Joe Simonich: The Grizzly

By Clarence George on February 17, 2018
Joe Simonich: The Grizzly
Today we celebrate the 123rd birthday of outrageously forgotten welter Joe Simonich.

Simonich’s most formidable opponent was the legendary Mickey Walker, whom he met at the Arena in Philly on November 1, 1926…

“Like Ketchel, Simonich was a hard puncher, always aggressive, and as tough and game as a grizzly.”—Gordon Pouliot

Today we celebrate the 123rd birthday of outrageously forgotten welterweight Joe Simonich.

Born in Walkerville, Montana, on February 17, 1895 (just four months before Jack Dempsey, and in equally frontier country), the “Dynamo of Dublin Gulch” fought out of Butte from 1918 to 1935 (though out of the ring in ‘30, ‘31, ‘33, and ‘34), winding up with an official record of 32 wins, 10 by knockout, 31 losses, only one by knockout, and 14 draws. There were also eight newspaper decisions (2-6).

Simonich won his first four bouts (two by TKO) before drawing against Travie Davis at the Crystal Pool in Seattle on November 23, 1920, then lost to Billy Wright on points at the Eagles Club in Tacoma that December 30. Although he “showed a world of aggressiveness, a good punch, a strong jaw and a stout heart, he lost the decision,” wrote the Tacoma News Tribune.

Plenty of names on the combat veteran’s résumé, including Dave Shade (stopped only twice in his 17-year, 224-bout career), who won on points at the Broadway Theater in Butte on July 4, 1921, drew against him at the Pavilion in Seattle that August 9, and again won on points at the Arena in Vernon, California, on July 22, 1924 (“a dull and uninteresting scrap and the crowd was in a sarcastic mood,” according to the Associated Press); never-stopped Pete Bross (blessed “with a hell of a left hook and a lot of courage”), who was outpointed at the Empress Theater in Butte on September 4, 1922, and in Great Falls that October 11, drew against him in Helena on February 23, 1923, lost on points at San Francisco’s Dreamland Rink on May 29, 1925, and drew against him at the Grand Theater in Great Falls that October 15 (three of the future deputy sheriff’s seven losses came by way of Simonich); Bermondsey Billy Wells, who won on points at the Broadway Theater on June 12, 1923, and by newspaper decision at the Auditorium in Milwaukee that October 1; Joe Dundee, who won on points at Madison Square Garden on January 29, 1926, and at the Arena in Philly on January 23, 1928; Tommy Freeman, who won on points at the Garden on February 19, 1926 (the last of a 37-win streak, 14 by KO or TKO, except for two draws against never-stopped Jimmy Jones), at the Public Hall in Cleveland that May 19, at Braves Field in Boston on June 13, 1927, and at White City Arena in Chicago on February 18, 1929; Phil Kaplan, who won on points at Queensboro Stadium in Long Island City, Queens, on June 8, 1926, and at the Arena in Philly on January 31, 1927; Sergeant Sammy Baker, who won by unanimous decision at Artillery Park in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on September 7, 1926, and on points at San Francisco’s Dreamland Auditorium on October 19, 1928; Pete Latzo, who won by newspaper decision at the 113th Regiment Armory in Newark on December 8, 1926, but lost by unanimous decision at Dexter Park Pavilion in Chicago on March 10, 1927 (“The 5,000 who paid $18,000 [$250,000 today] to see the show saw a champion given the worst beating any titleholder has received since boxing was legalized in the state,” according to the Chicago Tribune, with Joe lauded as the “uncrowned welterweight champion of the world”); Jimmy Jones, who outpointed him at the Arena in Philly that April 4; and Jack McVey, who won on points at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium that November 9.

There were many others, of course, including Willie Ritchie, lightweight champ from 1912 to 1914 (whose son was Sonja Henie’s skating partner, as well as actress Jane Powell’s first husband). “Out in California, Willie Ritchie, the former great lightweight champion, was in the midst of a comeback and his manager thought Simonich would be the perfect opponent to boost Ritchie back into title contention,” writes one-time heavyweight boxer Gordon Pouliot in a tribute to the Dynamo. “Joe was expected to be too crude for the clever Ritchie and the match was made for August 20, 1924 [at the Auditorium in Oakland]. As the San Francisco paper reported it, ‘They can not come back. This was proved to Willie Ritchie last night over in Oakland when Joe Simonich, the Butte Assassin, all but stopped him [winning on points]. Ritchie says that Simonich is the roughest, toughest fighter he has ever met and Ritchie has met the best of them.’”

That April 25, Joe had met Pinky Mitchell at the Armory in Portland, Oregon. Pinky’s world junior welterweight title was supposed to be on the line, but Joe couldn’t make the required weight. No matter, as the bout ended in a draw. Oddly enough, Tommy Freeman had the same problem when he met Pinky at the Coliseum Arena in New Orleans that June 2, Tommy winning on points.

Simonich’s most formidable opponent was the legendary Mickey Walker, whom he met at the Arena in Philly on November 1, 1926. “The 10,000 fans had hardly settled in their seats when Walker was flat on his back and the referee reached nine before Mickey managed to drag himself off the canvas, only the great courage and vast experience of Walker pulled him out of danger and he went on to win a close decision [on points],” writes Pouliot. “The papers called it the greatest fight ever seen in Philadelphia and the Bulletin raved about the newcomer from Montana.”

“Simonich made history that night by being recorded as the first man to knock Walker off his feet,” according to the Butte Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2015. “Then-Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Lee Doyle described it as ‘a punch that started when he left Montana’ that knocked Walker to the floor.”

The Dynamo did the “Toy Bulldog” a favor by softening up tough Lefty Cooper; the first to knock him out, in fact (in the eighth at Dreamland Rink on February 27, 1925). Walker then kayoed Cooper in his next fight (in the first at San Francisco’s Ewing Field that May 16).

Very much a West Coast lad (indeed, the Pacific Coast welterweight champ), Simonich even twice fought at the Olympic Stadium in Manila, knocking out Big Bebeng in the fifth on December 17, 1921, and drawing against Ray Pelkey that December 31, and once at West Melbourne Stadium, on February 25, 1922, losing on points to Charlie Ring (part of a 14-win streak for the Aussie, five by stoppage).

Joe, “a crowd-pleaser who always fought hard and took as much as he gave,” last won on November 23, 1932, outpointing Al Mues at the Shrine Arena in Helena (his first loss following a seven-win streak, six by KO or TKO).

He last fought on March 11, 1935, stopped by the Alabama Kid via second-round TKO at the Industries Building in Dayton (the only time the “Montana toughie” was stopped in his rough-and-tumble ring career), “his head and face battered to a pulp,” reported boxing historian Herb Goldman.

Simonich, who “fought them all and beat his share of them,” made decent money as a fighter, which he wisely saved. Upon retiring from the ring, he ran a 600-acre ranch in Whitehall, Montana, with his wife and two sons, returning to Butte in 1947, where he reffed local boxing matches. A widower since 1969 (following a 49-year marriage), Joe spent his last years in the Montana Veterans’ Home in Columbia Falls. He died July 13, 1986, age 91 (outliving the “Manassa Mauler” by some three years), and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Butte.

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  1. Clarence George 09:25am, 02/23/2018

    Thank you, Mr. Madden.

    I share your affection for the rarely shown “Night of the Grizzly,” with the always reliable Clint Walker.

    One of my favorite boxer names is Indian Benny Deathpaine.  And hard to beat Frank Craig’s “The Harlem Coffee Cooler.”  But I was always massively underwhelmed by Carmen Basilio’s “The Upstate Onion Farmer.”  I mean, and?

    All the best,

    Jacques Aubuchon

  2. Dave Madden 05:54am, 02/23/2018

    I initially missed this story, but glad I found it. I think I now have another favorite nickname to go with Scrap Iron and Big Train. The Grizzly speaks volumes, plus one of my favorite childhood movies was The Night of the Grizzly with the great Clint Walker, who is still with us. Simonich sounds like a handful and I am glad that I was introduced to him by Mr. George, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure heavyweights who are most deserving of the tributes he provides them.

  3. Alfonso Bedoya 12:47pm, 02/18/2018

    @ODB-You could be on to something there….later on in his career he DQ’d out to Jack Palmer (7-12-2) and Wildcat Nelson (2-14-2).

  4. Ollie Downtown Brown 07:58am, 02/18/2018

    Alfonso: Maybe its something to do with being Irish. Two of the most erratic performers ever were Jerry Quarry and Gerry Cooney. Both guys could look like world beaters one night and then the next time you saw them, it was an entirely different fighter. Quarry comes off his best year ever in ‘73, stopping Earnie Shavers and boxing Lyle’s ears off, only to fall apart in his upcoming match with Frazier. Hell, Quarry almost got starched in the first round of a tuneup bout with one Joe Alexander leading up to his rematch with Frazier.

  5. Clarence George 01:20pm, 02/17/2018

    I would say, Mr. McCain, that Eleanor (not to be confused with Parker) was a bigger name than Jane, who’s still with us (unlike Marty Allen, who just passed away at a ripe old age).

  6. Clarence George 01:10pm, 02/17/2018

    Thanks very much indeed, Mr. Bedoya.

    You raise a very interesting point about Walker.

    In his defense, most of his losses came at the hands of top-notch fighters, such as Dave Shade, Pete Latzo, Joe Dundee, Tommy Loughran, Max Schmeling, Lou Brouillard, Maxie Rosenbloom, Young Corbett III, and—last but anything but least—Harry Greb.  Also, guys like Lou Bogash and Johnny Risko were very able and tough.  And some of those losses were by newspaper decision, of which I’ve always been kinda leery.

    There’s no question, though, that sometimes Mickey couldn’t be bothered, such as in his fight with Jimmy Jones.  I wonder if he didn’t give it his all if he deemed the opponent unworthy.  Ali was like that.  He didn’t lose, but so many of his bouts make me cringe.  All that showboating, which I never found the least bit entertaining.

    Best,

    Dennis Hoey

  7. Lucas McCain 12:13pm, 02/17/2018

    I didn’t know Willie Ritchie’s son married Jane Powell.  My heart belongs to Eleanor Powell, but Jane is pretty great. . .

  8. Alfonso Bedoya 10:10am, 02/17/2018

    @Clarence George-Keep’em coming! These articles ring my bell! I’d say there was lotsa’ odd goings on in ATG Mickey Walker’s body of work! Aside from losses to guys with upside down win /loss records there’s the KO loss to Phil Delmont in his eighth fight and the KO loss to Johnny Smith in his eighteenth outing. Both Phil and Johnny were making their debuts for Christ’s sake! When Simonich almost starched the Toy Bulldog Joe’s record was 28-24-13!

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