Meet Me at St. Nick’s
St. Nicholas Arena, better known as St. Nick’s or The Rink, was on the northeast corner of 69 West 66th Street on Manhattan’s Columbus Avenue…
On second thought, don’t bother. It’s not there anymore. Hasn’t been for a long time. It was torn down decades ago, and I’m not sure what took its place. ABC, I hear tell. Nothing worth seeing, you can bet on that.
St. Nicholas Arena, better known as St. Nick’s or The Rink, was on the northeast corner of 69 West 66th Street on Manhattan’s Columbus Avenue. The arena was originally a rink, opening in 1896 for hockey and skating. Recognizing the error of its ways, St. Nick’s converted to the Sweet Science in 1906.
A mini Mecca of Boxing? Hardly. An unassuming shrine, but one well worth visiting. Not for championship bouts, that’s true. Over its 56 years, from 1906 to its closing in 1962, St. Nick’s hosted only one title bout, in 1938. Joey Archibald faced Mike Belloise for the vacant NYSAC world featherweight title. Archibald won by majority decision.
A rich history, nonetheless. Jack Johnson, Jess Willard, they fought there. So did Muhammad Ali when he was still Cassius Clay. It’s where he stopped Billy Daniels by seventh-round TKO on May 19, 1962, nine days before The Rink closed its doors for good. Floyd Patterson had his pro debut at St. Nick’s, stopping Eddie Godbold by fourth-round KO in 1952.
Remember the DuMont network, which broadcast live fights every Monday night from 1954 to 1956? Not leaving anything to the imagination, the show was called Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena, and originally aired on NBC from 1946 to 1948.
Where walk the ghosts now that the arena is gone? For men died there. Not surprising, given that St. Nick’s hosted some 30,000 fights in its 56 years. Middleweight Laverne Roach died following his bout with Georgie Small in February 1950 and lightweight Sonny Boy West died after his match with Percy Bassett, 10 months after Roach. But The Rink’s most notable death was that of Benny Leonard.
No shortage of great lightweights—Joe Gans, Lou Ambers, Beau Jack, Ike Williams, Roberto Duran… But Leonard’s the best. He was tough, sure, but he was also a master of psychological warfare. In Leonard’s 1921 title defense against Richie Mitchell, the referee was explaining the new rule—you know, the one that cost Jack Dempsey the win in his rematch with Gene Tunney—when the champ interjected. “Let me get this straight,” said “The Ghetto Wizard” to the ref. “As I understand it, every time I knock him down I’m to go to a neutral corner.” Leonard won by sixth-round TKO.
April 18, 1947, and Leonard had celebrated his 51st birthday just a few days before. He’d long hung up the gloves, but had turned ref. He collapsed and died of a massive heart attack after reffing the first six bouts of the night’s card. At least he died in the ring.
Leonard gone. Over at lightweight, we have pink-gloved Adrien Broner, the WBC crown nestled snugly upon his coiffed head. Joy.
St. Nicholas Arena gone. Well, at least we still have Madison Square Garden…sorta. It’s not where it’s supposed to be and I don’t like its looks. Have you been? Grown men dressed like juvenile delinquents in T-shirts and the ubiquitous baseball cap with the bill overhanging the neck. Gone the days of the suit in varying shades of gray, the boiled white shirt, the hand-painted tie, the fedora in gray or olive with black or green ribbon with the brim low over the eyes, a Lucky Strike at mouth’s corner with another snug behind the ear, the unmistakable snap of burnished Zippos clacking open and shut, that brief intoxicating smell of Ronson. Nobody smokes at the Garden anymore. Nobody’s allowed to. The nannies have spoken.
Me, I don’t much care for what’s new. If it ain’t air conditioning or antibiotics, I don’t know and I don’t want to know.