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The Michigan Wildcat

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Even at 61, the broken-nosed, greying little battler was more than a match for most men. It took two husky hospital attendants to handle him when they decided to get him under control. He got a chestful of broken ribs during the mauling, but he recovered quickly enough. He was used to beatings. It was a long series of beatings that had put Adolph ("Ad") Wolgast into the psychopathic ward of California's Stockton State Hospital in the first place. For eleven years the "Michigan Wildcat" had held his own in the savage battles of the pre-World War I prize ring. He had slugged and butted and cuffed his way to the lightweight championship of the world, and he had his brains unhinged in the process. A small-town scrapper from Cadillac, Mich., Ad Wolgast took the title from Battling Nelson in 1910. Their 40-round brawl at Point Richmond, just across the bay from San Francisco, was one of the bloodiest in the history of boxing. Promoter Billy McCarney had stirred up a fine feud between the fighters, and when Referee Eddie Smith called them to the center of the ring to explain the rules, Nelson cut him short: "Let everything go. No fouls." That was all right with Ad. It was a fight to the finish. In the 23rd round Nelson, the "Durable Dane," dropped the challenger with a liver punch. Somehow, Ad got up and fought on. In the 40th round Eddie stopped the fight. Nelson was a helpless hulk, his face a mess of bleeding flesh. But the winner had taken more of a licking than anyone realized. In two short years Ad Wolgast fought 21 times, finally lost his title to Willie Ritchie in another vicious slugfest. From then on he was lost in a punch-drunk dream of a comeback. He continued to train, and he continued to fight. He frittered away the fortune that he had won with his fists. In 1917 a Milwaukee court declared him legally incompetent. For a few years Wolgast had his freedom as a ward of Los Angeles Fight Promoter Jack Doyle. He had the run of Doyle's gym, worked out regularly, and still thought of himself as the champ. Such admiring oldtimers as Jim Jeffries, Tom Sharkey and Tommy Ryan dropped by to assure him that he still had his knockout punch. He demanded all the prerogatives of a titleholder, and was likely to swing on the first man who did not recognize his rank (but Doyle had issued orders that no one was ever to lay a hand on Ad). Even after he was committed to an asylum in 1927, Ad kept right on training, weaving, ducking and swishing uppercuts as he shadowboxed with the phantoms from his past. Once in a while, he came out of the fog. "Say, what is this place?" he would ask. "When do I get out of here?" In the last few years he went blind. The questions came less frequently, and the battered brain gave up groping toward the present. Last week, not long after Ad Wolgast's 67th birthday, his heart finally stopped fighting.


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