Last Willard

By Pete Ehrmann on April 2, 2014
Last Willard
“(Galento) is coming to Milwaukee to knock out a bum. It might as well be our own bum.”

“Galento doesn’t want any man who intends to fight. He wants to be sure he will hear a splash after two or three rounds…”

In early June of 1939, Willard Hayes showed up uninvited at Joe Louis’s training camp and announced that he would like to “tangle” with the heavyweight champion of the world. The 20-year-old Hayes had hitchhiked the 867 miles to Pompton Lakes, New Jersey from his home base of Cudahy, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb.

The tangling he’d done in the ring up to then hardly recommended Hayes even as a sparring partner for the Brown Bomber as Louis prepared to defend his title against “Two Ton” Tony Galento on June 28.

A native of Oconto, a small town in northeast Wisconsin, Hayes won some regional amateur titles before moving to the Milwaukee area to turn professional because there was nothing more romantic and exciting to him than being a prize-fighter. He was a 5’7½”, 200-pound plodder with no boxing skills whose strategy was to pitch haymakers and hope one of them hit the strike zone.

“Willie Hayes, the Cudahy chopping block, pursued his usual course of taking all the other fellow could give until he landed a right which knocked out Wilbur Witkin in the second round,” wrote R.G. Lynch in The Milwaukee Journal after Hayes evened his record at 2-2 on April 19, 1939.

“Hayes probably never will get past the four-round preliminary stage,” said Ronald McIntyre of the Milwaukee Sentinel, “but he will provide a few laughs for the fans if he’s in with someone in his own class.”

This was the guy who a few weeks later thumbed his way to Pompton Lakes for a go with Joe Louis.

It was probably on account of Willie’s physical similarity to the New Jersey Beer Barrel that he got his wish, with predicable results. “(Hayes) is rapidly learning that, as Joe Jacobs, Galento’s manager, so aptly put it, he ‘should have stood in bed,’” wrote Saul Fisher of the AP on June 14. “Today he was cuffed from ring post to ring post.”

Back in Milwaukee that August, after Hayes was decked twice by Marion Mosely and lost a four-round decision, R.G. Lynch wrote: “Willie Hayes should not be permitted to fight anymore. He is hopeless. All he can do is take a lot of punishment in the hope of landing one of his wild swings. Every time he fights, ringsiders are sprayed with his blood.”

Lynch would repeat this admonition over the next few years as Hayes – now going by the nickname Mickey – palooka’d on regardless of wins, losses, cuts and bruises, because just to be a fighter and be known as one by the customers on his daily ice delivery route in Cudahy trumped everything else.

In 1941, when Detroit nightclub owner Frank Barbaro bankrolled a “White Hope” tournament in hopes of finding a worthy Caucasian challenger for Louis, the “Cudahy Ice Man” lost a decision to Charley Roth in his first bout, but with three seconds left in the three-round fight he iced Roth with a wild punch to the jaw.

A year later Hayes appeared to be on his way to avenging two previous defeats to Frank Greene at Marigold Gardens in Chicago. Greene was knocked down eight times in four rounds, but in pounding Greene so hard Hayes broke his left hand and elbow and couldn’t answer the bell for round five, giving Greene the win by technical knockout.

When Jack Marshall stopped Hayes in Dallas on April 8, 1943 – Mickey’s 18th loss against 12 wins and a draw – it was reported among the agate fight results if at all.

The banner headline in boxing that month was that Tony Galento was returning to the ring. He’d won boxing immortality by knocking down Joe Louis before the champion stopped him in the fourth round of their title fight, and then beat Lou Nova. But after successive losses to Max and Buddy Baer, Galento ensconced himself behind the bar of his saloon in Orange, New Jersey full-time.

Now, after two years the rotund fighter whose mantra was “I’ll moider the bum!” was gloving up again. Manager Willie Gilzenberg announced that Galento’s comeback would start April 28 at the Milwaukee Auditorium.

Promoter Morrie Zenoff’s first choice to come out of the other corner was Buddy Knox, the veteran heavyweight then in the U.S. Army and stationed in Milwaukee. But Gilzenberg said that after Galento’s two-year layoff they preferred to start off with less formidable opposition, and proposed that Chicago heavyweight Johnny McCarthy face the “New Jersey Night Stick” instead.

Or, actually, fall on his face. McCarthy had lost all six of his fights, five of them by knockout.

“Who (Galento) is to fight does make a difference,” wrote R.G. Lynch on April 14. “It should be someone who will not fall over the first time Tony scowls fiercely and waves the left hook which floored Louis. It also should be someone known here, in whom the boxing commission can have confidence.”

Lynch’s surprise candidate to fill that bill was the Cudahy Ice Man, though it wasn’t the most flattering of endorsements.

“Mickey is no world beater, but then Galento is not going to take on any world beater. On the other hand, Hayes will not fall over from fright or for any other reason. Galento will have to knock him over. Hayes is not in the ring to make a buck. He wants to be a fighter… In the boxing business, they will say that (Galento) is coming to Milwaukee to knock out a bum. It might as well be our own bum.”

Fred Saddy of the state boxing commission liked the idea and notified Galento and Gilzenberg: “We’ll take someone we know will give and take. Mickey Hayes shouldn’t be too tough. He never has been. But at least he tries.”

Galento’s response was righteously indignant.

“I’ve passed the bum-battling stage,” blustered Two Ton Tony. “I want fights with someone better than Hayes.”

Which was so patently and laughably untrue (Johnny McCarthy!) that later Galento issued a new statement to the press:

“The Wisconsin commission has suggested that I fight a opponent who right now is in the pink of condition. Before I would be able to fight a bout of that caliber I would have to do a lot of intensive training, and since time does not permit this training … I have decided to withdraw from the bout.”

In his next column, R.G. Lynch apologized to Mickey Hayes. “From this day on,” wrote Lynch, “he is ‘the man Tony Galento was afraid to meet.’

“…In his last five starts, Mickey was stopped four times. Still, Galento doesn’t want him. The inference is all too plain. Galento doesn’t want any man who intends to fight. He wants to be sure he will hear a splash after two or three rounds.”

Sensing the opportunity for a big PR score, promoter Zenoff hurriedly matched Johnny McCarthy and Hayes to fight at the Auditorium on April 29, billing it as “The man Galento couldn’t fight vs. the man Galento wouldn’t fight.” The winner, said Zenoff, would get a crack at Two Ton Tony in Milwaukee in May.

While it would be no clash of titans, wrote Milwaukee Sentinel sports editor Stoney McGlynn of the McCarthy-Hayes fight, “one thing sure, with Mickey in there ... the fight will be on its merits. Not knowing much of McCarthy’s talents, we warn him that he might make a chopping block out of Mickey’s Irish pan, but the Cudahy man will keep boring in and pouring ‘em home as long as mere flesh can stand it, and that as long as he is up he’s dangerous because he does pack a punch.”

Sure enough, McCarthy jabbed Hayes silly until with five seconds left in the second round Cudahy’s new folk hero dropped him with a big right hand and McCarthy’s losing streak remained intact.

But the victory didn’t earn Hayes a fight with Galento after all. Two Ton passed on him again, and instead when he climbed into the Milwaukee Auditorium ring on May 19 it was to box a four-round exhibition with a couple sparring partners he brought to town with him.

“Just imagine giving that bum $1,500 for a four-round exhibition when he’s afraid of Mickey Hayes,” jeered boxing fan Ted Johnson in a letter to the Journal. “If Galento is afraid to fight, why should we pay to watch him shadow box with one of his bartenders?”

Some paying customers lobbed tomatoes at Galento between rounds of his exhibition, and he left the ring to a chorus of boos.

After three nondescript comeback bouts Galento packed it in again. One of boxing’s all-time characters, a few years ago he was the subject of a deservedly acclaimed book called “Two Ton: One Fight. One Night. Tony Galento vs. Joe Louis,” by Joseph Monninger. A screenplay based on the book is making the rounds in Hollywood.

Mickey Hayes lost all but one of his last 17 bouts but always went down swinging the way he did against heavyweight contender Elmer “Violent” Ray on January 11, 1945 (when, incidentally, Hayes got into the ring directly from his 33-hour train ride to Boston).

“Ray’s third punch, a right to the jaw, put Hayes down for nine in the first round, but he came up fighting and succeeded in rocking Ray several times before the end of the fight” in the third round, reported the Associated Press.

When last heard of in the mid-1960s, Hayes was driving a fruit truck for a living in Florida.

“In justice to Mickey, piano legs and all, lack of any will-o’-the-wisp agility or boxing finesse, it should be stated he can punch his way around and will keep punching and receiving, especially a considerable portion of the latter, without showing a trace of the white feather,” wrote Stoney McGlynn in ‘43.

Forget Hayes’ 15-34-1 boxing record. That is the book on the man Tony Galento was afraid to meet.

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  1. Pete Ehrmann 11:02am, 04/03/2014

    From the 7/6/1940 Milwaukee Sentinel:
    Galento loses; Steve tells it to the judge: CHI, 7/5—(INS)—Steve Lukas has a marked resemblance to Tony Galento and is—or was—proud of it. Also he thinks—or thought—Tony was a good fighter. In explaining to the court today how he happened to be hauled in on an intoxication charge, Steve said: “Everybody kidded me about looking like Tony Galento, and I had great faith in him as a boxer. But when he got beat up by Max Baer the other night, I began drinking and I just didn’t have time to stop.”

  2. Eric 08:58am, 04/02/2014

    You got to love a 5’7 1/2” 200lb heavyweight who throws haymakers. Can’t imagine Galento was afraid of anyone, much less Mr. Hayes. After all Galento fought a bear and a couple of hard punching, very large Baer brothers, and a panther called the Brown Bomber. Galento probably would have dispatched Hayes in 3-4 rounds in a bout void of any scientific boxing.

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