=false

  15. Ted 02:55pm, 10/27/2015

    Well yes, it was Chuck Davey who was an outstanding college boxer at Michigan State and also a veteran, but the Kid finished him off. Chuck showed great heart in that defeat. He did go on to beat some very legendary fighters. Met them at just the right time. His big win came against Chico Vejar in a Blue Collar vs. White Collar matchup that I saw on TV

  16. bikermike 01:34pm, 10/27/2015

    what was apparent….when CHUVALO and ‘SPIDER JONES’...showed the matches for a cupla years….was that Champions had to defend much more often…........in those fights they showed.

    Naturally .....the Champions of the day were no more willing to take on the heavy hitters ...nor cuties….if they could avoid them…..

    What was that guy’s name…Chuck Davies ????....that white kid with great legs and good boxing skills…..who was being groomed to outpoint the Champion of the day ??

    He took on the old and supposedly aging cuban..Kid Gavilan….and damned near got his head knocked off

  17. Ted 12:15pm, 10/27/2015

    Irish, Not sure I get you but yes, that’s one way to describe him.

    Charlie Jr. I think you will find Part Two to be of some interest from a personal perspective.

    Wally and Bill, thanks mates for the props. When you write about something you like, it often comes through. I hope that was the case here. I have written quite a bit on Bob but this will be the first time I cover him post mortem as in Part Two

  18. Big Wally 10:37am, 10/27/2015

    I’m old enough to remmber him, but I didn’t follow boxing back then. Thanks for the history lesson

  19. CNorkusJr 10:25am, 10/27/2015

    Wonderful piece Ted.  Bob Satterfield was a hard puncher. Unfortunately, I never discussed why my father and Bob were never matched up, especially at the end of both their careers in the late 50’s.Can’t wait for Part 2. Thank You.

  20. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:55am, 10/27/2015

    He’s down!....he’s up!....he’s down!....he’s up!....he’s down again!....he’s up again! WTF! Now the other guy’s down and out!

  21. Dollarbond 09:49am, 10/27/2015

    Another great job of research Ted.  I could feel your admiration for this man.  Looking forward to Part Two.

  22. Ted 09:03am, 10/27/2015

    Why thank you John. I have GGG as a stalk, stun and kill type rather than a one-punch kill type but the one he put on Isheada almost killed him so I can see where you are coming from.

    Today, I have Kovalev and The Russian Hammer as great one-punch KO artist’s, Also, many of the giant heavyweights.

  23. Ted 08:59am, 10/27/2015

    Thanks Biker. Lee Oma would make a wonderful story and someday I might do it. He was mean and dirty—and lazy when he first started.

  24. John aka L.L. Cool John 08:59am, 10/27/2015

    Make room for GGG on that list of top 10 punchers of all-time!
    A well researched and great read, Ted.

  25. Ted 08:57am, 10/27/2015

    Eric, Yes or Julian Jackson. Tall and rangy with the power coming off of the end of the punch.

  26. bikermike 08:45am, 10/27/2015

    A lot of ‘punching power’ attributed to Jack Dempsey ...was the due to the destruction of Jess Willard .....and whispers of loaded gloves by Dempsey’s corner still prevail.

    one story goes…...Dempsey bet bundle on himself to win by first round KO…and had left the ring and had to be called back…..before he was disqualified…by not answering the bell for round 2.

    He was very sure Willard couldn’t continue…but somebody forgot to tell Jess about that.

  27. bikermike 08:29am, 10/27/2015

    Great read Ted…...as always !!  Thank you.

  28. bikermike 08:28am, 10/27/2015

    Some time back….Canada got a regular TV program hosted by George Chuvalo and ‘Spider’ Jones…..looking at black and white fights from the past.

    Bob Satterfield was featured on several of these programs…..along with Lee Oma….Wayne Bethea (spelling?) , Bob Baker…and many many more.

    Lots of great fights and fighters who were not , otherwise, given their due

  29. Eric 08:24am, 10/27/2015

    Tommy Hearns could very well make a top ten list of P4P punchers IMO. Hearns had freakish power at 147lbs-154lbs. Hearns not only had freakish power and reach, but his hand speed was exceptional as well. The Duran fight was Hearns at his best and most fearsome. Tyson is another puncher that deserves a mention and has to be in the top 20 or so punchers IMO.

  30. Ted 08:13am, 10/27/2015

    That’s why he was so exciting. Simple as that. Brick for hands and glass for chin. The Layne fight is the proto-type Satterfield fight. Bob was a heartbreaker. When he won, it was party time. When he lost, it was gloom and doom but that’s the way I acquired my passion for boxing. The drama back then was—well—drama. Today, it’s very sterile with lots of glitz, glitter, and bling. However, Bob was a bit ahead of his time in that many celebrities sought him out. He knew Miles Davis and through Miles, a lot of musicians. It worked the other way as well because Miles got to meet a lot of boxers. But I am getting ahead of myself.

    Like I said, he was and is my all-time favorite mainly because he gave a “good drama show.”

  31. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:05am, 10/27/2015

    Bob was knocked down 35 to 40 times in his career….it could be safe to say that maybe just maybe he was even steven in knockdowns scored with his opponents

  32. Ted 07:40am, 10/27/2015

    CG, That’s why I wrote this series. To acquaint people with this very interesting and complex subject. I think you will be quite amazed—even shocked—when you read Part Two but in that connection,  I’d ask you—with gracious and deep humility- not to get too deeply into Tommy Harrison until Part Two is posted.

    But yes, Tommy was a very heavy puncher in is own right and beat Jimmy Bivins, Wes Bascom, and Charlie Norkus during a 3-month period.

  33. Ted 07:32am, 10/27/2015

    Eric, Big George was a monster. If Satterfield had been a cruiserweight, oh my. But his millstone was his chin—plain and simple

  34. Ted 07:29am, 10/27/2015

    Irish, I agree. Lot’s of subjectivity. That’s why I hate lists. Still, I base my own opinion mon what I witnessed in person with respect to Bob. He could buzz concrete. And actually, he did leave his feet when he threw the bombs.

  35. Ted 07:26am, 10/27/2015

    Mike, The strange thing about the Baker KO was that as soon as Big Bob was counted out, he immediately got up and seemed ok. Very weird.

  36. Ted 07:25am, 10/27/2015

    Thanks Beaujack for your great memories and post/ He let caution to the wind. His fight with Marty Marshall (he was KOd) was over before people were in their seats. If you didn’t get him, he got you.

  37. Mike Casey 06:27am, 10/27/2015

    The Baker knockout, as Ted says, was brutal. Pound for pound, Satterfield was a terrific hitter and certainly above Earnie Shavers in that department - in my opinion. Agree with Eric’s slant on George Foreman. I was 18 when he destroyed Frazier and I would never have believed that anyone could bounce Joe around like that.

  38. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:37am, 10/27/2015

    Subjectivity as in Lamar Clark and Billy Fox.

  39. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:40am, 10/27/2015

    Hardest puncher? Bob left his feet with just about every punch, no wonder he got tired. Earl Walls from Canada KOd Rex twice in two months time in ‘53….was he a harder puncher than Satterfield or had Rex been softened up by Ezzard and Rocky? Lots of subjectivity when naming ATG punchers..

  40. Clarence George 03:50am, 10/27/2015

    I’m not sufficiently familiar with Satterfield to know where to rank him among the hardest punchers.  But, while I’ve never formulated such a list, I think I’d have Joe Louis or Sam Langford in first place, Jack Dempsey or Stanley Ketchel in fifth, and George Foreman or Bob Fitzsimmons in 10th.  Not sure where I’d have Marciano.  Maybe 11th or 12th?

    Look forward to learning about Tommy Harrison.  He had some impressive wins on his record (including over Bivins, I think).  Don’t even know if he’s still alive.

  41. beaujack 08:36pm, 10/26/2015

    Ted, a great article about Bob Satterfield who threw caution to the wind in every fight with his “go for broke” style of fighting. Oh, could he punch ! I never saw him ringside, just on tv, but he was exciting to watch.You mention another great puncher from Tampa, Fl, Tommy Gomez. Tommy Gomez was as you mentioned, a WW2 wounded hero who recovered from his war wounds and became a heavyweight sensational knockout artist flattening about everyone he fought, though weighing about 180 pounds or so. Well I saw Joe Walcott ko Tommy Gomez in 1946 at the old MSG in the third round ending Gomez’s dream of a title shot..What a fight Gomez against Satterfield would have been both in their prime. WOW…

  42. Eric 08:19pm, 10/26/2015

    I know the experts always claim that George Foreman’s clubbing punches lacked the snap of a true puncher, but Big George’s kayo percentage speaks for itself. No way does Max Baer rank as a better puncher than Dempsey, Louis or Foreman IMO. I can’t think of any other heavyweight that would have toyed with Joe Frazier the way Foreman did in his two fights with Smoking Joe.

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