The Making of a Fighter

Damon Runyon

Salt Lake Tribune/February 13, 1916

Modest Manager Confesses

Everybody is always wanting to know how I come to make such a remarkable fighter out of Young Yegg, my sterling middleweight, and I have decided to tell how it was. My story may help other young fellows who are struggling along doing the best they can.

Hard work done it. Of course, I had to know how to make a fighter in the first place, otherwise I could never have made one out of Young Yegg. He was a terrible joke when I discovered him, and did not know one hand from the other, but even after I taught him how to fight I had to keep on working hard to push him to the front.

I have gone to as many as six newspaper offices in one day and talked to sporting editors to get them to give us a boost, and I have spent many hard earned dollars for printing matter and sending it through the mails. Sometimes I wonder if Young Yegg appreciates all I do for him. Just the other day I sent out circulars with our pictures on them, and he was around kicking because my picture was a little bigger than his, but everybody knows who is entitled to the credit.

When I discovered Young Yegg he was nothing but a high school boy, with no future. His father and mother wanted him to stay in school until he graduated and then go to Columbia College so he could be a mining engineer, and a wonderful man would have been lost to the ring, but fortunately I came along.

Don’t Blame Parents

Of course, I do not blame Young Yegg’s parents, because they did not know at that time what a splendid future he had in the ring. They thought he was only fit for Columbia and the mining engineer business. It is my honest opinion that Young Yegg would never have amounted to anything in the ring if he had gone to Columbia. Willie Ritchie has been going there for some time and is fighting at least 25 per cent below his right form, although I do not mean to knock Columbia.

I used to be around a saloon run by a friend of mine up in Harlem a good bit, and I heard about Young Yegg there. Of course, that was not his true name, which was Randolph Robertus van Fossen, but we dropped that because Joe Humphreys would not introduce him that way the first night we fought, thinking we were kidding. Joe called him Young Yegg, and so we adopted that officially.

As I was saying, I heard about Young Yegg around this saloon. It seems he had got in a fight with six fellows from another saloon and had knocked them all out one after another, which made him the talk of that part of Harlem. They told me the six fellows he licked at once were the only men in the district he had not licked before, and as he knocked out three policemen the next day I decided there might be something in him.

That is how I discovered Young Yegg. He did not want to start fighting professionally right away, as it was fall and his school needed him in a couple of football games and fighting might hurt his amateur standing, but I got him to go with me. I knew a diamond in the rough when I saw it, although, of course, Young Yegg had no idea about the right way to fight.

He Was Interested

I did not have a job just then, having quit the bakery over in Brooklyn about two years before, so I could give the boy some of my time. I took a interest in him from the first. I went up to Billy Gibson ‘s the very day I got him, and asked Billy to put us on at the Fairmont with the toughest man he had around, because I thought I might as well find out about Young Yegg right away. If he was no good he could go back to school and nobody would be out anything.

So Gibson matched us for a preliminary that same night with a fellow named Tear- ‘Em-Up Tomkins, who was a good two-handed fellow who had never been beat by anybody except Sum Langford, in over fifty fights. Everybody was afraid of him except us.

When Young Yegg got into the ring at the Fairmont that night there was a big howl from the spectators because he looked so young and Tear-‘Em-Up Tomkins looked so fierce. They made so much noise that I decided I had better not work in the corner with Young Yegg, as he might get hurt and cause me trouble, so I took a seat in the audience close by the ring and got a young colored fellow to second him.

Billy Gibson climbed into the ring when he saw Young Yegg and told him he could not fight there, but Young Yegg threatened to paste Billy if he did not let him go on, so there was nothing else to do but let him. It shows you how little Young Yegg knew about the fighting game at that time, threatening to hit the manager of the club.

When the bell sounded Young Yegg walked over to Tear-’Em-Up and pulled one from the floor and knocked Tomkins through the ropes. The boy did not know a thing about feeling a man out, or boxing with him, so I yelled to him to clinch and cover up, when they lifted Tomkins back into the ring. I figured old Tear-’Em-Up was stalling.

Had Found a Fighter

So Young Yegg did as I told him, but Billy Gibson come running around to me and yelled in my ear for me to tell Young Yegg to step back and let Tomkins fall down, but I knew Tommy was pretty foxy, and I let them stay in the clinch until the bell rang. Young Yegg shook Tear-’Em-Up off and come back to the corner, and I climbed into the ring and got busy with the towel and advice. Tomkins had fallen down when Young Yegg let go of him, and they had to carry him to his stool but I knew it was the old stall.

Young Yegg asked me what he had better do to him next, and I told him he had better try to knock him out, because if it went the limit the newspaper might decide against him on account of Tomkins being an old favorite. So when the bell rang again Young Yegg walked over to Tear-’Em-Up, and just as Tomkins got up from his stool, pretending to be weak and all in, Young Yegg clouted him back into the audience again. He was out for an hour.

We got $10 for that bout and that is the first money we ever earned in the ring, but I knew I had discovered a fighter, I mean I had discovered a boy who would make a fighter, because, of course, he was undeveloped and crude, and it took me some time to show him things, but after he had knocked out about a dozen tough fellows he began to improve. If it had not been for me he might be in Columbia right now, but sometimes when things come up like that picture matter I wonder if he appreciates all I have done for him.


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