Phil Baker

Name: Phil Baker
Career Record: click
Alias: Phil Matra
Birth Name: Phillip J. Matro
Nationality: US American
Birthplace: New York
Hometown: Norwalk, Connecticut, USA
Born: 1911-08-01
Died: 1996-11-27
Age at Death: 85
Height: 5′ 5½″
Managers: Charlie Bennett & Jimmy Voccola


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Written by GRIM   
Monday, 23 April 2007
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Battling Nelson
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Name: Battling Nelson
Career Record: click
Alias: The Durable Dane
Birth Name: Oscar Mattheus Nielsen
Nationality: Danish
Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark
Born: 1882-06-05
Died: 1954-02-07
Age at Death: 71
Height: 5' 7?
Reach: 67?
Managers: Billy Nolan, Willus Britt

Ad Wolgast and the incomparable Joe Gans constitute a glorious chapter in ring history. But the stories of thoseFor sheer courage and stamina, Battling Nelson stood in a class all by himself. His classic battles with Jimmy Britt, Nelson fights have been told time and again. Here, for the first time, is an intimate, heartwarming account of the fascinating, little-known incidents in the life of this fabulous old champion.

bat nelson-1MUMBLING INCOHERENTLY, the shriveled little man shuffled into the charity ward of Chicago State Hospital. The doctors looked at him with a mixture of pity and awe. His eyes were blank and his once muscular 133-pound frame had wasted away to a mere 80 pounds. A brash young attendant said callously: "Huh! Another derelict. We're sure getting a lot of them these days." An elderly attendant shot him a cold look. "Do you know who that 'derelict' is?" he snapped angrily. "That 'derelict' is Battling Nelson, one of the greatest fighters who ever lived."

Old Bat, who had licked immortals like Aurelio Herrera, Young Corbett, Jimmy Britt, Terry McGovern and the incomparable Joe Gans, was 71 years old when he was ruled insane and committed in January of 1954. The psychiatrists' diagnosis had been chillingly brief: "Incurable senile dementia." Nobody will ever know what went on in Nelson's tortured mind as he dribbled away his last days amid alien surroundings. Occasionally a flicker of interest would light up his lustreless eyes and he would try to talk. But the words trickled out in a jumble of meaningless phrases. Those familiar with the ex-champion's spectacular career could pick out place names here and there and link them with some of the famous battles that had earned him riches beyond his dreams. Names like Colma... Goldfield... Point Richmond... But what could they make of such mystifying phrases as electric lights... cracks in the floor... sheets of snow... my seven dollar suit...? It was hard to make any sense of this babbling because Nelson, in his wild hallucinations, was conjuring up the broken images of a past less concerned with his great triumphs than with the vivid fragments of memory that often overshadow the important events in a man's life.

One such fragment came glimmering out of Fond du Lac, Wis., early in his career: a strange bout with a crude battler named Young Scotty. Strange because everytime Nelson floored Scotty the electric lights would go out! The Bat was puzzled. Scotty's head had been slamming the floor with a jarring crunch. Was it possible, Nelson wondered, that the impacts were in some way disrupting the makeshift wiring? After six knockdowns - and six blackouts - it suddenly dawned on the Battler that he was being hoodwinked. By that time, however, Young Scotty had managed to last the eight-round route, robbing Bat of a well-deserved kayo victory.

Battling Nelson was always ready 'to fight anybody, even if it was for only a ham sandwich' Nelson never forgot the incident Another that stuck in his mind involved two bouts with rugged Harry Fails two years earlier, in May of 1901. Nelson, only 18 at the time, had fought 25 bouts - some of them for as little as a $2.50 purse. This was peanuts even in those days, but comparatively good money to a boy who had made only 15 cents a day as an ice cutter in his home town of Hegewisch, Ill. Both Nelson and Fails were dissatisfied with their showing in the first bout, a six-round No Decision contest held in Omro, Wis. Eager to settle matters, they quickly agreed to a rematch, for which the promoter promised to sweeten the purse (Bat had gotten $5 for the first fight). They ran into their first trouble when the local sheriff threatened to arrest them. "Hey," one fan yelled after much futile planning, "how about going over to Rhinelander?" Rhinelander was just across the county line. On the morning of May 18, they set out for the new battle site. It was bitter cold and snowing hard. The fighters were offered a ride but chose to walk instead. As they slogged along, Nelson was worried. Not about the storm nor the bout. He had visions of some trigger-happy constable springing out of nowhere and hauling him off to jail. But even this dread possibility didn't faze him as much as the fact that the snow was ruining his $7 suit. Poor Bat loved that suit even more than the green trunks ("my lucky color") which he had bought for his third bout. The suit was part of a "swell-looking outfit" that included a $1 derby, a $1.50 pair of knickers "and the prettiest green necktie you ever saw in your life." Bat almost cried when he plucked at his sodden suit after stamping into the freezing old goat barn selected for the 10-round fight. The sports quickly chose the referee - a tall, lanky fellow. "How come they picked him?" Nelson asked. "Him?" someone replied. "'Cause his daddy owns this here barn." At the end of ten brutal rounds, both fighters were still fresh and raring to go. But the referee refused to let them continue and, hoisting their right hands, declared it a draw. If Nelson was apprehensive about money (there was no purse), he needn't have been. The sports were so satisfied with the action that they showered $300 in coin all over the wooden floor. There was a wild scramble as Nelson and Fails raced around picking up the money. Some of the coins had rolled into large cracks in the boards The boys made sure they didn't miss any by prying up the planks with a crowbar. Nelson felt like a millionaire with his half of the take - the largest he had ever received When he got back to town, he headed straight for a fancy clothing store. He stacked $12.50 in coins on the counter and told the clerk with a big grin, "Gimmie the best suit in the house!"

Bat could be as big a sport as the next guy! But he never forgot his folks. A hefty portion of his winnings always went to his mother, Mary.

Nelson's top purse was the $23,000 he received for his first title fight with the great Joe Gans. It was abat nelson-2 gruelling match. But then, so was the one with Joe Hedmark in September of 1900. He got only $15 for that battle, his eleventh, yet considered it "one of my hardest." Nelson managed to score five knockdowns during the blazing six rounds. But Hedmark in turn floored him 17 times. "I was licked thoroughly, fairly and squarely," said Bat. It was one of the few times he ever admitted defeat.

Though McGovern (left) was at the end of the line, Bat still thought him dangerous and tried to trick him He always insisted: "I have lost several fights, but I have never been beaten. Sounds rather paradoxical, doesn't it? But it's true. The reason for my 'defeats' is that I am not a 'short distance' or 'parlor' boxer. I believe that all fights should be fought to a finish to determine which is the better man..." Of course, Nelson said this before he lost his crown to Ad Wolgast, the "Michigan Wildcat," in one of the most savage contests in ring history. But even then he refused to quit.

Though Nelson denied he had ever been beaten, there was one fellow "I never could lick," Mickey Riley, a clever boxer from Wisconsin. Bat had a lot of respect for Riley. Though they met four times, the Durable Dane, as Bat was called, never got the satisfaction of beating him "and clearing up my old record." Nelson remembered the first Riley bout with particular vividness because of the silver dollar incident. The bout was held in Milwaukee on April 19, 1901. Milwaukee was a Jinx town to Bat and he often referred to it as "Hoodooville" or "Jonahville." After he lost a decision to the slippery Riley, Nelson's rooters hooted the decision and called on him to make a speech. Bat paled. He had always been "ready and willing to fight anybody, even if it was for only a ham sandwich." But the very thought of making a speech terrified him. Finally, besieged by his supporters, he began, "Gentle..." That was as far as he got. A silver dollar came spinning through the air and landed right in his mouth. He almost swallowed it. Bat chuckled whenever he recalled that incident. President Teddy Roosevelt, he liked to say, earned a dollar a word writing magazine articles about lion hunting. But he, a poor Danish boy from Copenhagen, had bested Roosevelt's record by getting $1 for just half a word!

The Riley bout made a businessman out of Nelson. Fighters of that era frequently passed the hat around to scrape up a living. But more often, the fans would show their appreciation, if any, by tossing coins into the "ring." Many of these coins rolled into cracks or were filched by stickyfingered camp followers. So when the spectators started raining money into the roped area, Nelson quickly whispered to his seconds "I'll give you fellows 10 percent of all you find." Scrambling around, the seconds scooped up $109.23 from coppers to silver dollars, of which Bat pocketed $98.31, plus the $35 purse he got from the club. The next morning, he sent his mother $100.

Bat's other bouts with Riley were all fought within 35 days during the summer of 1903. In the third fight, sandwiched between two draws, Nelson was close to a 11th round knockout when the police intervened. They then shifted to the old copper district of Hurley, Wis., for their final match only to find, at gong time, that they had no boxing gloves. A couple of emissaries were sent out to pick up any old mitts they could find. They did just that, returning with the seamy gloves that John L. Sullivan and Paddy Ryan had used in training for their classic match at Mississippi City, Miss., 21 years before.

All told, Bat fought Riley 38 rounds and got a total of $484.23. Nelson, who loved to make comparisons, later noted with pride that only some two years after the fourth Riley bout, he earned $18,841 plus a 10,000 side bet for kayoing Jimmy Britt, the pride of the West Coast, in 18 rounds. He relished this achievement even more because it included the socalled "white" lightweight championship claimed by Britt (Joe Gans held the world title). By that time, of course, Bat was a national figure, celebrated for his concrete jaw and phenomenal stamina. And T. A. Dorgan, the famous newspaper cartoonist known as "TAD," was affectionately caricaturing Nelson as a country rube with square teeth, a thatch of scraggly hair and a happy-go-lucky smile.

Though Nelson reveled in his big victories - such as the ones over Britt and Gans - he found his early battles even more memorable because they were related to the wonderful growing-up period when everything seemed like an adventure and life was just one big Christmas stocking.The Battler's stocking, however, was stuffed with its share of coal. One lump represented a ferocious-looking fighter with Wallace's Circus, then visiting Hammond, Ind., only a few miles from Nelson's hometown. The pug was billed as the "world's renowned prizefighter, Wallace's Unknown" - and he was all of that because nobody knew anything about him. The circus was offering one dollar to anyone who could last three rounds with this "maneater." Nelson, who had changed his job from ice cutter to meat cutter, was only 14 years old when he dared to challenge the Unknown one September night in 1896. Though unnerved by the throng, the roaring beasts and the flaming lights, Bat (the "Packing-House Pride") pulverized his foe in the first round while the band played "Down Went McGinty," a popular ditty of that era. But Nelson never got his dollar. The circus manager refused to cough up. Instead he craftily offered to pay Bat $50 a week plus expenses to replace the Unknown. Bat's folks, insisting he was needed at home and, besides, was too young to go gallivanting around with a circus turned the proposition down cold. Actually, however, they didn't want him to become a fighter. On top of this dissapointment, Bat discovered that during the excitement some circus roustabouts had made off with his coat and vest, including $5.40 (his week's pay as a meat cutter) and "a dandy Waterbury watch."

bat nelson -3 This bitter experience, coming as it did in his very first "professional" fight, remained fresh in Nelson's memory long after he had retired. In the tidy summary of ring earnings which he included in his autobiography, Nelson listed the dollar with the notation "Robbed." Nelson fought Dick Hyland soon after defending his title against Joe Gans. He stopped Hyland in 23 rounds. Nelson's faith in human nature took another beating a few years later after a bout with bruiser Joe Percente. He had been promised $17.50 win, lose or draw. But though he won on a foul (Percente even jumped on top of him!), the Dane, was short-changed by $2.50. When he protested, the promoter snapped: "If you had lost, I'd have given you only $10." Commented Nelson bitterly: "I didn't understand how men could be so dishonest."

His disillusion, however was mild compared with the deal he got in his fight with Eddie Santry in Chicago's famous old Pyramid Athletic club. The record books say he lost. But according to Bat Santry was down and all but out in the final sixth round when the referee awarded him the decision. Nelson was dumfounded to learn that Santry, the old fox, had cornered referee Jimmy Bardell before the bout and whispered that everything had been "fixed" - the Dane was to stay the limit to win a reputation, but Santry was to get the verdict.

Santry indirectly involved Bat in still another raw deal when Eddie was taken ill and pulled out of a 10-round match with Eddie Sterns in August of 1903. Nelson was rushed in as a substitute. On arriving in Michigan City, Ind., he was incensed to learn that Sterns, obviously over the limit, refused to weigh in. Bat's manager, Teddy Murphy, disgustedly waived the forfeit. Seconds after tearing out of his corner, Nelson floored Sterns with a booming right. "He was given at least 15 seconds to get to his feet," Bat squawked later, adding that while he was repeating the process for eight rounds, the referee kept warning him about "foul" blows. In the ninth, the Dane doubled Sterns over with a smashing right to the belly and down he went. "His seconds and the referee carried him to his corner and he was given the decision!" Nelson recalled, noting sarcastically that his foe apparently won "for taking more knockdowns than I did." As if that wasn't enough, the Michigan City, Ind., promoters had another stinger in store for Bat. He had been promised $125 win, lose or draw, plus rail and hotel expenses. All he got was $50 and a stern warning to get out of town "or we'll throw you in jail."

That did it. Nelson had had two prior unpleasantries in Indiana - both in Hammond. One involved the Wallace's Circus theft; the other a bout with Billy Hurley. Anticipating a raw deal, Bat had demanded his $50 in advance. He got it but was furious when he also got a draw decision instead of what he felt was a clear-cut victory over Hurley. The Sterns fiasco, however, was too much and Bat lumping Indiana with Milwaukee as "Hoodooville," squealed: "The promoters there would have put Jesse James to shame." Nelson promptly swore that he'd never fight in Indiana again. He broke his promise only once - nine years later - when he was all washed up.

Humor occasionally bubbled up out of such grim setbacks. A week after the Sterns bout, Nelson took on an actor named "Dare Devil" Tilden, whose specialty was high diving into a tank of water on a bicycle. They '"fought" in a Chicago dance hall before about one hundred actors and actresses. The women, shocked by the sight of blood - Tilden's - started screaming. When one of them yelled "Police!" the lights went out and everybody scurried into an anteroom. After a hushed interval, they emerged. Nelson drew more blood and again the women screamed and someone cried "Police!" The referee wisely stopped the bout, but ruled it "No Decision." Later, the Battler discovered who had yelled for the cops. It had been Tilden's girlfriend, desperately trying to save her intended husband from what seemed certain death. All Bat got out of that scary midnight episode was $7.50 - quite a comedown from the hundreds he had been making. At times like this, he felt a flash of regret that he had not obeyed his folks orders to quit fighting.

He remembered the childish note he had left after they had argued over his second pro fight: "Going away, ma, to seek my fortune." He was all of 15. He came back about a year later but, though his folks welcomed him with open arms, they kept after him to quit. Nelson "compromised" by resuming his studies and training secretly at night. Bat considered himself a good student, especially in math. His passion for figures was reflected in the meticulous records he kept of all his fights and earnings. He also was an unmanageable student ("I was always getting into trouble and being suspended for fighting.") Nelson, who had been christened "Oscar Battling Matthew," liked to boast that he had been born fighting.

And so he had. He put up such a fuss after letting out his first Squawk on June 5, 1882, that his dad, Nels, promptly named him "Battling." His mother, Mary, tacked on "Matthew" in honor of a temperance leader: who served as a model for the abstemious fighter. Both Nelson (left) and Benny Leonard were on the pudgy side when they posed for this photo after they had retired. It wasn't until Nelson's 34th bout that his dad finally softened. 1901 had been a bad year for the wanderer and he had hurried home to spend Christmas with the folks and the "kids" - his sister and six brothers. Said Bat: "Every Christmas as regular as a clock I hang up my sock, and my good old mother never fails to see that Santa Claus puts something in it." During this mellow period, his dad again pleaded with" him to "stop this fighting business." Bat promised to "think it over." Then someone from the neighboring town of Pullman bragged about a local fighter "who can lick anybody in Hegewisch." Intense rivalry existed between the two towns. Pullman workers, who manufactured fancy sleeping cars, looked down on the "lowly" Hegewisch men who made only "working (flat and freight) cars." The boast got under Nels Nelson's skin. Forgetting his son's promise, Nels cried: "You tink dey got boy over dere vot can beat my boy - vot? Vell, ve'd lack to see him." The old man got so worked up, in fact, that he wildly offered to bet "von tousand dollars" that his boy would win. Bat grinned. Now he just had to uphold his town's honor! Hegewisch took a holiday when Nelson met. Frank Colifer in a West Pullman barn on Jan. 13, 1902. For the first time since Bat had beaten their pride, Ole Olson, the local Swedes rooted with the Danes for a Nelson victory. Bat didn't disappoint them, kayoing Colifer in the fifth round. As he leaped out of the ring, he heard his dad chuckle "An' dey tink dey can leek my boy, vot!"

Nelson's most momentous victory in 1902 was a shattering K.O. over William Rosser, another Pullman pride, who had been defeating every Chicago fighter who invaded his territory. When one of Bat's local detractors asked if he could beat Rosser, Nelson retorted: "Why, I'll knock him out in one round." The fellow sneered: "I've got $40 to your $4 that says you can't." Bat wasn't a man to ignore odds like that. On his way to Harvey, Ill., for the bout, he racked his brain for a trick that would insure a quick kayo. It wasn't until he had jumped into the ring, however, that he found it. He waited until the referee had finished his instructions. Then, instead of returning to his comer, he stepped toward Rosser's corner. As a result Nelson was practically on top of his foe even before the bell had stopped ringing. He fired a right hand smash to the jaw and Rosser, his face frozen with surprise, slumped to the canvas. The whole action had taken just two seconds. Rosser didn't recover for an hour. Nelson's dad, overcome by pride, later took him aside and said, "Go ahead, veen the champeenship."

That was all Bat needed. With high hopes, he hopped a southbound freight for Hot Springs, Ark. To tide him over until he got some bouts, he landed a $3-a-week job as a waiter in the "Ironside" restaurant, So called because of its tough 15-cent steaks. Only a few days later, Bat quit in fury when the manager, a hulking six-footer, abusively accused him of stealing 15 cents. Nelson "peeled him a beaut on the jaw" during a violent battle in which the boss attacked him with catsup bottles and a four-gallon milk pitcher. Narrowly escaping a jail Sentence, Nelson got another waiter's job and became the talk of Hot Springs when he mangled several local fighters while working out in various gyms around town. The upshot was a bout with a tough, 142-pound headwaiter named Elmer Mayfield, whom the Bat beat decisively.

The Dane concluded 1902 with a 17-round knockout of Christy Williams. "Of all the Negroes I fought, William's gave me the hardest battle ... I was punished more than I was in all the three long fights I had with Joe Gans."

Nelson considered 1903 the turning point in his career. It was also the year he suffered his first business reversal. With the $350 proceeds from one fight, he bought out his boss, the owner of the Turf Cafe in Hot Springs, and let a partner run it while he hustled for fights. The Turf was a shaky proposition and Bat had to get some money fast to keep it going. He fought a No-Decision bout and was chagrined when he was given only $5 for his efforts. As glum as he was, Nelson felt even worse when he got back to the cafe and learned that his partner had "vamoosed with everything in sight." The Bat was forced to sell meals at bargain prices to pay off the waiters.

After closing down the cafe, he was about to hunt for another job when he got a telegram from Milwaukee offering him a bout with Cyclone Johnny Thompson, a fast-rising star whom he had beaten previously. Down to his last $5, Bat was compelled to ride the rods to keep his engagement. As he rocked precariously beneath the train, he reflected on the irony of his situation. There he was, Battling Nelson, the "hero" of almost half a hundred battles, reduced to risking his neck under a mail train because he didn't have the price of a ticket! The Bat never forgot that nightmarish ride. Exhausted after dashing to catch the train, he fought desperately to stay awake. But despite his cramped position he couldn't help dozing off. The moment he did, his foot slid off the trucks, struck one of the track ties and bounced up against the belly of the speeding car. The jolt almost knocked him off his perch. Shuddering at his close brush with death, he got no more sleep that night.

After beating Thompson, Bat kept barnstorming around the midwest piling up $2,307.50 in 17 bouts by the year's end. Now, he felt, he was ready to make some real money ... In quick order, he polished off three classy boxers - Artie Simms, Jack O'Neill and Spider Welsh - and mowed down top-ranking Martin Canole and Eddie Hanlon. Then he astounded. the fight world by beating Aurelio Herrera, a rock-fisted Mexican who trained on cigars and whiskey. Nelson's ability to take punishment was dramatically demonstrated in that bout. He was well aware of Herrera's tremendous power, having sparred with him a year before. Fighting cautiously, he managed to stay out of danger until the fourth round. Then he ran into a sledge-hammer right. Bat turned a complete somersault and fell flat on his back, his head smacking the canvas first. Yet he came slashing back to win.

Nelson salted away his $2,100 purse and looked for bigger stakes. He got them by stopping Young Corbett, for $2,700 and then, lost a controversial decision to Jimmy Britt which was salved only by a $5,600 purse, bringing his 1904 earnings to $13,303. But the Bat's wounded feelings weren't salved for long. The day after the Britt fight, Teddy Murphy, his 42-year old "Boy Manager," vanished with boxer Eddie Santry, who had worked in Nelson's corner. With him, Murphy had taken Bat's $5,600 purse. The Battler, who had intended to send his mother $5,000 as a Christmas present, broke down and wept when he learned of the treachery. He said ruefully: "I guess mother is right after all ... this is a bad business to be in." Murphy was arrested a few days later. After listening to a long lament from his errant manager, Nelson agreed to drop charges pending a "settlement." Though he never disclosed its terms, one thing was clear: Murphy was through.

Adorning the living room walls of hs home in Hegewisch, Ill., were photos of Nelson's famous fights. He lost both when 1929 Wall St. crash wiped out his fortune. In a way this was a break for Bat because he took on Iron Jaw Billy Nolan, who had promoted the Herrera bout, as his new manager. Under Nolan's tutelage in 1905, Bat fought only five times but boosted his take to $25,591, including $3,500 for knocking out Young Corbett again and a whopping $18,841 for stopping his hated rival Jimmy Britt in a bloody brawl at Colma, Calif. Sandwiched in with these bouts was a slashing No-Decision six-rounder with Abe Attell.

The Nelson-Nolan alliance lasted two years, right through the first Joe Gans fight late in 1906. But it started crumbling long before that - just prior to thie second Britt bout of September, 1905 - when the Bat grumbled about the 50 percent cut demanded by Nolan. Nelson compromised by agreeing to give Billy 35 percent of all his earnings. The compromise left a sour taste in his mouth and Nelson lost no opportunity to express his low opinion of managers in general. Up to the time he had taken on Nolan, he said, he had acted as his own manager, secretary and treasurer and he regretted that he had not followed that policy because Nolan had turned out to be a $50,000 luxury. (Teddy Murphy, it developed, was just a nominal manager.)

While chasing Joe Gans for a title match, Bat took on "Terrible" Terry McGovern in a No-Decision affair. The great McGovern was at the end of the line but he gave Nelson six hard rounds though Terry seemed nervous and clinched frequently. Nelson later disclosed that the nervousness had not been accidental. He knew McGovern was easily upset and figured he could take the sting out of him by putting him on edge. So he kept Terry waiting in the cold ring while he slowly taped his hands. After 15 minutes, Terry impatiently put on his overcoat and fidgeted in his corner. Finally, he shivered over to Bat and grumpily asked why he was taking so much time to get ready. "Don't worry, Terry," Nelson said, "you'll get yours soon enough." Terry boiled and his managers complained but Nelson just laughed at them. After 45 mintutes, having also replaced a "broken" shoelace, Bat was finally ready. "Poor Terry," he recalled, "shook with fright and nervousness as he stepped back to his corner to await the bell ... We had hardly fought 30 seconds when I could tell that I had his goat ..." Bat earned $11,771.50 for the bout.

Six months later, Nelson finally caught up with Joe Gans at Goldfield, Nev., on Sept. 3, 1906. Millions of words have been written about that classic battle, which marked Tex ("Million-Dollar-Gate") Rickard's debut as a fight promoter and netted Nelson his biggest purse, $23,000. Bat lost on a controversial 42nd round foul but insisted to his dying day that he had beaten Gans fairly. He made up for the loss in 1908 by knocking out Gans twice in the space of two months. Few knew it at the time but Cans had been wasting away with tuberculosis.

 Despite his condition, Gans had punished Nelson severely in their three bouts. Yet he admitted that while "I hit him blows with which I have knocked out many heavier men ... they had no effect other than to snap Bat's head back. He is simply impervious to punishment." Bat himself liked to gloat, "I ain't human." Doctors who examined him seemed to agree. They were amazed by his "quiet" nervous system, his abnormally low heart beat, his phenomenal recuperative powers.
bat nelson-4
These qualities were put to the supreme test when Nelson met Ad Wolgast, the Michigan Bearcat, in a title match at Point Richmond, Calif. In losing his crown to the younger man, Nelson proved every inch a champion. When referee Eddie Smith stopped the slaughter in the 40th round, the blood-smeared Battler begged that he be allowed to continue. "I can beat him," he protested. But the Bat couldn't even find Wolgast. Just before the end, he had squared off menacingly against a ringpost.

In his later years, Bat was still fighting - even if on the streets. This is how he looked after being attacked by thugs. Nelson was never the same after that murderous mauling. When he retired in 1917 at the age of 34 (he squeezed in two exhibitions in 1923), he found life a tougher opponent than any he had ever faced in the ring. He divorced his first wife, Fay King, a writer and artist and gradually saw his half-a-million dollar fortune, built mostly on real estate investments, slip down the drain. By 1943 the man who had boasted that he wouldn't need any benefits in his old age was broke and living in a dreary Chicago hotel room with his second wife, Edna. Luckily he landed a wartime job in the post office. But he was fired when the Government ended the temporary posts. He then tried to get a $90-a-month pension for his short service in the Spanish-American War. The Veterans Administration turned him down because he could not produce discharge papers. Bat said he had misplaced them after losing his home in Hegewisch.

In January, 1954, about a week after his wife died, he was ruled insane and committed. A psychiatrist described him as "a man out of contact with the world." He had wound up in the same dream world that had enveloped Ad Wolgast not long after Ad lost his crown to Willie Ritchie. Wolgast outlasted Nelson, dying on April 14, 1955, at the age of 67, still training for a mythical championship bout. For Oscar Battling Matthew Nelson, the end came on Feb. 7, 1954, at the age of 71. The cause: lung cancer. The Durable Dane was human after all.

From: Boxing International, Dec. 1974

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