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Stanislaw Kiecal, (September 14, 1886–October 15, 1910), better known in the boxing world as Stanley Ketchel, was an American boxer of Polish origin who became one of the greatest world middleweight champions. Some sources list his year of birth as 1887, but 1886 is generally accepted.
He was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his parents Thomas Kiecał (Polish Prussian), and Julia Kiecał, whose family immigrated from a village of Sulmierzyce in Piotrków Trybunalski Guberniya. He was nicknamed the Michigan Assassin.
Professional boxing career
Only a middleweight, Ketchel was also known for taking on heavyweights who sometimes outweighed him by more than 30 pounds (14 kg). Ketchel used a very unusual method in his fights. He had a very close and loving relationship with his mother. It is rumored that before each of his fights, he would imagine that his opponent had insulted his mother; thus, he would be fighting with almost insane fury.
He started boxing professionally in 1904 in Butte, Montana. In his first fight, Ketchel knocked out Kid Tracy in one round. In his second fight, he was beaten by decision in six by Maurice Thompson. He boxed his first 41 bouts in Montana, and had a record of 36 wins, two losses and three draws during that span. He lost once more and drew with Thompson, but beat Tom Kingsley, among others, before moving his campaign on to California in 1907.
There, he won three fights that year, and drew one in Marysville against the man many considered the world's Middleweight champion, Joe Thomas. In his next bout, he and Thomas had a rematch, and Ketchel won, by knockout in 32 rounds. Ketchel was then recognized by many as the world's Middleweight champion. He finished the year by beating Thomas again, this time by decision.
On February 8, 1908, Ketchel met the man who was generally recognized as the world's Middleweight champion, "Mike Twin Sullivan", knocking him out in the first round and winning general recognition as world Middleweight champion. Whether he became world champion against Thomas or against Mike Sullivan has always been up to debate, but the fact remains that it is Mike Sullivan and not Thomas who is historically remembered as a world champion.
He proceeded to retain the title against Mike's twin brother, "Jack Twin Sullivan," also a former world champion, by a knockout in 20 rounds, against future world champion Billy Papke by decision in 10, against Hugo Kelly by a knockout in three, and against Thomas, by a knockout in two.
Then, he lost the belt to Papke by a knockout in twelve, but he and Papke had an immediate rematch, and Ketchel regained the title when he beat Papke by a knockout in eleven in their third match.
Ketchel began 1909 by fighting reigning light heavyweight champion "Philadelphia Jack O' Brien" with a no-decision in 10. A few weeks later, Ketchel had a rematch with O' Brien, knocking out Philadelphia Jack in three rounds. He beat Papke in their fourth bout by a decision in 20 rounds to retain the title, and then challenged Jack Johnson for the world's Heavyweight crown.
Ketchel's battle with Johnson has been called by many a modern day "David and Goliath".
In the 12th round Ketchel floored Johnson with a right hand. Johnson got up and knocked out Ketchel with a right uppercut.
Ketchel showed no fear against his larger and stronger foe. He was knocked down several times in the fight and was punished yet kept coming back. Johnson said to his seconds between rounds "That man isn't human." In round twelve of that fight, Ketchel reached Johnson with a right to the chin that sent Johnson to the canvas. The punch shocked Johnson on two levels. One, it came from a much smaller Ketchel. Two, it was rumored that Ketchel and Johnson when they agreed to the fight, they both agreed to take the fight the full 20 rounds and Ketchel would allow Johnson to win in the 20th. The reason for this was each man was interested in making as much money off the fight as possible. A 20 round fight would guarantee boxing fans would pay to go to local theatres to watch the replay of the fight. When Johnson deviated from the alleged plan of "no blood should be drawn," Ketchel, already bloodied, knocked Johnson down, then, in the 12th, Ketchel faced the alleged wrath of Jack Johnson.
Upon regaining his feet, Jack Johnson knocked out Ketchel with a blow full in the mouth. Ketchel did not wake up for many minutes and some of his teeth were knocked out by the blow, some imbedded in Johnson's glove.
The following year, 1910, Ketchel fought six times (including one exhibition), but his fast living had worn him down.
Hoping for a rematch with Jack Johnson, Ketchel moved to the ranch of his friend, R.P. Dickerson, in Conway, Missouri, where he had hoped to regain his strength. Dickerson had just hired a cook, Goldie Smith, and a ranch hand, who Smith said was her husband, Walter Kurtz.
Walter Kurtz turned out to be Walter Dipley, a U.S. Navy deserter. Walter Dipley and Goldie Smith were not married, and, in fact, had just met each other a month before Dickerson had hired them.
After being upbraided by the "Michigan Assassin" for beating a horse on the morning of October 14th, Dipley decided to get even with Ketchel by robbing him. The following morning Smith seated Ketchel at the breakfast table with his back to the door and Dipley, armed with a .22 caliber rifle, came up behind him and shouted, "Get your hands up!" Ketchel stood up and as he turned around, Dipley shot him. The bullet traveled from his shoulder into his lung and Ketchel fell to the floor mortally wounded. Dipley then took Ketchel's handgun and smashed Ketchel in the face with it. At the same time, Smith rifled Ketchel's pockets for his money.
After promising to meet Goldie Smith later that night, Dipley ran from the ranch.
Unaware that, as he lay dying, Ketchel told the former ranch foreman, C.E. Bailey, that Goldie Smith had robbed him, she told police officers that Ketchel had raped her and that that was the reason Dipley shot him. Her story fell apart and she admitted her complicity in the robbery but stated she did not know Dipley was going to kill the former middleweight champion.
In an effort to save the young fighter's life, R.P. Dickerson chartered a special train to take Stanley Ketchel to a hospital in Springfield, Missouri. But Ketchel died at approximately 7 o'clock that night. His last words were: "I'm so tired. Take me home to mother."
Dickerson also offered a $5,000 dead or alive reward (preferably dead) for Dipley, who was captured at a neighboring farmhouse the next day.
Aftermath of Murder
Both Walter Dipley and Goldie Smith were found guilty of murder and robbery at a jury trial in January of 1911, and both were given a life sentence. Goldie Smith had her murder conviction overturned and she served 17 months for the robbery. Walter Dipley served 23 years before he was paroled. He died in 1956, 23 years after his release from prison.
Ketchel was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery at Grand Rapids, Michigan. His funeral was reportedly one of the most well-attended events in Grand Rapids history.
Ketchel is now enshrined in the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.
He had a record of 52 wins, four losses, four draws and four no decisions, with 49 wins by knockout.
Subject of the short story "The Light of the World" by Ernest Hemingway.
Biography "Stanley Ketchel: A Life of Triumph and Prophecy" by Manuel A. Mora.