Eighty-one years ago today the Texas pulpster Robert E. Howard killed himself at the age of thirty.
To commemorate the date, let’s bring Brian Leno back into the ring to talk about one of Howard’s predictions on boxing, one of his favored pastimes.
Brian is deep into the book he’s doing on the boxing world as Howard knew it, and in particular keeps unearthing data on the pugilist “Kid” Dula. When he gets it done, that book ought to make a hell of a memorial.
If it happens that the name Dula and the date October 2, 1929 clang any bells for you, that may be because Brian touched on them before when he showcased a ticket for that night’s bouts alongside a gold watch Jack Dempsey gave to Dula on the occasion.
Brian keeps on digging, and he’s tracked down a program for the event for his own collection — which kicks off additional thoughts about a fighter from Robert E. Howard’s short life.
Back in 1928 Robert E. Howard wrote to the Brownwood Bulletin and forcibly expressed his belief that “Kid” Dula, a local boxing star, was destined to become middleweight champion of the world.
At that time the reigning king was Mickey Walker, one of the all-time greats in that division. Howard’s hope of a Dula-Walker match seemed about as faint as Rocky Marciano, when champion, taking on one of your neighbors. But if we take the gloves off and do some old-fashioned digging we soon discover that Howard’s hyperbole about Dula was not really so far-fetched.
About a year after Howard penned his now famous letter, “Kid” Dula — now also known by the moniker “Cowboy” Dula — stepped into the ring against the “smiling Norwegian” Haakon Hanson.
Hanson had participated in the 1924 Paris Olympics, and while he never won a medal, he had done himself pretty proud. Some fans of the pugilistic science thought he had a chance of going far. When Hanson’s manager told reporters that the fight “should be easy” there weren’t too many ring scribes ready to disagree with him.
But Dula rose to the occasion that night and headlines the next day told the story. “Dula’s Victory over Hanson Upsets Fistic World,” one read, and it seemed that the Cowboy might actually have roped himself a bout against highly rated Dave Shade.
Shade was one of those tough scrappers who fought more than 200 times in his career, taking on some pretty hard hitters, including Ace Hudkins, Ben Jeby, Rene De Vos, Maxie Rosenbloom and many others, but for our purposes we need to ask the Timekeeper to turn his clock back to 1921 when Shade took on Mickey Walker, not once, but twice.
The first bout ended in disaster for Shade when he broke his hand and the fight was stopped, becoming a TKO victory for Walker. A month later the two met again and this time Shade was the winner by a newspaper decision.
A third fight occurred in 1925, with Walker’s welterweight title on the line. Shade lost the decision, but the verdict was not a popular one with some of the fans.
The chance of Dula meeting Shade had to have been one of the “Kid’s” most important moments in his boxing career. If he had faced and beaten Shade, it’s very probable he would have gotten a shot against Mickey Walker — and Howard’s prediction in his letter could have come true.
Dula beating Walker would have been an extreme long shot, but it wouldn’t have been the first upset in the world of boxing.
When Dula beat Haakon Hanson it knocked the Norwegian out of The Ring’s top ten middleweights and a new name was added to the list — Art Dula. (The unfortunate thing is the magazine listed him as “Cowboy” Ray Dula, screwing up his first name. I can imagine this Rodney Dangerfield moment must have been a little souring, but Dula had finally gotten big league recognition.)
But instead of the “Kid” taking on Dave Shade, he was rematched with Hanson and they were given a slot on Jack Dempsey’s first Chicago promotion, at the Chicago Coliseum.
Two pictures from that program are shown: the cover, and Mr. Dempsey pointing to his lineup of fighters for that evening’s entertainment. I recently added this item, a true fistic rarity, to my collection, where it’ll stay. (And a contemporary postcard view of the venue at the top helps set the scene.)
On that night things went very badly for our Texas boxer, and Hanson scored a TKO victory in the 6th round. However, you’ll get the full story on a different day.
Research, research, research, that’ll never get me to Carnegie Hall — but it did get me to the Chicago Coliseum on October 2, 1929, when for “one brief, shining moment” Cowboy Dula was ranked as one of the top middleweights in the world.