Men of Iron: Paulino Uzcudun


The “Basque Woodchopper” began fighting professionally in Spanish rings in 1923 and quickly mauled his way into the first division of European heavies with wins over Pail Journee, Marcel Niles, Arthur Townley, Jack Humbeck, Phil Scott and Ermino Spalla. His style was crude but effective, consisting of wrapping his massive arms about his head and rushing his opponent, bulling inside to deliver heavy blows to the belly and head. In 1926 he traveled to the States and took on the best in the heavyweight class, beating Soldier Jones, Homer Smith, Harry Wills, Knute Hansen, and Tom Heeney.

In 1928 he stopped Quiniton Romero Rojas in three and pounded out decisions over Otto Von Porat and Jack Renault, then lost in ten rounds to George Godfrey. Some of the hardest punchers in the game tried their best to knock out the burly Basque but found their best was not enough. The man’s skull was thick as concrete, and defied punishment.

Uzcudun was a game campaigner but he lacked any real boxing skill, and was thus forced to rely more and more on his amazing ability to assimilate the blows of his opponents. This became a strong drawing card and in 1929 he found himself included in a list of four finalists to compete in a tournament for Gene Tunney’s vacated crown. The others were Jack Sharkey, Young Stribling, and Max Schmeling. In February of that year Jack Sharkey outpointed Stribling over 10 rounds in Miami. That left Schmeling for Uzcudun, and a match was arranged for June 27 at Yankee Stadium. This was the brawny European’s big chance. All he had to do was get in there with the Black Uhlan and beat him, and then only Jack Sharkey would bar his path to the heavyweight championship of the world.

But it was not to be. Max Schmeling was at his best that night and fought a brilliant tactical battle with the onrushing Uzcudun, working him with stiff jabs and snapping his head back with thundering rights, avoiding Paulino’s wild swings with a frustrating ease. Uzcudun was heart-broken when the judges’ decisions were announced in favor of the scowling German.

Although he won four times in ’30 and ’31 – including points wins over Otto Von Porat and twenty-two year-old Max Baer – he lost three important bouts in those same years, and his stock as a contender plummeted. In 1932 he plodded on, but now he was known as an opponent and this was pointed out in losses to King Levinsky, Mickey Walker, and Ernie Schaaf. Finally, he quit the United States and returned home to Spain. Here he found himself still good enough to lick any of the local heavies, and in October of 1933, wonder of wonders, he found himself in a ring with the new heavyweight king, Primo Carnera. Sadly, ten years in prize rings had left him with little of his old strength, and only his dogged determination carried him through the entire fifteen rounds, at which point it was decided that the Ambling Alp had done enough to retain his crown.

he continued fighting after that and managed a draw with Max Schmeling in 1934, but Der Max lured him to Berlin the following year and won a 12-round decision. A few exhibitions in New York followed, then he was served up for slaughter at the hands of Joe Louis. In 1927 he had ended the career of Harry Wills with a fourth-round KO. On December 13, 1935 Joe Louis did the same for Uzcudun.

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