Daniel Boone in the Ring

By Richard E. Baker on June 5, 2022

Courtesy photo Artist Will Schlough.jpg

No one would ever suspect he was ever a prize fighter. (Courtesy Artist Will Schlough)

 

I had just finished reading “Beneath the Sands of Egypt” written by noted Egyptologist and friend Dr. Don Ryan. I am always looking into the history of boxing. Many ancient cultures have art depicting boxing, especially in Europe. I have never found any indication of boxing in anything Egyptian. I intended to ask him if he knew of anything there that might indicate boxing, or wrestling, when I returned from my quest to view the latest pictograph of heavyweight boxer Boone Kirkman on the sidewall of a restaurant in Redmond, Washington. A Pictograph, made with paints, is not to be confused with a Petroglyph which is carved or chiseled in stone. Few pictographs remain today from ancient times because the paint wears away. It was good to hear of a modern one erected to honor a popular 7th ranked boxer. A grant from the city of Renton, spearheaded by Fay Moss, allowed Artist Will Schlough to paint the picture, a beautifully done giant of a boxer well loved in the Seattle area.

 

There was a time when boxing was the only true professional sport in Seattle and boxers like Eddie Cotton, Freddy Steele, Al Hostak, and Tiger Jack Fox crowded arenas. In the 1960s fans filled the Seattle Center Coliseum to witness some outstanding fights and fighters. Fans lined the streets to get in and witness a good fight and a decent hot dog dripping with mustard and relish. Few boxers were more popular than heavyweight prospect Boone Kirkman. He was a tall outdoorsman, handsome, well built, always in shape, personable, articulate, a real banger and a bucket of guts with no back-up gear, everything needed to be a sports hero. And hero he was.

 

He did not intend to be a boxer. All of his life he has been an avid outdoorsman, hiking hunting, and fishing. He could not have been raised in a better place than Washington. His father taught him all about the different plants along their walks. Kirkman was so interested with the plants that he often lagged behind and his father would have to remind him to, “Keep up, Daniel Boone.” The nickname “Boone” remained with him.

 

Like many young boys he started to venture out and hang with a rowdy crowd called the “Buds.” “We didn’t get into a lot of trouble like some gangs, mostly drinking and messing around, regular kid‘s stuff. There were about 20 in the club.” His older brother Steve boxed and Boone started hanging with him at the Cherry Street gym. The activity interested him, the action, the smells of sweaty bodies and ambition and, when he read, “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” the story of Rocky Graziano, and then saw the movie starring Paul Newman, he was hooked. He wanted to box.

 

He started winning local golden gloves fights and in 1965 he won the AAU Heavyweight national title in Ohio. A pro career awaited and he signed with the controversial fight manager, Jack Hurley. He also assumed co-ownership of the family’s pub, the Melrose Tavern. He blended the pub and boxing by setting up a heavy, and speed, bag in a corner where he worked out to the cheers of customers.

 

Opinions on manager Hurley vary. Some boxers thought he was a genius, others thought he was Beelzebub put on this earth just to annoy boxers. He was noted for taking mediocre boxers and building them up, often to championship fights. He took charge of every aspect of a fighter’s life, training, personal life, publicity, etc. And the cost of such skill. A simple 50% of every dime a boxer earned. Writer Damon Runyon said he only knew two honest managers in his life, “One was Jack Hurley, and I forget the name of the other one.”

 

Boone launched his professional career with a knockout over Lou Phillips in Boise, Idaho. He was on his way and a TKO win over Eddie Machen proved he was the real thing. Even real things can have unforeseen problems. Doug Jones beat him in Seattle due to a cut. Boone wanted to continue. The ring physician had other ideas. Boone was prone to cuts, something that always troubled him. He was beating Jones on all the cards and he wanted revenge.

 

The cut healed in six weeks and he again stepped into the ring with Jones. Jones put up a decent fight but Boone was all over him and put him away in the 6th round. That started a 10-fight winning streak. No one was happier than manager Jack Hurley. Dollar signs lit before his eyes. He had him a cash cow. Cash cows must be treated carefully or the money runs out quickly. The money, $80,000, overruled Hurley’s good sense and he signed Boone to face rising star George Foreman. It was a bad idea from the start and everyone knew it. In a cost-cutting move Hurley secured only the cheapest sparring partners for Boone and he stayed away from the gym so Boone was on his own. The lack of support showed in the fight.

 

Foreman could barely squeeze his muscles through the ropes of the ring. If Sonny Liston was the “Bear” then Forman could only have been the “T-Rex.” At the sound of the bell he rushed across the ring and, before throwing a single punch, shoved Boone to the canvas. During the last minute of the round he did knock Boone to the canvas. Boone rose. Foreman again came across the ring and shoved Boone to the canvas. In the second round he put Boone away.

 

Typically with Hurley, Boone received less than half the $80,000 and only $2,500 of the telecast money. Hurley had basically been retired when he took on Boone and he never gave Boone his full attention. Had he been more diligent Boone might have been better managed.

 

Boone started over to rebuild his reputation and 10 victories followed the loss to Foreman including a split decision win over tough but fading Jimmy Ellis. He was again on his way to big money fights and a possible title shot when signed for a tune-up fight against 5-20-2 Al Jones in Dallas. He put Jones down four times in the first round and twice in the second. . The crowd went wild and started screaming his name. He was back, all right, back and in great form. He continued to pummel Jones until, suddenly in round 3, everything went horribly wrong.

 

“I came out with my head down and he threw a wild right. I remember getting hit and falling. When I hit the canvas it was like whiplash and that’s what knocked me out.”

 

He now had to climb the ladder again and each time the climb became tougher and steeper. His next opponent was not a pushover. He stepped into the ring with Ken Norton and was holding his own when the fight was and he lost on a cut. Ron Lyle followed and Boone again was fighting an excellent battle when he was TKO’d on a cut to his cheek. A UD loss to 29-5-0 Randy Newman was followed by a win over 50-18-2 Jose Roman. He had three more wins before calling it quits after knocking out 11-14-0 Charles Atlas.

 

“It just wasn’t the same anymore. And the money dropped off. I was offered just $5,000 to fight Larry Holmes in Manila, and $10,000 to fight Coetzee in South Africa. Chicken feed.”

 

He took a job as a truck driver for Boeing, and eventually retired with a pension and benefits. He was lucky.

 

“I saw all those old fighters who have boxing dementia, Floyd Patterson, Al Hostak, Dick Wagner, and Harry “Kid” Matthews. I feel pretty lucky. I have my health. I have a good memory and everything.”

 

His memory is remarkable and no one would ever suspect he was ever a prize fighter. He spends his time in the hills and woods hiking and fishing and remains in excellent health. Although Boone Kirkman is a pictograph on the wall of the La Hacienda Santa Fe, he is a petroglyph and etched into the minds of Northwest boxing fans.