July 1, 2011

The Boxing Game

Whatever happened to the sport of boxing? I remember growing up listening to Joe Louis on the radio regularly disposing of opponents. The only enemy he couldn't whip was age. The names of the great boxers in the heavyweight division were many and glorious. Rocky Marchiano, Muhammad Ali, all champs and the near champs, Ezzard Charles, Joe Frazier, and many others. Sugar Ray Robinson in the middle weights, Willy Pep in the featherweights, but maybe the greatest of all Joe Palooka of the comic strip weight.

Joe Palooka. Created by Ham Fisher, Joe Palooka debuted on 19 April 1930 and ran through 1984, one of the most successful comic strips of all time. Palooka, a genuinely nice man, was a poor man whose skill was boxing, and who used that skill to become the "undefeated heavyweight champion of the world." Actually, that's not quite correct. Palooka's greatest skill was in being human. Very much a working class hero (it's something to be), he was humble without being craven, shy without being withdrawn, laid-back without being a slacker, easily embarrassed without being a stiff, and genuinely likable. To quote one critic, "Joe personified the ideals of the American majority of old--the simple life, the virtues of the Boy Scout code, and goodness for its own sake. He also exemplified toughness and power and could be moved to intense anger when his or someone else's toes were stepped on." He really was a good guy. Palooka fought his way to the top of the fight game, and then, when war was declared, entered the Army as a private and fought through the war at that rank. Joe was assisted by Knobby, the small, nervous, twitchy and argumentative fight manager, and by Smoky, whose vocabulary and appearance was that of a racist stereotype but who was always treated by Joe as an equal and friend. (Joe, like I said, was a good human being)

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