Thursday 25 April 2019

Book Review: "Ace Hudkins: Boxing With The Nebraska Wildcat"

Hudkins depicted in a cartoon by the Montana Standard of May 5th 1929.

Ace Hudkins possessed a nickname as befitting of the personal style of any fighter in boxing history.

Consider this excerpt from a newspaper clipping culled from Hudkins’ scrapbook by his biographer:

Ace Hudkins is a showman as well as a fighter.
The tow-head from Nebraska always leaps and
Jumps to his corner after every round. He wears a
Cap turned sideways on his head into the ring -
Showmanship and nothing less.

The sobriquet ‘Wildcat’ summed up his persona inside the ring. One boxing writer even opined that had Hudkins been born a few decades earlier, he would have been a “killer simple and pure”: a gunslinger in the mould of Billy the Kid. Journalistic hyperbole perhaps, but his roughness contributed to his being barred from fighting in New York State by its boxing commissioner.

An often restless and gregarious adventure seeker, Hudkins took well to the challenges offered by the life of a boxer. The blood and guts drama of pugilism along with the frequently peripatetic existence that being a fighter entailed fulfilled his nature-given urges and seeming boundless reserves of energy.

But he was also family-orientated (his brothers Art and Clyde managed him), an aspect which contributed to his ability to deal with the highs and lows of an industry with a copious supply of shysters and leeches.

Born Asa Hudkins in the state of Nebraska in 1905, he entered the professional ranks in 1922 and over the course of a decade fought from the lightweight division through to light heavyweight, and though never winning a world title, acquitted himself well against some of the best boxers of his era.

He was never knocked out.

In Boxing With The Nebraska Wildcat we find Hudkins’ name entwined with those of Lew Tendler, Ruby Goldstein, and Mickey Walker. Each encounter provided evidence of Hudkins’ true pedigree. He scored two points victories over Tendler, a man widely considered to have been one of the best boxers never to have won a world title. His knockout defeat of Goldstein, a talented and very popular fighter known as “The Jewel of the Ghetto”, was a stunning upset which one writer described as “the fight that broke the Jewish banks.” At the time of their meeting, Goldstein had not tasted defeat in his 23-fight career. And his first fight against Mickey Walker was acknowledged at the time to have been unjustly awarded to Walker. “Just another robbery in Chicago” recorded the Lincoln State Journal the day after the referee’s score in favour of Hudkins was obviated by those provided by the two Chicago businessmen who served as ringside judges.

Hudkins was as rough as they came (his bout with Sammy Baker is considered “the bloodiest fight ever seen”), and he ruefully noted the perceptions of some that he was a “foul fighter” so much so that he was considered “too uncouth for New York”. But what he lacked in ring science, Hudkins made up with tenacity and an acumen for inside-fighting. His penchant for brawling, what some today would refer to as ‘Mexican Style’, was not solely due to a natural inclination towards bravado, it was a marketing tool designed because as he acknowledged, it was fighters of this ilk who, in his words, “attract the dough to the box office”. It paid off, because Hudkins reputedly became one of the biggest draws in southern California during the 1920s.

In his prime, Hudkins was written of by the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, he sparred with Rudolph Valentino and was friendly with Charles Lindbergh who lived two blocks away in Lincoln when Lindbergh started his flight training in the early 1920s.

Kristine Sader, the great-niece of Hudkins, has consulted many sources including family scrap books and oral history to put together a fascinating document on the life of one of boxing’s neglected characters.

The book is not set out in the form of a conventional biography and instead functions as an elaborate continuum of the multiple scrapbooks created after his career by Hudkins’ partner. It is an assemblage of rare photographs, reproductions of newspaper articles and author text, which not only provides insight into Hudkins the man, but also fits him within the times in which he lived.

It is a heart-warming portrait of a fearless pugilist and is highly recommended to a general readership.

Ace Hudkins: Boxing With The Nebraska Wildcat by Kristine Sader
Self-Published, $25, 290 pages, Paperback, 978-1732852907.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. He is also a contributor to the recently released Cambridge Companion to Boxing.

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