Jack Palance: A Backseat to Baksi
Legend has it that Palance won 15 fights, 12 by knockout, beating club fighters throughout Pennsylvania before losing to Joe Baksi…
“I’m amazed people read this crap about us – about me most of all.”—Jack Palance
Rugged heavyweight contender Joe Baksi, a product of Pennsylvania’s coal mines, died 37 years ago to the day, on August 6, 1977. He was 55.
Baksi fought from 1940 to 1951, returning for two more bouts in 1954. When all was said and done, he could boast a record of 61 wins, 30 by knockout, nine losses, and three draws. He was stopped only once, by Ezzard Charles, who won via 11th-round TKO at the Garden on December 10, 1948. Baksi told referee Ruby Goldstein that he couldn’t see, and asked that the fight be stopped.
While the coal miner’s son beat toughies like Gus Dorazio and Johnny Shkor, it was his unexpected win over Tami Mauriello on February 25, 1944, that made his name. He went on to beat Lee Savold, Buddy Knox, Lou Nova, Freddie Schott, and Freddie Mills. Following his defeat of Bruce Woodcock, Baksi had good reason to expect a shot at Joe Louis’ title. The ill-conceived decision to first take on Swedish champ Olle Tandberg dropped that expectation into the river with any number of cinder blocks tied to its ankles. Should Baksi have won? Yeah, he should have. Did he? No, he didn’t. In a massive upset, Baksi lost by majority decision in Stockholm’s Rasunda Stadium on July 6, 1947. Even the Swede was stunned—“I didn’t believe I had won the fight,” he said.
The title opportunity went instead to Jersey Joe Walcott, who lost to Louis by split decision on December 5, 1947—one of the champ’s less enthusiastically received wins.
After his loss to Charles, Baksi won all of his remaining fights, save for his last, which he lost to Bob Baker on May 24, 1954. But his shot at the crown had come and gone.
It was in his 10th fight, on December 17, 1940, that Baksi outpointed Jack Brazzo at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York. Brazzo is better known as Jack Palance.
Legend has it that Palance won 15 fights, 12 by knockout, beating club fighters left, right, and center throughout the coal-mining towns of his native Pennsylvania before losing to Baksi. The official record, however, lists his fight with Baksi—and only his fight with Baksi.
Palance, recognizing that “You must be nuts to get your head beat in for $200. The theater seemed a lot more appealing,” went on to give a whole host of memorable performances, most notably as Jack Wilson (“He was fast, fast on the draw”), Alan Ladd’s nemesis in the classic Western, Shane.
So that’s all right then.