July 31, 1908: Ketchel vs Kelly

Alas, for so many of boxing’s truly great champions, precious little or no film exists of their exploits, but despite this, we possess solid evidence of their splendid achievements. For example, consider the excellent and detailed first-hand account available to us of all-time middleweight great Stanley Ketchel’s 1908 knockout over highly regarded contender Hugo Kelly, aka Ugo Micheli, who boasted wins over Philadephia Jack O’Brien, Mike Schreck and Joe Grim, as well as draws with Tommy Ryan and Billy Papke and was regarded by many, if not most, as a serious challenge for the irrepressible “Michigan Assassin.”

While the name of the scribe who penned a ringside report for The San Francisco Call is not known to us, more than a century later his words still live and we present them here, in a slightly edited version, for the edification of all die-hard fans of boxiana. Herewith, Ketchel vs Kelly, a short but thrilling battle for the undisputed middleweight championship of the world, the headline for the excellent feature article reading, “Chicago Man Runs Into a Well Placed Punch and Goes to Sleep Quickly.” 

With a resounding left hook to the jaw that stilled the rumbling crowd in the Coliseum, Stanley Ketchel, middleweight champion of the world, laid Hugo Kelly of Chicago low in the opening seconds of the third round and ended as sensational a fight as a local crowd ever witnessed. Ketchel’s wonderful knockout punch carried with it more of its punishing power than ever, and Kelly’s head hit the floor and bounced back twice like a rubber ball. There he lay, a vanquished gladiator ere the mill was well on its way.

The sensational wallop came so quickly as to benumb the crowd. A second before the champion brought it over the men were exchanging lefts and the crowd was in an uproar, for the two rounds which preceded the finish were full of everything that goes to make the Queensberry game great. Before those at ringside realized what had happened Kelly was counted out and Ketchel was making his way toward his corner.

Nothing less than a legend.

Up to the fatal moment it was Kelly’s fight as far as cleanly scored points figured. From the outset he proved what his admirers claimed for him: a classy boxer, a hard puncher and a ring general capable of taking care of himself in the tight places.

When the bell called the fighters to the scratch in the third Ketchel landed a stratight left to Kelly’s jaw and the Chicago boy was right back with one that seemed to carry more sting with it. Ketchel drew back and Kelly made a bluff as if to land. This was the last thing he did.

Like a flash of lightning the left of the champion shot out. It landed flush on the jaw of Kelly and he went to the mat in a twinkling. So hard was he hit that his head rebounded twice before he took the count. The Chicago man made a valiant effort to rise again but he was not there. The force of that finishing blow had taken all the fight out of him and he could not have risen for a million dollars.

The spectacular knockout surely robbed the fans of a chance to witness one of the grandest ring battles seen in this city for many a moon. From the moment the opening bell until Kelly sank, each man tore at the other and fought till the crowd was beside itself with frenzied glee.

Ketchel opened the fight by tearing across the ring with a mad lunge for the jaw with his right. The blow was wild and Kelly quickly closed in and put a nice left and right to the face. After going into a half clinch, Ketchel started after Kelly again and slipped. The crowd thought it a knockdown and cheered wildly.

Hugo Kelly

As soon as he got up Kelly met his man with a couple more lefts and neatly blocked two swings. Kelly then got to the body with a right and Ketchel swung a stiff right to the jaw. This did not stop Kelly, who came on with two more lefts to the face that sent Ketchel back and caused the shortenders to howl.

After Kelly stuck another left to the jaw, there was an exchange in which each man landed his share of shortarm ones. But Kelly took the lead when they came out of the clinch. He went after Ketchel’s body with both hands and sidestepped several rushes. Ketchel finally did get his left to the face and a right to the body, but a moment before the gong sounded Kelly shot a great right over to the jaw, dazing Ketchel.

The champion came back just the same in the second. He started after Kelly with his right again but the blow went wild. This brought about a clinch, but as soon as they broke Kelly shot a vicious left to the point and again they hooked up. After scoring with his left again Kelly once more evaded one of Ketchel’s rushes and missed a great right uppercut that might have done a lot of good had it landed. This gave Ketchel an opening and he quickly waded in with right and left, putting one to the body and the other to the jaw and causing Kelly to seek shelter.

They roughed it around the ring a bit, Kelly showing a lot of class with his pretty blocks and sidesteps and neat leads. Both were bleeding a bit from the mouth, Ketchel having the more severe punishment, although he did not even breathe heavily and was apparently endeavouring to make it as rough a fight as he could.

Ketchel admitted after the fight that he wanted to win as quickly as possible and was playing for a vulnerable spot on his opponent’s head or body with either hand. He kept swinging all the time and though most of his blows went wild, a few of them landed, and every time one did get through it shook up Kelly badly.

The great Stanley Ketchel.

From the standpoint of the spectator, it was a pity that Kelly could not have got away from that fatal wallop. He apparently ran right into it. The blow had all the earmarks of a lucky punch, though no one should try to take any of the glory from the champion, for he was waiting for just such an opening from the moment he entered the ring.

Ketchel is apparently bigger and stronger and possessed of a harder wallop than ever. He fought his usual hurricane battle and was always willing to take a couple of punches for the privilege of landing one. He figured strongest in the wrestling matches, shoving Kelly all over the ring and apparently taking a lot of the steam out of his man in this way.

Kelly is one of the fastest and cleverest we have seen here since the days of Bob Fitzsimmons and the other old masters with the mitts. With all his other ring accomplishments he appeared to be a game fellow, but he never had a chance to display this quality. No man has such a chance when Ketchel puts over the kind he has in mind.    — From the August 1st edition of the San Francisco Call.      — Robert Portis 

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