By Ted Sares
A pier six mind-set involving an inclination to engage in brutal street-like brawls was a part of the old-school mix. The Basilio-DeMarco wars were the sin quo non of Old School, but for a pure, visual definition, the best I can do is recommend the Monroe Brooks-Bruce Curry fight in 1978 in which the fighters fought with both skill and savagery and let it all hang out. Both were willing to go out on their respective shields—to go to the brink– without regard to their welfare. Both were willing to “Live and Die in LA”. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaFhZ4BZCgw
The first Charley Norkus-Danny Nardico brawl also filled the bill as it featured two ex-Marines trading multiple knockdowns and malice aforethought in the very definition of a “Pier Six Brawl” and reflecting the very essence of what old school was all about: Here is the remarkable, albeit grainy, rare video footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6oagovQgs8
Old-school props were in order for the unofficial heavyweight tournament that was held across the pound several years ago between Danny Williams, Audley Harrison, Scott Gammer, Matt Skelton, and Michael Sprott, as they were willing to fight each other at any given time. The same propensity held true for Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Michael Watson, and Carl “The Cat” Thompson.
When a prime Carlos Baldomir patted his chest, spat, and waved in Arturo Gatti, that carried with it the aura of old school. It was neither better nor worse; it was just different. But when Jim Brown rumbled into the end zone, and simply handed the football to the umpire, he adhered to a certain accepted behavior that did not include the boogaloo or triple somersaults. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson changed things when he did a celebration dance in the end zone in the 1970s while playing for the Houston Oilers. He broke from the accepted norm and started a new behavioral trend. Again, not better, not worse, just different.
Watching Luis Manuel “El Feo” Rodriguez (107-13, 49 KOs), fight was an old-school experience. He was a stylist, like the great Sugar Ray Robinson, capable of accomplishing almost anything in the ring, but only b oxing aficionados knew who he was, as this Cuban slickster stayed under the radar for many years. Yet watching Floyd Jr. put on a clinic was not much different. The difference occurred outside the ring.
They used to say that Francis “Chico” Vejar (92-20-4) was served up on Friday night TV broadcasts as much as fish was. Americans started watching television in the late 1940s and the Monday and Friday Night fights were broadcast weekly by Gillette and Pabst Blue Ribbon from the late ‘40s into the early 1960s. Back when Don Dunphy was commentator, fights like Hairston vs. Keogh, Satterfield vs. Brothers, Rosi vs. Compo, and Castellani vs. Durando thrilled TV audiences everywhere, but no one seemed to fight more often or was more popular than Chico Vejar. The ‘50s were a wonderful stew of boxing, and Chico was clearly part of the meat.
Watching Sugar Ray Robinson dispatch his opponents in a stylish but workmanlike fashion was old-school stuff, as was seeing a deadpanned Joe Louis walk calmly back to his corner after knocking someone into another planet.
Much later, when Danny “Little Red” Lopez walked in wearing an Indian headdress in honor of his Native American father (though he fought like a Mexican warrior reflecting his mother’s heritage) he may have bridged the gap between old and modern. Televised fights in the 1970s clearly influenced behavior inside the ring. Chris Eubank, Hector Camacho, and Prince Naseem, among others, did walk-ins that carried matters to an extreme, and Ricky Hatton’s strange “Blue Moon” thing reinforced that behavior, though Ricky’s conduct inside the ring was pure “back in the day”. Witnessing Sugar Ray Leonard raise his hands as he went in for the kill against Tommy Hearns may have been modern, but it was real and chilling.
Mike Tyson, by admission and intention, tried to come off as old school wearing short black trunks and a white towel as a hood during his walk-in, but his propensities to trash talk spoiled things. When De La Hoya and Sugar Shane Mosley (and now Canelo) wore short trunks for maximum ventilation and mobility, that was neither old nor new: it’s was just plain smart.