Runyon Scouts Rumors That Gotham Fight Was Just an “Old Barney”

Damon Runyon

Washington Times/June 29, 1922

When the fistic young gentlemen perpetrate a fake fight they generally have some definite angle, that angle usually their mutual financial profit.

No angle seems apparent that would justify Jack Britton and Benny Leonard faking their fight Monday night.

There was little betting on the result, mainly because none of Britton’s admirers were inclined to wager on the old war horse. If the thing had been prearranged for Britton to win in any manner whatsoever, it seems reasonable to assume that a wad of money would have been on him.

Leonard was a 6 to 1 favorite. It was an ideal spot of the Britton men to shove in their change. Yet very little Britton money appeared. Britton was winning the fight on points up to the finish, and was so far ahead that barring a knockout, Leonard had scant chance of shoving in front.

Incidentally, Britton was winning, as many, including the writer, figured he ought to win, by outgeneraling the lightweight champion.

Round after round the veteran scored ahead of the younger man until the eleventh, when Benny seemed to have the welter king in real trouble. However, Jack came back apparently fresh and strong in the twelfth, and renewed his lead.

In the thirteenth Britton went down from a punch to the stomach. It did not appear to be a hard punch. While he was on one knee waiting for Referee Haley to count, Leonard plunked him in the face with another left. It was a mere slap.

Leonard’s claim is that Britton was legally on the floor, and therefore subject to a punch. Benny must have been far more excited than he appeared on the surface to assume such a thing. It was quite apparent to most of the spectators that Britton was kneeling, taking advantage of his prerogative to rest there while the referee was counting.

Charley Leonard, Benny’s brother, bounced into the ring, thus providing grounds for the disqualification of the lightweight champion even had Benny not swatted the kneeling Britton.

Some point to this fact as a suspicious circumstance, but it appears that Charles is not always as cool and collected as a second is expected to be. It is said that when Leonard was fighting Charley White in Benton Harbor the champ’s brother popped into the ring at an inopportune moment, and that a sharp claimer in White corner could have won the championship for Charles with a brisk claim.

It is hardly reasonable to assume that Charley Leonard would deliberately jeopardize his brother’s title. It is more reasonable to conclude that Charley is just naturally an excitable young man.

Britton claims the blow that knocked him over was a stiff body punch, which yanked the wind out of him. Some thought when he first went down that he was trying to claim a foul, but Jack says it was a fair punch, that he knew it was fair, and that he was merely taking time to recover.

Even Haley, the referee, seemed to think Britton was claiming a foul. It struck many of the spectators that Britton was most leisurely in going down, and it also struck many of them that Leonard had ample time to think before stepping forward and smacking Britton that final smack.

But, as we say, no angle appears that would seem to justify the charge of fake, unless they wanted to take no chances on the decision going to Leonard. Perhaps they were afraid the judges might go blind at the last minute, and fail to see Britton coming down the stretch in front.

Leonard had nothing to lose save a little prestige, and he lost plenty of that in the earlier rounds when old Boy Britton speared him with a left almost at will, stood ready to trade right hands with him at any time, and broke down the stoutest punches of the lightweight champion.

Some argue that, on the other hand, Leonard had little to gain because the welterweight title would be of small value to him at this time.

To this we reply that there lay beyond Leonard the chance of establishing himself in fistic history with Gans and Lavinge as one of the greatest lightweights of all time, and we are inclined to credit Leonard with enough pride in his calling to desire that standing.

To be sure, it is possible that some of that same sort of “pride” that figured in the Gans-Britt fake may have entered into the matter Monday night.

“Britt, and all of Britt’s friends, feels pretty certain that the Californian had no chance to lick “the Old Master,” but the Britton “pride” demanded that Gans be on the floor. As Joe had no compunctions of conscience as to his position as long as he was to win, that was the unhappy conclusion finally arrived at.

If the boys were really not doing the old do-se-do Monday night, the whispers of fake are a grave injustice to Britton, in our humble opinion one of the greatest craftsmen that ever poked a cauliflower ear through the ropes.

Thirty-seven years old, according to the books, and probably holding out a couple of years on us, at that; eighteen years in the ring, and still a champion!

That’s Britton!

Not only a champion, but giving a boxing lesson Monday night to another champion, supposed to be one of the best boxers in the land.

They may have faked the finish, but they certainly did not fake some of the rounds when, even as a sparring exhibition, Old Boy Britton worked his initials on Leonard.

And as for Leonard, we have only this to say:

Son, when you crawl into the ring against that fellow Lew Tendler, of Philadelphia, you be very careful. Be very, very careful.

(Source: Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1922-06-29/ed-1/seq-21/#date1=1789&sort=relevance&rows=20&words=DAMON+RUNYON&searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=3&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=by+Damon+Runyon&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=3)

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