Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sugar Ray and Joey Maxim - In the Heat of the Night

The weather affects many areas of human endeavour in a whole variety of ways but one of the strangest and most famous of these concerned a world title boxing bout that took place in New York back in 1952.

The summer of that year proved to be one of the hottest ever across many parts of the United States, affecting most areas from the Continental Divide to the Atlantic coast. During June of 1952 monthly temperatures were an astonishing 10F above normal in Kansas City, and Nashville’s maximum temperatures for the month beat the previous record by 3F.

From the 24th to the end of the month, temperatures climbed above 100F as far north as Boston and Detroit, and many all time temperature records were broken as the searing heatwave marched across America.

During this furnace-like week, most offices and factories throughout New York and Detroit that weren’t air conditioned sent their employees home early and thousands flocked to the beach around Coney Island and Rockaway where they stayed overnight to try and escape the oppressive heat of the inner city.

In the middle of this heatwave a world championship boxing bout had been scheduled at Yankee Stadium, and a most unusual one at that.

Yankee Stadium in the late 1920's
(Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

The world middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson had challenged the world light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim for his crown. Robinson had already won two other world titles at lesser weights, and this would have given him world titles in three different weight divisions – an almost unprecedented achievement.

The World Middleweight Champion in 1952 - Sugar Ray Robinson. (Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

Normally a middleweight would have little chance against a light heavyweight, but Sugar Ray Robinson was no ordinary fighter, even by world championship standards. Equipped with silky speed and a killer punch in either hand, he was rated by many as the best ever boxer, pound for pound, in the history of the ring.

Joey Maxim - the World Light Heavyweight Champion in 1952 (Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

Maxim was big and strong and the fact that he was world light heavyweight champion meant he was a very tough hombre. The fight promised to be a fascinating one.

It was organised for 10 pm on the night of June 25 1952, outdoors at Yankee Stadium, and, as it turned out, in the middle of the New York heatwave. Robinson weighed in at 160 pounds and Maxim 175 – a big advantage. As the two fighters climbed in to the ring the temperature was measured on the ring apron as 104F, with high humidity conditions adding to the acute discomfort.

The fight commenced and then proceeded pretty much as the experts had predicted with the much faster Robinson scoring punches at will and piling up a big points lead over the first nine rounds. He even managed to stagger Maxim with a big right hand in the seventh.

Then things began to go awry for Robinson. His fast style was generating great heat from his muscles – heat that couldn’t be dissipated in the ultra hot and humid conditions. The core heat of his body began to rise and he started to show signs of imbalance, disorientation and exhaustion – all classic symptoms of hyperthermia or heat exhaustion.

In the meantime, people in the audience had been collapsing with the heat, and the sweat soaked referee Goldstein signalled that he could not go on after round ten. He was replaced by the reserve referee, Ray Miller.

In the thirteenth round Robinson threw a huge right hand, missed, and then fell flat on his face. He was a man noted for his superb balance in the ring so this rang alarm bells all through the crowd.

This moment was captured in the photograph here:


He was just able to last to the end of the round.

But he was unable to answer the bell for the start of the fourteenth round and Maxim was declared the winner by way of knockout. It was the first time that Sugar Ray had ever been stopped inside the distance.

It took a totally spent Ray Robinson some 6 weeks to recover from the fight and he always claimed it was the heat, rather than Maxim that had beaten him.

However Maxim himself denied that heat was the main factor. He later said "Did I have air conditioning in my corner? I pushed him all night. He knocked himself out".

Sugar Ray, after a brief retirement from the ring, came back and regained his world middleweight crown and went on fighting until 1965 when he was 43 years of age. He was named the greatest fighter of the 20th Century by the Associated Press, and the greatest boxer ever by ESPN.com in 2007. Perhaps of even more significance, Ring Magazine voted him the best pound for pound fighter of all time. He died in 1989 aged 68.

Joey Maxim lost his world title soon after the Robinson fight and eventually retired from the ring in 1959. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994, and died in 2001, aged 79.

Vision of this famous fight can be seen here:


For information about one of Australia's best ever fighters go to


Reference: Sugar Ray, Putnam and Company, London, 1969

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How to Make a Good Cup of Tea

Recently I attended a meeting of the local Rotary Club where the guest speaker was a coffee and tea specialist. He planned to deliver a talk on a topic that seemed to me at the time to be a rather boring subject.

But it certainly was not and instead it turned out to be both interesting and instructive.

It was how to make a good cup of tea.

Above - A tea leaf (Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

Tea making goes back many centuries and was originally practiced in China, India, Sri Lanka, Tibet and Burma before later spreading to Russia, Japan and Korea. Tea itself became a valuable trade item with the West during the nineteenth century and now continues to be widely enjoyed in most countries.

A tea plantation in India (Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

The famous English vessel the "Cutty Sark" was a fast sailing ship specially built for transporting tea from China back to Britain and was one of several vessels of the time known as "tea clippers".

But according to our Rotary Club expert, despite our great familiarity with this drink it continues to be be prepared wrongly, producing a bitter taste that we have to mask by adding milk and sugar. He demonstrated by preparing a brew using the correct method and the result was transforming - a great taste with no milk or sugar required.

The "Cutty Sark" preserved at Greenwich, England. (Image from Wikipedia Commons - Atelier Joly - click to enlarge)

Here's how you do it.

Use leaf tea (not tea bags) - preferably from India, China or Sri Lanka as these tend to be the best quality. Measure out two or three teaspoons into your pot depending on how strong you want to make it. Then add boiling water, as soon as possible after reaching the boiling point. If you let it cool before addition the flavour is degraded.

And now the vital point - let it stand for 20 to 30 seconds BUT NO LONGER. After 30 seconds astringents are released from the tea leaves that produce an unpleasant and bitter taste.

You can then pour your tea into a cup - if possible through a filter - or you can separate it from the leaves into another pot. You'll find that a mild and smooth flavour is produced with no milk or sugar required.

The technique applies to all types of tea including the camomile, green and herbal varieties.

Common myths:

(1) Use a spoonful of tea for each person and add one for the pot - almost guaranteed to produce a strong and bitter brew.

(2) The pot should be heated with boiling water before the tea is added - this makes virtually no difference.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kamikaze - The Divine Winds of Japan

We are all familiar with the word “kamikaze” used as a reference to the large group of young Japanese men that formed the world’s first suicide pilot squadrons during World War 2. Kamikaze pilots flew their aircraft, usually packed with explosives, into allied ships operating in the Pacific Ocean during 1944 and 1945 in an attempt to inflict maximum possible damage at the expense of the life of the pilot.

The kamikaze squadrons inflicted a large amount of damage on allied shipping but were too late to change the course of the war.

However the term “kamikaze” was not originally used to describe suicidal military action but was in fact used many centuries earlier to describe two famous meteorological events that occurred when the Mongol warlord, Kublai Khan twice tried to invade Japan using formidable naval armadas.

Portrait of Kublai Khan, circa 1265 (Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

The first time, in the year 1274, the Mongol fleet was smashed by a typhoon, with an estimated loss of one in three ships and more than 10,000 warriors drowned.

Kublai Khan tried again, seven years later, in the year 1281, this time with part of his fleet successfully landing in Hakata Bay where they were fought off by Japan’s Samurai warriors. However the Mongol fleet was reinforced by a much larger naval force some two months later and it seemed that the Japanese would be overrun.

Then, amazingly, another typhoon blasted across the area, this time doing far more damage than had been seen in 1274. Some 3000 ships were sunk with thousands of invading Mongols drowned. Kublai Khan gave up the idea of a Japanese invasion after this disaster.

Depiction of the loss of the second Mongol fleet in the typhoon of 1281. This was painted by the Japanese artist Kikuchi Yosai in 1847. (Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

The Japanese had twice been saved from invasion by the mighty blasts of typhoons, and these storms were thereafter named “Kamikaze”, or “Divine Winds” that had been sent by the Gods to save their country.

Tropical revolving storms are called “hurricanes” in the Americas and this is from the Mayan storm God “Hunrakan”, although the Caribs also had their God of Evil named “Hurican”. Throughout the far-east, including Japan, they are known as typhoons, and this is derived from the Chinese “tai fung” meaning “great wind”. However there is also an Arabic word “ tufan” meaning a sudden or violent storm, and this, in turn may be related to the ancient Greek word “tuphon”, meaning “father of the winds”.

In India, Australia and Bangladesh these storms are known as tropical cyclones.

It has been estimated that since 1850 alone, more than two million people from around the world have died as a result of tropical revolving storms, but the actual figure is probably far higher as records are incomplete and probably inaccurate.

Typhoon "Jelawat" nears the coastline of Japan in June, 2006. (Image courtesy of NASA - click to enlarge)

In the case of Kublai Khan however, typhoons smashed his military ambitions, and his fearsome Mongol armies, all-conquering through China and Korea, were never able to capture Japan.