The Sagebrush Battle: 'Basque woodchopper' vs. Max Baer

The Sagebrush Battle: 'Basque woodchopper' vs. Max Baer
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  BREAKING What's behind trade war threats? 5 essential reads before Trump's tariffs take effect TOP STORY The Sagebrush Battle: 'Basque woodchopper' vs. MaxBaer IKER SAITUA Jul 4, 2018SUBSCRIBE FOR 33¢ / DAYBasque boxer Paulino Uzkudun took on American boxer Max Baer in Reno on the Fourth of July, 1931. Nevada Historical Society  On the night of June 4, 1931, the professional Basque boxer Paulino Uzkudun Ðknown as the ÒBasque woodchopperÓ Ð arrived by train in the Southern PaciÞcStation in downtown Reno. The purpose of his trip was his upcoming twenty-roundboxing match against California heavyweight Max Baer that was going to be held onJuly 4 at the Reno Race Track as part of the Independence Day festivities.From New York City to Reno, the Basque boxer from Errezil (Gipuzkoa) hadtraversed the United States by rail accompanied by his manager Lou Brix and threesparring partners. He traveled west across the country, stopping in some places in theAmerican West where important Basque communities existed. On June 3, Uzkudunstopped for a two-hour layover in Ogden, Utah, where he took a deep bow of prideand got a huge ovation from hundreds of Basque immigrants from all over the state.Sam Maruri, a Basque immigrant living in Ogden, was in charge of the receptionthere, and took Uzkudun for a quick automobile ride to Ogden Canyon and otherpoints of interest. Maruri said, ÒAt least 200 Basques of Utah will be at the ringside atReno, rooting for Uzcudun.ÓAfter Ogden, UzkudunÕs train halted at Elko, Winnemucca and Lovelock, wheresimilar scenes of Basque immigrants cheering him were repeated. On June 4, after along train ride, he Þnally reached Reno around 11 p.m. where he received a stormy  ovation from a large crowd of about 300 Basques.Before the scheduled day for the match, both Þghters trained for the Þght in differentcamps in the vicinity of Reno: Max Baer in Lawton Springs and Paulino Uzkudun inSteamboat Springs. On June 8, a crowd of more than 1,000 Basques and otheradmirers went to UzkudunÕs training camp in Steamboat Springs during his Þrsttraining session. UzkudunÕs workout was followed by a big barbecue Ð at which awhole steer and 12 sheep were roasted over open pits Ð and picnic supervised byMartin Go–i, a Basque immigrant and Reno hotel owner. Thereafter, in the daysbefore the match, Basque immigrants continued visiting Uzkudun to support him.On July 4, 1931, Saturday morning, on an extremely hot summer day, the long-expected boxing match between Max Baer and Paulino Uzkudun took place. TheÒSagebrush Battle,Ó as the Nevada State Journal titled it, was a tough 20-round Þghtbetween heavyweights Baer and Uzkudun. Not risking anything, both Þghters resistedeach other and tried to avoid falling to the burning ground until the very end. Finally,Uzkudun was victorious over Baer after Jack Dempsey, in his dual role as referee andpromoter, raised the Basque boxerÕs hand.The Þght was greatly hyped. The match between Max Baer and Paulino Uzkudun in1931 generated huge interest at both the local and national levels. Next day, on July 5,the New York Times reported the battle round-by-round as follows:ÒGrinning, gold-toothed Paulino Uzcudun out-roughed Max Baer, rangy Californian,ÉClubbing, butting, heeling, and wrestling marked the battle from the opening gonguntil [the very end]É The two warriors violated most of the rules of ring etiquette inefforts to beat each other down in the resin of the sun-scorched battle pit.Cautions by Referee Dempsey had only momentary effect. When Paulino quitcufÞng, Baer started heeling. The Californian missed a couple of pivot punches, butnot intentionally. On occasions, they butted like goats. Baer started wrestling and  Uzcudun retaliated by twisting his rival half way out of the ring.É Kidney and rabbit punches, therefore, were countenanced.For a twenty-round bout, the big fellows set an unusually fast pace. The last Þverounds developed the more furious exchanges. As they struggled along, mauling andplanting solid punches in swift rallies, the advantage see-sawed from one to the other.At no time was either out in front and at the end of the nineteenth Referee Dempseytold newspaper men the last round would decide the Þght. Paulino had the better of the last session. He tore into his bigger rival and rushed him into the ropes,meanwhile scoring heavily with hard punches to the midsection. BaerÕs occasionalrallies were weak-hearted.Baer went into the bout with most of the physical advantages on his side, but Paulinowas the favorite from the start. Ignoring BaerÕs superior reach, the sturdy Basquebobbed in and out to thump the Californian regularly with solid lefts to the body.In the Þfth round, Paulino scored with some heavy blows to the jaw and Baerappeared in distress. But by the time the eighth round rolled around, the Californianwas leading with his stocky rival retreating around the ring.  UzcudunÕs greater experience stood him in good stead. He fought cooly, whereasBaer lost his head at times to beat the air with wild swings ÉÓThe match attracted around 18,000 people. This Þght went hand in hand with thelegalization of gambling in Nevada as a means of economic development during thiscritical period in American history in the early Ô30s. The Baer-Uzkudun match of 1931, according to historian Richard Davies, revived the fusion of the western athletichero and economic promotion in Reno.Furthermore, the victory of Uzkudun over Baer resulted in a great deal of pride on thepart of the Basque-American community. Unsurprisingly, Basques living in Elko,Reno, and other Nevada towns took an active interest in the Þght during the daysbefore and after the event. Almost the whole Basque immigrant community of Nevada attended this big Þght, including a large number of sheepherders whoabsented themselves from their work on the rangelands. But also, other groups of Basques from other western states attended the event. Indeed, this Þght provided ahistoric opportunity for this immigrant group to express pride in its roots and reafÞrmits Basqueness in the American West, but also expressed their version of Americanness on this Fourth of July.For some time, Paulino Uzkudun became an almost mythic hero in the Basquecommunities of the American West. Some years later, however, during the SpanishCivil War (1936-39) and the subsequent decades of Francoist dictatorship, Uzkudunput himself at the service of Francisco Franco. Then, he represented Spanish Fascismin the boxing ring and that promptly turned him into an enemy and villain in the eyesof many Basques. Iker Saitua is a Basque Government postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of California, Riverside andUniversity of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU).
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