Hey guys. One of the things that bugs me about boxing is where do people interested get started on finding out about the old time history of boxing. Even guys like Dempsey have really average bios on wikipedia and in various other places. The Hall of Fame bios are an embarrassment.
I recently got access to a great resource and archive on boxing material, and I but a few bios together that I think are better than what is out there. The more obscire you get, even among world champions that were big in their day, the less data and info there is. I started with Ad Wolgast. Im going to put the bio I write here in a few parts. Any feedback, critiques, contributions or anything of this nature is appreciated.
“The greatest asset of a fighter is to know when a blow hurts his opponent” – Ad Wolgast.
Adolphus Wolgast was born on February 8th, 1888 in Cadillac, Michigan. He would be the oldest of seven children, and two of his brothers, Johnny and Al, would also have professional boxing careers. ‘Ad’ however would gain the most acclaim in the world of boxing. He is known to have a sister named Edna as well.
In his youth, Ad would sell newspapers on local street corners. There are countless accounts that selling newspapers was a tough business where territorial riffs and disputes were often settled with punches. It is likely here that Wolgast got into his first semi organized fights, just as many boxers of that era around the end of the 19th century and the start of World War I.
Wolgast would make his professional boxing debut on June 10th, 1906 at the young age of 18 years and 4 months in Petoskey, Michigan. His opponent went by the name of Kid Moore. Wolgast reportedly had little preparation or skill, but was able to outwork the equally novice Moore over 6 rounds. Wolgast and Nelson split $2.50 evenly after giving half of a $5 purse to the guy who set up the fight. $1.25 was a lot of money in those days.
Wolgast’s pursuit of boxing took him to Milwaukee, which at the start of the 20th century was a true hotbed of pugilism. Wolgast would have many of his early bouts in Milwaukee’s burgeoning boxing scene. He gravitated to places like Tom Larkin’s Gym in the Patton building on 6th and Grand Avenue or Paddy Dorrell's Beanery on North 5th Street near Wells, which had a ring erected in the back. As his level of competition increased, Wolgast developed his no defense, all out offense style. His defense was described as ‘crouching and taking a lot of shots to the top of the head’ by sparring partner and associate ‘Hobo’ Daugherty in later years.
Wolgast would arrive in Milwaukee using the moniker ‘The Cadillac Kid’, but after he rose to fame he was called the ‘Michigan Wildcat’, though he stated that he should be known as a ‘Milwaukee Boy’ after he had migrated to the West Coast. Wolgast would grow to think of Milwaukee as his home. Wolgast also fought as ‘Kid Wolgast’, ‘Young Wolgast’, the ‘Cadillac Wildcat’ and in 1914 there are references to him using the nickname ‘Michigan Bearcat’. There may have been other variations used by Wolgast on the ‘Kid’, ‘Young’, ‘Wildcat’ and ‘Bearcat’ themes which were all in common use during that era.
We almost certainly do not have the complete boxing record of Ad Wolgast. In pre-world war I America, the boxing scene was regional, with only handfuls of fighters breaking into national prominence while the great majority of fighters fought for little money very frequently, sometimes multiple times in a week. A young Ad Wolgast certainly fell into this latter category, fighting often in the early days of his career to make ends meet, and it is possible that there are yet undocumented fights to be found.
By the start of 1908 however, Wolgast was coming to be known as a potential prospect, amassing a known record of 31-1-6 in the Midwest before leaving for New York City for an April 7th, 1908 match with former Bantamweight World Champion Owen Moran. Moran weighed 132 lbs for the bout, a full 14 pounds more than Wolgast. The record shows Wolgast lost a Newspaper Decision to Moran after 6 rounds, but his aggression had definitely troubled the veteran throughout the fight. Once a Midwestern prospect, Wolgast was on his way to national prominence.
Before the end of 1908, Wolgast had travelled to California to extend his boxing career further. Due to his rising star status in the boxing circles of the day, his name was starting to get mentioned in newspapers and various fisticuff periodicals in many of the country’s boxing hotbeds, such as New York, Denver, Philadelphia and of course, his adopted hometown of Milwaukee.
One story goes that on the eve of his first fight on the West Coast, two devoted friends from Milwaukee appeared in California, having ridden the trains just to catch up with Ad. One of the two, who would box as Hobo Daughtery, would turn into a lifelong friend of Wolgast’s and served as a sparring partner, cornerman, valet and masseuse for Wolgast through the years of his championship reign.
In his first outing on the West Coast he defeated British fighter Danny Webster, winning by KO in the 18th round of a scheduled 25. Wolgast then defeated Bubbles Johnson in his next bout in a match that earned Wolgast mixed reviews. He dominated the bout, but his aggression and tendency to foul tactics won him some detractors as well.
In December, he fought all-time great Abe Atell to a 10 round draw in a match that helped establish Wolgast further as being a fighter to watch. One account, from The Times sports editor Ham Oliver states ‘Wolgast demonstrated that he has been sadly underrated.’
Wolgast entered 1909 with a lot of resolve to establish himself as a top name. He would go 6-2 in the first half of 1909, when he signed for a match to fight Battling Nelson, the current Lightweight Champion of the World and the man who had dethroned the great Joe Gans.
Wolgast would go the full ten rounds, and in the eyes of the local newspapers, Wolgast would get the win. Wolgast’s already considerable confidence in his own sturdiness and ability were further bolstered by his fight with Nelson. For his part, Nelson, known as ‘The Durable Dane’, made little of Wolgast’s performance. A rivalry was born.
Wolgast campaigned for a rematch intensely. On the strength of a five fight winning streak that included several bludgeoning performances including a win over top rated Californian Lew Powell and a KO in New Orleans over Henri Piet, who was billed as ‘The French Champion’, Wolgast would get his chance.
In early 1910, Wolgast had come to an agreement to do a boxing tour of Australia, but he would not make the trip. Wolgast had fought several memorable matches already, and would go on to fight quite a few more, but what happened on February 22nd, 1910 when he met Battling Nelson for the second time was the first of two transcendental moments for the sport of boxing that include Wolgast.
Negotiations were contentious for the fight, with Nelson considering that he had earned the right to call a lot of the shots, including the length of the fight and other nuances. He made no secret of his disdain for Wolgast, who he accused of making too much out of their first meeting. At the contract signing, there was almost a ‘scrap’ as it was clear the two fighters did not like each other.
After much anticipation, the rematch with ‘Battling’ Nelson was set for Port Richmond, California. A makeshift arena of pine was erected, as was common in the day and approximately 18,000 people were in attendance when the two men met.
There is a famous story about entrances for this fight, where Wolgast entered first. Wolgast was made to wait in the ring for a long period of time, and when Nelson finally arrived, he was being carried by a massive Turk assistant, to avoid getting mud from the floor on his boots. Wolgast’s vocal reaction was something along the lines of “One Turk carried him in, and it will take 10 Turks to carry him out”. Despite the disdain from Wolgast about a champion’s privilege, it is interesting to note Wolgast’s entourage outnumbered Nelson’s.
The match is recorded to have started in a bright sunshine after what had been a deluge of rain, at 3:19 in the afternoon. Most of the rules that governed boxing at the time were out the window, with the referee unable to act on normal fouls as agreed to by both fighters. Such was their dislike for each other.
There are several round by round accounts of the fight in the public record, and what is described is almost universally seen as a fight that turned into a dogfight. Thankfully, at least a partial video of the match remains as well. Wolgast held his own, but absorbed a great deal of punishment in the early going. Nelson sent Wolgast to the canvas in round 22 in what seemed to most observers to be the beginning of the end. Some of the live audience is reported to have left. Amazingly, Wolgast survived the round, and the slowly started to turn the tables on Nelson, who had spent a lot of energy keeping a brutal pace throughout the fight. By round 30, Wolgast was doing most of the damage and he seemed to be the one with boundless energy. By round 40, Nelson was such a mess that the referee stopped the fight.
One writer who was present described Nelson, the now former champion, after the fight ‘Nelson could hardly hear or see, the left side of his face having lost all semblance of its former contour’. After 40 of the hardest fought rounds in pugilistic history, Ad Wolgast was the Lightweight champion of the World. Wolgast took home a paltry $3500 purse for the grueling win, but reports from the day state that Wolgast made an additional $20,000 betting on himself. Immediately after the match, Nelson was carried from the ring, while one account says Wolgast ‘scampered out of the ring like a schoolboy and galloped through the arena.’
Despite Wolgast’s roots as a Midwest fighter who fought as often as he could to get by, there is ample evidence that Wolgast did quite well for himself financially during his career, and as World Champion he knew how to market and create opportunities. And there were a lot of opportunities for a World Champion.
In March of 1910, the newly minted world champion made a triumphant return to Milwaukee, where he was the guest of honor at a banquet attended by politicians and the city’s high society. Thousands flocked to the train station upon his arrival, including a brass band and city officials who awarded him with the ‘Freedom of the City’.
The March 5th, 1910 edition of the ‘Monterey News’ announced Wolgast’s upcoming wedding, to Eugenia Howey, a local girl he met at one of the beach resorts. In the afterglow of victory, Wolgast flirted with the idea of opening a saloon in his Cadillac, MI hometown as well.
By mid-March, Wolgast was appearing at Kansas City’s Century Theatre as part of a 10 week vaudeville show where he is said to have made $1000 a week. The legendary Heavyweight Jack Johnson would be playing the Century the following week. Ad’s show consisted of setting up a ring and putting on boxing exhibitions, most of them likely with ‘Hobo’ Daugherty. Reports from the day say that Wolgast went all out in many of these exhibitions, with little distinction from a real fight. For Wolgast however, it seems he longed for the real fights and was not taken by being on stage.
In May of 1910, he was thrown from a moving car and considered to be lucky to be alive. Ad Wolgast apparently liked to live like he fought, and that is full throttle.
Wolgast would take a few months off recovering from the Nelson fight and enjoying the limelight before he was itching to fight again. After potential title defense fights with Packey McFarland and Owen Moran did not materialize, Wolgast signed to return to Milwaukee and the Badger Athletic Club on June 10th, 1910 to fight Jack Redmond. Wolgast fought twice more in 1910, in non-title bouts in Muncie, Indiana and Fon Du Lac, Wisconsin.
A great deal of 1910 was spent on the road, doing publicity for the films of the Nelson – Wolgast title bout that were starting to appear in theaters throughout the country. At one such stop, in Chicago, Wolgast viewed the ’pictures’ and is quoted as saying ‘The fight was a lot harder, judging from the pictures than I thought it was…….. I got more respect for Battling Nelson than I ever had before too, for he took a worse beating than I thought he did’.
Wolgast would stumble out of the blocks a bit in 1911, dropping two fights in a row to the tough Valentine ‘Knockout’ Brown, one in Philadelphia, the second in New York. At the time, the pudgy, pigeon toed, cross-eyed Brown was a bit of a sensation in the east coast circles because his appearance hid the fact that he could really fight, and these two bouts helped further his reputation.
Wolgast’s toughness and gameness were never in question, but he was also starting to seal a reputation as a dirty fighter. An account of the first KO Brown match reads ‘Every man, and the few women who were there agree that Wolgast is a fighter. He rushed, he butted, he used the heel of his glove and he did everything known to the fight game, some of which could hardly be called fair’. The first bout was a non-title bout, and the second bout was set so that the title would only change hands with a stoppage, so Wolgast returned to the West Coast beaten but with his title still in hand. In another true reminder of the times, the Philadelphia press reported with great aplomb ‘Women To Attend To-Night’s Bouts’ as the event around the first meeting catered to the city’s wealthy elite.
In another account, this one of the second Wolgast-Brown meeting, the fight was described as a ‘savage bout from start to finish’ and told of Knockout Brown’s manager, Dan Morgan saying ‘Just one blow-any kind of punch-and you would have won the title’. Wolgast had escaped and was now hoping to snap a 2 fight losing streak in his first title defense. Wolgast was lambasted in some corners for not defending the title, with title matches being delayed for various reasons, including theater tours and recovery from an alleged broken arm he received in the Redmond fight, and later reinjured.
Wolgast had his next fight arranged by Tom McCarey, and after considering opponents such as One Round Brown, Owen Moran, Lew Powell and Anton LaGrave, they settled on George Memsic. The bout was scheduled for Vernon, California on February 22nd, 1911, the one year anniversary of the Nelson fight. Wolgast had some business instinct and was known to be trying to create opportunities to bring in money. Among the barrage of barbs he received from rival Battling Nelson was ‘He is the cheapest fighter I know’, however planning his return for the one year anniversary shows some forethought.
The fight however would be pushed back to March 17th, and would see Wolgast defend his title with a 9th round KO. But, the bout wasn’t without problems for the champion, who along with Mesmic was arrested after the fight for violating the California anti-prize fighting laws that were in place. The charges against the fighters, referee and promoter were dropped after two days of proceedings determined that the match was a ‘boxing contest’ and not a ‘prize fight’, which was described as a match to the finish.
Wolgast took another title defense right away on March 31st, meeting Anton LaGrave in a match where both weighed 133 lbs at ringside, just two weeks after the Mesmic bout. Wolgast would send LaGrave to the mat in the 5th for a KO win.
There is consistent evidence Wolgast was engaged in a battle with the press over his willingness to defend the title and throughout the rest of his career. Wolgast was stung by their portrayal of him as dumb and as an unwilling titleholder. Wolgast went so far as to write a rebuttal stating ‘Now as a starter for this story, I want to say right here that in Michigan, my own state, I have so few actual friends and well-wishers in the sporting editors’ chairs that I can stick out one hand and count them on half the fingers’. He went on to address criticism that he was ducking Owen Moran. Moran, a former World Champion who had defeated Wolgast in a 6 rounder, was relentlessly pushing hard for a match. Wolgast wrote ‘Am I afraid to meet Moran? No, I have met him. As a greenhorn at the game I stood on equal foot with the Britisher when we fought in New York, and he had several years of ring experience then. He has improved, but I need not brag when I say that my improvement has been so much more rapid than his that there is no comparison.’
Historically, July 4th is a day where big events in boxing history have occurred, and for that day in 1911, Wolgast signed to meet up with former British World Champion Owen Moran in a rematch. The agreement was reached in March, so despite the fact that Wolgast fought and beat George ‘One Round’ Hogan by KO in 2 rounds in New York City in April and beating ‘Oakland’ Frankie Burns by TKO in 17 rounds in San Francisco in a May, there was considerable build up for the fight.
The One Round Hogan bout on April 26th, 1911 was a return to New York City, the mecca of boxing for Wolgast. Wolgast entered the fight with little local credibility, but famed boxing historian Nat Fleischer listed it #10 on his list of ‘Fights I Can’t Forget’. He describes a chaotic two round affair that saw Wolgast out on his feet and nearly falling out of the ring before being saved by the bell to end round 1, only to take more punishment at the start of round 2 before coming alive and taking it to Hogan relentlessly. Wolgast tired from pouring on the ‘pistons’ and asked the ref to stop the fight. He sent one more barrage Hogan’s way that finally got the ref to say ‘enough’. Another boxing historian, Tad, wrote that ‘Of course, Wolgast was the holder of the title, but easterners could never see him before. On that night Wolgast made good’.
Against ‘Oakland’ Frankie Burns, at San Francisco’s Eighth Street Arena on May 27th, Wolgast comfortably outgunned a game young contender. One account, from the Madison Democrat, gives account – ‘Wolgast was never in distress. His speed and strength completely smothered the Oakland boy’s offense and he carried the fight to the challenger the whole time.’ Burns was cheered for his ability to absorb punishment, but as the end of the match drew near, the crowd clamored with the referee to stop the fight.
The wins must have felt like a big upswing in momentum for Wolgast, and his next fight was the much anticipated bout with Owen Moran. The ‘Police Gazette’ captioned a series of three pictures from the match “When Wolgast crushed Moran. It wasn’t the biggest fight of his life, but he showed class by defeating the little Englishman”. Wolgast worked until the 13th round before sending Moran to the canvas for the finish.
Wolgast would hear the names Battling Nelson and Packey McFarland at the head of a long list of potential next opponents as 1911 rolled on. Wolgast would have a bout of appendicitis in November of 1911 that would extend his time away from the ring until the second quarter of 1912.
In the first few months of 1912, Wolgast again made the national news for several non-boxing event such as being laid up in bed laid up in bed sick with pneumonia and getting stopped for recklessly driving a vehicle.
Wolgast’s return bout was a 4 rounder on May 11th held at Jim Coffroth’s Arena in San Francisco, against Willie Ritchie, a man who he would later meet again. The two fought to a draw. Wolgast left California, and on May 17th won a NWS over Freddy Daniels in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Two weeks later, on May 31st, he won a 6 rounder over ‘Young’ Jack O’Brien in Philadelphia.
The second of Wolgast’s fights that would go down in the annals of history is his July 4th, 1912 contest with ‘Mexican’ Joe Rivers. Many years later, the fight would be recalled as ‘the most controversial match of all time’. For Wolgast it was a title defense that was even on paper, with many of the writers of the day not able to prognosticate a winner.
There was a lot of pre-fight hype. Roughly two weeks before the fight on June 24th, 1912, writer Jerome Beatty penned in a column called ‘Hitting the High Spots’ that ‘very few persons are so rash as to predict at this stage of the proceedings which boy will win the Rivers-Wolgast scrap’, and he went on to say ‘Each has fought good fights and bad fights. Each has a habit of cracking a hand every now and then’ and ‘It will be a meeting of two of our most prominent erratics’. The match was getting attention and the betting action would be hot around the fight.
As the two combatants entered the ring Jack Root, the first ever Light Heavyweight champion of the World who was in Wolgast’s corner describes Ad as being ‘cool as a cucumber’, while Rivers was ‘hot with Mexican impatience to get into action’.
Most accounts describe a hard fought, grueling battle that was fairly even after 12 rounds. Wolgast suffered a bloody ear in the second round that got worse as things went on. In the 11th round, both men would fall through the ropes.
Accounts of what happened in round 13 vary. The facts are both men struck simultaneous blows and went down in a heap as the round came to close, with Wolgast on top. The referee started the count. The timekeeper rang the bell to end the round somewhere between the count of 4 and 6, Referee Jack Welsh is seen to physically help Wolgast stand up. In the end, Welsh counted Rivers out and gave the win to Wolgast, who retained the belt. The crowd, which was bolstered by a heavy Mexican contingent, was in near riot from a Welsh left the ring.
Jack Root, who was there for some of the biggest fights of the early part of the 20th century, called the Wolgast-Rivers fight ‘The Fight I Can’t Forget’. In a retrospective piece written for ‘The Ring’ when he was in his 80’s, Root labeled it more deeply imbedded in his mind than even the famous Dempsey-Tunney ‘Long Count’.
After resting for a spell, Wolgast got back to business, but fought two draws upon his return. The first was with Teddy Maloney in Philadelphia, the second was with unsung Freddie Daniels in Quincy, Illinois. Wolgast would not have the same momentum as he had heading into the Moran fight for his next defense, scheduled for Pelican Stadium in New Orleans on November 4th, 1912 against Joe Mandot. The Mandot fight also resulted in a draw.
The fight with Mandot also has an interesting side story attached to it. After several years of having ‘Hobo’ Daugherty by his side, and Wolgast feeling he was taking care of Daugherty, the two apparently had a falling out. The two apparently engaged in a war in the press, as Wolgast’s coverage over the years had picked up on the friendship and it had been featured in several media outlets over the past two prior years.
After the fight, reviews were poor for Wolgast despite getting a draw, and he went on an all out offensive against Hobo, calling him ‘the rankest sort of traitor’. The two would reconcile in later years, with Daugherty helping to handle Wolgast’s affairs as he deteriorated, but Wolgast was certainly carrying an extra load into the fight with the tough Mandot.
On November 28th, Wolgast returned to San Francisco to defend his title against Willie Ritchie, who he had fought to a draw back in May. Ritchie was a boxing technician, and he used his skill to anger Wolgast throughout the fight. Ritchie used Wolgast’s aggression against him throughout the rounds, making the champion look wild and ineffective. As Wolgast’s frustration grew, Wolgast started to use the dirty tactics for which he was now infamous. In the 16th round, he was disqualified for a low blow and Willie Ritchie took the lightweight title.
Wolgast may have shown some of the first public signs of his future mental decline during this time. First, there was the fervent desire for a rematch and overall desire to recapture the title that would torment him for the rest of his life. Then there was the contradiction inherent in him tossing the word retirement around, which he did constantly. By this time, Wolgast had amassed farm properties and was comfortable living on them. One of the first things he did when he started making money in Milwaukee was buy a farm for his family back in Cadillac. His threats to fight on and regain the belt combined with threats of retirement seemed incoherent, and were generally met by his critics in the press with a desire for Wolgast to stay retired.
But fight on he did. Wolgast had a good awareness of both the positive and negative powers of the press, and he remained in their cross hairs. From the time he dropped his belt to Ritchie through the beginning of 1914, some on the press around Wolgast allowed that he was still capable of giving a good fight, and though he had his detractors, he certainly had a lot of supporters as well.
Wolgast returned to the ring for the first time since losing the lightweight title on February 22nd, against ‘Harlem’ Tommy Murphy, and the match was well received. All the while, Wolgast clamored for a rematch with Ritchie. The matches with Murphy became an eliminatory for a shot, and of course Wolgast threatened to retire if he didn’t get Ritchie next. One writer from the era prior to Wolgast’s return against Murphy penned ‘It is up to Wolgast to make a successful hill climb this afternoon or retire to his Cadillac farm.’
The betting lines opened with Wolgast as a favorite, despite his accepting the match on short notice. Murphy was a tough, experienced fighter and Wolgast walked away with a draw after 20 rounds. A rematch was held on April 19th and Murphy went home the winner on points after another 20 rounds.
Wolgast still did not retire. By September, he had returned to the ring for a 10 rounder against Joe Azevedo, who also took the match from Wolgast on points. Wolgast was down in the 7th round at the hands of the younger fighter.
In Wolgast’s mind, his following match must have seemed like a fix it for all his problems, since a rematch with old nemesis Battling Nelson was set for his adopted hometown of Milwaukee. Nelson had roots in Milwaukee as well, and that is where the legends of the two faded champions remained strongest. There was a general sense of anticipation that some of the magic of their 40 rounds masterpiece could be captured. Wolgast took the 10 rounder, bolstering his confidence and perhaps hastening his descent into times gone by. Despite little sign of either man being in the form they were in 1910, Wolgast fought on.
He followed the win over Nelson with a loss to Charley White on December 19th, 1913, in a match that a write claimed ‘The ex-champion battled gamely but was shaded in all but one round of a ten round mill. White finished in much better condition’. Wolgast followed that fight with a New Year’s Eve win over Jack Redmond, a man he had beaten before.
Then another rematch was offered to Wolgast that must have ignited his fire yet again, and that was a fight with ‘Mexican’ Joe Rivers on January 23rd, 1914 at Milwaukee’s Dreamland Park. Another chance for Wolgast to launch the comeback he envisioned. With hindsight, it just adds to the tragedy as Wolgast tried with this match and the recent Nelson rematch to recapture the magic of two of boxing’s greatest moments. He failed to do so.
Though the match is on the official record as draw, another account out of Milwaukee gives Wolgast the nod in the bout, and describes to him as fit and ready to battle Ritchie for the title. Wolgast was pronounced healed from assorted injuries and in the best shape of his career.
Wolgast fought three more times against less than top competition, but he notched three wins heading into his long awaited showdown with Ritchie on March 12th, 1914 at the Milwaukee Auditorium. Ritchie put Wolgast down in to the mat in the seventh, and retained his belt over the full ten rounds.
Wolgast responded to the adversity by returning to the ring less than two months later, fighting twice in two weeks. He would return again in September of 1914, for a rematch with tough Joe Mandot, which he lost after ten rounds. Freddie Welsh, Leach Cross, Rocky Kansas, Packey Hommey were among the list of opponents for Wolgast, who continued to fight repeatedly. His no defense style saw him absorb a lot of blows, for as former World Champion, he was usually matched up tough.
Wolgast was slipping badly, and he was now losing more fights than he was winning, and the record show the Wolgast was allowed to continue climbing in the ring despite showing more and more signs of ‘punch drunkenness’. Perhaps part of Wolgast’s story is a tale of how the ‘business’ of boxing can be very cruel to its own most loyal soldiers. Wolgast did occasionally have a match denied due to his growing danger signs, but from June to November of 1916, he fought 6 times, averaging more than one bout a month.
It is likely that Wolgast would have kept right on fighting if he could have, but sometime shortly after he faced Frankie Russell in Louisiana on November 30th, 1916, Wolgast was declared incompetent to handle his estate. In early 1917, a Milwaukee court granted Wolgast’s wife Mildred a divorce and she seized control of his estate and assets. His career earnings range from $150,000 to $250,000, which made him a wealthy man until the time he was sent to a state hospital.
Wolgast did not fight in 1917 and 1918, but there is evidence that Wolgast spent part of 1918 living in northern Wisconsin after he escaped the institutions in California. Other reports state he went to North Carolina, while others state the North Woods of California. Wolgast was almost certainly finding it hard to get by, and he migrated back to California eventually.
Wolgast fought back and was released from the hospital system and given back control of his life by the courts. For better or for worse, Wolgast still had considerable name value and a network of people in the California boxing community that would help him. His estate was valued at $13,000 in 1918 when returned to him.
In late 1919, Wolgast, despite his history of mental illness, returned to boxing. From August to December of 1919, Wolgast logged five fights, mainly fighting in Yuma, Arizona. He logged a record of 1-2-2 in those contests. One of those opponents, Lee Morrissey, rematched Wolgast in September of 1920. In what would be Wolgast’s last recorded fight, the two fought to a 4 round draw.
Sometime in 1919-1920, Wolgast acted in the movie picture “Fighting Blood’. Among other cast members of the series featuring actor George O’Hara was old Wolgast nemesis ‘Mexican’ Joe Rivers, who had a bond with Wolgast.
In the early 1920’s Wolgast would be taken care of by Jack Doyle, the businessman and boxing promoter who had made his name running the Vernon Arena where Wolgast fought George Mesmic. Wolgast trained at Doyle’s gym, his damaged mind preparing for the inevitable ‘next match’. He held odd jobs such as working at the billiard room next door to the arena, and he could be lucid at times, but more and more he slipped into the delusional state. What is more, Wolgast also at times could become belligerent, demanding to be treated with the respect due a World Champion.
Things improved monetarily for Wolgast in 1925, when his father died leaving him approximately $150,000. Most of the money came from Wolgast’s ring earnings that he had used on his family. Unfortunately, his mind was already too affected to hang on to the money and much of it was squandered. Wolgast was already living in the past, as evidenced by N.E.A. Service Writer Dan Thomas, who wrote in March of 1925 after visiting with Wolgast in Vernon. “I’ll be coming back pretty soon now, Ad told me. He said – The other day I worked out like young man”.
Eventually, Doyle could no longer manage the unruly Wolgast and in the early 1930’s he would re-enter the state institutional system, where he would stay the rest of his life. He would be visited from time to time by friends like Mexican Joe Rivers, and his mind was said to have been clear when it came to recalling the fights, but Wolgast’s mental state was vastly deteriorated overall.
Physically he was fine, and training rooms where he would shadow box were set up for him in the institutions, and he was famously beaten in 1949 by hotel staff when he became unruly. He sustained injuries including a broken rib, and two hospital employees faced charges, but the then 61 year old recovered well. Wolgast went blind the last few years of his life.
Ad Wolgast died on April 14th, 1955 at the age of 67 of heart complications while being held at a state institution in Camarillo, California. On the 21st, his funeral was held at the little Church of the Flowers in Glendale, California.
Wolgast’s known record is 80 wins (40 by KO. Includes 21 NWS), 34 losses (3 by KO. Includes 21 NWS) and 24 draw (Includes 7 D-NWS) and he boxed a total of 1136 rounds in his career. At his peak, he was weighing in the mid 120’s, and he was able to handle men bigger than him throughout his career.
The life of Ad Wolgast certainly includes epic triumphs along with the overall grand tragedy. It would be improper to remember Wolgast only as one of the earliest documented cases of pugilistic dementia and have him serve as simply a cautionary tale. The man paid with his mind to craft a boxing career that at its peak saw him fight some of the most memorable matches of the era. There is the very real possibility that if he were able to look back at his life, he wouldn’t change a thing. Wolgast was a tough, stubborn little athlete whose primary characteristic could be summed up in one word – ‘game’.
Another item of note that could be seen as a negative mark against Wolgast was his refusal to defend the Lightweight World Championship against black fighters. He was public in his stance, as it appears several times in the public record. Wolgast said ‘As far as I am concerned, negroes are through with the fight game’. It is important to remember that Wolgast was a product of his times, and that racism was a very real fact in early 20th century America. When one reads the piece and reads the acclaim of editors for Wolgast’s stance as ‘the proper way to announce this to show he isn’t afraid of negroes as he gives promoters plenty of notice knowing he won’t fight them’ and one begins to understand the type of times Wolgast lived in.
Wolgast is member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and is enshrined in the Michigan State Sport Hall Fame. A copy of the speech that was read on May 20th, 1964 in Detroit, Michigan when he was inducted into the Michigan State Sport Hall of Fame exists in the IBOP Archives.
Though Wolgast’s final years are certainly tragic, it is perhaps best to remember him in the words of one writer from another era who simply goes by the name ‘Old Timer’ who wrote about Wolgast in a retrospective piece:
“The Cadillac Wildcat loved to fight more than any man I have ever seen in the ring. It was a sheer joy to him. He reveled in smashing, sweating struggle. The beat of gloves upon face and body stirred him to an incredible exaltation. He never ducked a tough opponent in his entire career. The tougher they came, the better he liked them. The harder they hit, the more he laughed at their efforts.”
Thanks for the kind words. It is kind of fun reading old newspapers lol, kind of like doing an archeology dig, but in an air conditioned room lol! I wanted to get some feedback from here first before going to Mike. Not sure if it is ready, but I may talk to him later this week!
Kudos, Miguel1. I enjoyed the piece. And as a freelance writer, I can well appreciate the work that you put into it.
I have more than a passing acquaintance with the life story of Ad Wolgast. I titled my second boxing book "Battling Nelson and the Hurly-Burly Days of Prizefighting in San Francisco." My publisher, McFarland, wanted a more straightforward title. They Chose "The Nelson-Wolgast Fight and the San Francisco Boxing Scene, 1900-1914." The book was released under this title in 2012.
When they revised the title, I revised the manuscript to include more information about Ad Wolgast. What a truly fine champion, what an interesting individual, and what a sad ending.
In the summer of 1917, it was reported that Wolgast was "wasting away in an aimless existence in a lonely room in a Wisconsin insane asylum." He went on to have six more fights before he was institutionalized again and would spend the last 27 years of his life as a ward of the state of California.
Wolgast is referenced in Jim Tully's 1936 novel "The Bruiser." He's the poor, demented soul in the "nut house" who spends his waking hours shadow-boxing while plotting his strategy for his next big fight. This portrayal was true-to-life.
I've never met the fellow, but bandleader/singer/songwriter Frank Stallone (yes, Sylvester's brother) is working on a play about Ad Wolgast. I hope he brings it to fruition. Frank Stallone reputedly owns the best collection of Ad Wolgast memorabilia.
The prominent sports journalist W.O. McGeehan attended the Nelson-Wolgast fight as a young reporter and would forever insist that for sustained brutality there was never anything like it.
Miguel, you might be interested in knowing that the site where the arena was pitched remains undeveloped. If you're ever up that way -- and your reference to the Monterey News leads me to think that you live in the general area -- and care to stand on the very plot of ground where the great bloodbath transpired, I suggest you contact Gary Shows of the Point Richmond History Association.
Once again, thumbs up. And I'd be curious to know the particulars of the archive of boxing material that recently came into your possession.
Hi Arne, and thanks for the kind words, I am honored. I live in Costa Rica, and there is a HUGE boxing collection all boxed up here that Im being given access to by the owner. The newspapers in this collection alone are flabbergasting, I was looking at The Weekly Bee from Jan 31st 1894 yesterday detailing the James Corbett vs Charles Mitchell match, for instance. I became interested in Wolgast because this archive had a bunch of stuff for him, mainly cut out of newspapers by an old timer probably, and glued to a sheet of paper. truly a work of love from the original collector.
I know Frank Stallone is into Ad Wolgast as a collector. The owner of the collection Im working on told me Frank was known to have the biggest collection of memorabilia on Ad.
Your kind words are encouraging, as my intent is not to write a book, but to create 10-20 page biographies for the internet that could generate interest in the sport's history. I worry there is a lot of stuff boxed up that is technically lost until someone gets into it and accesses it again. There is so much.
I put up a battling nelson piece in a separate thread, for anyone who has the patience!