Stanley Ketchel Survives

By George Thomas Clark on August 16, 2013
Stanley Ketchel Survives
“Your drinking, as much the fights, is why you’re recovering here on this damn ranch.”

I wouldn’t have been in Ketchel’s corner, as I was jailed after my third arrest for smoking opium in a cathouse. Stanley cried when they handcuffed me in court…

Reluctantly, I accept the assignment to go back to a dreary 1910 Ozark ranch where the only woman is a plump and rough-looking cook. When Stanley Ketchel arrives for breakfast, carrying a .44 pistol, he heads for his usual chair but she offers another, and the nervous middleweight champion surveys the kitchen and places the weapon in his lap after he sits.

The cook puts Ketchel’s breakfast on the table. He picks up his fork. Behind him, Walter Dipley creeps through the door, gripping a .22 rifle, and shouts, “Get your hands up.”

“Drop it,” I order, pushing my revolver into Dipley’s back. He complies. I shoot anyway.  So does Ketchel. 

“Had to do it,” I say. “Far as I’m concerned, this cook is a murderer, too.”

“I haven’t killed anyone,” she says.

“Your boyfriend was about to,” I say, locking her in a closet. I open a window and shout for the ranch foreman to fetch the sheriff. 

“Who are you?” Ketchel asks. He tosses a tablecloth over Dipley.

“I’m your new manager. You keep all the proceeds but do what the hell I tell you or we rewind the clock and I don’t show up today, and you go home in a box they bury under a 12-foot gravestone in your beloved Grand Rapids.”

Ketchel’s pretty blue gray eyes examine me. I don’t see the devil who purportedly lurks within. I see a little boy.

“You’re crazy.”

“So long,” I say. “You won’t remember this.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Only what’s right. Be proud you left home at age fourteen and rode the rails like a bum before you arrived in Montana two years later and worked briefly as a bellhop until you flattened the bouncer and took his job and pounded countless unruly customers and took on all-comers for twenty bucks a week in a theater and had three hundred unofficial brawls before you became a professional and beat almost everyone until you became champion.”

“You think I’m not proud of that?”

“I’m just setting the stage for what’s gotta change. No more drinking.”

“You a nun?”

“Your drinking, as much the fights, is why you’re recovering here on this damn ranch.”

“I’m not giving up women.”

“Of course not. Just get the right ones.”

“That’s private.”

“It is. But no more smoking opium in bed, or anywhere else, with them.”

“Only done it a few times and don’t like it. But the champagne…”

“Buy champagne for the ladies but never trust a lady who drinks too much.”

“What a boring life.”

“Better than a bullet in the lung.”

“I’m still gonna drive cars fast as I can.”

“Wish you wouldn’t but can’t make an issue of everything. I want you to have the grand house with a huge music room where friends and family can gather and sing.”

“That’s always been my dream.”

“Then stay away from Jack Johnson.”

“I know I can beat him next time.”

“Bullshit. Even holding back and casually using his left he bruised your face and dominated the fight.”

“But I damn near won, floored him in the twelfth with a helluva right.”

“That was a lucky punch. And then what happened? You ran in, and with a single punch he knocked you colder than I’ve ever seen anyone. Two of your teeth stuck through your lip, and he brushed two more from his glove. Any heavyweight you beat doesn’t have great skills, and I’m only going to put you against great fighters your size.”

“I’ve already knocked out all the middleweights.”

“Not the best ones.”

“Who?”

“Harry Greb, Sugar Ray Robinson, Carlos Monzon, and Marvin Hagler.”

“Who the hell are they?”

“The greatest middleweights ever.”

“I can take ‘em.”

“You’ll soon have a chance, three times each.”

Greb and Ketchel mauled each other, delighting fans and other sadists. Ketchel got the first split decision, Greb the final two. Losers cried robbery each time. Robinson outboxed a lunging and grunting Ketchel twice but was knocked down for an eight-count during the second fight, a unanimous victory for the Michigan Assassin. Monzon, more reckless than Ketchel in personal matters—he killed his wife and fatally crashed his car during a prison furlough—was the model of prudent aggression and decisively decisioned Ketchel their first two fights. The third time Ketchel penetrated Monzon’s defense and rocked him once or twice a round, starting in the ninth, and satisfied all judges. Hagler pounded Ketchel their first fight, forcing uncharacteristic retreats, and won nine rounds to three. Their second encounter was the fight of the millennium, twelve rounds of sustained barbarism resembling the first round of Hagler versus Tommy Hearns. Hagler won a split decision, and both men vowed never to fight again. I wouldn’t have been in Ketchel’s corner, anyway, as I was jailed after my third arrest for smoking opium in a cathouse. Stanley cried when they handcuffed me in court. 

“We’ll pray and sing for you every night,” he promised. 


George Thomas Clark is the author of Uppercuts: Tales from the Ring, a collection of boxing stories available as an eBook at Amazon.com and other Digital Stores. His short story collection, The Bold Investor, is also available. See the author’s website at www.GeorgeThomasClark.com.

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  1. George Thomas Clark 07:01am, 08/20/2013

    Walter - Thanks for your kind remarks.  They help keep writers motivated and happy.

  2. Walter Wojtowicz 10:35pm, 08/19/2013

    Great article Mr. Clark.  I thoroughly appreciate your effort and all the writers effort in keeping this history alive.  @bikermike it is truly astonishing and fascinating to put the lives of these guys in perspective.  Without question they were all a half bubble off plumb but even fighters today who are 2 half bubbles of plumb didn’t have over two hundred bare knuckle brawls before turning pro.  Next time I complain about my job just gonna think of Stanley..

  3. Eric 05:46am, 08/18/2013

    I think Greb, Ketchel, Walker, Monzon, and Robinson would all be tough to defeat in the 168lb class and even the 175lb class. The 168lb division was an ideal fit for fighters like Greb or a LaMotta. Maybe have a catchweight of 169lbs and include Langford and Fitz. A prime Roy Jones could be added along with Hagler, Cerdan, Hopkins, etc.

  4. beaujack 09:39pm, 08/17/2013

    People tend to forget, that when Stanley Ketchel fought Sam Langford in Philly, April, 1910,Langford weighed about 15 pounds more than Stanley Ketchel, who was already addicted to some drug, most likely opium…To even hold his own with the 15 pound heavier Langford is a feat in itself…SIX months later while convalescing at his friend Col. Dickerson’s ranch in Conway, Missouri, Ketchel was shot dead…

  5. George Thomas Clark 07:15pm, 08/17/2013

    Fitzsimmons and Langford would certainly be great in any middleweight tournament, but they’d have to make 160.  The super middleweight - 168 - division would’ve been good for them, light heavy, too.

  6. George Thomas Clark 07:00pm, 08/17/2013

    Ketchel could’ve have paid the bills, with fewer fights, if he hadn’t partied so much.  But, as we’ve noted, he wasn’t a stable guy, and instability is exacerbated by fighting so much.  A sad circle.

  7. bikermike 06:55pm, 08/17/2013

    even as late as ‘Ol Mongoose….Archie Moore….......there were a lot of ‘smokers’ that weren’t sanctioned fights…..but fighters were paid..and they fought
    Asia and Latin America is still commonplace activities

  8. bikermike 06:52pm, 08/17/2013

    Like I said…..like Richard Petty….he had to race every weekend…...to pay the bills…
    Ketchel’s time….a fight a week wasn’t uncommon…..had to pay the bills

  9. bikermike 06:50pm, 08/17/2013

    a fighter can only face the fighters of his time…...then….now…and in the future.  That’s all they can do.
    If a fighter isn’t facing the best of his time…..history will provide evidence of this…..Ketchel faced the best of his time

  10. bikermike 06:47pm, 08/17/2013

    as ever ....another great read Mr Clark…..thanks

  11. George Thomas Clark 06:45pm, 08/17/2013

    It’s appalling how many official and “unofficial” fights those guys had.  Greb had two years during which he averaged almost a fight a week.  Schedules like that are crazy, and we see Greb blind in one week, Langford’s sight also ruined, and many other fighters destroyed

  12. bikermike 06:44pm, 08/17/2013

    time machine bouts are ....imagination….sort of like me an Raquel Welch…

    Give Ketchel his due…..a candle burning at both ends…..burns twice as quickly….but what a fire it makes…...

    In his time….and for years ...the mark that all MiddleWeights are measured against.
    No informed boxing fan can ever say they didn’t know about Stanley Ketchel…even today….almost a hundred years after he left this earth…

  13. bikermike 06:38pm, 08/17/2013

    That Sam Langford did so well for so long…against tuff fkrs…...is in itself a measure of the man.

    Rumours abound that he fought blind for a lot of his last fights…or damned close to it.

  14. bikermike 06:34pm, 08/17/2013

    only way to make a living in prize fighting in those days…Ketchel…and before him…Fitzimmons…..was to do the Richard Petty thing….and do it often…every week if you could…and get those points and wins.
    Boxing , however….meant exposure to damage….simply by the ways the sport is judged…..BLOWS LANDED…vs BLOWS LANDED UPON BY THE OTHER CONTESTANT…

    To be a successful prize fighter…in those early days….you had to absorb a lot of punishment.

    Ketchel absorbed a lot of punishment…..and something got knocked loose over his brief ..but brilliant career

  15. bikermike 06:27pm, 08/17/2013

    As ferocious a competitor as was Stanley Ketchel…..most folks kept it a secret that Stanley Ketchel was about a half bubble off plumb…......when it came to ‘normal’

    maybe a forerunner of mike tyson…...
    ....Long term thinking for either of these great competitors…was checking to see it there was toilet paper before taking a dump

  16. Eric 01:49pm, 08/17/2013

    I think the middleweight division is without equal when it comes to producing talented fighters. I would rank Bob Fitzsimmons and Langford as all time middleweights. Both Fitz and Langford are routinely judged as heavyweights although both were really just middleweights. Fitzsimmons never really weighed much more than a middleweight even when he took the heavyweight crown, and Langford’s best fighting weight was just a few pounds over the 160lb limit. Both Fitz and Langford would certainly qualify as two of the hardest punching middleweights of all time, even exceeding the murderous punching Ketchel. Matter of fact both could arguably make a strong claim as the greatest middleweight ever. So I would put Langford and Fitzsimmons right up there with the Grebs, Ketchels, Monzons, Robinsons, and Walkers. Just below the top pantheon would be guys like Hagler, LaMotta, and Cerdan. So many great fighters at 160,  the middleweight division has proven to be the thoroughbred division of boxing. Historically without question, the middleweight division has produced the most talented fighters.

  17. George Thomas Clark 09:51am, 08/17/2013

    Eric - Wouldn’t it be great to pick a top eight - including Hagler - and seed them 1 through 8, and the four winners would fight in the semi-finals and the two survivors in the finals.  Actually, even better would be for each of the top eight to fight each other once - seven fights - and see what happens.

  18. Eric 07:22am, 08/17/2013

    I wouldn’t place Hagler in the top 5 all-time middleweights. He’s top 10, but top 5, sorry. My personal top 5 would be in order Greb, Ketchel, Monzon, Robinson, Walker. Robinson was the greatest welterweight but as a middleweight I would rank him below Greb, Ketchel and Monzon. Fighters like Hagler, LaMotta, Zale would rank on a slightly lower scale than fighters like a Greb or a Robinson. Greb vs Ketchel would’ve been a helluva match. Interestingly, Sam Langford, who might have been at his best just weighing a few pounds above the middleweight limit, could’ve easily been an all-time great middleweight had he chosen to fight in that weight class exclusively.

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