Bobby Dobbs, Genuine Old Vet

Damon Runyon

Salt Lake Tribune/February 19, 1916

 Quarter of Century in the Ring

“Speaking of some of the good fighters of the old days,” began Billy Roche, the referee, to a group of men gathered in the office of Jimmy Johnston, manager of Madison Square Garden, Saturday afternoon, “do you remember…”

The door opened, interrupting Billy’s discourse. An old colored man slowly entered and stood blinking his eyes at the group. He was a squat-built old colored man, and he carried his hat in his hand, displaying a considerable expanse of baldness on the top of his head.

“Do we remember whom?” inquired a newspaper man, as Roche eyed the newcomer very thoughtfully.

“Well, I’ve forgotten who I had in mind when I started,” said Billy, getting up from his chair and extending his hand to the old colored fellow, “but as long as I was talking about good fighters of the old days—do you remember this aged bird right here? Here’s one that could go a few! Gentlemen, Bobby Dobbs.”

The old boy nodded his bare bean and chuckled.

“Yes, suh” he said, “it’s Bobby, all right; but why-for you put me in with ole people? Bobby ain’ so ole. “Ah’m jus’ fohty-eight!”

“Whoo!” yelled Eddie Curley, who had reached for a record book as soon as he heard the name of the visitor. “It says here you were born in 1859 in Nashville, Tenn. That would make you close to fifty-seven.”

“Do it!” asked Bobby, innocently. “At book mus’ be mistooken. Ah don’t feel at ole, nohow. Ah nevah felt so young in mah life. You shuah at book ain’ mistooken?”

“You bet it’s mistaken,” said George Lawrence, manager of Sam McVey. “You’re eighty, if you’re a day.”

“Fohty-eight,” insisted Bobby, complacently. “Ah didn’t begin fightin’ until ’87. You all know ‘at Mist’ Dal Hawkins, don’t you? Well. Ah ain’ no older’n Mist’ Dal. Ah fought puhlim ‘na’ ies to Mist’ ‘Dal Hawkinses’ etah bouts.

Bobby a Real Vet

Whatever Bobby’s age—and there is reason to believe that it is closer to fifty-seven than it is to forty-eight—he probably has seen more ring service than any other American-born boxer in the history of the Queensberry game. He had his last fight in Prague, Austria, about two years ago. which, even accepting ’87 as the date of his fistic start, gives him a record of about twenty-six years in the roped arena.

Some old-timers say they recall him as a fighter before ’87, so it is likely that Dobbs put in over thirty years at fighting. He was doing a bit of wrestling around Dodge City, Kan., and other western towns when they were regarded as the outposts of the far frontier. Bobby himself says he has had at least a thousand ring battles, and the most he ever received for one fight was about $2500, which he got when he beat Dick Burge on the other side.

It was on that occasion that Dobbs’ backers before the fight displayed another colored man who looked something like Bobby to Burge as the real Dobbs, causing Dick to get the impression that he had a “sucker.” Bobby himself was not let in on the plot. That was his first trip abroad, but after that he spent nearly all his time in Europe.

Bobby says his first fight of any importance was with a fellow named Dave Beese, who was known as the Montana Kid, at Ogden, Utah. It was not the original Montana Kid, whose name was Reid, and who was a middle weight. Beese was a lightweight. Bobby made 133 pounds ringside almost throughout his long career, but he was generally found fighting welters and middleweights.

Dobbs fought nearly all the greatest men of half a dozen different ring generations who weighed anywhere near his poundage, with one exception.

He Drew the Line

“Theah was one white boy ‘at Ah always drew the colah line on,” said Bobby, reminiscently. “At was ‘at Mysty’yues Billy Smith. Oh, what a rough boy he was!”

Bobby says his hardest battle was with a fellow named Dick Case, in Louisville—a twenty round fight which was refereed by Dan Creedon. Dobbs knocked out Case in the last minute of the final round, but he says that up to that instant, he would have felt mighty well satisfied with a draw.

“Ah thought ‘at Case would be champion of the w’oi , shuah,” says, Bobby, “but Ah nevao did heah no moah of him. Maybe Ah broke his heaht in ‘at fight. How he could fight, gem men- how he could fight! Next to him, Chahley Johnson, Minneapolis, gave me mah toughest fight. We went fohty-foah rounds.”

Dobbs declared that the fellow he fought in Prague in his last appearance in the ring—a young Hungarian—was the most natural fighter he ever saw in his life. He was trying to get the youngster to come to America, but the lad was drowned soon afterward. Dobbs has developed a lot of good fighters, including Len Driscoll and Tommy Thomas.

Bobby has seen all the great colored fighters of the past twenty years, with the single exception of Sam Longford, and he expresses the belief that Jack Johnson was the greatest of them all. Years ago, when Bobby was training for a fight in Memphis, Johnson, then an unknown stripling, blew into his training quarters and asked to box with him. As Dobbs needed a sparring partner at the time, he told the youngster to put on the gloves, and started in to give him a good try out. The unknown displayed so much natural ability that Bobby took a deep interest in him and tried to help him along.

When He Went Blind

Even then, Bobby says, Johnson had that queer knock of catching punches that afterward made him famous, and which Bobby had never seen before. A few years later Bobby went almost totally blind in the ring while boxing a fellow named Chapple Jones. At the instant blindness overtook him he succeeded in landing a punch that put Jones out.

His sight returned in a measure, but his eyes were never as good as before, and he could fight in his old style. Then it was that Bobby remembered Johnson’s system of catching punches, and he adopted that system in such effect that he was able to keep going for many years after his eyes went. bad. Bobby says if it had not been for that he would have been through a long time ago.

Today Bobby can still do quite a bit of boating, and is in great, physical condition. He never smoked in his life and never drank any liquor, except occasionally a little beer. He is at present with Waldeck Zbyskn, the wrestler, who is so fond of Bobby that he declares the old black will never want for anything.

Dobbs can speak German and Hungarian quite well, and his years on the other side have developed a slight English accent in his pronunciation of certain words. Barring the small matter of his age—in which he may be correct, at that—Bobby has a very remarkable memory of his ring experiences.

He mentions as one of his greatest fights an encounter with an Australian named George Mackenzie, who came over here to fight McAuliffe, but who was matched against Dobbs first as a tryout. The battle took place at Sacramento, Cal., and Bobby knocked out his man in the thirty-first round, but Mackenzie gave him a terrific scrap.

“He was the mos’ clevah man Ah evah met,” said Bobby, grinning “and Ah gib you mah wahd. Ah nevah hit him foh fohteen rounds—not once! Ah couldn ‘t even clinch him!”


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