It wasn't exactly the fight of the century, but I can still recall all the details almost 60 years later because it was, in a way, rather special. In February 1923 I graduated from junior high school in Newark. As a graduation gift, my father had bought two tickets for a prizefight. Pop was a structural ironworker, and a member of his union, Spot Golden, had decided to come out of retirement and make a comeback. Golden was matched against Davey (Choo-Choo) Kurtz at the Metropolitan Club the following Friday night. I counted the days.
The club was in an abandoned theater and we had seats in the first row of the balcony. The ring was set up on the stage, starkly lit by the footlights and proscenium lights. The place was packed. After the last preliminary, the referee stepped into the middle of the ring and yelled, "The main event! Matching the pride of the South Side, Davey (Choo-Choo) Kurtz, at 160, with the pride of the Ironworkers Union, Spot Golden, in his first comeback fight, 162. Ten rounds."
Kurtz stepped through the ropes and began to shadowbox in his corner. In a few seconds I became aware of a furor on the other side of the ring. Golden, dressed in a black bathing suit, trunks and jersey, was standing on the stage, arguing with his seconds, who were trying to remove the jersey while Golden pushed and threw punches at them. The referee joined the argument, gesturing to Golden to take off the jersey. Golden responded with a hammer punch to the top of the referee's head. The ref staggered, grabbing the top rope to stay upright. One of the seconds literally ripped the jersey off Golden's body and, with the other second, forced him through the ropes. He stood there arguing with them, seemingly unaware of where he was and what he was doing.
"I'll be damned," Pop said. "He must be drunk!"
When the referee waved the two fighters to the center of the ring for the instructions, Golden pushed Kurtz and swung wildly at his head. The referee reprimanded Golden and pointed to his corner, but Golden didn't move. Kurtz walked back to his own corner and the gong sounded for Round One. Kurtz approached Golden, warily circling him, and tentatively threw a few left jabs. Golden responded with two wild rights, each missing by at least a foot. Kurtz nailed Golden with a sharp right, which bloodied his nose and infuriated him. He lunged at Kurtz, grabbed him around the torso and wrestled him to the floor. Golden sat on Kurtz, pounding his face as the referee attempted to get him off. Golden's handlers rushed into the ring, pulled Golden off Kurtz and hustled him back to the corner. Kurtz retreated to his corner, swearing at Golden and throwing a threatening right.
The referee then signaled the timekeeper, who struck the gong again. Golden rushed toward Kurtz, who stood his ground and connected with a left and right to the face. Golden fell to the canvas, rolled over, sat up and exchanged curses with Kurtz, ignoring the fact that the referee was counting him out. When the referee tolled "10," Golden's handlers ran to him and lifted him to his feet. After they made him understand that he had been knocked out, he really went into action.
He punched both of his seconds, took a swing at the referee as he went by and reeled after Kurtz, chasing him around the ring and throwing wild punches at his head. Finally one of his seconds tackled Golden and the other sat on him. Two policemen quickly entered the ring and all four men pushed Golden through the ropes and carried him out.
The audience was in an uproar. There were shouts of "Fake!" "Fraud!" and "We want our money back!"
"Let's get out of here before a riot starts and somebody gets hurt," Pop said. As we walked out to the trolley, Pop said, "If that drunken bum ever gives me any lip, I'll knock his block off."
On the trolley Pop put his hand on my knee and said, "Sorry, lad, but it wasn't much of a graduation gift."
"It was funny," I said, "sort of like a Charlie Chaplin movie."
Pop thought about that for a few seconds and then said, "You're right. He was nothing but a big clown up there on that stage."
Many years later I went into Bill's Liquor/Tobacco Shop, located off the lobby in the building where I had my law office. Bill was arguing with a customer. "I told you I can't give you credit," Bill said. "I'll lose my license if I do."
"One lousy bottle of Tiger's Milk. I'll pay you tomorrow, I swear it," the customer replied in a rasping voice. His hands were extended pleadingly.
"You want me to lose my license?" Bill said. Then he spotted me and said, "This gentleman's a lawyer. Ask him." The customer turned to face me, and I recognized him instantly: Davey (Choo-Choo) Kurtz. The eyebrows were lumpy with scars, the nose was dented and slanted left and the right ear was cauliflowered. His left eye was a smoky agate. The body was erect but very thin.
"Give him the bottle," I said to Bill. "It's my treat."
Bill stared at me, unbelieving, and then took a bottle of Tiger's Milk and handed it to Kurtz, who immediately headed for the door.
"I saw you fight, Davey," I said.
He turned and faced me. "You did? Which one?"
"Spot Golden," I said.
He studied the floor for several seconds and then slowly shook his head. "I don't remember that one," he said.
"You stiffened him in the first round."
"I did? Boy, I had a good right." He made a fist with his right hand and threw a feeble punch at the air. "You see?" he shouted in a hoarse voice at Bill. "You see, I was good, you lousy cheapskate!" Then he swung open the door, stepped into the street and was gone.