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PAGE 12 BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, JANUARY 27, 2017 HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss r JOHNNY RISKO The Cleveland Rubber Man New Biography Gives Rugged Contender the Recognition He Deserves The 1920s and 1930s were truly boxing's Golden Age. Just the sheer number of par- ticipants in the sport guar- anteed it. Boxing historian Mike Silver points out in his book, The Arc of Boxing, that there were between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters licensed during this period. In 1927, New York and California had 2,000 licensed boxers each. That is way above the total number of fighters participat- ing today. Because there were so many fighters, there were also a huge number of fight venues. During these years, and even during the Depres- sion, a boxer could make a decent living fighting every couple of weeks. Add to this the fact that there were gyms all over the place filled with excellent trainers, and a boxer never lacked for sparring part- ners, and you can see why the fighters from that period were so good. While places like New York were certainly Meccas for box- ing, the rest of the country did not lack in fight clubs. In these pre-television days, boxing was one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Cleveland, Ohio, had a very vibrant fight scene, and we are fortunate that boxing historian Jerry Fitch is working hard to keep the his- tory of boxing in that area alive. Jerry is the author of a terrific biography of the great heavy- weight Jimmy Bivins as well as Cleveland's Greatest Fighters of All Time, and a memoir, 50 Years of Fights, Fighters, and Friendships. In his latest work, Jerry takes his keen historian's eye and focuses it on one of the tough- est and most prolific fighters to emerge from Cleveland, heavyweight contender Johnny Risko. Risko was known as =The Rubber Man" because of his ability to take punches and still keep coming for- ward. This is not to say Risko just stood there and absorbed punches. No, he was also a skilled boxer. But it was next to impossible to knock him down or out. In fact, in approximately 140 fights (the exact number is not known), Risko was only stopped three times, once by the great Max Schmel- ing. He was only counted out one time, and that was in his last bout when he was 38 years old. Reading Jerry Fitch's book on Risko is a box- ing history lesson in it- self as it goes beyond the career of Johnny Risko. Just reading through the Cleveland contender's record is amazing. The names that appear there, the people he fought, are a who's who of box- ing from that glorious period. It is staggering to see who the Rubber Man went up against. Jack Sharkey, Gene Tunney, Mickey Walker, Tom Heen- eY, Max Baer, Tony Galento, Tommy Loughran, Emie Schaaf, to name just a few. And Risko was no ~opponent," he beat many of these men. He split a Johnny Risko Schmeling and Risko pair of decisions with Baer and beat Louhgran two out of four times. No, Risko was far from just an opponent; he is more remembered as a "spoiler" as he ruined many a contender's chance at getting a title shot. While just looking at the Risko record can be enough to excite any fight fan, it is in reading Fitch's lively account of his life and battles that is really a treat. Mr. Fitch has done tireless research in digging up accounts, many of them first-hand round- by-round reports, of these great fights. You are there when Johnny beats George Godfrey, you have a seat at the Risko v Schmeling bout, you can see the smile of frus- tration on Max Baer's face as he is unable to hurt the Rubber Man. This is living history. Along the way, Fitch also treats his readers to short, but detailed, biographies of many of Risko's opponents. His treatment of Max Schmel- ing is very interesting. In just a few pages, he gives a con- cise account of the German's career and fighting style. Johnny Risko's life is also covered in great detail. He was a smart businessman who walked away from boxing with money in his pocket and an appreciation for life. As I moved along in this book, I felt I was really getting to know this in- teresting character from Cleve- land's past. He sounds like a guy who was quick with a smile and a happy remark. I doubt anyone would have felt uncom- fortable in Risko's company. So why didn't Johnny Risko ever get a shot at the rifle? Well, he came close many times, but the timing was never quite right. Back then, fighters didn't score a victory over a top fighter and then wait around for the big fight. No, they kept fighting and sometimes would lose and get set back a bit. In the days of Johnny Risko, being a top contender really meant some- thing. As is pointed out in this fine biography, Johnny was a top notch fighter. He was a true contender. Take a second to look at his record and I know you will want to learn more about him. Fortunately, thanks to Jerry Fitch, you have that opportunity. His book bring the Cleveland Rub- ber Man to life for you. I would like to point out that if it weren't for dedicated boxing histori- ans like Jerry Fitch who devote untold hours re- searching these greats of the past, they would be forgotten. Fitch, and others like him, deserves the eternal gratitude of all boxing fans who care about the legacy of this once great sport. It is important to support the work they do. Thank you Jerry Fitch for the work you do. Johnny Risko and the others are looking down from above and smiling at you. Information about and signed copies of Johnny Risko: The Cleveland Rubber Man by Jerry Fitch can be obtained by email- ing Jerry at JerryFitch1946@ gmail.com. WAIT AND SEE -- As this was being written, there was a lot of speculation swirling around the Bruins. What is the immediate future of the franchise? And, more specifically, what is the immediate future of head coach Claude Julien? The answer to the second question may have been answered by the time you read this. Bruins management may have pulled the trigger and installed one of the assistant coaches in the lead position for the balance of the season. But if one takes a longer view and goes back a little bit in the history of the Bs, there might be a lesson or two from the somewhat recent past that could provide guidance in the current situation. It was the spring of 2010 and the Bruins were meeting the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Flyers had already pulled off one miracle. On the last day of the regular season, they had defeated the New York Rangers in a shootout to claim the final Eastern Conference playoffberth. Talk about getting in just under the wire. Now, having polished off New Jersey, the Flyers were going up against the Bruins. And it sure did look like the fortunes of the Philadelphia team were about to stop right there. The Bruins won the first three games and things were really looking up on Causeway Street. How could the Bs blow a 3-0 lead in games? If this had been tennis, it would have been triple match point. Just win one of the next three games and the Bs would move on. But the Bruins stalled out. It was the Flyers who won the next three games, evening the best of seven series at 3-3. Even then, the Bruins looked like they were a team on the rebound. They came out of that locker room and proceeded to take a 3-0 lead in game 7. But it wasn't to be. When all was said and done, Philadelphia came roaring back and won game seven and the series and eventually went not just to the Eastern Conference rifle series, but all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. If ever there was a time for a coaching change -- and perhaps a goalie change -- this was the moment, right? Rabid fans took to the airwaves and lit up the lines on local sports talk show radio, demanding the removal of Julien and, to a certain extent, the removal of that substitute goalie (what was his name? Rask, that was it) who was filling in for Tim Thomas because the all-star netminder had sustained an injury back in March. But then Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli refused to yield to the emotions of the moment. A few days later, in the final press conference of the year, there was Chiarelli on the stage with Julien seated right next to him. It took a lot of fortitude to say no to the mob of irate fans when saying yes would have been so much easier. Fast forward to a year later and it's the spring of 2011. The Bruins have won their first Stanley Cup since 1972, with the recovered Tim Thomas in net and the now much respected Claude Julien still behind the bench. The point is that emotions of the moment are once again coming to the fore. Yes, the Brulns have been going through a recent dark stretch. But as of January 25th, they were in third place by a whisker in the Atlantic Division, the final guaranteed spot for teams in that division. We've said before that the Bruins are a playoff picture team, meaning that they are a good team with enough talent to contend for a possible playoff berth through the end of the regular season. Back in early January, Bruins President Cam Neely essentially agreed with that assessment in a Boston Herald interview. A change now would certainly not change much. Remember, an assistant elevated to head coach is still a coach who has been with the team for the entire season, not someone brought in from outside. The players would probably respond to that person the same way they have responded to him since September. In addition, any assistant would undoubtedly share many of the coaching philosophies of the departed head coach. After all, who had the biggest say in the hiring of his assistants? Claude Julien, of course. And the number one qualification for all assistant coaches in any sport is that they will be on the same page with the head coach from day one. A much more immediate concern for the franchise should be the condition of goalie Tuukka Rask. There appears to be quite a drop off in talent between Rask and any of the backups that have played this year. If Rask were ever to miss a long stretch of consecutive games, it would probably be a much more decisive factor in determining whether the Bruins made the playoffs. About a month from now, a date that may very well prove to be an important one for this bunch of Bs will arrive. It is Tuesday, February 28th -- the trading deadline in the NHL this year. Almost a year ago, back on Leap Year Day, everyone remained in place as the deadline passed. There most likely won't be a repeat of that scenario this time around. So, there will probably be a roster change or two. But in our opinion, the one at the helm -- the head coach -- should remain in place. He has the knowledge and experience to effectively deal with the current situation, one that will pass into memory --just like that 2010 series with Philadelphia. Someone once said that darkness comes before the light. So, there is indeed something to look forward to on Causeway Street. WWW.BOSTON POSTGAZETTE.COM