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Anniversary of Ketchel's death brings debate


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GRAND RAPIDS -- Stanley Ketchel probably will receive quite a few more visitors than usual today at his hilltop resting place in Holy Cross Cemetery, on this centennial of a murder that still stirs an unresolvable debate: As enormous as his legend became, what might he have been, if not snuffed out young?

 

Ketchel was 24, and the reigning middleweight boxing champion, when a bullet tore through the Grand Rapids native's upper torso at about 7 a.m. on Oct. 15, 1910, mortally wounding him, on a ranch that still operates near Conway, Mo.

 

The question, 100 years after his death, is how much more Ketchel might have achieved as a prizefighter if he hadn't been murdered.

 

In a story published earlier this week, renowned author and sports historian Bert Randolph Sugar called Ketchel one of the four most glorified athletes of that era, along with the heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, and baseball's Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

 

But boxing, like baseball, was different then, and Ketchel's position in middleweight history is a debate nearly as mysterious as the circumstances surrounding his murder by farmhand Walter Dipley.

 

The Ring lists Ketchel only eighth all-time among middleweights.

 

Editor Nigel Collins explained the magazine tries to emphasize a fighter's position within his era, as well as analyze the probable head-to-head result of, say, a dynamic whirlwind like Ketchel against a sophisticated artist like Sugar Ray Robinson.

 

The Ring ranks Harry Greb, who reigned from 1923-26 before his life was cut short by a failed eye surgery -- and whose last fight, before winning the championship, was in Grand Rapids -- as the top all-time middleweight.

 

But the late Nat Fleischer, a Hall of Fame boxing writer who was The Ring's founder and editor/owner for a half-century, ranked Ketchel as his top middleweight of the first half of the 20th century. That would place Ketchel alongside such modern greats as Carlos Monzon and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

 

Ketchel cleaned out the middleweights.

 

Billy Papke won once in their epic four-fight series, but historians documented that he landed a fight-altering sucker punch when Ketchel motioned to touch gloves at the opening bell.

 

Ketchel blew through the west, taking care of Joe Thomas and scoring consecutive knockouts of twin brothers Mike Sullivan and Jack Sullivan, then went east and beat Philadelphia Jack O'Brien twice.

 

During his last six years, his only losses were to Papke, and unsuccessful heavyweight forays against Johnson and Sam Langford, to whom he lost on a six-round newspaper decision, with seven reporters polling for the winner, four for Ketchel, and two even.

 

After the Langford loss, Ketchel went back to middleweight and scored three knockouts.

 

Less than six months later, he was dead, although his murder was not the family's last tragedy.

 

In 1928, Thomas Ketchel was found in the barn at the family home on Little Pine Island, with a gashed throat and three knife wounds to the abdomen. Stanley Ketchel's 74-year-old father initially was believed murdered.

 

Police questioned Stanley's brothers, who quickly were exonerated when the coroner ruled the death a suicide.

 

Julia Ketchel died of a heart attack later that year, and Stanley's parents are buried near him.

 

Despite Ketchel's dominance, his wild-swinging style and minimal regard for defense do not usually equate to long-term success for a fighter's career track.

 

Tragic as his death was, it placed his ring persona in something of a preserved state, so no one saw his inevitable decline.

 

Beyond the natural flameout factor for fighters with Ketchel's style, there also is ample evidence he was weary of boxing.

 

His official record, beginning at age 16, was 52-4-4. But he claimed he was paid for about 250 fights, including the regular wildcat bouts he fought earlier in his teen years, after hopping trains from Michigan to Montana and finding work as a casino bouncer.

 

He went west, he went east, and he came home to Belmont.

 

He was tired. He accepted an invitation to R.P. Dickerson's ranch in Missouri, seeking seclusion and rest, and hoping to recharge for another big run of middleweight defenses.

 

The rest, truly, is history, and forever open to conjecture.

http://www.mlive.com/boxing/index.ssf/2010/10/anniversary_of_boxing_legend_s.html?

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When Mizner took over as Ketchells manager they both use to indulge in smoking in opium dens which were rampant in most USA china towns.In the long run would Ketchells career have been cut short by his lifestyle of women and drugs.Many USA historians rate Ketchell as the greatest Middleweight ever,but im afraid i dont agree with that as Sam Langford would have beaten him every time if they had more than the one bout.Taking in to consideration many times Langford had to carry the White fighter,in a very bad racial peroid in the USA.
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Dallen-

I think Ketchell, much like Salvador Sanchez, benefits from his death at such a young age. There's always a "What if" quality to things. I've even heard some people suggest Ketchel would've won the HW title had he lived, which is somewhat perpostorous thinking given how Johnson carried him, but that's the kind of things you deal with when someone dies young and is martyred.

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Thats the problem Dave, the boxers legacy seems to grow out of all proportion as the years go by and in the end they are made invincible.I remember on the BillyC show when he talked about Tom Sharkey the old time heavyweight.He said he fought with a broken rib sticking out through his skin most of the fight,i have only just stopped laughing on that one.And some historians are still saying Harry Greb fought with a glass eye,but i suppose Moby Dick was only a sardine lol
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  • 3 weeks later...
When Mizner took over as Ketchells manager they both use to indulge in smoking in opium dens which were rampant in most USA china towns.In the long run would Ketchells career have been cut short by his lifestyle of women and drugs.Many USA historians rate Ketchell as the greatest Middleweight ever,but im afraid i dont agree with that as Sam Langford would have beaten him every time if they had more than the one bout.Taking in to consideration many times Langford had to carry the White fighter,in a very bad racial peroid in the USA.

 

Opium dens really ought to be brought back for the masses - I'd thought about going to some of the last remaining ones in Laos but buy the time I got around to it the police had already started cracking down.

 

That said, they certainly shouldn't be frequented by world class athletes - at least not until after they've finished their fighting career.

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I think even though he was still only 24 years old he was an old 24 with all the extra activities he did. So he was up for a fall in and out of the ring....bit like a Young Mike Tyson in his hay day.......the good times will catch you up with you eventually especially if you are a world class boxer.

 

 

Otley

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Thats the problem Dave, the boxers legacy seems to grow out of all proportion as the years go by and in the end they are made invincible.I remember on the BillyC show when he talked about Tom Sharkey the old time heavyweight.He said he fought with a broken rib sticking out through his skin most of the fight,i have only just stopped laughing on that one.And some historians are still saying Harry Greb fought with a glass eye,but i suppose Moby Dick was only a sardine lol

 

Agreed, DA. The legacies age like a Fine Wine, and when one doesn't have a late career drop off, which we didn't see with 24 year olds like Sanchez and Ketchell, then unfortunately the temptation of some is to embellish even further on the "what if" stage, there's nothing to keep them from doing so, other than their own imagninations.

 

As Otley Snr mentions, they both were living a fast life outside the Ring, especially Ketchel with his Drug use, so it would've easy to say that that would've taken them down in the not too distant future, but since we didn't actually see it, no historian is ever going to suggest it.......after all, where's the money in writing that a martyr might've met with some difficulties had he lived?

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