Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Cap'n's Cabaret #116: Ready for a Rumble?

Pugilism, fisticuffs, the duel in the squared circle, the sweet science...whatever you call it, it is perhaps the manliest dance in the world.

One ring, two men, fifteen rounds. No low blows or rabbit punches. Let's get it on! [image from wikimedia]

Boxing is a sport that has been around as long as man has been entertained by a good fight. From Ancient Greece to the modern Olympics, from Sullivan to Dempsey, this round of organized violence has gotten blood pumping the world over.

And the latest match may be the most important yet!

For today it's the battle between the Black Uhlan of the Rhine and the Brown Bomber, and the world is watching.

I'm here today in sold-out Yankee Stadium with two boxing legends, both named Jack: the indomitable Jack Johnson, who dominated the ring in the teens, and the incredible Jack Dempsey, who dominated it in the twenties. You may remember Jack Johnson, the Galveston Giant, as the loud mouthed uppity black man with the white wives, the fancy cars, the pet panther, and the audacity to speak his mind in public. You may remember the forlorn "Great White Hope" supposed to put the man in his place. And you may remember Johnson remorselessly putting him to the mat without breaking a sweat. You may also remember the ludicrous prison sentence for bringing a white woman across state lines for "immoral purposes"...ergo to for a consensual relationship.

That prison time is behind him, as is his immortal boxing career, but that famous attitude thankfully hasn't left. He's a man of taste and a blast to be around, and certainly found a home here in the Cabaret.

The other Jack is the incomparable Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler, who dominated the sport for nearly a decade himself. A beautifully brutal bruiser, Dempsey is a man whose gentle, personable demeanor is hard to reconcile with the untamed beast unleashed in the ring. You may remember his jackhammer destruction of Carpentier in '21 or from pretty much every newsreel of the decade. We know him as a fun-loving guy and gentleman of the highest caliber.

But while the Cabaret is glad to have the Jacks with us at this extravaganza, today is all about Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. And it is a grudge match! More than the title is on the line: it is a clash of cultures and politics, the Aryan Superman versus the poor Black kid from Detroit. And beyond "White v. Black", it's "Fascist Supremacism v. American Democracy". Hitler himself is pitting this as the sure victory for Schmeling and the ultimate symbol of German Aryan supremacy. And he has reason for confidence. Last time the two met in '36 Schmeling took advantage of Louis' tendency to drop his left to demolish Louis in round 12 with the Brown Bomber's only KO.

Since then, ol' Max, who seems to be a nice guy despite his connection to those goose-stepping morons (he even turned down the "Dagger of Honor" from ol' Adolph himself!)*, has been hailed as the symbol of Germanic virility and his victory over Louis as proof of "Negroid inferiority".

But this is 1938, and ol' Joe is out for revenge. He's been training hard and this time swears he will send the Uhlan to the mat.

Go get 'em, Joe! [ding-ding!]

Aaaannnd...BAM! [ding-ding!] Holy moly! WOOOOOO!! That's how ya' do it! 

Three cheers for Louis! Three cheers for freedom and equality! And three cheers for grand old sport of Boxing!

And now, a hot cocktail that holds a Joe Louis punch, a Jerry Thomas classic from the J.R. Sullivan days, the Whiskey Punch:

Whiskey Punch Cocktail:

[image from esquire.com]

  • 2 oz Whiskey (generally Irish or Scotch, but for today's occasion I'd go for good ol' American Bourbon!)
  • 1 cube Sugar
  • Hot Water to taste

In a mug, pour hot water over sugar and stir until dissolved, add whisky. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

* Max Schmeling was indeed a man of honor. He risked his own life and freedom to protect two Jewish children from the Holocaust during the war and continued to rebuff attempts by the Nazi Party to co-opt him. He deeply regretted that he was able to be turned into a Nazi icon and worked to make amends for the rest of his life. After the war he and Louis became close friends and Schmeling personally saved Louis from bankruptcy. He'd later serve as one of Louis' pallbearers. 

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Comment by Gadget Girl on April 20, 2014 at 8:06pm

Since I was born in the fifties, I vaguely remember the "Friday Night Fights" sponsored by Gillette. My father wasn't a big fight fan-though he loved football(maybe it's okay to knock one's block off if the other person has on padding?)Anyway, my grandfather liked to watch them, and my father would often watch it with his dad just to socialize, I guess. One of my employers told me that he, too, went over-after he was still a young, but married man-to watch "the fights" with his dad. So, maybe it was a male bonding thing, at the time?

I think you are right about Mohammad Ali being the last fighter to really command media coverage for just about everything he did. I remember when I was college, in the mid seventies, there was actually a popular song on the radio about him, with the whole "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." set of lyrics-though I can't tell you off the top of my head who had the song.

Comment by Cap'n Tony on April 17, 2014 at 12:00pm

Thanks, GG. As an Aikidoist, I see no point in knocking each other senseless as entertainment either. But Boxing was a serious part of popular entertainment in the Diesel Era, even moreso than today. Folks like Jack Dempsey were like A-list movie stars with constant press coverage, merch and endorsement deals, etc., far beyond "Foreman Grill" type stuff. I think Ali was the last boxer to command that level of media attention, though Tyson came close for a while.

Funny you mention the "Hot Toddy". That was last week's cocktail. I'm sure there's a lot of regional variation on names, but at least according to these two recipies the difference is that the Hot Toddy includes honey and black tea.

Comment by Gadget Girl on April 15, 2014 at 9:26pm

Hey, guys. As a lover of history-which is one reason, I guess, that I also love the steam and dieselpunk sensibilities-I can appreciate the history of this match between these guys, even though I have to admit to being "girly" enough to not understand why two people would want to knock each other senseless "for fun."

Also, I suppose that it's all a matter of semantics, but isn't this Whisky Punch Cocktail also known by many as a  "hot toddy?"


Comment by Cap'n Tony on April 14, 2014 at 12:12pm

A few rounds will knock just about anybody out.

Comment by Tome Wilson on April 14, 2014 at 8:18am

That's quite a punch!

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