The Klondike Weekly, Dawson City, Yukon Territory

Plant a Tree for a Living Legacy

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Boxing in the Klondike

Part 3 - Rounds 11-18

by Darrell Hookey

To Boxing in the Klondike - Rounds 1-5

Round 11

     Both fighters are as fresh as when they first stepped into the ring.  Woods plays a tattoo on Burley's head but partial blocks limits the effect.  Jabbing, Woods lands left after right after left on Burley's increasingly reddened face.  Burley tries for a jaw but misses.  Woods comes back with an uncharacteristic wild swing that is easily avoided by Burley as he steps back allowing the gloved fist to whistle by.

...was Millett a man of Burley's class?

     Despite the enthusiasm between Grand Forks and Dawson City to see Millett and Burley mix it up, the DAAA wanted to make sure Millett wasn't going to embarrass himself and the club again.

     Millett told Boyle he would go four rounds with anyone in the Yukon to prove his measure.  Boyle proposed George Paris, Woods' trainer, and Millett accepted.
     But then people close to Millett told him a fight with Paris would be the same as fighting a "preliminary", which is something no fighter of Millett's class would do.

     When Boyle came around with the papers to sign, Millett refused.

     How this matter was resolved was never recorded.  Paris had left town with Biddy Bishop and Billy Woods after the big fight never to return.  But there was Millett, on September 27, ready to fight.  But alas, Burley was not able.  He had an inflamed eye that needed to be lanced.

     Entering the ring with Dr. Lachappelle to back up his claim, Burley announced that he was willing to fight anyways.  However, he begged that all bets be called off.

     Millett stepped forward offering to wait three days so that an honest and fair match could be held.  Referee Frank Slavin thanked both fighters and announced that all in attendance could stay to enjoy the preliminaries and then come back for the main bout in three days.

     The well-orchestrated cancellation was accepted warmly.

     When Millett and Burley did meet, it was Burley who was victorious.  Although Millett had the better technique, he was predictable and lost his energy quicker.  Burley just waited until he repeated his left swing-duck-short right hook routine and laid him out with a powerful and measured right hook with a beautiful follow through landing Millett on his back covered in blood.

     That final punch was typical of the fighting styles of the day.  Strong men who left themselves unprotected as they wound up for a knockout blow.  But it was the intelligent fighter who would soon dominate these dinosaurs and the sport of boxing.

     With limited opportunity to fight Outside, Burley would soon be a victim...

Round 12

     Burley takes the initiative with a light left to Woods' face and blocks his retort ... twice.  Woods is three-times lucky as a good, hard left lands on the jaw.  Burley lands a left to the face, but at the same time he is caught by a hard right to the nose.  More punches to Burley's face leaves his mouth bleeding badly.

...of science.

     Biddy Bishop, as an example, was always looking for improved methods in fighting.  He schooled Woods in the proper stance, the innovative punch, the appropriate combinations.

     During this fight with Burley, Bishop introduced his new invention to the world:  The spray bottle.  In an interview before the fight he claimed all fighters would soon be sprayed with a fine mist of cold water as they returned to their corners ...  and he was right.

     A year after this fight, in 1905, Burley met his match in Jack "Twin" Sullivan in the third yearly premiere fight.  Sullivan was thinner, shorter and didn't have the reach Burley had, but he beat him with all the latest tricks.

     Sullivan's elbows would be pulled in to protect his body and then the forearms would shoot out to strike a blow with all his weight behind it.  He would land punches on a rush, plant his feet, stand straight and let off a volley of jabs to the ribs from close quarters.  Just when Burley had figured out his style, Sullivan would become a different fighter completely.

     The Yukon World newspaper lamented the passing of an era when Dawson City boxers had a chance of being contenders.  By far these Yukoners had more stamina, more strength and more pluck than the big-city boxers who came up to try them on.

    But Joe Boyle and the DAAA, ever attuned to what the fight crowd wants, scored a coup by hosting...

Round 13 to 16

     Burley settled into a patient defence to survive all 20 rounds.  Woods kept hitting him in the face and Burley kept taking the punishment.  Between rounds, Burley no longer spoke to his seconds in his corner.  Still standing at the sound of the twentieth bell would be the only victory he could hope for.

...the Middleweight Championship of the World.

     The Dawson Amateur Athletic Association needed one more high-profile fight to earn enough money to keep the club running for another winter.  Why not bring the middleweight champion of the world to Dawson City?

     "Philadelphia" Jack O'Brien agreed to meet Jack "Twin" Sullivan and Dawson City nearly burst with the anticipation.  Nick Burley, however, would have been crushed to learn that he came within one win of being the one to step into the ring with the world champ to fight for his title.

     Three weeks before the fight, fans met O'Brien at the docks and found him to be extremely quiet and withdrawn and full of praise for his opponent.  He had met Sullivan twice before and won one on close points and the other was a draw.

     Yet he took great pains to point out that a Sullivan win July 4 may strip him of the world title, but Sullivan would have one more fight before he could rightfully call himself the champion.

     As well, he brought news that the winner will be encouraged to meet  Los Angeles' Marvin Hart for the heavyweight title.  These exciting developments had made Dawson City the centre of the boxing world's attention for the next three weeks.

     The day of the fight arrived and all of Dawson City was there.  The camps on the creeks were half empty as everyone wanted to savour this world-class entertainment.

     And entertaining it was.

     It was boxing at its most perfect.  Perhaps not as much drama as the the fight between Woods and Burley, but the skill and latest techniques demonstrated was an education for all in the sellout crowd.

     But what amazed the usually sophisticated Dawson crowd more was the pace.  The hits, blocks, side steps and weaving came blinding fast and no more than one clinch per round stalled the action.  Side bets were placed among those in the crowd that both fighters could not last past the tenth round.  Then the fourteenth round.  Then all twenty.

     Yet O'Brien and Sullivan were just as fresh at the sound of the bell at the end of the fight as when they first entered the ring.  The crowd had been eerily quiet throughout the fight as nobody knew who was ahead on points.  The concentration of the crowd was broken at the end as an ovation exploded in praise for the stamina and skill of the two athletes.

     As the crowd had guessed, the fight was called a draw.  The two boxers agreed to meet again August 8 to determine the winner.       The DAAA could not have been happier.  They were assured another sellout crowd and finally an end to its money problems.  But then...

Round 17

     Burley's face is swelling rapidly.  His lips are opened and bleeding in several places.  Woods lands several hard rights and lefts to the face and Burley spits out blood.  More hits to the face, all of them hard.  Burley looks tired but is unwilling to allow Woods a knock-out punch.  But finally a vicious, hard right to the jaw drops the big man.  The fight would have been over had it not been for the sound of the bell as the referee counted "nine".

...the fight was cancelled.

     A city clergyman informed the DAAA he would press charges under the criminal code of Canada if it proceeded with the fight.  The best lawyers in town offered their free advice saying, as one, that boxing was legal in Canada.

     But the directors felt they could not afford a legal fight.  The match was cancelled and $860 was paid to O'Brien and Sullivan in forfeit.  Its expenses to that date were unrecoverable and the anticipated $2,000 profit would never be seen.  The DAAA's financial problems were now worse then ever and its future was in doubt.

     The townfolk were depressed, and not just the fight fans.  Everyone realized how important the DAAA was to the young people in town.  Whenever the curling and ice rinks were closed for a day or two, there was a marked increase in numbers of youth hanging about the dance halls and saloons on First Avenue.

     The DAAA did survive into the winter for inexpensive, wholesome fun.  And it survived, barely, for many years to come.  And there were boxing matches held there again, but never again would it see the prime, world-class entertainment of the past three years.  The DAAA was shy and its reputation damaged.

     Local boxers with any ambition left town.  Dawson City was just too far away from the everyday improvements in the sport.  The innovators and risk takers were fighting two and three times a week to hone their craft against the best in the business.

     Frank Slavin left town with Sullivan to travel the world.  Slavin would lecture on the Yukon and Sullivan would speak on the importance of physical fitness.  Then they would give a boxing performance and then on to the next country.

     Nick Burley left Dawson City for Fairbanks where he was to meet the Alaskan champ, Billy Bates.  He lost when he broke his ankle in two places.
     His last correspondence warned other fighters away from Fairbanks.  The boxing arena would only sit 500 people and it was impossible to cover expenses.  He was on his way to Nome and then points south to take one more crack at his career, which was getting short at the age of 30.

     Despite the numerous fighters he taught and entertainment he provided to the folks of Dawson City, his parting didn't even rate a mention in the Departures feature of the local newspapers.

Round 18

     Woods started where he left off ... a left jab to the jaw.  A left and right to the chin sends Burley to his knees clutching Woods around the waist.  He rises weakly and tries just one more punch.  A flurry of hits to Burley's face sends him down for a three count.  Impossibly, Burley rises again.  A left, right, left to the jaw finishes the proud athlete.  He drops helplessly to the mat and lies on his left side as Referee Sugrue counts to ten.  All eyes are on the victor.  Will the bloody taste of violence boil his success in adrenalin and spew forth in a triumphant cheer?  No.
     Just moments before, these two men were committed to the destruction of the other.  Now as the crowd watches, Woods kneels beside his fallen opponent and, with a respect only the two gladiators could know, picks him up and carries him to his corner.

To Boxing in the Klondike - Rounds 1-5

To Boxing in the Klondike - Rounds 6-10

© 1998-2009 byDarrell Hookey

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