Sunday, March 2, 2014


Winter in the Country - Distant Hills - Currier & Ives

A winter storm is moving across the country, and it's predicted to settle another load of snow on our mountains. But, Larry is back with a tickle your funny bone story that will provide some relief from the tiring weather. He takes a licking from a furry primate and lives to tell the story.

The Chimpanzee Fight
Larry See

In years before the SPCA and later PETA became so powerful, a fairly common carnival attraction was to box or wrestle a small bear, a kangaroo, or a chimpanzee. There were doubtless some cases of animal abuse at those attractions, but many of the animals were treated very well.

In the summer of 1968, I worked as a Vocational Agriculture teacher’s assistant at Elkins High School. I worked with one of the students training and gentling steers for show purposes. We trained 4 Hereford steers weighing about 1000 pounds each. I camped with him at the Taylor County Fair for 3 or 4 days.

He had, by far, the best animals in the show. I was at the age that I knew everything and was pretty cocky. After all, I could handle a 1000-pound steer on a rope with ease. So when a new challenge presented itself, I went for it.
Noell’s Ark was one of the attractions in the carnival. It was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ray Noell. They had a dozen or so primates including a gorilla and an orangutan that Mr. Noell worked out and wrestled with as an attraction. The rest were all chimpanzees. Their biggest show attraction was to entice local tough, cocky guys to box or wrestle with a chimpanzee. They offered a small prize for anyone who could defeat one of his chimps. I was convinced that prize was mine. I had boxed quite a bit and was fairly good at it. After all, those 1000-pound steers had bowed to my will - what could a 97-pound chimp do to me? So I signed up to box one of them.
The bout wasn’t scheduled for a day or two so I had time to get acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Noell. There was no abuse of their animals - they treated them like family. I liked them very much; they were good people, and they really loved their animals. As we got to know each other, they gave me some advice. The chimp I was scheduled to box, Little Joe, would be sitting on a truck tire in his corner of the cage. I would be in the opposite corner. They stressed that he would come to me when he was ready, and that I should not go to him. They said that going over to him and hitting him before he was ready would anger him, and they strongly advised me not to anger him. I soon discovered the wisdom of that advice.

When the scheduled time came, Mr. Noell got us equipped and introduced us. Little Joe wore a muzzle, light boxing gloves, and sneakers. I wore a football helmet and 14 or 16 ounce boxing gloves. Professional gloves are 8 ounce so these were big and well-padded.

When we entered the cage, Joe hopped up on his tire, and I stayed in my corner as I had been advised. Soon Joe advanced toward me so I went out to meet him. I was struck by how short he was - he barely came up to my waist. At 6 feet, 2 inches, I had never boxed anyone as tall as me so a shorter opponent was nothing new. I had learned to keep my left jab in my opponent’s face as much as possible, and when he got inside my jab, to throw a right cross and circle away to my right, away from his power. My left jab and my right cross were my best punches so I was comfortable against shorter men.

But this chimp was really short. I planned to use the same basic tactic against Joe, but he was so short, I wasn’t sure I could hit him. I kept widening my stance more and more, getting lower to the ground. Mistake Number 2. (Number 1 was actually thinking I could beat him!) Before he was in range for me to hit him, he grabbed my left ankle and jerked me down. He then jumped on me and beat on me until Ray pulled him off. He asked if I wanted to continue, and, of course, I did - I still thought I could beat him.

He had tricked me in the first round. I wasn’t going to let him do that again so in Round 2, I abandoned my fighting T- stance (left foot forward) and set my feet side-by-side, again spread wide. That got me low enough to hit him without giving him an ankle to grab. I knew I couldn’t punch very hard from that stance, but I wasn’t planning to hit him that hard anyway. I thought I’d go easy on him. (Another mistake!) I did not consider that my balance in that stance was extremely poor. Mistake number 4.

When we met in the center, Joe’s head was high and his guard was very low. I had dreamed about catching an opponent that way but had never seen it. If you can score a good punch with his head up and guard low, and can keep the punches coming, he will go down. There is no way out if you keep the pressure on. I knew I had him - I could almost taste it! I hit him with a good left jab followed quickly by a solid right cross.

Both punches landed on the button. No man could have recovered. I threw a left hook immediately after the right cross and planned to move in and nail him with a right hook after that. But Joe had other ideas. When I threw the left hook, he grabbed my left wrist and jerked me down. 

I had never seen anything so quick.

My punches had stung him so he let me know that he didn’t appreciate that. He beat me quite enthusiastically until Ray pulled him off.

Ray again asked me if I wanted to continue, and, of course I said “Yes.” But I really didn’t - I had never been so afraid in my life. I knew that I had to try to face that fear. I went 2 more rounds with him. When he came toward me, I felt that he was the hunter and I was the very helpless prey. And I knew that there was not a thing in the world I could do to stop him. The last 2 rounds were about the same. He would jump in the air and hit me 2 or 3 times before he came down. I wasn’t used to my targets moving vertically so I don’t think I ever did hit him. I did punch some holes in the air where he had just been. 
He jumped on my back, held me around the throat with his left arm, and punched me in the face with his right. He hooked his foot in my belt in front, held the back of my neck with his left hand, and punched me in the face with his right. He did those three things several times and many other things that happened too quickly to remember or describe. 

I felt like there were 2 or 3 of him - everywhere I looked, there was a punch coming. I’m sure that it was very entertaining for everyone, except me. Little Joe was very motivated to convince me that I should not have hit him so hard - he made his point clearly and with enthusiasm. 

Each round ended with me on the floor and Joe on top pounding me. Ray didn’t even ask me if I wanted to go again after the 4th round - he just stopped it. I went to Joe’s corner and shook hands with him conceding that he was the best “man.” I’m convinced that he was laughing at me when we shook hands.
A little old blue-haired lady afterward asked me if that had been for real, or if I were part of the show. I told her that from my perspective, it had seemed all too real, even painfully real.

The main fear came, I think, from the shock that a 97-pound animal could so totally dominate me. I had never been in such a helpless situation. Everything was as perfect as it could have been for me in round 2, I gave him my best shot, but he completely dominated me. I knew then that he could do anything he wanted to me - I simply could not stop him. I had never been in such a helpless situation.
      His speed surprised me, but I could kind of understand that - many animals are quicker than humans. But his strength I could not understand. I had boxed and scuffled with a lot of men, many well over 200 pounds. Joe was much stronger than any of them.

     The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History has an exhibit of primate skeletons beside some human skeletons. The processes  (bony knobs on ends of the bones for muscle attachment) on the primate’s skeleton are much bigger than on the human. That gives more leverage for the muscles, creating both more speed and more power. I didn’t understand all that at the time, but I felt a little like the cowboy who, as the story goes, roped a mountain lion and then couldn’t figure out how to let it go.

      In later years, I read that two chimpanzees had escaped from a zoo. They were picking up 25 gallon metal drums and throwing them like bowling balls at their attempted captors. They were throwing them with one hand. They are very, very strong.
     The Noells gave me a good sportsmanship certificate which I still have. They also shared their scrapbook with me. They had dozens of newspaper clippings from all over the country, stories in local papers about their show. One clipping described a fairly famous professional wrestler who had tried to wrestle a chimp - the chimp won that one, too. 

The one I appreciated most described a bout Little Joe had with Carmen Basilio who was one of my boxing heroes. He held both the welterweight and middleweight titles. He won the welterweight title in a 12 - 14th round knock out over Tony Demarko - not one clinch in that entire fight. Basilio took one of two from Sugar Ray Robinson, the best boxer, pound-for-pound, ever. Both ended by knockout in the later rounds. Basilio didn’t have exceptional speed, his punch was not particularly powerful, and he was not a classic boxer. But what a fighter! He never backed off, he never clinched - he simply kept advancing throwing punches with both hands. A magnificent fighter, the best I have ever seen. But Little Joe whipped him, too. So I have something in common with one of the best fighters ever - we both got our butts soundly whipped by a 97 pound chimp!
     In 2003, I saw on the History Channel a special on the Professional Boxing Hall of Fame which is in Carmen Basilio’s home town. They interviewed him and showed some clips from his fights. I would have loved to ask him if he remembers Little Joe. I’ll bet he does!
     If the tough-man fights so popular today had been around then, I would probably have tried them. I think I would have been pretty successful. Most of those guys throw a lot of punches but throw them from ridiculously wild, wide angles. My strength was counterpunching and defense. Those guys sure give a lot of opportunities for a defensive counter puncher. It’s ironic that these contests have replaced carnival fights with animals. I guess it’s o-k to beat up people in America, even to the point of death, but it’s wrong to fight animals. If my fight and the Noells’ scrapbook were any indication, I am confident that Little Joe lived a long life and died peacefully in bed dreaming about all the men he had humiliated!

Toughman Contest 2010

Carmen Basilio

Sugar Ray Robinson loses title to Carmen Basilio



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 San Diego Zoo Ape Cam

Chuck Berry - Too Much Monkey Business

 Monkey Around
putter: do random, unplanned work or activities 
or spend time idly, fool around, goof off

Monkey Business
Silly, mischievous, or deceitful acts or behavior.
 suspect, dishonest, or meddlesome behavior or acts
frivolous or mischievous behavior
  improper or underhanded conduct

A mischievous or playful trick; a prank. Often used in the plural: laughed at my daughter's monkeyshines
Monkey on Your Back
An enduring and often vexing habit or urge
a burdensome problem, situation, or responsibility; personal affliction or hindrance
To Monkey With 
Usually said about an effort to fix or improve something, especially an effort that does not succeed
To meddle; to mess with; to interfere; to fiddle.
Make a Monkey (out) of Someone 
To make someone seem stupid.

  More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys
To be very funny or enjoyable.

I'll Be a Monkey's Uncle! 
Something that you say when you are very surprised.

Throw a Monkey Wrench Into Something
To cause something to fail.

Grease Monkey
 A mechanic, especially one who works on automobiles or airplanes.


1 comment:

  1. That was so funny Larry and good writing ..keep up the good work and keep those hands up lol lol .Janet & Danny!!!