- the following article was written by Pete Ehrmann in
the January 2002 issue of Ring Magazine
Bob Moha was no fair-weather fighter.
Probably more than anything else, that accounts for
the fact that the long-ago claimant of the middleweight and light heavyweight
titles, who beat a lot of future Hall of Famers in the opening decades of
the 20th century, never became one himself.
That's a situation likely to change only when hell freezes
over, which, come to think of it, would be most appropriate in the case
of the muscular little Bohemian who usually found better things than boxing
to think about when the climate where Moha called home for his entire 70
years wasn't as cold as the beer that made Milwaukee famous.
Veteran denizens of Wisconsin's largest city will testify,
through chattering teeth, that except for a few fleeting weeks around the
Fourth of July, summer is only a rumor on the shore of Lake Michigan. If
you think that an exaggeration, check out the Milwaukee Brewers new baseball
stadium with its state-of-the=art roof to keep the snow and freezing rain
off the Boys of Summer. And that's with global warming, so you can believe
thatwhen winter retreated from Wisconsin 85 years ago, Moha retreated from
the ring to take full advantage of the situation, playing baseball, swimming,
or just losing himself in the lush lake country west of Milwaukee.
Summer was definetly over when "The Milwaukee Caveman"
was swatting bruisers again instead of mosquitos.
It wasn't just Moha's Cro-Magnon appearance that earned
him the nickname. In his early fights, he was so wild and unruly that after
Moha was disqualified for hitting Mickey Riley when the latter was down
on December 21, 1906, The milwaukee Jouranal worried that "he slams
out so wildly that he is a constant menace to the sport in that he is liable
to severly injure an opponent by foul fighting and thereby give boxing a
Only 5'4" tall, Moha was barely more than a lightweight
then, but even in the gym he made things miserable for bigger and better
known fighters. Montana Jack Sullivan was going around the country in 1907
hurling challenges at middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel. But after a
few fierce rounds with Moha in the gym, Sullivan literally ran out of the
ring to get away from him. Around that same time, Ad Wolgast, swarming his
way to the lightweight title and then headquartering in Milwaukee, put out
the word that he would knock Moha out in an impending sparring session.
Instead, it was Wolgast who ended up seeing the black lights, and when the
poster boy for ring durability woke up, Moha told him: "Be careful
how you talk about me hereafter, Ad."
Wolgast had a pal, another well-known hardcase of that
era called Indian Joe Gregg. He publicly vowed to avenge Ad when he sparred
with Moha the next day. Gregg spent three days in the hospital after the
Caveman worked him over.
Nothing like that happened when Jack Johnson worked
with Moha in 1909, but for the next few years, everytime the heavyweight
champion came to town, newspapers reported that Johnson wanted the Caveman
to leave with him to fight under his management.
But not even that could pry Moha loose from his home
base, where, by unwritten law, the boxing season ran from fall to late spring,
thus enabling him to take his pick of the offers from semi-pro clubs bidding
for his services on the baseball diamond. "Moha is one of the fastest
infielders in the city, saying nothing of his ability as a batter,"
reported the Milwaukee Free Press. "Many a game was broken up through
some of his mighty clouts."
Future welterweight title claimant Jimmy Clabby was
hailed as the boxing wonder of the age. But Moha basically used him for
fungo practice in their 10-round no-decision match in the spring of '10.
The Caveman , reported the Free Press, "pounced upon Clabby
like a terrior going to a bone." It was his most impressive and important
performance to date, and a natural springboard to bigger and better things.
But Moha signed to play shortshop for the summer instead, and didn't put
the padded mitts back on until fall.
After getting the better of a no decision bout with
former welterweight champ Mike "Twin" Sullivan early the next
year, Moha was scheduled to face another fast-rising Midwesterner named
Jack Dillon in Indianapolis. The Milwaukee man sprained an ankle playing
handball - another favorite pastime, which Moha always played barefoot -
and asked for a postponement. Too late for that, said the Indy promoter,
and when Moha showed up on fight day, he was at least 10 pounds over the
stipulated weight of 154 pounds. Dillon refused to go ahead with the match,
so the Caveman shrugged and went with his manager and a Milwaukee physician
to a restaurant around the corner. The fighter was just mopping up after
a huge steak and potatoes meal when Dillon and the promoter rushed in to
announce that the fight was back on.
That didn't appall the Caveman half as much as his doctor
friend's suggestion that he pump Moha's stomach before he entered the ring.
"You mean you want to get that steak and potatoes
out of me?" The Caveman howled. "Nothing doing! Think of what
a job I had getting it down."
Moha had a harder job, under the circumstances, coping
with Dillon, who of course had spied on him in the restaurant and then decided
to go through with the fight, figuring the heavy meal would make the squat
visitor a sitting duck in the ring. Even so, it was close, unlike a rematch
a few months later in Buffalo when a trim Moha put the future light heavyweight
champion on the floor several times in another no decision bout.
Since the murder of Ketchel in October 1910, just about
everybody weighing near the division limit, which was 158 pounds at the
time, anointed himself middleweight champion. That included Billy Papke,
who'd traded the belt back and forth with Ketchel in a trio of championship
fights and figured with Ketchel out of the picture it automatically reverted
back to him. A surprising number of fight experts went along with him, but
then furiously backpedaled from that position after Papke and Moha put on
a truly scary performance on Halloween Night, 1911.
The Caveman at least had the excuse that he broke both
hands early in the 12 round match. What Papke's problem was, nobody knew
(later his brother would call it "Australian fever," contracted
in an earlier trip Down Under). With Moha unable to hurt Papke and Papke
unwilling to try to hurt Moha, the crowd at Boston's Armory Club kept itself
awake by jeering from the fourth round on. After about two minutes of the
final round had elapsed, members of the audience climbed on their chairs
and perversly started chanting, "Don't ring the bell! Don't ring the
bell!" Siding with them, timekeeper Billy LeClair deserted his ringside
post, and over seven minutes passed before somebody gonged the sorry mess
to a close.
Moha was the decision winner, and his followers proclaimed
him champion.But in fact the match had been made at a catchweight, not 158,
and the winner himself acknoledged the flimsiness of his new mantle by pronouncing
himself "willing to meet any of the other boys who feel they have a
claim to the championship...because I want to clinch my right to it beyond
question." Oddly enough, 10 years later Moha would decide that not
only had he been middleweight champion after all, but took a page from papke's
book and announced that "since then I have not fought around that weight,
so I never lost the crown."
That was a hoot, but the reaction to the Caveman's invasion
of New York in 1912 was anything but. "The White Walcott" is what
critics called him after Moha won a newspaper decision over Sailor Burke
on March 21, and followed up two weeks later by knocking out Jim Smith in
eight. That was some compliment, since the black Walcott - Joe, "The
Barbados Demon," who was welterweight champion in the first decade
of the century - was considered one of the ring's all-time greats.
"Moha is a wonder among the middles," wrote
Bob Edgren, who described him as, "short and stocky, built something
on the lines of a steamroller. He had short arms as thick as the average
man's legs. His back is broad and his shoulders wide and chest deep. His
round, wide-jawed head is connected to his trunk by a neck as thick as (wrestler
As if that didn't paint a formidable enough picture,
Edgren added that Moha "seldom smiles, and when he does his smile is
more appaling than his scowl."
Former heavyweight champion James J. Corbett called
Moha "the sensation of the hour in New York," and remarked that
"a month ago very few Gotham sports fans knew such an individual existed,
in spite of the fact that (Moha) has been before the public in a professional
capacity for five or six years, and has the credit of a victory on points
over Billy Papke. Now the Easterners are raving about the Milwaukeean and
touting him for the middleweight championship."
Two months later, nobody knew where Moha was. After
a few more appearances in the Big Apple, The White Walcott returned home
in June and promptly became downright invisible. Offers for bouts with Papke,
Frank Klaus, and Georges Carpentier died on the table because nobody could
find Moha, who'd typically decided to take the summer off. When finally
tracked down, Moha said that after the hard work he'd put in all winter,
he was entitled to a long vacation.
It lasted until the following January, when the overweight
Caveman reported back to the gym to melt himself down to 170 pounds for
a february 17,1913, fight in Milwaukee against "Cyclone" Johnny
Thompson. Thompson had also once beaten Papke for recognition - at least
when he looked in the mirror - as middleweight champion. And, also like
Moha, his days as a middleweight were behind him. So their fight was sanctioned
and advertised as a contest for the 175-pound "commision weight"
(later the light heavyweight) title recently created by the New York boxing
Moha won the newspaper decision, but the general attitude
toward his new title was summed up in the Milwaukee free Press the next
day: "This morning Mr. Moha is a world's champion, if that gets him
anything." It would be another year before the light heavyweight division,
moribund since the reogn of Philadelphia Jack O'brien in 1905, got on firm
footing again, with the cunning Jack Dillon gaining wide recognition as
For the duration of his career, which went until 1922,
Moha was either the brilliant White Walcott again, as when he whipped middleweight
title claimant Eddie McGoorty and future light heavyweight titlist Battling
Levinsky with breathless ease (both were officially no-decisions, but all
agreed Moha won), or looked like he'd just crawled out from under a rock.
Or, more likely, off a chuckwagon.
Two months before he fought middleweight contender Mike
Gibbons on December 14, 1914, the 24-year old Moha reportedly weighed 245
pounds. But he worked out frantically, even boxing 12 rounds in the gym
the day before the fight in Hudson, Wisconsin, to get down to 160 and show
everybody he was ready to make a run at the title again.
He ran, all right, only it was for the door after Moha
drilled the Minnesota "Phantom" south of the beltline with an
uppercut in the second round that sent Gibbons to the floor and one of Gibbons
handlers after Moha with a chair. Disqualified, Moha had to borrow train
fare home because the promoter refused to pay him his $944.77 purse.
More upset about that than anything else, Moha sued
the Hudson Boxing Club all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In a
landmark decision issued two years after the bout, Cheif Justice J. B. Winslow
rules against the Caveman on the grounds that he had "contracted to
box 10 rounds under certain rules," one of which (no fouling) "he
violated...and as a result thereof disabled his opponent, and this, by his
own act made substantial performance (of his contract) impossible. Wether
this act was deliberate or not cuts no figure. It was an act which he had
contracted not to do and it prevented performance."
Two months after that, Moha tried to take it out on
Gibbons' brother Tommy, but with Mike sitting at ringside loving every minute
of it, the younger Gibbons, who would eventually challenge Jack dempsey
for the heavyweight title, dished out what the Milwaukee Sentinal called
"the worst licking of Moha's life" in winning an easy newspaper
decision. "Moha has stopped many punches in his ring life," said
the Sentinel, "but never so many at one time."
It was an uppercut thrown by former middleweight champion
George Chip a month later, on March 12, 1917, that accomplished what nobody
else in about 100 professional bouts ever managed against the Caveman. The
punch, which landed flush on Moha's jaw in the fourth round, staggered him,
and the referee stopped the fight. Moha's alibi was that he'd spent too
much time in a Turkish bath the night before, trying to sweat himself down
to the 163-pound contractual limit.
"I can whip any boxer in the world today from 158
pounds to 230 and up," Maoha said. He was never loathe to try, either.
Joe Cox, who'd once stopped Jess Willard before Willard became heavyweight
champion, stood two heads taller than the Caveman and had about 70 pounds
on him. But the sawed-off Milwaukeean wowed a New York crowd by shellacking
Cox over 10 rounds in 1916. Moha had trouble reaching Cox's head, but the
big guy's ribs ached for weeks afterward.
It took future Dempsey foe Billy Miske 10 rounds to
earn a newspaper decision over Moha, and it's significant that in several
meetings the Caveman gave Harry Greb all he could handle. Yet interestingly
enough, considering the notable series he had with Greb, Dillon, Levinsky,
and other big names of his era, Moha's most bitter rival was a middleweight
who lived just kitty-corner from him on North Breman Street in Milwaukee.
Gus Christie split two grudge matches with the Caveman.
"His arms appeared long in contrast with the rest
of the body," Christie recalled upon Moha's death on August 4, 1959.
"When he came out of his corner and started to move those arms, it
looked like three pairs of fists coming at you all the same time."
Walter Houlehan briefly managed Moha, but was more notable
as one of the country's top referee's who saw close up most of the great
fighters of that time. "Moha was the best in America in his day,"
Houlehan said in his published memoirs.
That may be slightly biased jusgement, but the fact
is that, at his best, Moha was good enough to make it hot for anyone. Trouble
was, on his hottest days, The Milwaukee Caveman prefered to be doing something
---Pete Ehrmann is a freelance writer based in West Allis, Wisconsin,
and a regular contributor to this magazine(The Ring).
Tale Of The Tape
Born: June 6, 1890
Height: 5 ft. 5"
Weight: 160 lbs.
Nickname: "The White Walcott" and "Caveman"
Manager: Vincent Moha
Jun 2 1910 Jimmy Clabby Wiscon. ND 10
Feb 10 1911 Dixie Kid Buffalo ND 10
Mar 10 1911 Mike Twin Sullivan Milwauk ND 10
May 3 1911 Jack Dillon Indiana ND 10
Jul 3 1911 Jack Dillon Buffalo ND 10
Oct 31 1911 Billy Papke Boston W 12 (won middleweight title)
Apr 30 1912 Bill McKinnon unknown W 10
unknown 1912 Eddie McGoorty unknown ND 10
Feb 17 1913 Johnny Thompson Milwauk. ND 10
Mar 24 1913 Eddie McGoorty Wiscon. ND 10
Apr 28 1913 Jack Dillon Milwauk. ND 10
Nov 29 1913 Tom Bearcat McMahon Penns. ND 6
Mar 23 1914 Battling Levinsky Milwauk. ND 10
May 11 1914 Frank Mantell Milwauk. ND 10
Jun 15 1914 Jack Dillon Montana L 12 (Light Heavyweight Championship of the World)
unknown 1914 George "KO" Brown unknown ND 10
Dec 4 1914 Mike Gibbons Wiscon. ND 10 (Loss by DQ-2)(Gibbons claimed foul after terrific body punishment in two rounds.)
Jun 9 1915 Bartley Madden unknown ND 10
Aug 28 1916 Joe Cox unknown L 10
Nov 17 1916 Billy Miske unknown L 10
Nov 30 1916 Bartley Madden unknown W 10
Dec 26 1916 Harry Greb Buffalo ND 10
Jan 1 1917 Jack Dillon Ohio ND 15
Jan 17 1917 Battling levinsky Ohio ND 10
Feb 6 1917 Tommy Gibbons Wiscon. ND 10
Mar 12 1917 George Chip Youngst. KO by 4
Feb 16 1918 Harry Greb Cincin. ND 10
Feb 18 1918 Harry Greb Ohio ND 10
unknown 1918 Chuck Wiggins unknown ND 10
unknown 1918 Billy Miske unknown ND 10
unknown 1918 Tommy Gibbons unknown ND 10
Jun 13 1918 Gus Christie unknown ND 10 (NC 10)
Jul 4 1918 Harry Greb Illino. ND 10
Jan 4 1919 Harry Greb Buffalo ND 10
Oct 20 1919 Tom Bearcat McMahon Penns. ND 6 (NC 6)
Jan 12 1920 Ted Jamieson unknown Draw 10
Apr 30 1920 John Happy Littleton NewOrl. L 15
Jul 5 1920 Harry Greb Ohio ND 12
Aug 14 1920 Harry Greb CedarPo. ND 10
Nov 22 1920 Harry Greb Milwauk. ND 10
Nov 27 1921 Ted Jamieson unknown Draw 10
May 3 1922 Jeff Smith Youngst. KO by 7
Jun 19 1922 Jeff Smith Milwauk. ND 10
Feb 20 1922 Ted Jamieson unknown Draw 10
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