When worlds collide you want front row seats.
So, everything we write today, pretend we wrote it yesterday. Ready? We talked briefly about Muhammad Ali's proto-MMA experience a few weeks ago. We've been saving this item to share. It's an actual unused ticket stub for the Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki exhibition match at the Nippon Budokan arena today yesterday in 1976, exactly forty years forty years and one day ago. Oh yes. This is rare. At least we think it is, because we've never seen another one. We've uploaded it vertically below so you can get a good look at it by dragging it to your desktop and rotating it.
Ali invades Japan and helps invent MMA.
When Muhammad Ali died last week we remembered we had some rarities laying around, but it took a few days to find them. These are the items we were searching for—posters from Ali's June 1976 match at Tokyo's Nippon Budokan arena with Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. In what would now be called a mixed martial arts bout, Ali and Inoki fought to a draw, however this was not a freeform battle, but rather a tightly regulated exhibition match. Nevertheless, Ali's leg was so damaged from Inoki's repeated kicks that an infection set in and for a brief time the medical discussion turned to amputation. Today the Budokan match is considered by Ali fans an embarrassment in the boxer's storied career, but it was also an important precursor to MMA, a case study in how boxing and MMA are incompatible sports, and yet another example of Ali's trailblazing nature. He was the king and he will be missed.
He gave every last drop of his blood—to the IRS.
This National Police Gazette cover from this month in 1951 shows a bloodied Joe Louis in the midst of a title bout loss to Ezzard Charles in September 1950. Louis had retired, but when the U.S. government's Internal Revenue Service came after him for $500,000 in back taxes, he fought again—at age thirty-six—with the agreement that the proceeds would clear his debt. Thus Gazette's sub-head: “Why Joe Louis Can't Quit.” He'd hoped to pay off the entire bill with one fight, but the crowd was small and the purse far less than expected. With debt still outstanding, he did the only thing he could—take more fights.
And in the center of the magazine Gazette offers up Hazel Nilsen as its Date of the Month. Gazette featured established personalities on its calendar pages only occasionally, which means the magazine's promo shots today serve as an encyclopedia of aspiring starlets who almost—but never quite—made it. Nilsen was aiming for Broadway because of the excitement of acting before a live audience, but never appeared in a play. Instead she scored small roles in three Hollywood westerns between 1949 and 1952, including as an Indian maiden named White Fawn in Apache Chief, before fading from the scene. Showbiz is a cruel mistress.
They didn't call him the Bronx Bull for nothing.
How much beating can a fighter take? National Police Gazette asks that burning question on the front of this issue that hit newsstands this month in 1950. The cover star is Jake LaMotta, the Bronx Bull, who was famous for being able to take a punch—or fifty—and his unseen opponent is French fighter Robert Villemain. The photo was made during their December 1949 bout, a match LaMotta lost by unanimous decision. But his reputation as someone who could take a punch grew even when he lost, and eventually reached legendary proportions. His most serious beating occurred in February 1951 during a bout with Sugar Ray Robinson that was dubbed the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. By the end the fight had become an epic of human destruction, and almost certainly caused permanent damage to La Motta. But in ninety-five professional matches to that point he had never been knocked to the canvas and he didn't fall that night either, even during a vicious final-round barrage that had LaMotta staggering around the ring. So the answer to Gazette's question—How much beating can a fighter take?—is simple. If you're LaMotta, you can take plenty.
It’s time to say goodnight.
The National Police Gazette loved fighters in general and Rocky Marciano in particular. He appeared on the magazine’s cover at least a dozen times, and above you see another colorful photo-illustration put together from a shot made during his first bout with heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, which the much younger Marciano won by TKO. The fight was today in 1952, and the photo appeared on the Gazette a year later in September 1953.
Saddlered, whipped, and sent back to the barn.
The cover of this National Police Gazette published today in 1950 shows boxer Willie Pep being assessed by Dr. Vincent Nardiello after a February 1949 bout with archnemesis Sandy Saddler. Below the cover is another image from the same sequence. Saddler really put a hurting on Pep, as you can see from the severity of his injuries, but that was normal for the two fighters. They met four times, trading the lightweight championship three times in those battles, with the last fight considered even today one of the dirtiest of all time. You can see more from Police Gazette by clicking its keywords below.
Let me get one last hug in, so I can remember you without a smashed in face and broken body.
W.R. Burnett followed up his 1929 gangster novel Little Caesar with 1930’s Iron Man, the story of a boxer named Kid Mason who is laid low not by his ring opponents but by the machinations of unsavory hangers on and a femme fatale—who’s unfortuntately also his wife. We showed you the hardback dust jacket to this a while back. This paperback from Avon goes full pulp with the teaser, promising a “toboggan-slide of passion, a headlong express that rips through the heavens and plunges to the bottom of hell.” That sounds fun, and indeed it was well reviewed, and was adapted into a film in 1931 with Lew Ayres as Mason and Jean Harlow as his wife. The cover art is uncredited.
She may not be a champion of the ring, but she’s a winner just the same.
This photo of Elsie Connor looked to us as if it had been Photoshopped in a very interesting way but it wasn’t—we found a version on Getty Images and it was identical to what you see above. The image and the fact that she’s identified as an Irish boxing champion on various websites made us curious about her career, but after a bit of digging we discovered that she was actually a dancer and chorus girl, and appeared in the 1930 musical Earl Carroll's Sketch Book, the 1929 shows Fioretta and Earl Carroll’s Vanities, and the 1928 production Here’s Howe. That’s a pretty short career, and one that lacked any starring roles, but thanks to the internet she’s famous again, looking like a real world beater. The only thing is, we doubt she was ever a boxer. We can’t be 100% sure, but with no evidence that she ever stepped into a ring, as well as a very clear understanding of how often the world wide web is world wide wrong, we suspect this is just a very, er, striking publicity photo. It dates from 1931.
Cutting the head off the snake.
Above and below, a July 1956 issue of Real Adventure magazine with uncredited art on the cover and throughout the issue. Inside you get model Peggy Ray, and a self-written feature by boxer Sandy Saddler in which he denies being a dirty fighter. The article includes a photo, which you see in panels three and four below, of Saddler mugging Willie Pep. That’s not the first appearance on Pulp Intl. for that image. Police Gazette featured it on one of its covers in February 1951 with a little photo-illustrative tweak. It’s worth glancing at and you can see it here.
So was Saddler a dirty fighter? Consensus seems to be that if he felt victimized himself, he tended to cross the line. According to theboxingmagazine.com, this happened during Saddler’s fourth fight with Pep, which featured, “elbows, butting, heeling with the glove and lacing, they were everything-gos foul-fests from start to finish. While Pep and Saddler wrestled on the inside, Saddler thought nothing of putting Willie in a headlock before throwing him to the floor. Even the referee was knocked to the floor several times in an attempt to separate the two fighters. Needless to say, the boos and jeers shook the joint to the rafters. Saddler said afterward that he felt insulted by those who insisted he was a dirty fighter.”
Saddler won 144 bouts against only 16 losses, which would seem to indicate a considerable amount of talent. He retired in 1956, at the earlyish age of thirty, after he hurt his eye in a traffic accident. Afterward her became a trainer and counted among his clients a young George Foreman. He died in 2001 but was honored by The Ring magazine a couple of years later when editors ranked him as the fifth greatest puncher of all time. We have about twenty scans of Saddler, Pep, and others below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1944—Vive la France
With the surrender of the last occupying German garrison, Paris is liberated from Nazi occupation by Allied troops after six days of fighting. The city had been administered by Nazi Germany since the Second Compiègne armistice in June 1940 when Germany occupied the north and west of France and when the Vichy regime was created in the city of Vichy in central France.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
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