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One Title Challenger
One Title Challenger
Accession Number2008-800-016
TitleOne Title Challenger
PhotographerHamilton, Jeffrey
DescriptionStory on Henry Woods, "Boxing 'still greatest sport' to Yakima's Woods by Tom Burnside
Date CreatedDecember 26, 1977
MediumNewspaper Image
LocationLocal History Files
Subject HeadingsBoxing
Full TextOnce title challenger Boxing ‘still greatest sport' to Yakima's Woods No one seems to have the answer as to what it will take for professional boxing to flourish once again as it did in the sport's glory days of decades past. Many contend that, because of the corruption in promotion and match-making, the falsification of records, and the fixes that have shaken boxing to the roots, it never will again. "Certainly, boxing is nothing like it used to be. It's gone a long way downhill, " says Yakima's Henry Woods, who is one of the greatest fighters Washington State has ever produced. "There are too many manipulators in the boxing game today. And the fighters just aren't hungry enough." "As sad as it may seem to say, I think it's going to take another depression like I the 30's before boxing will get back on it feet again. Right now, the government has too many giveaway programs. "I have a lot of ideas about what's wrong with boxing, but I'm not going to bite the hand that fed me for so many years." Woods, who at 63 now is retired in Yakima after a hitch in the merchant marines and working in the ship building business in Tacoma, had a brilliant ring career during which he lost only nine times in 124 professional fights. The apex of Woods' boxing career came in 1935 when, at the age of only 20, he fought and lost (mainly because of an early-round injury to his ankle that left him hobbled) a 12-round decision to the famed Barney Ross for the welterweight championship of the world. Woods was the state lightweight champion of both Washington and California at the time he fought Ross, who also was the world lightweight titleholder. "But he wouldn't fight me for the lightweight title because he couldn't get down to the weight, " Woods recalled. "He made me put on weight in order to get the fight." For his title efforts, Woods received $2, 300, or 12 ½ per cent of the gate receipts of the championship bout in Seattle. "That was a lot of money in those days, " Woods recalled, "but only a drop in the bucket compared to the money fighters are getting now. "I figure I was born about 45 years too soon. If I were fighting today, I'd be a millionaire in no time." Woods, who never had an amateur fight, started his pro ring career at the unlikely age of 14 when he signed up for a "battle royal between five guys" during a Negro picnic at the Central Washington Fairgrounds in 1929. "I was the littlest guy there, but I still made it to the finals, " Woods said. "The last guy I fought had me as bloody as a stuck hog, but I wouldn't go down, so they let me split the prize money." After that experience, Woods decided he wanted to learn how to box and enlisted the aid of promoter-trainer Art Milbrandt, who trained fighters in his Yakima garage. "Yakima was one of the best fight towns in the Northwest at that time, " Woods said. "There were a lot of fight cards, so it was easy to get a match." Woods' first real pro fight, at 115 pounds, took place in Harrah. And he was rewarded $2 for battling Bud Bledso to a four-round draw. It was shortly after that he got a six-round fight that he won and received $18. "It seemed to me then that boxing was a means for a good livelihood, " he said. "And that gave me the incentive to try for the top." At the age of 15, Woods ran away from home to California, convinced a Sacramento promoter that he was 19 years old, and won his first five fights by knockout. From newspaper accounts of his accomplishments, Woods' father discovered his whereabouts and got word to the promoter to either send his son home to finish high school or he would get the law after him. And that ended that. Woods continued to fight around the state and, by the time he reached the age 18 he still was undefeated in 42 bouts, winning 25 by knockout, 10 by decision and 7 draws. One of the draws was a 10-rounder with former lightweight champion Tod Morgan in 1932. He became Washington's first lightweight champion in 1934, remaining unbeaten in 56 fights, with 28 KO's. It wasn't until his 57th fight that he lost a decision for the first time. That first loss came at the hands of a seasoned campaigner from Kentucky by the name of Cecil Payne, who was also to win yet another decision from Woods later on. "He had the longest arms of any fighter I have ever seen, " Woods said of Payne. "When I bobbed back to get out of the reach of a punch as I usually did, he still managed to hit me on the chin." "That first time he hit me on the jaw, I thought the building had dropped on me. He knocked me down six times in that fight, but I kept getting back up and was still around at the end." Undaunted, Woods started another string of victories, and had lost only the two decisions to Payne when he got the title shot against Ross in the 72nd fight of his career. He suffered a pulled tendon in his ankle in the third round of the championship fight against Ross and, heavily taped, managed to last the entire 12 rounds, although he wasn't much of a threat to Ross' title after the injury. "I was certainly disappointed, but not discouraged, " said Woods. "I knew I could come back." However, it was the only chance at the title he was to get. After 14 more fights (12 wins, 2 draws) and hiking his record to 73-3 and 9 draws, Woods encountered promotional problems and decided to quit boxing in 1936. He returned to Yakima and kept in shape while helping boys learn how to box at the YMCA. One of the youngsters he helped instruct was a kid from Grandview by the name of Pete Rademacher. "No one was more surprised that I was when Rademacher got a shot at the world heavyweight championship in his first professional fight, " said Woods (Rademacher knocked down then heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, but was knocked out by the champ in the sixth round in 1957 at Seattle). Woods started a comeback a year later in Oakland and went on to regain the California lightweight crown. But then he was beset by personal problems after he and his wife separated and things started going downhill. He joined the merchant marines in 1940, but decided to come back home after the start of World War II. He hopped a steamer on the East Coast and headed home, but later found out the ship was bound for Honolulu. "That was the place that had just been bombed, and I knew that wasn't the place for me, " said Woods, who jumped ship in San Francisco. Woods tried fighting once more in 1942 as a substitute in an Oakland main event without training ("I used to shadow box abroad ship and always kept myself in good physical condition"). But he dropped a 10-round decision to Juan Zurita, who went on to become the world lightweight champion the following year. "I always figured that if I had been in good boxing shape and had trained for that fight, I would have won." Woods returned to the sea and didn't come back to Yakima until 1953, when he "decided to stay on the beach." He believes that Muhammad Ali is the best of his time, "the greatest, just like he says, " but states without any doubt that Joe Louis is the greatest heavyweight ever. "If they could have fought each other when they both were in their prime, I'm certain that Louis would have done away with Ali, " says Woods, who is critical of Ali's showboat tactics in the ring. But, despite the shortcomings of the first game today, it's obvious his first love is still boxing, and his eyes sparkle when he relives the golden years of his ring career. "I'm beginning my twilight years, but boxing will never die. It's still the greatest sport."
Full resolutionVolume173\woods2.tif
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