The Harlequin of the Resin Pit
By Ted Spoon: While it's fun creating your own titles great descriptions deserve a little circulation, and the above expression perfectly defines both its subject and his environment. It was written by Edward J Neil and the fighter he was referring to was Maxie Rosenbloom.
Article posted on 24.04.2012
A Jewish boxer, Maxie was a bundle of self-amused energy, scornful of routine, a pursuer of all the short-lived tangents provided by night life. In San Francisco and Los Angeles he had clubs opened under his alias and they offered perfect grounds for him to live up to his clowning reputation.
The pseudonym of 'Slapsie Maxie' gave you a hint of what was lacking in his portfolio. Just 19 knockouts in over 270 fights tells of a man who liked to paw and cuff at his rivals. Feeling Maxie's punch die on impact must have imbued many with confidence, but that was soon lost as he evaded, tied-up and clobbered his opponents in a most frustrating manner.
Max Baer would be remembered as king when it came to not taking things seriously, but with his laughing, running conversation, and even singing, Rosenbloom was more than a worthy adversary in the art of horseplay.
As a competitor he was better.
Longevity (Baer's sour point) was a big plus for Rosenbloom. Harlem's gloved jester didn't possess the kind of clean sheet we'd associate with someone like Willie Pep, but for four years he was light heavyweight champion of the world, and that superiority was apparent before the gold.
He was more intriguing than lovable, and undoubtedly there were times when his jack-in-the-box antics were guilty of “eliminating all desire”. And those boos still echo. For a fighter who engaged men such as Harry Greb, Tiger Flowers, Ted 'Kid' Lewis, Mickey Walker, John Henry Lewis, Jimmy Braddock and Jimmy Slattery that basic dissatisfaction with a man who can't dig has done a helluva job in hiding a fine legacy.
Rosenbloom was a boxer who could fight a little too 'in character' if you will, swapping functionality for frolics. When the tomfoolery was kept down to a minimum he was a slippery eel of a fighter.
Light feet, a quick left and busyness were Rosenbloom's most endearing features. Though his punches did well to make one grimace they still blinded and bemused. With an open glove he would push out the left and scuff the opponent around the head with blunted volleys that, while doing little damage, made good fighters perform badly. Many were credited with getting the better of him on the inside but he was often too active for that to be the deciding factor.
Maxie hopped into the pro ranks back when boxing was still salivating over Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo's little soiree. He had yet to turn seventeen and before twenty he was swapping blows with the 'Human Windmill'. It was a huge effort to last ten rounds with a fighter who truly lived up to that legendary stamp, but in doing so he showed how hard a man he was to dispose of.
The growing middleweight continued his demanding ascent to collide with Jimmy Slattery which would prove to be the first of six bouts. The stronger, more experienced Jimmy won a decision but it became closer upon each revisit. Ted 'Kid' Lewis and Tiger Flowers lost via disqualification but Tommy Milligan was awarded a curious knockout victory over Rosenbloom with a blow which many thought was foul.
Maxie needed more than disappointment to stall him however, and over these bumpy roads he had inherited priceless trickery. By 1929 he went one better than providing a hard night's work and became the leading contender.
Another man whose aspirations got entangled with Rosenbloom's was Jimmy Braddock. The Irishman's famously weak hands were in full working order on this occasion but before a respectable crowd of 14,084 he was neatly outpointed. The weight advantage did not bother Maxie who scored with a “steady but harmless right” en route to winning nine of the ten rounds.
Jimmy Slattery improved his score over Maxie shortly after, but this particular affair was so close it was difficult to separate them. All that seemed to be standing in the way of nature taking its course was time.
1930 began its auspicious vibe with Rosenbloom slapping the taste out of Leo Lomski's mouth in one of his cleaner performances. Long-serving Ace Hudkins was confident of ending another promising career but he fell at this awkwardly-shaped hurdle. Sure enough this resulted in another bout against Slattery, but many were favouring Rosenbloom, and one of those was famed typewriter Damon Runyon.
It was a tough bout, a little slow at times, but most had Maxie a winner making him, after ten years of “battling outstanding ring men”, a world champion. Unlike those who pray for that moment when the announcer bellows “…and the new!” it was the opinion of Runyon that Maxie didn't care whether or not he kept his newly acquired honours.
The Press were also quite blasé about a division that had been seeking validation since the brilliant Tommy Loughran had dropped its 175lbs crown. Slattery was once looked upon as a potential heavyweight champion but he lost momentum after a glittering start. When the virtually unknown Able Bain was chosen for defence #1 interest levels almost flat-lined
Slattery was given one more chance but failed miserably while Maxie contented himself by staying in second gear. Something you couldn't take away from Rosenbloom was his active schedule, enjoying numerous non-title bouts. His next title fight had much more going on when Lou Scozza staged a great rally in the closing rounds. The crowd was with the challenger but Maxie was (once again) anywhere but at the end of his opponents gloves.
Far more significant was the 1933 defence against Germany's Adolf Heuser. '33 was the year in which Hitler became chancellor of Germany and so naturally his interest in the country's sporting figures increased. Max Schmeling had lost his world heavyweight title to Jack Sharkey in '32, and with boxing ranking highly as a symbol of Aryan strength everyone was hopeful of Heuser securing his nations objective.
The German performed valiantly, attacking Maxie with all his might. Big shots bounced off the champions jaw but he was in fine trim, and as the rounds came the tide began to change. Down the stretch Rosenbloom suspended him in a cuffing soup and the title stayed in America.
The fight was thought to have enforced the relegation of Jews performing in the country; the prompt banning of amateur champion Eric Seelig would suggest that to be the case.
As was customary Maxie's non-title fights were more noteworthy but things weren't so easy when decisions were dropped against John Henry Lewis and Young Stribling. Mickey Walker had not long since been rendered into a piece of vertically-challenged meat by Max Schmeling but he got his chance against Slapsie. The man who had fought Jack Sharkey to a draw was absent and the decision went in a familiar direction.
For around half of his career Rosenbloom had been called up on his performances which contained more theatrics than boxing. Brooklyn's Bob Olin wasn't supposed to give Maxie a hard fight, forget beat him. Beat him is what he did though, and true to Runyon's theory the twenty-eight year old impassionedly waved his championship goodbye.
And on he went as if nothing had happened. John Henry Lewis, the new ruler at 175lbs, was outpointed (leaving their awkward rivalry at 3-2 in Rosenbloom's favour) and the zero was taken off the record of heavyweight prospect Lou Nova.
Lacking opportunities, and feeling it timely to jump into a different kind of limelight, Maxie retired for good in 1939. He had appeared in a Hollywood film and (being increasingly difficult to understand because of the punishment he had shipped) went on to reprise the role of a punchy yet noble creature.
At sixty eight the eccentric night owl succumbed to a bone disease. For those who enjoyed a particularly long innings would have had the misfortune of witnessing Maxie's legacy prance its way into boxing's hall of fame.
Back in the day there had been talk of Maxie trying his luck against Joe Louis. Boxing's most detested participant not only thought he'd slice Louis up but that he would stop him. Humouring him a reporter asked the light-tapping boxer how he'd do this and Rosenbloom carefully counted on one hand the few men he could remember falling before him.
The conversation playfully jumped to what the plans were for life after boxing. Aside from acting Rosenbloom expressed an interest in singing.
“Max Baer tried to do that” interjected the reporter.
Rosenbloom seized the retort like he used to with an open glove.
“But he can't sing.”
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