Lee Groves

10: Most notable St. Louis title fights

October 31, 1935, St. Louis Arena – John Henry Lewis W 15 Bob Olin II

Eleven months earlier, the Brooklyn-born Olin surprisingly dethroned Maxie Rosenbloom via debatable split decision to gain the world light heavyweight title. After beating “Slapsie Maxie,” a 221-fight veteran with only 15 knockout wins to date, the hot-and-cold Olin demonstrated why the Rosenbloom victory was such a shock by going 2-3, including a non-title 10-rounder against Lewis six months before their title tilt.

At 21 years 188 days, Lewis was attempting to become the youngest light heavyweight champion in history and given that he was coming off back-to-back 10-round decision losses to Rosenbloom and Abe Feldman – held just seven days apart in California, then New York – Team Olin figured the youngster was a safe choice.

The fighter himself didn’t share that opinion. According to trainer Ray Arcel in Dave Anderson’s excellent book “In The Corner,” Olin suffered a panic attack four days before the fight so serious that he was taken to a physician. Introducing Olin as himself, Arcel told the doctor “My friend Ray Arcel doesn’t feel well. I wish you’d examine him.” Afterward the doctor declared “That man is afraid of something. He’s suffering from extreme nervousness and nervous indigestion.”

Despite his mental torment, Olin continued training and once the opening bell sounded Olin channeled his fear into courage. The younger Lewis dished out a one-sided beating to easily capture the crown, but Olin’s bravery under fire was nothing short of inspirational. Joe Louis’ trainer Jack Blackburn, who was Lewis’ chief second, said he had never seen a gamer or tougher man than Olin that night while Arcel remembered a huge crowd outside Olin’s dressing room to pay tribute.

“There was an old black lady there,” Arcel told Anderson. “And I can still hear her saying, ‘Let me look at that man. Let me look at a man with guts like that.’” While the fight itself wasn’t great, the essence of the sport and those who choose to compete rarely shone as brightly as it did that night.

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