When Art Freeman, Wichita oil operator, launched Dan Hodge, the intercollegiate wrestling champion, as an amateur boxer last fall (SI, Nov. 18) he promised, "We aren't ever going to do anything that might make [Dan] ridiculous.... He's going to go at his own speed, and if he ever decides he's had enough, or if he gets hurt, he can stop."
Last week Art Freeman's promise looked pretty good. Hodge had won his first 15 fights (11 by knockout) and had wrapped up the heavyweight championship of the western team of the Golden Gloves. At no time had he appeared ridiculous, and "his own speed" was near that of a sputnik.
To Dan Hodge the road to boxing fame had been short and successful. He found boxing neither harder nor easier than wrestling, "just different."
While waiting for his big fight in Chicago last week he explained the difference. "In wrestling," he said, "you keep your muscles tight and tense; in boxing you keep them loose and agile. That's what I've been doing, loosening up my muscles—jabbing long, working on my combinations, not pulling with my muscles like I would be in wrestling."
Another difference: "In boxing, you're working for two or three minutes, then rest a minute. In college wrestling, you work nine minutes before you get a rest."
In running up a string of 46 consecutive collegiate wrestling victories—including 36 pins (23 in a row)—Hodge rarely had to work nine minutes. "My average last year," he admits, "was around 1:33."
Curt Kennedy, the professional trainer who is in charge of conditioning Dan, is concentrating on converting the fighter's extraordinary strength from wrestling to boxing. "He has tremendous natural power," says Kennedy. "He's just learning to utilize that power."
So far Dan has little style in the ring. He keeps walking forward, moving in, hoping to break through with one of his knockout punches.
The thing he finds hardest to master in his three-and-a-half-hour daily workouts with sparring partner Johnny Gray are combinations—and he hasn't learned them yet.
His opponent last week was 20-year-old Louis Coleman, whose own brother dropped out of a Golden Gloves preliminary against Louis in order to clear the way for him. Coleman was—and is—a much better boxer than Hodge and has a relatively strong punch.
At the outset of the fight, Hodge dropped his right arm and crouched, much like a knight on horseback about to ram his lance through a dragon. Then, for a moment, he shifted into a wrestler's crouch, arms lowered and in front of him, circling warily. When he came up, Coleman began outboxing him smartly, holding him off and landing punches cleanly and sharply. Hodge tried to move in, arms milling awkwardly.
"Don't wrestle," warned Referee Bernard Weissman. Once one of Hodge's clumsy punches glanced off Coleman's chin and slammed into his chest, slightly below the neck. Coleman hesitated, looked surprised and obviously "learned humility." But by the end of the first round, Coleman was clearly in command.
There is a desire to win in Dan Hodge that is as strong as the man himself. At the start of the second round, he began working on Coleman's body. Coleman again was boxing sharply and effectively—until about midway through the round. Then he wilted, apparently unable to resist Hodge's superior strength. Hodge shoved him around the ring—quite literally—and won the round.
In the third, Coleman came back, but he no longer had strength or accuracy. He did not appear as tired as in the second round—but neither did he appear ready to take the initiative. Hodge won the round, the fight and the championship.
Afterward, as he sat at ringside sipping a Coke and repeatedly sneezing and blowing his nose, Hodge reconstructed the fight. "A couple of times I had to stop—once in the second round and again in the middle of the third—and remember where I was and think, 'I've got to get my combinations going,' " he said. He blew his nose again with annoyance. "It must be an allergy, maybe dust from the ring mat." But later he acknowledged that he might have been chilled because "the locker room seemed a little cool."
Next day Dan took off for New York to train for his Golden Gloves championship fight with Charles Hood, the eastern champion. Freeman returned to Wichita and his oil business, but before he left he said: "He really didn't fight a good fight last night. He seems to freeze up a little before big crowds [the crowd in Chicago Stadium: 11,136]. But he's a tiger in the gym. They'll love him at Stillman's."
Hodge will train for the finals at Stillman's. "We're going to put him under Charley Goldman," said Freeman. "He had Marciano."
In New York, veteran trainer Charley Goldman was a little less enthusiastic. "I ain't seen the kid yet, of course, but I ain't excited. Everybody thinks they got a heavyweight champion just because they got a big strong kid. Right now, he'd get killed by a pro. He don't know enough about boxing. Of course, Rocky didn't start fighting amateur until he was 25. I understand Hodge is the same age. Rocky didn't turn pro until he was 28 either. If this kid is as big and strong as they say, you could teach him an awful lot in three years. But like I say, I got to see him first."
But even Charley Goldman had to admit that a fellow who was fighting for the U.S. Golden Gloves heavyweight championship after a scant 15 fights had definite "possibilities," and was anything but "ridiculous."
On the professional front, the first genuinely significant heavyweight fight of the year was to have been held at San Francisco's Cow Palace on March 19 and exposed nationally on Wednesday night television. It was to have decided whether Eddie Machen, the handsome and powerful Californian, or Zora Folley, the handsome and powerful Arizonan, was the clear-cut, undisputed challenger for Floyd Patterson's politics-ridden heavyweight championship.
It did not necessarily mean that the winner would meet Patterson for the title, since the champion's manager, Cus D'Amato, has banned Machen from consideration in a dispute centering around whether Machen's manager did or did not refuse a championship fight last spring, when D'Amato was collecting brickbats for his perennial war with the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president).
But a training accident, apparently a pulled muscle, forced Machen to confine himself to roadwork for three days, and after medical examination it was decided to postpone the fight until, very likely, late in April.
This restored the heavyweight situation to what has begun to seem like a normal insolvency. Patterson will next be seen in England, where he is to fight an exhibition later this month.
There is no likelihood that Patterson's British invasion will result in a defense there this June, as seemed likely before the tarnished British champion, Joe Erskine, lost to the European champion, Ingemar Johansson, who doesn't want to fight Patterson until he has spent time in the United States studying how we do it.
D'Amato will look the situation over in England but it will take an outsize magnifying glass to make any British boxer loom big.
June, the month of brides, roses and big fights, looks fine for brides and roses, poor for fights.