Billy Miske (The St. Paul Thunderbolt)

2010 International Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee


Billy Miske (William Arthur Miske) is mostly known for his three fights he had against Jack Dempsey. The first two times were hard fighting battles that Jack won. By the third fight Billy was a sick man, recovering from illness, and Dempsey knocked him out in the third round. Before this third fight Harry Greb had a sparring session with Dempsey to help him get ready.

Miske made a bid for the world light heaveyweight championship when he fought Battling Levinsky for the crown. Miske lost the 12 round newspaper decision on July 3rd 1919.

Billy Miske fought Harry Greb a total of 3 times.

Billy Miske had many impressive knockout victories. Some of them were against Tom Cowler, Jack Renault, Bill Shade, Homer Smith and Willie Meehan(beat Dempsey twice).

His last fight was on November 7, 1923 against Bill Brennan. Miske was very sick, knew he didn't have alot of time left and wanted money to give his kids and family one last nice christmas. Miske knocked Brennan out in the 4th round. Miske passed away just a couple months later. He died on January 1, 1924. Death was due to kidney disease from which Miske had been suffering for the past 5 years.



"First Defense: KO of Friend"

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.

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.


Face a Problem

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.


pictured above is a suprised Jack Dempsey helping carry Miske to his corner after knocking him out. Photo supplied by the Lydon Cousins.






pictured below is Billy Miske squaring off with proud Billy Jr.

Photo supplied by the Lydon Cousins.

manager info supplied by Tracy G. Callis ,Historian, IBRO ,

On a bleak, raw day in November, Billy Miske started thinking about the Christmas he knew would be his last. It's an old story renewed by neglect, for Billy Miske's contemporaries, the ones who remain, are up in their seventies now.

Long years after Miske was gone, George Barton put the story into a book. Barton wrote sports and he was very close to Miske, a heavyweight boxer who lived in St. Paul. Barton, in fact, refereed Miske's fight with Tommy Gibbons on June 19, 1919.

Even then, Miske had Bright's disease, in those days a sentence of death. One week before the Gibbons fight, Miske's doctor ordered him to bed. The fight was scheduled for a Friday and Mike Collins, the promoter, went to see Miske on Tuesday.

"Is there any chance you can make it?" Collins asked. "We've got $18,000 in advance sales and I'm afraid a postponement would kill the interest. It means a big payday for all of us."

"I'll get up tomorrow," Miske told him. "If I can walk around the block without falling down, I'll fight."

Miske fought.

"After 10 furious rounds," Barton wrote, "Gibbons won the decision."

In 1916, Miske's doctor had given him five years to live -- "provided you quit boxing and take ca re of yourself." Miske shrugged off the advice, but in 1920 he retired and began selling cars.


'Get Me a Fight Anyway'

Within five months, his business had lost $55,000. Miske needed money. Guaranteed $25,000, he fought Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight title in Benton Harbor, Mich., on Labor Day.

In two previous fights, Miske had done well against Dempsey. This time Dempsey knocked him out. Never before had a referee counted 10 over Miske. Now his friends all begged him to make a statement of bankruptcy and save what he had earned from the title fight.


"Not me," answered Miske. "I'm going to pay off. No one can point a finger at Billy Miske and say that he beat them out of even a dime."

But Miske was no businessman. His dealership folded. Flat broke, he returned to the ring in 1921 and had 23 more fights. On Jan. 12, 1923, after knocking out Harry Foley in one round, he retired for the second time.

Too sick to fight or to work, he stayed at home with his wife, Marie, and their three children. Thanksgiving came and the cupboard was bare. Miske got in touch with his manager, Jack Reddy.

"Jack," he said, "I need a fight."

"You must be kidding," Reddy answered. "You're in no condition to fight."

"Get me a fight anyway."

"I'll be ruled out of boxing," Reddy told him.

"Look, Jack, here's how it is," Miske said. "I haven't any money and I know my number is up. I want to give Marie and the children one more happy Christmas before I check out. Please get me one more payday. I want to make Christmas this year something they'll always remember me for."



The Happiest Man On Earth

Reddy couldn't talk Miske out of it. He made a match with Bill Brennan for Omaha, Nev., on Dec. 7. Brennan, like Miske, had boxed Dempsey -- was leading Dempsey on points when he lost in the 12th round by a knockout. Miske had beaten Brennan three times but each fight was close.

Barton, hearing about the Omaha match, angrily called Reddy on the telephone to let him know what he thought of a manager who would risk his fighter's life. Reddy asked Barton to listen to Miske's side of it and Barton agreed. With Barton remaining silent, Miske went through with the fight.

Reddy informed the curious that Miske had rigged up a gym at his home and was training there. Actually, Miske could not train at all. He stayed in St. Paul until two days before the fight. The boxing commission doctor in Omaha gave him a brief examination which he passed.

He knocked out Brennan in four rounds and picked up a purse of $2400. Reddy did not take his manager's percentage. Miske spent Christmas at home with Marie and Billy Jr. and Douglas and Donna.

"He was just about the happiest man on earth," said Barton.

Before daylight the next morning, Reddy's phone rang. It was Miske.

"Get me to the hospital, Jack, I can't stand the pain any longer," he said.

On New Year's Day, 1924, at St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis, Billy Miske died. He was 29 years old.

Gearge Barton told the story and he ended it with an epitaph.

"Maybe someone can name a gamer boxer than Miske," he said, "I can't."









Go to the following address to read an excellent, informative and intriguing article about Billy Miske titled:

BILLY MISKE ... "Slick as a Whistle and Swift as a Breeze" By Tracy Callis and Eric Jorgensen