Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ad Wolgast: The Michigan Wild Cat

 By Peter Silkov

Ad Wolgast stands in boxing history as one of the bravest and toughest individuals to ever lace on a glove.  Nicknamed the “Michigan Wild Cat,” Wolgast lived up to his name as one of the wildest and ferocious of fighters, during an era when life was hard and boxers were altogether a harder and tougher breed when compared to the fighters of today. 

Born Adolphus Wolgast, on February 8, 1882, in Cadillac Michigan, Wolgast turned professional in 1906, and almost immediately began mowing through the lightweight class with an almost frightening violence. Wolgast quickly earned himself the reputation of an ultra-tough man of the ring at a time when boxing was over flowing with hard bitten tough guys.  However, Wolgast  took his toughness to almost hitherto unparalleled levels.  He seemed impervious to both pain and punishment, while at the same time, being able to dish out a devastating amount of punishment himself.  Wolgast had a good punch in both fists, and his body attacks alone could wreck a man. 

There was just one man in his division who could rival Wolgast in toughness and ferocity, and that was Battling Nelson.  It was fitting then that after fighting his way up the ranks of contenders, and leaving few standing in his wake, Wolgast eventually came face-to-face with Nelson in 1910 to battle for Nelson’s World lightweight crown.  The two men had actually fought a non-title 10-rounder the previous year, which Wolgast had won on points, but that fight was just a preliminary warm up compared to their world title fight on February 22, 1910.  The fight has been described as the most savage battle ever fought in modern times, and its mixture of violence and endurance is unrivalled in modern boxing history.  Both men did their best to tear each other to shreds for 40 rounds, before the referee finally stopped the contest in favour of Wolgast, with Nelson having been rendered helpless and blind by the beating he had endured, but still defiantly on his feet. 

Wolgast was to hold onto his world title for a little over two years, but there is little doubt that the war with Nelson left a permanent mark on him, and it is interesting to note that he would lose 3 of his next 5 fights, albeit in non-title bouts.

On November 28, 1912, Wolgast lost his World lightweight title to Willie Richie, when he was disqualified in the 16th round for a foul blow. It would be the beginning of a long slide downhill. During his peak years Wolgast had earned £240,000 from his fights and vaudeville appearances on stage, but as he stubbornly continued to fight on, despite an obvious slippage in form, Wolgast’s life began to fall apart.

After losing his title to Richie, Wolgast went a sad 19-25-10 in his final fights. 
The terrific punishment which he had absorbed in so many of his fights had taken a terrible toll, and in 1917 he was admitted to a sanatorium having suffered a mental breakdown.  Eventually he was discharged, but by then his wife was taking steps to divorce him and he soon found himself stripped of most of his assets.  Ad returned to the only thing he knew and continued fighting until September 6, 1920, when he was held to a 4-round draw by Lee Morrissey. 

By this time Ad’s mental decline had become so acute that he was put into the care of boxing promoter Jack Doyle, who housed Wolgast in a cottage on the  grounds of his house and allowed him to spend his days training in the gym that was just a few steps away from the little cottage.  Ad trained diligently everyday believing that he was getting ready for a comeback which would make him champion of the world once more.  Everyday Ad asked Doyle when was he going to get his fight, and every day Doyle answered ‘Tomorrow.’  Eventually in 1927, Wolgast became too much for Doyle to handle and was committed to the first of a number of mental institutions where he would spend the rest of his life.  The stories of Ad Wolgast’s final years are not pretty, he spent his final years still training for the fights that now existed only inside his battered mind, yet, his behaviour and illness apparently made him a easy target for many of the orderlies who were supposed to take care of him, and he is said to have endured frequent beatings. Ad Wolgast  passed away on April 14, 1955, leaving behind a story of triumph and glory won at a terrible price. Wolgast's final record was 59(40koes)-13-17 and newspaper decisiom record 22-21-6.

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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