The Unknown Unknown Winston

By Clarence George on August 18, 2016
The Unknown Unknown Winston
Of little consequence, perhaps, but Unknown Winston was about as durable as they come.

“Winston wasn’t championship material,” wrote boxing columnist Billy Prince on April 6, 1958, “but he was a real rough-tough guy” …

“The appropriately nicknamed Unknown Winston.”—Randy Roberts

Of little consequence, perhaps, but Unknown Winston was about as durable as they come, was “ferocious in his attacks,” and packed “a punch like a Missouri mule.”

Born in Tampa, Florida, on October 10, 1909, the heavyweight (managed first by Dinny McMahon, then by Hall of Famer Lou Viscusi) fought out of Hartford, Connecticut, from 1928 to 1945 (though out of the ring from ‘42 to ‘44), scoring a record of 64 wins, 44 by knockout, 51 losses, 19 by knockout, seven draws, and one no contest, an average of about nine fights a year.

He fought many of his opponents, who tended to be of the same “inconsequential” vintage, over and over again. He and Willie Bush, for instance, faced off eight times.

“The Hartford Killer” did fight some names, but almost always lost. He took on never-stopped Obie Walker four times, losing three by stoppage and drawing once, Harry Thomas three times, outpointing him once but losing two by knockout, and Ernie Schaaf three times, losing two by knockout (once for New England’s heavyweight title), and once winning by split decision (“Winston hit Schaaf with his left almost at will and was too fast for the slower-moving Boston heavyweight”). King Levinsky outpointed him at Philly’s Convention Hall on February 2, 1933, “after 10 rounds of savage fighting,” Lee Ramage beat him by unanimous decision at the Valley Arena in Holyoke, Massachusetts, that September 25, and Bob Olin outpointed him at Madison Square Garden that October 9 (his only fight at the Mecca). Patsy Perroni won on points at the Arena in Boston on May 21, 1934, and again at Haft’s Acre in Columbus, Ohio, on July 1, 1940. Although he managed a draw against Al Ettore at Shibe Park in Philly on July 31, 1934, he twice lost to Charley Massera, first by unanimous decision at Duquesne Gardens in Pittsburgh that November 12, “a fast scrap, full of action,” then on points at Foot Guard Hall in Hartford on January 31, 1935. Leroy Haynes outpointed him at Shibe Park that June 20, over the course of a “sensational 10 rounds,” while Steve Dudas beat him by unanimous decision at the Valley Arena that October 7.

And the beat goes on: Bob Pastor took him on points at Walnut Beach Stadium in Milford, Connecticut, on August 1, 1936 (“a terrific fight, with so little between them that the decision could have gone either way”); Buddy Knox knocked him out in the ninth at the Naval Armory in Detroit on June 10, 1938; Eddie Simms outpointed him at the Arena in Cleveland that November 10 and knocked him out in the second at the Music Hall Arena in Cincinnati on April 3, 1940; Johnny Paychek knocked him out in the first in Davenport, Iowa, on July 18, 1939; and Curtis Sheppard knocked him out in the second at Duquesne Gardens on March 17, 1941 (his only fight that year and his first bout since losing to Perroni eight months before. Winston wouldn’t return to the ring until April 30, 1945, when he knocked out tough but glass-jawed Sam Shumway in the first at the Valley Arena).

Which is not to say he never won. He stopped Adolf Heuser, for instance, by 12th-round TKO at the Heywood Arena in West Springfield, Massachusetts, on July 17, 1933. Even more impressive, he outpointed Tony Galento at Dreamland Park in Newark that August 28 (“Tough Tony was the roughest dirtiest fighter he ever battled,” wrote Eddie Mack in his boxing column of July 27, 1958, “but after the bout was a nice guy”). He also had the distinct honor of being the first man (of only four) to knock out Tony Shucco, kayoing him in the first at the Arena in New Haven on May 24, 1934 (Shucco got more or less even, outpointing Winston at the same venue just a few days later, on June 7). The exact same scenario with Maurice Strickland—Unknown was the first of four fighters to knock him out, kayoing him in the fourth at Chicago Stadium on December 9, 1936. And something similar happened with Marty Fox, who was managed by Al Weill and trained by Ray Arcel and Whitey Bimstein. Fox was only knocked out by three men, Winston being the third, kayoing him in the sixth at the South Park Arena in Hartford on August 11, 1933 (Unknown outpointed him at the same venue the previous month, on July 11, though Marty won on points in their first encounter, on June 12, 1931, at the Lakewood Arena in Waterbury, Connecticut).

Fox “went wrong,” Weill told A.J. Liebling. “He was fighting Unknown Winston in Hartford, and he was stabbing Unknown to death. The referee waves to him to go in and fight, because they were stinking out the joint, and you know what the damn fool done? He done what the referee told him. Winston knocked him cold. When I heard what he done, I told him, ‘You are too dumb to be a fighter.’ So I retired him.” (More or less true, as Fox only fought twice more before quitting the ring.)

The manager threw his cigar to the floor, related Liebling, “and ground the stub with his right heel, as if obliterating an evil memory.”

Winston participated in one of the stranger fights on record. He and Jack Sharkey met at Boston Garden on November 22, 1935 (Sharkey’s first fight since losing by split decision to Tommy Loughran at Shibe Park on September 27, 1933), Unknown getting kayoed in the second. Or was it the first? According to BoxRec, “The Boston Gob” knocked him out “in the first round after two blows but, as there had been ‘ugly talk’ before of a ‘fix,’ the fans surrounded the ring shouting insults. Referee [Johnny] Martin tried to assure them that Winston had tried, which was greeted with louder insults. Sharkey suggested they start the bout all over. Martin consulted with the judges, and a few minutes later permitted the bout to start all over again. The fans returned to their seats. In the second round Sharkey caught Winston with a left to the jaw to floor him for an eight-count. He then slammed him with a right to the jaw and Winston was down for good. The fans booed and went home. The State Boxing Commission then suspended Winston for one year for not giving his ‘best efforts.’”

Unknown didn’t fight again in The Bay State until March 8, 1937, beating Don “Red” Barry by unanimous decision at the Valley Arena (though losing to him by split decision at the same venue on April 3, 1933).

“The Black Menace” last won on July 16, 1945, knocking out the singularly unheralded Johnny Davis (perhaps Joe Louis’ least impressive opponent) in the first at Century Stadium in West Springfield, Massachusetts. He last fought on August 7 that year, at the same venue, getting knocked out in the fifth by Jackie Saunders, he of the wonderfully symmetrical record of eight wins, three by knockout; eight losses, three by knockout.

Although Winston never fought for the heavyweight crown (“Winston wasn’t championship material,” wrote boxing columnist Billy Prince on April 6, 1958, “but he was a real rough-tough guy”), The Ring ranked him 10th in 1932, a year he fought 10 times, winning six, four by KO or TKO.

Dying on November 19, 1998, age 89, one can only hope that Dinny McMahon’s advice, “Dress neat like you are somebody and always try to make people like you,” served him well over the course of his long life.

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  1. Clarence George 04:10am, 08/21/2016

    Glad you liked it, Mr. Lettieri, thank you.

    I wrote about Applegate several months ago and must have at least mentioned his bout with Weinberg.  But you’re right that the match in and of itself would make a good article.

    Sincerely,

    Skelton Knaggs

  2. Al Lettieri 03:00am, 08/21/2016

    Wonderful story about Winston. I always knew the name, but any other info was “unknown to me.” Thanks for the enlightening article. I’m also intrigued about the Applegate-Weinberg fight being called because of rain and picking up a day later. Never heard of that before. That sounds like an article unto itself. Thanks for the boxing education, Mr. George.

  3. Clarence George 01:09pm, 08/18/2016

    Too kind, Peter, thank you.

    Yeah, Sharkey-Winston is really one for the books.  The only other bout that comes close, to my knowledge, is Red Applegate-Bill Weinberg.  The match was called on account of rain after the third round and continued the next evening for the remaining seven rounds (Weinberg winning by split decision).  I mean, bizarre.

  4. peter 12:37pm, 08/18/2016

    Another tasty nugget from the esteemed pen of Mr. George! I’ll take another, please!  Unknown’s tiff with Jack Sharkey was quite eye opening. Never heard it before. Sharkey—Olin—Winston…there were a lot of fights back then, and a lot of them were, undoubtedly, shady.

  5. Clarence George 12:00pm, 08/18/2016

    Thanks very much indeed, Beaujack.  I know that you share my admiration for the woefully neglected Unknown Winston.

    As always, your reminiscences are much appreciated.  Although I wrote on Oma several months ago (in honor of his centenary, in fact), I haven’t written on the indefensibly forgotten Olin, whose bout with Rosenbloom was the last time two Jews fought for a world title.  Imagine that happening today.  Off the top of my head, I know that he owned a restaurant in NYC and died pretty young of a heart attack.

  6. beaujack 10:49am, 08/18/2016

    Another great piece Clarence on an unknown fighter who deserves to be known, Unknown Winston….You mention two fighters Bob Olin and Lee Oma in your article.  As a young fella I was in a crap game in a resort in the Catskills area with some friends and an older man who cleaned us out of our money. Well it turned out that this older tough looking man was Bob Olin the former LH champion who upset Maxie Rosenbloom, winning the LH Title years before. Another name you mention was the handsome but erratic heavyweight Lee Oma who I saw fight several times in MSG against the likes of Tami Mauriello, Joe Baksi etc. Oma when “trying” was a terrific fighter who had a unique style somewhat similar to Jersey Joe Walcott of walking away sideways and suddenly stopping and lashing out on his surprised opponents…Alas it was said the most roadwork he prepared for a fight was walking from one end of a bar to another…Oma was in the film “On the Waterfront”, playing the part of a bartender, along with other ex pugs, Tony Galento, Tami Mauriello and Abe Simon…Keep em “acummin” Clarence…

  7. Clarence George 09:23am, 08/18/2016

    So glad, Irish, thank you.  You may indeed be right about the name.  I couldn’t find any info on its origin.  There were some great monikers in those days.  One fighter from that era went by Seldom Heard, though he also answered to Army Mule!  I don’t think Winston so much threw fights as just sometimes didn’t try.  Lee Oma was also very much like that.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:01am, 08/18/2016

    Clarence George-Great! I love it! That sobriquet sounds like something that came from out of the blue..Probably thought “Mysterious” wasn’t original enough for the Thirties. Those early round KO losses are just a little tiny bit suspect.

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