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Billy Miske: The Epitome of Heart

Updated on June 17, 2017

Billy Miske's Ring Record

Billy Miske - Ring Record: 41 wins - 2 losses - 3 draws - *63 ND's (112 total bouts)

* A no decision bout is very rare in this day and age but back then they were more common. A no decision bout is one which the outcome is not judged on points and there is no winner unless there is a knockout. There were two reasons behind these type of bouts:

1. The champion wouldn't want to lose his title to a scorecard.

2. Some jurisdictions in an effort to get rid of gambling on fights, enacted laws making decisons illegal. This was not a seamless way of preventing the gambling, as the press would decide who they thought won in the newspaper, better known as "newspaper decisions."

The Unknown Legend

Written by Casey White

I've been a boxing fan since childhood, and being around the sport for so long, I've studied fighter after fighter. Until a few months ago, I was unaware of the Billy Miske story.

For whatever reason, this emotion drenched story has been collecting dust on the sports shelf for far too long. You would be hard pressed to find an athlete in the history of not only boxing, but sports in general, that could surpass the character and heart of Billy Miske.

Billy Miske was never a champion, at least in the record books, which might be why there isn't a tremendous amount of information on him.

Born April 12,1894 in St. Paul, Minnesota, they called him the "St. Paul Thunderbolt, " a fitting name, as his crafty style that carried a combination of both speed and power in both hands, gave his opponents fits.

He began his boxing career as a middleweight, and went on to compete as a light heavyweight and eventually a heavyweight.

Billy Miske was considered one of the best heavyweights of his era, fighting names like Tommy Gibbons, Harry Greb, and legendary champion Jack Dempsey. In fact, he fought Dempsey three times. He gave "The Manassa Mauler" all he could handle in the first two fights, and was knocked out by Dempsey in the third fight for the first and only time in his career. However, there is one thing you should know about that last fight with Dempsey - Billy Miske was a dying man.

In 1918, he was diagnosed with what was then called Bright's disease, an historical classification of kidney disease. His doctor gave him 5 years to live at best, and that was only if he stopped fighting immediately. Billy kept the disease a secret, basically telling his wife it was just "some kidney trouble." Unfortunately, he had accumulated debts totaling $100,000 in a car business venture and decided to keep fighting to support his family and pay off his debts.

Here's another thing you should know - Billy Miske fought 30 times after his doctor's death sentence. Training became even more brutal as he continued to hide his condition from the press. With each fight, Billy's body deteriorated, at least everything but his heart. In January of 1923, after knocking out Harry Foley in the first round, he became very ill after the fight. Billy's condition would only worsen throughout the remainder of that year, as he stayed home with his family, and far too sick to do much else.

In the fall of that same year, with the pain becoming more unbearable, he knew death was at his door. With his financial state, and the bills piling up, he had one last dying wish for his family - a Christmas to remember.

There was only one way that Billy knew how to make it happen - fight for it.

He called his longtime manager and friend, Jack Reddy and tells him "get me a fight." Reddy replies," you could die Billy with your condition."

Billy responds," I'm dying anyway, what's the difference? " After a lot of pleading from Billy and a sympathetic understanding of his situation, Jack Reddy got him a fight with Bill Brennan, a rugged warrior who had also traded blows with Jack Dempsey for 12 rounds.

Unable to train due to his morbid condition, Miske stays in seclusion,eating boiled fish from his death bed.

On the morning of November 7th, 1923, Billy Miske would climb out of that death bed. Armed with a golden heart pounding through his chest and visions of his family painting his thoughts, he would make it to Omaha, Nebraska for fight night.

Knowing he wouldn't be able to endure a long fight, Billy knew his only chance would be to try and finish the fight as soon as he could.

With his life truly hanging in the balance, Billy Miske knocked out Bill Brennan in the fourth round on that magical night. Yes, you read it correctly, he won by knockout.

Billy received $2,400 dollars for his share of the purse, and with that, his wish was delivered. Christmas day in the Miske household that year was filled with tremendous joy. Billy's wife and three children awoke to a a baby-grand piano, a sled, and many other tokens of Billy's heart. The Christmas dinner that took place that night was just as blissful. Billy Miske was the happiest man on the planet.

Sadly,it was also Billy's final dinner with his family, as he would awake early the next morning in excruciating pain. He called Jack Reddy telling him, " Please take to me to the hospital Jack, I can't take the pain any longer."

On New Year's Day, 1924, in Minneapolis, Billy Miske passed away at the age of 29.

George Barton, a longtime boxing historian was quoted as saying,"Maybe someone can name a gamer boxer than Miske," he said, "I can't."

If you are looking to share a story with a loved one or a friend about the triumph of the human spirit and overcoming adversity - you just might want to remember the story of Billy Miske.

I'll never forget it.

"Billy Miske was as brave as any fighter I ever met."

_ Jack Dempsey

First Defense: KO of a friend.

The following is an excerpt from the book "Dempsey," written by Jack Dempsey:

My first defense of the world heavyweight championship title was on Labor Day, 1920, against a dying friend of mine. I knocked him out because I loved the guy -- Billy Miske.

It happened in Benton Harbor, Mich. This was the third and last time I fought Billy.

He was dying of Bright's disease. I didn't know his condition was as bad as it was. All I knew was that he begged me for the fight. He was broke and needed a good payday so that he could rest and regain his health.

But there was never any question that it was a legitimate match. In one of our two previous fights he had held me to a draw and he had clouted me real good in the other.

My problem was whether to carry Miske a few rounds or put him out as soon as I could. If I carried him, I'd have to cut him up through the fight, to protect the title. There was a chance that he might connect, I'd get a bad cut, and the fight might be stopped. I tried to knock him out in the first round, but the best I could do was hurt him with a body punch. I couldn't get a shot at his jaw.

In the second round I got a part of it and knocked him down. In the third round I just shut my eyes, hit him with a left that straightened him up, then let the right hand go- and that's all there was to it.

There's been a story around for years that when I came into the ring and Miske looked at me, fit and ready, he lost control of himself. That's a lie. Billy was as brave that day as any fighter I ever met.

Jack Dempsey

* Pictured above is Jack Dempsey helping carry Billy Miske to his corner after he knocked him out.

Billy with his son - Billy Miske Jr.

Billy with his son - Billy Miske Jr.
Billy with his son - Billy Miske Jr.

Reader Feedback

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    • profile image

      jonnyf963 5 years ago

      @GEORGEBOOTH: Always be proud of him,He defined the word MAN or what a Man should be to his family

    • profile image

      jonnyf963 5 years ago

      There should be a Billy Miske Courage Award,Kind of like The Ed Block Courgae Award in The NFL

    • profile image

      GEORGEBOOTH 6 years ago

      This is a very well written article, although my mother, whom recently

      passed was Billy's daughter and she wouldn't of agreed that Billy was

      broke, she told of his kind heart and how he would lend people money

      all the time. We also enjoyed the piano for many years, It narrowly escaped

      our house fire on new years day, There are many great comments posted

      here and like my Granmother, Mother and our whole familty we are poud

      of our Billy , He was a Great Guy!

    • profile image

      GEORGEBOOTH 6 years ago

      @terryprebalick: Hello, Billy Miske is my Grandfather, Marier was my Grandmother .

    • profile image

      terryprebalick 7 years ago

      Billy is somehow related to me I have the gold watch he gave my Grandpa Frank Prebalick just before the Dempsey fight, I think Billy's wife Marie was Gramps sister, I do know, from my dad that they were great friends as was Jack Dempsey and Billy, I am trying to find more information on them as my Grandpa came over from Poland and our name spelling was not the same there as here in the US.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 8 years ago

      great story and lens!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 9 years ago

      I'd never heard of Billy Miske until reading your lens -- his story is certainly an inspiring one. It rather reminds me of the movie Cinderella Man in which Russell Crowe portrays James Braddock. Have you considered doing a lens on Braddock too? Or one on Bright's disease? 5*****

    • triathlontraini1 profile image

      triathlontraini1 9 years ago

      What a story! And from St. Paul too. I'd never heard of him before. Thank you for telling it. :)

    • profile image

      animal_lover79 9 years ago

      I was channel surfing the other day and saw the Billy Miske story on Comcast Sportsnet. I said to myself, "Hey, I've heard of this guy before!" I ended up watching the whole thing...great story! Take care!

    • profile image

      animal_lover79 9 years ago

      Wow...this was an amazing man! I can't believe he died at 29. That kind of freaks me out because I'm 29, and I can't imagine what he went through knowing he was dying. I'm so glad he miraculously won his last fight and was able to enjoy a dream Christmas with his beloved family! Heart-warming story...five stars!