A SMALL HAND FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT

Applause for Jack Munroe, the Cape Bretoner who whipped Jim Jeffries

HARRY BRUCE May 1 1975

A SMALL HAND FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT

Applause for Jack Munroe, the Cape Bretoner who whipped Jim Jeffries

HARRY BRUCE May 1 1975

A SMALL HAND FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT

Applause for Jack Munroe, the Cape Bretoner who whipped Jim Jeffries

HARRY BRUCE

The odds are better than excellent that, even if you’re a breathtakingly hot superstar in the game of Sports Trivia, you have never even heard of the great Jack Munroe. For Jack (The Terrible Miner) Munroe — out of Man of War Point, Kempt Head, Boularderie, which is near Baddeck, on Cape Breton Island — is one of the most undeservedly unsung names in the whole history of Canadian sports.

In 1902, he stepped out of a Montana mining camp and coolly beat up the heavyweight champion of the day, none other than The Boilermaker himself, the “unbeatable” California Grizzly, Jim Jeffries. And in 1905, he fought Jack (Lil Artha) Johnson to a six-round draw. Nat Fleischer, editor of The Ring Boxing Encyclopedia And Record Book — and, therefore, the undisputed world’s champion in the boxing sector of Sports Trivia — regards Jack Johnson as the best fighter in the history of heavyweights and Jim Jeffries as second only to Johnson.

A lot of Sports Trivia authorities regard the turn of the century as the golden age of heavyweight prizefighters, as a time when the per capita number of ferocious bruisers in the ring reached an all-time high: and, right in the thick of this strange proliferation of murderous talent, the Terrible Miner managed to parlay a conspicuously ruthless righthand punch into a reputation that swept the continent.

In Munroe’s time, professional prizefighting was still illegal almost everywhere in North America and, over the whole “sport,” there still hung the bloody, sweaty aroma of the bad. old, bareknuckle days of eye-gouging, armbreaking. neck-chopping, ear-biting, groin-smashing and snappy tricks to dislocate elbows, cave in ribs and crunch faces.

So how did a nice, poor boy from God-fearing Cape Breton Island ever wind up as a North American celebrity in this singularly vicious business?

The answer comes partly from Donald Kerr, a good lawyer in Halifax, the

chairman of the Halifax Athletic Commission. an incurable addict of boxing trivia himself and. as it happens, a man with remote blood connections to the Terrible Miner. Kerr’s family knew the bones of the story, and he fleshed it out by reading 71-year-old newspapers.

Munroe, apparently, was one of a

dozen Cape Breton Islanders who headed west in 1901 to mine copper in Montana and. on December 19, 1902, a bunch of the boys were whooping it up in Butte. The great Jim Jeffries and the almost-as-great Bob Fitzsimmons, the champ and ex-champ, were in town, too. They’d been barnstorming since

Munroe went off to fight World War I with a collie named Bobby Bums at his side, and a double-bitted axe on his shoulder

midsummer. The idea was that any man who could last four rounds with Jeffries or Fitzsimmons would get $500, and it’s an indication of just how tough the pros were that, until that moment, no challenger had lasted more than two rounds.

The Boilermaker stepped into the ring. For his time, he was huge: sixfoot-two-and-one-half inches, 220 pounds, with a black mat of hair on his chest. He was 27. Undefeated. The knockout artist of his time. His reputation was one of God-like invincibility.

The miners looked at him. No one stepped forward.

Then, they pushed Munroe up front, and he climbed into the ring. Kerr believes that, until that moment. Munroe had never laid eyes on boxing gloves and, since they’d been in use only a few years, the story may be true. The Ring record book says that when Munroe met Jeffries, the Terrible Miner had already won seven professional fights, five by knockouts; but Kerr’s research indicates that the winner of those earlier battles may well have been another Jack Munroe.

In any event. Cape Breton Jack Munroe stripped to his waist, and stepped to the centre of the ring. He was a comparatively puny 185-pounder, and three inches shorter than Jeffries. Bill Stern’s Favorite Boxing Stories says that Munroe said to the Boilermaker, “in a whisper that could be heard in the last row of the theatre,” that Jeffries might just as well hand over the prize money right then “ ’cause I’m aiming to lick you in them four rounds.’ ”

Jeffries howled with laughter. Munroe “brought his fist up from the floor to catch the surprised champion full in the face” and “Jeffries went down like an ox.” No one had ever decked him before. He did get to his feet but, according to the Acadian Recorder (which

picked up the story from the Boston press), the rest of the fight amounted to “the hottest four rounds that Jeffries (had) ever fought.”

In the second round. Munroe hit Jeffries with three stupendous rights to the jaw. The miner was not exactly a Muhammad Ali on his feet and, by the third round, he was chasing Jeffries around the ring and throwing punches so hard that, three times, he fell down himself. It may well have been the final bell that saved Jeffries from the unthinkable indignity of suffering a knockout at the hands of a nobody. No one who saw the fight could doubt the referee’s decision that the miner had indeed given the heavyweight champion of the world a fearful pasting and, since heavyweight titleholders in those days laid their reputations on the line every time they stepped into a ring, Munroe’s more passionate supporters insisted he was now the champ.

Eleven days later the Terrible Miner appeared in a vaudeville melodrama called Road To Ruin. In November,

1903, he knocked out the former British champion, Peter Maher, in four rounds. A month after that he slaughtered big AÍ Limerick, the Number Two challenger, again in four rounds. And a few weeks after that, he beat Tom Sharkey in six rounds and Sharkey, as some of us Sports Trivia authorities well know, was one of the greatest heavyweights of all time who never held the title.

For almost two years, the night in Butte remained the one shadow on Jeffries’ record and, in the summer of

1904, he decided that he could no longer avoid a rematch with Munroe for the title.

Shortly before the fight the press reported that Munroe was eating 15 raw eggs for breakfast. His trainers were Kid McCoy, the middleweight champion, and Jack “Twin” Sullivan, who was later one of the top light heavyweights. At fight time, these two would be joined in the Munroe corner by none other than William Barclay “Bat” Masterson. In The Legendary Champions. Rex Lardner describes Masterson as “the generally calm, moiBtached Western sheriff, marshal, peace officer, buffalo hunter. Army scout, hired gun. boxing referee and promoter, newspaperman and theatrical impresario — one of the most versatile Americans who ever lived.”

And now for the anticlimax. The fight occurred before 21.000 people in a ball park in San Francisco at one in the afternoon on August 26 and Jeffries

wiped the floor with the suddenly (/«terrible miner. He caught Munroe square on the jaw with the first blow of the fight, with his most paralyzing punch, a wrecking-ball left hook. Munroe barely managed to get back to his feet. Jeffries kept hammering these straight rights into him and hooking the terrible left and, though Munroe did survive to the second round, the press reported that he was already a “bloody, bruised mass of humanity.” He was still standing when the referee stopped the fight.

Munroe does not seem to have been the sort of man who lets defeat lie heavily on his shoulders. In 1905, he beat Kid McCoy in 10 rounds, and Philadelphia Jack O'Brien in 15. Moreover, this was the year he fought to a sixround draw with the coming king of the heavyweights, Jack Johnson.

Years later, Munroe turned up as a prospector and lumberman at a place called Nighthawk Lake in Northern Ontario. He enlisted in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as soon as World War I broke out and, during training and manoeuvres, he carried his double-bitted axe. Bobby Burns was also with him everywhere.

Bobby Burns was a big, fighting collie dog, dark sable with a white ruff, the son of the famous Douglas Blush of Scotland, a gift to Munroe from a president of Mexico and a creature of fantastic loyalty to his master. The Princess Pats adopted Bobby Burns as their mascot, and it’s probable that Jack Munroe — who killed at least one German soldier with his lumberjack’s axe — and Jack Munroe’s dog were the two most colorful characters in the regiment.

Munroe enlisted as a private, rose through the ranks, was commissioned in the trenches. He took a sniper’s bullet that hit him harder than anything Jeffries ever threw his way. It entered his right breast and came out below his shoulder blade. It nearly killed him and. in. the end, cost him his right arm. The old battering ram itself.

He won the Military Cross and, when he got back home, the Toronto Humane Society honored him. He returned to prospecting in Northern Ontario, made a fortune, wrote a novel based on his war experiences and. in February ot 1942, died in Toronto at the age of 67. And that, ladeez and gennelmen, is exactly who Jack Munroe was. May I take this occasion to announce my retirement from active participation in Sports Trivia? You see. I’ve always felt that it’s a wise heavyweight champion who knows when to step down.v*