Posted: August 3, 2011 by S. Trevor Swenson in Life, Me & Mine, Observations
Tags: , ,

Tonight I am watching the famous 1975 boxing match between Muhammed Ali and Chuck, “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner.  The fight is famous in that, then unknown writer and actor Sylvester Stallone watched the fight and was inspired to write the book and screenplay to Rocky, which he also starred in.  Chuck Wepner was a journeyman fighter and who knows how he managed to get a fight with the heavyweight champ. Maybe Muhammed Ali needed a new car and told his management “Find me someone to beat up”.  Phone calls were made and Chuck just happened to be home. 

Grand Poobah / Grand Palooka

Grand Poobah / Grand Palooka

For some reason, and in keeping with his “palooka” title I pictured Chuck Wepner having a voice similar to that of one of Fred Flintstone’s cronies. “Da-e-y, I’ll take da fight”  Today Chuck Wepner does occasional commentary for various boxing show and bios, so his one big night didwork out for him to some degree after all. As in the film Rocky, Wepner toughed out the fight, even knocking down Ali in the 9th round. He made it all the way to the 15th round before it was stopped, and fights don’t even go that long anymore. It was a clear moral victory for the palooka, and who can’t appreciate that kind of event, since most of us are closer to palooka Wepners than sleek, sexy Muhammed Ali’s.


It is also interesting that it was 1975 and the audience was decked out in bad hair cuts, afros and a sea of fugly polyester and plaid leisure suits with collars so wide that if someone were light enough they could jump off of a building wearing one and glide safely to the ground.  Good God the 70s were an ugly generation. I honestly can’t think of an uglier era.  My favorite part of the fight is that some genius decided to let Redd Foxx and James Brown act as commentators.  Redd Foxx had a hit TV show at the time and was actually pretty well versed in boxing, so I can kind of understand his being there.  James Brown speaks his own, original version of something that vaguely resembles the English language.  I am loving his commentary between rounds and I wish he had been asked to comment on more fights.  “What did you think of that last exciting round James?”  “Well, zab  du du da Wepner, zabba niht niht left hook, zubbo zub Ali”… “Um  I think you said it all there James.”   “Wow, what an exciting round. James?”   Zibba du du nah nah noonnie nah Ali, zibba zab zab going to the body, zib nah”  ” Interesting point James,  I never thought of it in that way”
The concept of the palooka (isn’t that a great word?) has been on my mind a great deal lately.  Various dictionaries don’t give very flattering definitions of the word, so I suppose I must define it myself, or rather re-define as I have been feeling rather “Palooka-ish” myself these days. To me, the palooka is the everyman. They are marginally talented in their own ways.  They’ll never be great, but there is something essentially human about them … a toughness that is both physical and emotional. A palooka is the father who works two crap jobs to give his kids everything.  A palooka knows life sucks and that happiness comes in small and infrequent doses, but they soldier on anyway…even managing a smile or a laugh once in awhile.

Statue of Joe Palooka in Oolitic, Indiana

Statue of Joe Palooka in Oolitic, Indiana

Palooka’s are tough. I don’t know how tough I am. I suppose it’s not really for me to say.  I have had moments of toughness I suppose, areasin which I am reasonably tough…but I can be a whiny little dork too.  I have also been feeling more blue collar recently. I like Palookas. I enjoy their company (especially while drinking)
Palooka, Lummox and Malarkey are terms that need to come back in style.  I say wear your Palooka badge loud and proud. Not everyone can be special…that’s the whole point of special.  The world would be a horrible place if everyone was beautiful or talented. Being a Palooka is often a step up for many. The palooka gets it done. It might not be pretty, and will certainly lack finesse, but it gets done. Palookas have an important place in society. Sure, I don’t want a palooka performing surgery on me… but I’ll knock back a couple of cold ones with or have them help me paint my house any day.


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