By Bob Quackenbush / dmboxing.com
In the world of boxing, indoor arenas are the venues that typically come to mind. These locations with their traditional images of sweat, cigar smoke, and packed crowds close to the ring are what is envisioned when “prize fighting” is the topic of discussion. Wonderful examples would be Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon, The Olympic Auditorium and Hollywood Legion Stadium in Los Angeles, and, on a larger scale, Madison Square Garden.
However, many title fights have been held in the “great outdoors” at facilities such as baseball and football stadiums. Some even took place in temporary structures built for specific events, the most famous being the “Fight of the Century” between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries in Reno, Nevada, on July 4, 1910.
Most of the famous outdoor bouts took place in New York City, with several more in Chicago. There were others, too, but for the purposes of this article, the focus will be on the Big Apple and the Windy City, plus a fight in our nation’s capital. Here’s a look at several well known contests held in some legendary outdoor venues from years gone by. [Note: This is not an exhaustive list.]
SOLDIER FIELD, Chicago:
- Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey by unanimous decision on September 22, 1927. This was the famous “Long Count” bout where Tunney went down after a combination in the seventh round, but the referee did not start the count until Dempsey went to a neutral corner. Tunney, “The Fighting Marine”, who took the heavyweight title from Dempsey a year before, defended it successfully as he dropped the “Manassa Mauler” in the eighth and controlled the remaining rounds. This was the first fight in history where the gate exceeded $2,000,000.
COMISKEY PARK, Chicago:
- Joe Louis defeated Jim Braddock by knockout in the eighth round on June 22, 1937. This was two years after Braddock upset Max Baer to win the heavyweight championship, but Louis’ speed and power were too much for “Gentleman Jim”. Louis went down from a Braddock upper cut in round one, but then it was all Louis. A body shot and a right to the chin in the 8th finished Braddock.
- Ezzard Charles defeated Jersey Joe Walcott by unanimous decision on June 22, 1949. This was the first of four fights between the two. Charles’ victory earned him the heavyweight title vacated when Joe Louis retired. Louis personally selected them as the best to fight for the crown.
- Sonny Liston defeated Floyd Patterson by knockout in round one on September 25, 1962. This one was over quickly as Liston took the heavyweight crown from Patterson. A right uppercut hurt the champ early, then a powerful left hook gave Liston the win. In the rematch ten months later, Liston again KO’d Patterson in round one.
THE POLO GROUNDS, New York:
- Jack Dempsey defeated Luis Ángel Firpo by knockout in round two on September 14, 1923. This classic was rated by Associated Press writers as the most dramatic sports moment of the first 50 years of the 20th century. Heavyweight champ Dempsey was knocked through the ropes by the strong Argentinian Firpo in round one, but he finished off the “Wild Bull of the Pampas” in round two with a right to the jaw. Dempsey went down twice and Firpo nine times in this slugfest. Close to 80,000 packed the stadium to see this one.
- Joe Louis defeated Billy Conn by knockout in round thirteen on June 18, 1941. Over 54,000 fans saw the heavyweight champ face the light-heavyweight champ in what turned out to be a match for the ages. The smaller Conn was giving Louis all he could handle. Conn chose to slug it out and two big rights by Louis, the second to the body, took the wind out of the sails of the “Pittsburgh Kid” before a final flurry and a right to the head by Louis took the brave challenger Conn down for the count.
- Floyd Patterson defeated Ingemar Johansson by knockout in round five on June 20, 1960. Serious training had the former champ prepared for the new champ. Patterson was the aggressor, but Johansson’s right in round two stung him. Shaking it off, he kept going until the 5th round when a right hurt the Swede, followed by a left that knocked him down. Johansson got up at the nine-count, but Patterson ended things with a powerful left hook to the face and became the first man in boxing history to regain the heavyweight title.
EBBETS FIELD, Brooklyn:
- Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom defeated Jimmy Slattery by decision on August 5, 1931. This bout was for the World Light Heavyweight title and was their third meeting after splitting the first two. Rosenbloom went on to be a successful character actor, appearing in over 60 movies.
GRIFFITH STADIUM, Washington D.C.
- Joe Louis defeated Buddy Baer by Disqualification in round seven on May 23, 1941. A supposed tune-up for Louis before his fight with Billy Conn in June, big Buddy Baer (brother of Max) knocked the champ through the ropes in round one (the first time for a heavyweight title holder since Dempsey vs. Firpo). In the sixth round, Louis dropped Baer three times, the third being controversial as Baer’s corner said it came after the bell. When Baer’s handlers would not leave the ring, referee Arthur Donavan disqualified Baer.
NEXT WEEK: This look at outdoor stadium prize fights focuses on the “The House that Ruth Built”, YANKEE STADIUM.