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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The One They Called Kayo (Boxing Illustrated, July 1963)

1963-07 Boxing Illustrated (pages 42-45)

The One They Called Kayo

Pound for pound, George Chaney was probably the hardest puncher of all time. He rolled up a remarkable number of knockouts and was that great rarity capable of flattening an opponent with a single blow.

THE CHANEYS WERE LUMBERJACKS: axe-swingers tearing forests apart for profit. The youngest Chaney was a boy named George—and he was the toughest chip off the old Chaney block. George became a fighter, a one-punch killer who knocked out 102 opponents. They called him the "Greatest Knockout Artist of all Time." And to understand his incredible story you must go back to Baltimore: 1910…

…There's a girl in the heart of Maryland with a heart that belongs to me…

Baltimore boys on the make sang that song. George Chaney sang it, too. He was 18. It was spring. The girl had long blonde hair—spitcurled just like Lillian Russell's. "She was the reason I became a boxer," recalled Chaney. "I'd promised to take her to a Fatty Arbuckle movie over at the Nickelodeon. But I was broke—just lost my job at the lumber camp. Then one of my friends told me about Henry Bletzer…"

Henry Bletzer made a modest fortune helping boys who needed money—he tied gloves on their fists. He was a fight promoter.

Chaney found Bletzer's cigar-smoky office above the old Albaugh Theater crowded with boys like himself. But when Bletzer mentioned the name Young Kid Williams the office emptied in a hurry. "I was real scared," admitted Chaney. "I'd never boxed before and Young Kid Williams was a brother to Kid Williams—the guy who became bantam champ of the world. But I wanted to take that girl out."

It was Saturday and the Albaugh Theater's patrons filed in film-eyed from an afternoon's beer swilling: They belched and cursed and clamored for the brutality Bletzer was so adept at supplying them with. It was Young Kid Williams' crowd.

"I weighed 112 pounds," remembered Chaney, "and the only trunks they could dig up belonged to a middleweight—so Bletzer fixed everything with a safety pin; and I looked like I was wearing a diaper."

Young Kid Williams had a self-assured sneer on his pug nosed face—a hit-me-and-I'll-get-my brother-after-you sneer. He danced toward Chaney, imitating his brother—but the imitation wasn't good enough. Chaney connected with a left; the punch started in the second digit of his foot and by the time it reached his fist it was a masterpiece of motorized mayhem: capable of cracking bone, crossing eyes, crumpling opponents. And the hapless Young Kid Williams cracked, crossed, and crumpled. The scheduled 4 rounder had ended in 37 seconds.

The crowd began to jeer. Bletzer rushed down to the ringside accompanied by two cops and whisked Chaney to safety. As he pressed $2.50 into the boy's hand he said: "I want to see more of you George; you've got the makings of a champ."

"It's funny," Chaney reminisced, "I can't remember what that girl looked like—but she started it all."

Chaney soon became the Albaugh Theater's main attraction. He walked the streets followed by hero-worshiping youngsters and the eyes of female admirers. He was handsome, with sleek brown hair and matinee idol features…

…No one wanted to smear those features more than Kid Williams—brother of Young Kid Williams. Smelling a big crowd, Bletzer arranged the match. And smelling the blood that trails revenge the fans packed the Albaugh Theater.

Kid Williams was hard-punching and fast-footed. But, as a Baltimore Sun sportswriter observed : "…Chaney's left was the undoing of Williams." They began calling him Chaney—the "Knock-Out Artist".

Commenting on the fight Chaney stated: "Kid Williams was tough; it took three jabs just to mess the part in his hair. He'd keep coming in at me, swinging and dodging. I knocked him down three times but he got up three times. In the sixth round I finally got him: I punched him so hard I could feel the force of the blow through my foot. It took seven minutes to revive him."

But it took a savage brawl with little Charlie Goldman to establish Chaney as a legitimate title contender:

Recalled Chaney: "Goldman was the toughest man I ever tangled with. He became Rocky Marciano's trainer—when I knew him he could've slammed Marciano's gut out.

"I fought him on February 2, 1912—ever since then February 2 has been Friday the 13th on my calendar. For eight rounds those Goldman punches kept coming thick and fast. I tried my best to fight back but he kept hammering me around the ring—I could've sworn he had a baseball bat.

"He knocked me down nine times, and each time—don't ask me how—I managed to get up before the referee counted ten. My face and chest were so swollen I felt like I'd gained 20 pounds.

"But in the 9th round I could tell he'd punched himself out—he was only smacking me halfway across the canvas. And I started to do some smacking of my own: I rammed away with both fists; but Goldman took it as good as he'd given it.

"Then in the 15th it happened—I shot a left to his chin; his loveable brown eyes read 'tilt' and he collapsed. But the bell beat the referee and Goldman was spared the K.O. The referee raised my arm in victory—and an hour later I lowered myself into a hot tub of Epsom salts; I never felt such fatigue in all my life."

George Chaney became big money—you could smell it on him. And Baltimore's biggest bloodhound soon picked up the scent…

…His name was Sam Harris; he was a manager. He collected pedigree bull dogs and promising boxers—the first for fun, the second for profit. Harris said the magic words and an Ali Baba's cave of golden bouts opened for George Chaney.

Chaney celebrated with friends at a Baltimore Beer Garden: He loved parties; loved the sound of popping corks and giggling girls. He loved good food: Chateaubriand steaks for all. He loved to laugh; at Fatty Arbuckle antics and well-told jokes, and even his own shortcomings. He loved being well-dressed: pin-stripped suits, lemon-yellow shirts, diamond studded cuff links in the shape of boxing gloves, cream-colored spats. And he loved music: mounting the bandstands he sang his favorite tune in a determined, if sour-noted, soprano voice…

…Oh Jim O'Shea was cast away upon an Indian Isle
The natives there they liked his hair
They liked his Irish smile…

…George Chaney loved life; and because fighting is part of life he loved to fight. But there were days of bitterness—like the 20th of April 1913, when he fought Abe Attell.

Attell, who'd lost his featherweight crown to Johnny Kilbane a year earlier, was, at 30, admittedly past his peak. And his part-time job as bodyguard to New York gambler Arnold Roth-stein hadn't endeared him to the Chaney fans who packed Baltimore's Empire Theater.

But the ex-champ compensated for age and a hostile audience with experience and craftiness: For five rounds he avoided Chaney's left with peerless footwork; and bloodied Georgie's nose with a lightning fast left-jab. "He never stopped jabbing," said Chaney. "The blood kept trickling down my throat and at the end of the fifth I puked up a bellyful."

"I knew I was losing, so in the sixth I made a desperate rush—and landed a left hook. It staggered Abe and must've scared him because he went into a shell.

"I shortened my punches and began infighting instead of roundhousing." By the 13th round Chaney was battering the ex-champ around like a beach ball. It is a tribute to Attell that he finished on his feet.

Yet referee Billy Joh, the fight's sole judge,. declared Attell the winner.

"If Joh had buried an axe in my head," confessed Chaney, "he couldn't have hurt me more. I tried to put up a good front but when I was alone in the shower … I cried."

Three days later the Maryland Boxing Commission barred Joh from further work. Baltimore's old-timers still talk about the long arms of Arnold Rothstein.

But happiness followed tragedy in the person of a young girl named Elizabeth Fleischer: She married Chaney after a whirlwind courtship.

Relates Elizabeth: "George was handsome and full of life—I fell for him at first sight. He was so manly; and yet, in many ways he was like a little boy: Above everything else he loved Christmas; he'd search for hours till he found the tallest tree and the brightest decorations. He dressed up like Santa Claus and visited the city orphanage with a bagful of toys. But he was careless with his money—knowing this he put financial matters in my hands. I saved every penny he gave me; I swore he wouldn't wind up broke like so many others in his profession."

Elizabeth Fleischer was the last happy thing that would happen to George Chaney.

He made his first title bid against featherweight king Johnny Kilbane on September 4, 1916. Kilbane, who was to wear the 125 lb crown for 12 years, dumped Chaney in three rounds:

"I was beaten before I entered the ring," claimed Chaney. "I had over-trained; I was nervous and lacked stamina. Even so I had Kilbane screaming for help in 50 different languages —including Chinese. But he stuck his thumb in my eye. I couldn't see a thing and he was able to hit me at will. I folded up in the third round and Kilbane kept his title—I should have won, it wasn't fair."

Observed one sportswriter: "George Chaney may be the greatest knock-out artist of all time— but his boxing skill and footwork are poor. It is his tremendous fighting heart alone which makes him a serious contender."

America had entered the First World War: Chaney toured his home state with comedian Charlie Chaplin on war bond drives. One day George asked about Chaplin's middle name and the impish funnyman replied: "It's Spencer—and yours must be Knock-Out, signed K.O." It stuck, and from then on he was referred to as George "K.O." Chaney.

Chaney again tried for a title in 1921, challenging Johnny Dundee for the junior lightweight championship at Madison Square Garden. For four rounds Dundee gave Chaney a cruel boxing lesson. And when Chaney sensed defeat he became desperate. Early in the fifth round he delivered one of his patented southpaw wallops to the midsection. Dundee dropped to the canvas, screaming, clutching his groin. The referee quickly stopped the fight and awarded the decision to Dundee on a foul.

"It wasn't a foul at all," roared Chaney. "The promoters wanted Dundee to win. If you foul an opponent in New York you don't get paid—the fact that I got my check proves I didn't foul Dundee."

But Chaney ran out of excuses when he made his third unsuccessful title bid in a lightweight elimination tournament at Madison Square Garden on February 23, 1925.

The 135 pound throne had been left vacant when Benny Leonard retired undefeated. Chaney was one of a number of pretenders to the title, including Jimmy Goodrich (the eventual winner), Stan Loayza, Joe Dundee, Charley O'Connell, Tommy O'Brien, and Eddie (Kid) Wagner.

Chaney, best known and most respected puncher of the lot, was the favorite. He was matched with O'Brien. It was even money he would win by a knockout; 4-1 that he'd win by decision if it went the distance.

"I was so sure I'd win," recalled Chaney. "I floored him in the first round and he just beat the count. Then I buried my left so deep in his belly I could almost feel his backbone.

"But the kid had a great pair of legs and he danced away from me for the next three frames. Then he clipped me with a right early in the fifth. I got up and somehow managed to last out the round.

"He was too fast for me, too young. In the sixth he connected with a right cross, a left uppercut, then another right. He knocked me cold. I lost all hope of ever becoming champ."

Ironically, that same blow also ended O'Brien's hopes. A post-fight examination revealed that he'd broken his right hand delivering the knockout punch.

"I felt sorry for that kid," confessed Chaney. "He beat me fair and square and he really deserved a shot at the title."

Commented one reporter: "The fight was a tragedy for O'Brien and a sad ending for the once great George (K.O.) Chaney."

The disillusioned Chaney fought only once more before hanging up his gloves. He faced a novice named Danny Kramer—and was knocked out in the first round. "I'd kayoed Kramer in 32 seconds a year earlier," said Chaney, "and when he kayoed me I knew I'd slipped far enough. It wasn't hard for my Elizabeth to get me to quit before too many punches made me permanently dizzy."

But he didn't quit soon enough: Things went well for a while; he lived comfortably on the ring proceeds his faithful wife had saved. He became active in local politics and rose to the presidency of the Georgetown Democratic Club.

And like all ex-fighters he criticized the modern generation of ring-men: "The kids fighting today," he claimed, "are just a bunch of punks. They're not properly developed before they begin their careers. And they don't fight for the sport of it—they're only interested in easy money."

But in 1947 George began to develop lingering headaches; he began to stutter and strain over the simplest words; he couldn't remember the names of his closest friends—the name of his wife—even his own name…

…For George (K.O.) Chaney punchdrunkenness, like cancer, proved to be progressive.

On the 11th of May, 1954, he was placed in a state institution. He died four years later on the 20th of December—five days before his favorite holiday, Christmas.

He'd kayoed 102 of his 183 opponents—only Young Stribling (with 126) and Archie Moore (with 135) surpassed him.

He was probably the greatest puncher, pound for pound, of them all.

1 comment:

  1. KO Chaney was also married to Mary Marshalek -- my grandmother, Mary and her brother, Henry, were his children. He and Mary divorced, and he remarried.