Boxing’s Robinson Crusoe

By Pete Ehrmann on October 6, 2018
Boxing’s Robinson Crusoe
Kral’s promise in the ring and his life-style out of it didn’t exactly go hand-in-glove.

What prompted him to take up boxing in his early twenties isn’t known; what is known is that initially he was pretty bad at it…

If he hadn’t craved fresh air and the Great Outdoors more than the dank, smoky confines of boxing gyms and arenas, there’s no telling how far Frank Kral might’ve gone in the ring.

Born in Austria in 1900, Kral was very young when his family emigrated to America and settled in Milwaukee. What prompted him to take up boxing in his early twenties isn’t known; what is known is that initially he was pretty bad at it. Kral was knocked out in his first pro bout in 1922, and though he won his second fight the Milwaukee Journal described it as “a burlesque.”

That was enough for manager Teddy Murphy, who panned the 6’1” light heavyweight as “a herring” and booted Kral from his stable.

After veteran manager Doc Hoffman took Kral on, the herring became a piranha. Kral ran off nine straight wins, including three 10-round newspaper decisions in 1924 over more experienced Earl Blue of St. Paul, who was managed by legendary middleweight Mike Gibbons and had a sock so lethal it inspired a self-styled poet signed “Ringworm” to pen the deathless lines: Achilles, says our history book/Could just be wounded in the heel/No warrior’s spear or shepherd’s crook/Could make this mighty person squeal/He took a spear thrust with a smile; A knife cut only made him grin/But, gosh, he should have lived a while/To have Earl Blue massage his chin.

Des Moines Tribune sports editor Sec Taylor wasn’t moved to verse by Kral’s mastery of Blue in their second fight on October 6, 1924, but did say the Wisconsin fighter “made Earl Blue look as clever as an elderly Holstein” and was “by far the cleverest boxer, both offensively and defensively, that the writer has seen for a long, long time.”

“Good fighters are often turned adrift … before their real worth is discovered,” wrote boxing maven Tom S. Andrews in 1924. “Frank Kral, a Wisconsin battler, is not a champion but he gives great promise of becoming a first-class fighter.”

The problem was that Kral’s promise in the ring and his life-style out of it didn’t exactly go hand-in-glove.

He had an aversion to cities, and as much as possible shunned them, other people, and the accoutrements of early 20th century civilization. In Milwaukee they called him “Cave Man.” A decade earlier that was the nickname of Bob Moha, the great Cream City middleweight, because of his Barney Rubble-like physical appearance.

The difference, wrote Tom Andrews, was “Kral is a real caveman, for he lives most of the time in the open. He is a trapper by trade, having a hut at Kangaroo Lake, near Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and does nothing during the winter season but fish and trap. He lives alone, and whenever there is a chance for a boxing match he takes a week or two off, but has never given much time to the game.”

In Green Bay, 57 miles south of Kral’s happy hunting ground, where the Milwaukee southpaw fought three times, newspaper stories dubbed him “Robinson Crusoe” Kral and “Woodsman” Kral.

It wasn’t the blessed solitude alone that made living off the land so alluring—it also happened to be downright lucrative. Most weeks Kral cleared more than $100 selling the wild game he caught. In today’s dollars that translates to almost $1,500.

Boxing in the 1920s was rife with appealing eccentrics like Kral. Another was Freeman Pepper described as “a peculiar, ape-like creature” in the Waterloo, Iowa Courier’s account of his resounding 10-round defeat by Kral on June 25, 1925. Pepper, from Sioux City, Iowa, didn’t so much look like an ape as just act like one. He billed himself as “The Wild Man of the Ring,” and during a fight he leered and grimaced both at his opponent and the crowd, and when nailed by a punch leaped into the air and “let out a yowl that could be heard four blocks” (Eau Claire, Wisconsin Telegram).

According to published records, Frank Kral fought until 1930. But in fact his boxing career ended in late ’26 when his nemesis Earl Blue stopped him in the first round in St. Paul. Fights listed on Kral’s record after that actually were those of a St. Louis welterweight named Frank Krall.

Newspaper reports say that in that fifth bout with Blue, Kral went down without being hit and had his purse withheld by the boxing commission. Could be that all his fight and primitivism had been quashed by domesticity—by then the rugged individualist had married and moved to Milwaukee. His son, Frank Jr., was born a month after the Blue fight.

But there was still plenty of Robinson Crusoe in him; maybe too much. The last month of 1928 was colder than usual on the western short of Lake Michigan, with temperatures below zero oftener than not. In mid-December the man more at home outdoors than indoors came down with pneumonia. Frank Kral died on January 7, 1929, age 28.

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  1. Casanovita de Ahome 08:23am, 10/06/2018

    Good jumpin’ Jesus Christ! Your family makes the sacrifice to come to the golden land of opportunity and this is how you thank them?! “You send them to school, teach them all you know, buy them books, and they eat the covers!”

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