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the fighting face


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The Washington Post

14 May 1916


“Fighting Face” Has Proved to be a Myth, and “Looks” Offers No Criterion of Pugilistic Ability


Robert Edgren


You've heard them when a new man steps into the ring. I remember one night when Al Palzer, a giant Minnesotan. appeared for the first time in New York fistic society. There was a momentary hush. Then every spectator turned to every other spectator and exclaimed- "Great Scott — what a face for a fighter"'


Al Palzer certainly had the ideal "Fighting fare." His well-rounded jaw was thrust forward like the ram of a battleship. There was firmness and courage in the lines of his mouth. His nose was short, and not too prominent. His eyes were protected by high cheekbones and the brow of a caveman. His neck was like a column, well set on broad and sloping shoulders that promised plenty of strength and hitting power Palzer's eyes were clear blue, , like those of his Viking ancestors, bold and steady. When fighting they held a berserk glare.


Where is Al Palzer now? Why, out West again, fighting occasional preliminaries in third-rate boxing shows. No other heavyweight in recent years has fallen so fast or so far. He had all the looks of a champion, but in his case the camera lied.


Looks Like World Beater.


About the time that Al Palzer was beating Bombardier Wells and Al Kaufman and scoring his few ring victories, another temporary heavyweight wonder flashed across the horizon. This was Soldier Kearns, an almost exact counterpart of the old timer, Tom Sharkey in feature and physique. The only apparent difference was that Kearns was 20 pounds bigger than Tom at his best. Kearns certainly did look like a world-beater for a while. He had a tremendous punch and a knack of landing it well. With his high boned, wide face, powerful jaw and great thick neck set on a pair of shoulders like Hackenschmidt's, he looked absolutely invincible. A horseshoer by trade, he had the iron endurance horseshoeing gave Fltzsimmons.


A soldier serving through the Philippine campaigns, he was fearless. A punch was a joke with him, after bullets and fevers. Many prophesied that he'd surely become heavyweight champion. He knocked out several opponents quickly. He met "One Round" Davis, another sensational fighter with a remarkable knockout record, and he knocked Davis cold in less than 2 minutes of fighting. A week later Kearns met young Jess Willard, a tall, lanky Kansan, whose clownlike antics had made him a joke in local rings. Kearns was grim. Willard was all smiles. Kearns intended to knock the giant out in a round or two.


Willard, laughing and joking with the spectators, looked as if he saw some hidden humor in the whole thing. Kearns looked a champion. Willard looked as much out of place in the ring as If he'd been a circus clown in paint and pantaloons.


Yet see what happened. For several rounds Kearns grimly plunged in and swung furiously at the giant's jaw, while Willard leaned back out of range, winked at the spectators and laughed like a comedian who appreciates his own jokes. Then Kearns grew impatient of hitting at a mark he couldn't reach, and drove a terrific smash into Willard's solar plexus. The laugh on Willard's face disappeared. Kerns stepped back to let him fall, as all others had fallen when he drove that right hand in. But instead of falling Willard lunged at Kearns and shot out a right arm that looked as long as a fence rail. His glove hit Kearns on the chin so hard that the soldier turned a somersault in the air and struck the floor on the back of his neck. He was paralyzed by that blow, and even after being counted out couldn't get to his corner without help.


Willard, the laughing, careless clown.


has become world's heavyweight champion, and is regarded as one of the greatest heavyweights that ever held the title. Kearns, after losing to Willard, fell into a long string of defeats, and at last dropped out of sight. For all I know he may be shoeing horses again. You can't know a man's fighting ability by his looks. The "aggressive" jaw, the short, thick neck tell us nothing at all.If you have trouble on the street the slender soft looking fellow may be ten times as dangerous as the man who carries the "earmarks" of a slugger.


Sullivan's Fighting Face.


John L. Sullivan set the style in fighting faces for a generation or two John had a heavy neck, a bold profile and a rounded, heavy, protruding jaw that gave him the fighting look of the bulldog. Jim Corbett, who whipped him, was slender, clean cut and so ordinary in appearance that he'd have been lost anywhere in a group of college boys. The next champion, Bob Fitzsimmons, might be taken for a preacher or a doctor. He has a rather high nose, a round, smooth face and a well-set chin that is a trifle retreating rather than protruding. His eyes,

instead of carrying a "fighting expression," show only a mild, innocent baby stare when he's in action. And Fitzsimmons has knocked out more men — in nearly 400 ring battles—than any other fighter that ever lived.


Typical "Ring Countenance."


Jeffries, of course, looked like a fighter. He was thick-necked, short-nosed, heavy boned, with protruding brows, a strong jaw and a grim and surly appearance in the ring. Tommy Burns looked like a fighter. So did Johnson. But Jess Willard—perhaps the greatest of them all—is just a big, smiling, good-natured farmer still. He's a fighter because he's a wonderful man physically, and because, besides his physique, he has what many other big men have lacked. Intelligence enough the to know that skill would make him invincible, and patience enough to work and study for years to acquire the skill.



Among the smaller men Terry McGovern had a typical "fighting face" He had the glaring eyes, the short nose, the out-thrust lower chin. Also he had a very long neck. He won his fights by carrying such a furious pace that the other fellows didn't have time to think of hitting him. But I remember another fighter who was no less aggressive and relentless. This was "Fighting Dick" Hyland, and "Fighting Dick" had buck teeth and a retreating chin and about as much alert aggressiveness in his appearance at ordinary times as a marshmallow. Kid Lavigne was a furious fighter, but the famous Kid looked like a cherub even when in the ring.


Tommy Ryan, who had a large "beak" and a small head that ran right up to a point, and hair that grew nearly down to his eyebrows, was everything that he didn't look He was one of the cleverest and most crafty fighters that ever fought. He looked sad and apologetic until he found his opening for the knockout Nobody would have picked him out of a crowd as a fighter. Yet he was one of the most wonderful men of his time.


And there was Kid McCoy. The Kid has always been an exceedingly troublesome person in any fight, either in or out of the ring. He's as peaceful as a stepped-on rattler. His brown eyes smile so much that they carry wrinkles at the corners. His face is nearly always smiling .He is slender and graceful in build. His forehead is high and broad, his features regular, his chin small and set back instead of pushed forward like that of the man with a "fighting face " McCoy was as desperate a fighter as ever lived, utterly game and utterly relentless

He put Tom Sharkey flat on his back twice with his "corkscrew punch" He fought Ruhlin and Maher and many other heavyweights while he was still only a middleweight himself. He out tricked Tommy Ryan and he outfought others. Joe Gans was a marvel in the ring. He had a profile which was more Arab than Ethiopian in character with a well shaped head and a strong well rounded chin. Gans had a high, thin nose. His expression was never savage. Rather it was melancholy. He neither smiled nor scowled while fighting, but went through his work as if his body was a perfect machine driven by a well-ordered and smooth calculating brain.


Sharkey Appears Ferocious.


You can argue either way on the "fighting face." There was Sailor Tom Sharkey, who had one of the most ferocious "fighting faces" I've ever seen in a ring - a bony, big-jawed face with caveman brows, set on a great thick| neck. His fighting expression was simply cold, icy ferocity and grim determination combined He fought like a fury. And then we have Squires, of Australia who was a marvel — in looks.


The "fighting face" is a delusion and a snare, and not worth a bet.

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very true. This is the drawing which went with the article and also 2 others which are very appropriate to the story. i wish i could find one of John L Sullivan showing his famous fighting face but no luck in that. Its said it was quite something and scared the wits out of his opponents.


Its funny in recent times as we call what they do "Mind Games"







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