‘Old Bones’ Don’t Creak

14.04.09 - By Ted Spoon, Watching ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley tentatively bounce on the spot, possibly waiting in the wings for a beating is a portrait that orders respect. The man is not after soft spots at an age (37) when a break from the rings demanding activities appears the rational decision.

Once decorated with the illustrious pound for pound accolade, once even predicted to echo ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson’s radiance, Mosley was brought down to earth in punishing stages, but rank aside, here is a fighter of rare fortitude doing what every fighter should – fight the best..

--Fast forward an hour later--

Not only does Shane fight the best, he beats them, badly. The old adage of ‘styles make fights’ has never been more appropriate as the usually effective, constant badgering work of Antonio Margarito was left out to dry against Mosley’s rhythm breaking flicks and weighty hooks.

Inhaling the thirty-seven year olds unforeseen surge into brilliance prompted thought about a man who had the 135lbs division falling before his equally noxious right hand. The fighter in question was known as ‘Old Bones’.

Joe Brown was one of those absorbing fighters whose captivating qualities went beyond the ring. He was a die-hard fan of boxing, for when the title slipped away from his grasp did he travel all over the world to fight seasoned bruisers as age began to hamper performances.

From Mexico to Panama, Brazil to Jamaica, Colombia to South Africa; to encounters with Alfredo Urbina, Nino locche and Carlos Hernandez, Brown was a war horse of reckless abandon. Like an Archie Moore or Bennie Briscoe, Joe was always trying to chip away when the tools weren’t there.

During his peak, Brown liked to think of himself as a mini Joe Louis, instilling crippling fear into his opponents; “When someone tries to take my title from me I get kinda mean”. These the words of an old yet brash champion giving heed of the dangers that lurked when you hooked up with ‘Joltin’ Joe Brown.

Indeed, although the decrepit sounding tag of ‘Old Bones’ emitted a sense of frailty it was in Joe’s potent punch that made him a feared man. The right hand was especially damaging when launched from his easy boxing posture.

In short, Brown was a boxing juggernaut, there really was nothing he couldn’t do, or rather didn’t do. During his fights he would switch up his fight pattern as effortlessly as one may flick a light switch. The manner in which he could change the angle of his shotgun jab was the just beginning of the problems for his opponents to deal with.

Behind the left followed a right hand as consistent as Carlos Monzon’s and snappy as Joe Louis’. Brown would mix in picturesque, short uppercuts and slashing body shots only to spin away and then expertly punish the retort with a ‘check hook’.

While Joe was a very eventful fighter he rarely found himself out of position. It was second nature for him to maintain that distance between himself and the opponent to prompt over reaching and prevent smothering his work.

With that troublesome gap established, Brown would go through the gears, peppering and pummeling his target with whatever worked. An oversimplification, but that is how a great boxer’s brain operates; they spot the decoys and focus in on the mistakes.

The old saying is that a novice is always thinking about what they’re doing whereas a veteran simply does what needs to be done. Brown took the concept of the latter bracket and added some spice.

The opportunity to land a punch that sporadically appears when one resets their feet, tries something daring or loses concentration was picked up on and punished by Brown with the punctuation of a strict teacher.

Wallace ‘Bud’ Smith, the then champion who bared the misfortune of fighting Brown thrice (one non-title bout), was subjected to the kind of fighting brilliance that only histories rarest gems were capable of performing.

Smith was left undercooked in the first title fight, escaping with a point’s loss as Brown had to fight on guts alone after fracturing his pet hand. In the return bout he could do little but provide ‘Old Bones’ with a moving target, made for the newly crowned champions devilishly accurate combinations.

The right cross, ever so carefully arched, would continually swoop over the low guard whenever Brown planted his feet and the left hand spoke too many languages.

Despite Smiths corner yelling their encouragement, and cries of, “You’re on television!” booming from the crowd, he was unable to do anything about it. The ring doctor rightfully ended the contest before the 11th round presented another beating.

As had been the case with Jack Johnson, Brown claimed his prize at the unlikely age of 30 after a journey laden with set backs.

Starting his quest in the professional ranks at age 17, Brown was barely able to get his guard up before World War II, a crippling feature of many boxer’s careers, contained him for 21 months.

Once released from the US Navy it was back to the painful lessons of inexperience as Joe continued to fall short of gaining decisions, and sometimes, lasting the distance. Failure in the ring was not always a result of rawness mind. There were times when Brown would ambitiously pit himself against the rings aces.

The regularity at which Brown fought, that willingness to try his luck against anyone had him run into a few walls, most notably against boxing’s version of ‘The punisher’, Sandy Saddler.

Never was a more demeaning blow dealt out as novice Joe found himself swiftly disposed of by the rampaging Saddler.

These kind of defeats must have been especially discouraging, but sure enough Brown was back to work in two months time. A commendable run brought him to Jack Bratton, which would bring forth another defeat in a short, four rounder.

At this point, Joe took over three months out for a spot of self reflection, which by his hectic standards was a noticeable interlude. With re-charged batteries Brown racked up some victories, but the losses incurred continued to keep him from getting his head above water.

Thing were looking up yet while defeats were becoming less frequent, so were opportunities. Brown was not making enough noise to be plucked for stardom and when his biggest chance came against George Araujo in 1952, he fell in the seventh.

Up until then, Brown had harbored a fleet-footed defensive style of boxing, a ‘Fancy Dan’ if you will, who opted to contain the opponent rather than destroy them. Lou "Mr. Lou" Viscusi who had managed Willie Pep took hold of Browns contract in 1954 and appointed Bill Gore to develop the boxer into a blaster.

Viscusi and Gore got Brown to believe in himself who had been fighting to survive rather than prosper. Gore took his new pupil and injected some needed venom on the ends of his 68” reach. In order for the plan to be deftly executed, Gore incubated Brown in Colon, Panama were he put him through his paces for six months worth of daily training.

It had taken much longer than it had for Jack Blackburn to adopt Joe Louis, but Joe Brown had finally found a team worthy of cultivating his talent.

Starting with Federico Plummer, Brown’s secret weapon began to find its mark as more opponents were unable to reach the final bell. A few decisions that went against him were avenged with ten counts, at which point he got his title shot.

Wallace ‘Bud’ Smith had already been outpointed by the ever slick veteran, and things were scheduled to fall in suit when the bout got underway until a right aimed at the body struck at a sharp angle and broke the hand. It was only the second round and Brown was to be forced to fight one-handed.

With top honors at stake, Brown did his upmost to keep things together. Fighting with a superb resourcefulness he impressed none other than the founder of Ring magazine, Nat Fleischer:

"I have never seen anything like it. I have witnessed boxers on the verge of a knockout make a comeback and win the championship, but never a challenger fighting his way to the crown for thirteen rounds with just one hand."

Brown even managed to clench his prone right hand to floor Smith twice in the fourteenth round to secure the split decision.

Nothing had been easy in Brown’s career, as he put it himself, “It’s been a rocky road to the top”. The effort it had taken ‘Joltin Joe’ to receive world acclaim was to be repeated in an effort for the newly styled ‘Old Bones’ to stay at the top.

Joe would go onto prove he was thirty years young.

Not until a little known fighter who went under the moniker of “Manos De Piedra” blossomed, would Brown lose his record number of title defences at eleven over a 6 year span.

A hearty portion of respectable contenders would attempt to rest the title away from Brown but every one of them would either get caught up in his boxing or bludgeoned by his great equalizer.

In 1961, Brown was credited as being the ‘fighter of the year’ by Ring magazine; a somewhat overdue acknowledgement for a man who had proven himself one of the truly great champions.

Still, despite the skill set and ploy to build up empathy with the amiable ‘Old Bones’ persona, Brown never collected a solid fan base. Joe existed in a bit of a dead spot for public exposure as he travelled everywhere, being the best ambassador he could.

One might expect that Brown may have been a particularly bitter and brooding character after bearing so many scars, but quite the opposite rang true.

One story has boxing promoter Jack Solomons eagerly waiting on Joe Brown to arrive at the airport for a confirmed title defence. As Joe exits the plane it is apparent that his arm is in a sling. On seeing this, Jack nearly has a heart attack at which point Brown broke into hysterics and removed his arm from the sling.

When the time came for the thirty six year old champion to pass on the torch it instantly burned brighter in the hands of the handsome Puerto Rican, Carlos Ortiz who went onto better acquaint himself with the public.

Joe would quickly slip out of the picture but fight on until his forty fifth year. He would go onto train fighters and gain entry into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996 before death quickly followed in 1997.

When you watch Joe Brown fight the reality that you’re viewing a remarkable fighter is evident. The realization comes over quickly that you’re not just watching a smooth technician but a multi-faceted commander of the ring. The ease at which he mixed up his fight patterns and success in experimentation has an air about it that only surrounded the likes of Benny Leonard and Jose Napoles - The absolute best.

Joe never did once bath in the lights of Madison Square Garden, a lasting metaphor for his lack of recognition, but through his newly growing fan base, ‘Old Bones’, just like Shane Mosley, will continue to provide a prime example of boxing at its best.

Article posted on 15.04.2009

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