From Knocking Out A Horse To Missing Gold Medals: Five Of Boxing's Biggest Myths

Breaking down some of boxing's best (and worst) folklore
21:00, 23 Jun 2020

Boxing has had its fair share of pieces of folklore since the introduction of the Queensberry Rules, the generally accepted laws that govern the sport, in 1865. From drunkenly knocking out farm animals to legends of boxing past apparently defying all logic, it’s hard to filter through the fact, the fiction and the preposterous. 

Here are five famous boxing myths that probably never happened...

 

Did Muhammad Ali Really Throw His Olympic Gold Medal In A River?

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When Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, returned home to Louisville in 1960, after triumphantly securing an Olympic gold medal in Rome he probably expected a hero’s welcome. Sadly, segregation and racism still had roots deep within Kentucky and when Ali entered a local restaurant, he was promptly turned away because of the colour of his skin.

Legend has it that the future heavyweight great, angrily headed to the Second Street Bridge, tore the medal from his neck and threw it into the Ohio River. Like the story of how a stolen bicycle led Ali into the world of pugilism, the story of Ali and the gold medal in the river is stitched into the very fabric of boxing folklore. Unfortunately, it probably never happened. 

People around him said that Ali loved the medal far too much to have thrown it in a river and it was actually lost in a house move - the story was merely fabricated for his autobiography. Ali himself would later state: “I never knew what I done with that medal.”

Whatever happened to that original gold remains a mystery but Ali was presented with a replacement at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Verdict: Not True

 

Did Roberto Duran Really Knock Out A Horse In Panama?

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The validity of this next tale is in the eye of the beholder really, as nobody bar a handful of drunk Panamanians and Roberto Duran can really verify what actually happened on that humid November night on the streets of El Chorrillo in 1969.

Duran, one of the most ferocious and primal fighters to ever step foot in a ring, was, as the story goes, a 15 fight pro, 18-years-old and very drunk when this particular piece of boxing folklore took place. He was bet $100 and a bottle of whiskey by a friend that he could not knock out a horse. At first, Duran was unwilling to harm the animal, but, inebriated and being egged on by his girlfriend, he accepted the challenge and swiftly knocked down the mount with a left hook. 

The horse supposedly got straight back up but Duran’s hand needed stitching up with anaesthetic - not that bothered the South American, who was nicknamed, aptly. ‘Hands of Stone.’

“The girl was kissing me and I was drinking the whisky I won. I didn’t feel a thing,” Duran told The Guardian’s Donald McRae in 2017.

Verdict: Probably Not (But we ain’t telling Duran that)

 

Did Willie Pep Really Win A Round Without Throwing A Punch?

Long before defensive wizards like Floyd Mayweather and Pernell Whitaker reigned supreme existed another defensive genius called Willie Pep, who to fight, according to one of his former foes, was "like trying to stomp out a grass fire."

Pep was a man so hard to hit he apparently won an entire round without throwing a single punch. If you’re trying to work out in your head how that’s even possible, you're probably already pretty dubious about the validity of this claim. 

This story comes from Pep’s 1946 clash with Jackie Graves and in particular, a fight report from a Minnesota based newspaper. the St Paul’s Pioneer. In the same article the reporter contradicts himself by saying the third round, in which Pep supposedly didn’t throw a punch, was the most action-packed of the whole night. File this bit of boxing mythology under ‘dubious at best.’ 

Verdict: No

 

Were Jack Dempsey’s Gloves ‘Loaded’ When He Won The Heavyweight Title?

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On the Fourth of July, 1919, Jack Dempsey snatched the heavyweight world title from the clutches of Jess Willard, ending the Pottawatomie Giant’s four year reign as champion, and left his face in a savage state in the process.

Willard wasn’t just beaten by Dempsey, he was brutalised. In the first round, Willard crumpled to the canvas a whopping seven times, and at the fight’s conclusion in round three, Willard had supposedly suffered a broken jaw, six missing teeth, several other broken facial bones and a few cracked ribs.

It wasn’t long before the cause of these injuries turned to suspicion on Dempsey’s part, and the new champion was swiftly accused of hardening his gloves to inflict more damage. An excerpt of Doc Kearns’ biography, then Dempsey’s manager, in a 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated, added more fuel to the controversy when he claimed himself that Dempsey’s gloves were loaded. 

Dempsey, 45-years removed from his title win, disputed his former manager’s claims and, with help from his lawyers, earned an out of court settlement from SI and also got a printed apology. The best source on the validity of the Dempsey’s loaded gloves saga comes from legendary boxing editor Nat Fleischer of The Ring: “I was at the fight,” wrote Fleischer. 

“I saw Jimmy Deforest, Dempsey’s trainer tape Jack’s hands. I watched every move of the men in Jack’s quarters. I think I can clear the atmosphere once and for all with an accurate version of what happened. Jack Dempsey had no loaded gloves, and no plaster of Paris over his bandages. I watched the proceedings and the only person who had anything to do with the taping of Jacks’ hands was Deforest. Kearns had nothing to do with it, so his plaster of Paris story is simply not true.”

Verdict: Didn’t Happen

 

Did Muhammad Ali Really Get A Whole Minute To Recover Against Henry Cooper?

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The worst boxing myth of them all. There’s zero doubt that Ali, then Clay, was a tad fortunate when he came to England in 1963 to square off with Henry Cooper. He was bludgeoned down to the canvas by the infamous Enry’s ‘Ammer and some quick thinking by his trainer Angelo Dundee, who tore open his glove, gave the American some much needed time to recuperate from the knockdown.

However any belief this lasted nearly a minute is preposterous. It was six seconds. Boxing pundit Steve Bunce elaborated on this to the BBC in 2012: "It's staggering how many people made mistakes writing about this. It's just rubbish," said Bunce.

"Sir Henry Cooper insisted it was minutes, most people say it was. But the gloves, they were never taken off. Dundee worked the tear, but by modern standards it was not a delay."

Verdict: Definitely Not True