Oct. 14, 1949: Gavilan vs Jack

It was the classic clash of the old king vs the future king when the once-great Beau Jack met Kid Gavilan in Chicago Stadium in a ten round, non-title affair. One boxer, Gavilan, had most of his Hall of Fame career still ahead of him, while Jack, once a magnificent lightweight champion, now functioned as a gatekeeper for the upper echelons of the welterweight division.

Gavilan vs Jack

This was essentially a keep-busy fight for the younger Cuban, while Jack answered the call like the noble, no-nonsense workman that he was. Beau Jack was a boxer; fighting was his trade. And while he would never again engage in a championship contest, his reputation and popularity meant he could count on regular paydays for the next few years. The fact that most of the money went into the pockets of his crooked managers was something he could worry about down the road.

Though this made how hard-earned those last paydays were all the tougher to contemplate decades later. They were bruising battles those last few years, due in part to Beau’s advancing years, but also to his all-action, face-first, fan-friendly style. Defense was never Jack’s strong suit. A whirling dervish of a battler in his prime, Jack didn’t know how to change and while the fans loved him for the excitement and the action, he was forced to endure some painful losses in some very grueling battles. Against the young Gavilan, it would prove to be just such a defeat.

Gavilan vs Jack was part of a series of bouts for “The Keed” while he waited for another chance at the welterweight title. He had challenged Sugar Ray Robinson for the crown just three months before and, in front of a huge crowd at the Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia, gave Ray a very tough time over the first seven rounds before Robinson took charge and dominated the second half of the bout. Still, most were impressed with Gavilan’s performance and the clear consensus was that, with a little seasoning, “The Hawk” would be ready for another crack at the top prize before too long. Beau Jack was exactly the right opponent for a young talent like Gavilan to keep himself sharp as he waited for his next shot.

Gavilan loses to Robinson.

The fight itself was decidedly one-sided, though fast-paced and eventful, like virtually all of Beau Jack’s battles under the hot lights. Gavilan would go on to establish himself as one of the toughest warriors of all time, his chin seemingly composed of Cuban granite, thus Jack’s early and fierce assaults proved ineffective. The two battled at a blistering pace, Jack rushing in and making the fight, but paying a heavy price as he did. Gavilan caught him coming in again and again with left hooks. In the fourth “The Hawk” switched it up and struck with a sharp right that injured his elder’s left eye. By the end of the fifth it was swollen shut, yet Beau Jack kept driving forward, setting the pace and milling with both hands while eating punch after punch.

The great Beau Jack.
The great Beau Jack.

Sheer toughness and pride allowed Jack to go the distance. Though the former conqueror of Bob Montgomery, Tippy Larkin, Henry Armstrong and Fritzie Zivic had little to threaten his bigger, younger foe with, Jack also possessed an iron chin, a fact demonstrated in most graphic fashion in his brutal stoppage loss to Ike Williams the year before. Gavilan struck at will but could not discourage the fighting spirit of the legendary Beau Jack, who took pride in going the route against a top-rated welterweight contender, and in once again providing boxing fans with a fast-paced and entertaining scrap.

Following the battle, the two boxers’ paths diverged. By 1951 Beau Jack was retired (though financial difficulties would force an unfortunate comeback a few years later), while that same year Gavilan would defeat Johnny Bratton for the welterweight title. “The Hawk” would go on to notch big wins over Billy Graham, Chuck Davey and Carmen Basilio, among others, and establish himself as one of the best welterweights of all time. His dominant performance against the once-great Beau Jack had promised nothing less.    – Robert Portis

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