Born: February 16, 1894
Died: January 1, 1924
Newspaper Decision Wins: 29
Newspaper Decision Losses: 10
Newspaper Decision Draws: 13
Few stories in boxing have been as inspiring and as well-told, as that of William Arthur Miske. The man they called, “The Saint Paul Thunderbolt” for his explosiveness inside the ropes, was also the epitome of heart, guts, and determination outside of it. Miske’s top-rate record, as impressive as it stands, is even more remarkable considering he fought his last 40 or so fights while hiding a serious terminal illness, and could have ultimately cost him his life in any one of those fights. He fought fellow Minnesota great, Tommy Gibbons in 5 grueling battles for state and national supremacy, which is 5 times more than anyone else cared to fight Gibbons; and his 3 fight series with all-time great, Jack Dempsey made him a legend in his own time. Billy Miske was truly the stuff of legends.
He began his remarkable career began in 1913 in Superior, Wisconsin. Wisconsin was a hotbed of pugilistic activity, mostly with Minnesota fighters on account of the fact that boxing was illegal in Minnesota until 1915. Here, Miske, just a Middleweight at the time, beat Joe Christie over 6 rounds. He followed that up with a handful of more victories in the same city over the next few months, until Hudson promoter, Mike Collins, signed him to face his fellow Minnesota rival, Tommy Gibbons at the Hudson Arena. Both fighters were already gaining reputations, and the fight was a big attraction. Over 5,000 people came to see it. It was a close match, but Gibbons got the better of young Billy, and it would prove to be the beginning of a 5 fight career rivalry between the two men.
Miske traveled out east to Philadelphia and Billy beat George Ashe, as had an impressive 10 round Draw with the much more experienced Jack McCarron. He carried his winning ways into 1915 where he met future all-time great, Harry Greb. It would be the 1st of 3 meetings between the two Hall of Famers. In this outing, they had a 6 round Draw. Billy came back to the Midwest, drawing with Mike Hirsch and beating the talented Gus Christie, and knocking out the feared Eddie Nearing in 9 rounds. Miske then faced future Middleweight champion, and fellow St. Paulite, Mike O’Dowd. Miske was too big for O’Dowd, and beat him soundly over 10 rounds. This set up a return match with Tommy Gibbons in what would be the first “legal” fight in Minnesota since the congress had recently re-legalized the sport in mid-1915. Once again, Gibbons’ clever moves and defense would overcome Billy’s high octane pressure, and Gibbons was awarded the newspaper decision.
Over the next few years, Billy Miske became a top-rate contender for the Heavyweight crown, as he tore through the Light-Heavies of the day and boasted major wins over men like Battling Levinsky, Jack Dillon, Gunboat Smith, Bob Moha, and Carl Morris, as well as a Draw with in-state rival, Fred Fulton; no small achievement since Fulton was the #1 challenger for Jess Willard’s title. He also met future champ, Jack Dempsey in St. Paul in 1918 and more than held his own, almost knocking Dempsey out in the contest. If not for a late surge by Dempsey, Miske would have had the win, but it went down as Draw. Later that same year, unbeknownst to all except Billy, his manager Jack Reddy, and friend George Barton, Billy contracted Bright’s Disease; a terminal kidney disease at the time that made it almost impossible to train and multiplied the pain body punches. Miske was advised to quit boxing immediately or risk dying in the ring from a body blow. But Miske knew no other way to make a living and continued his career, hiding the terrible illness from everyone including his wife. The fact that he kept winning major contests, and urinating blood regularly, is a testimony as to the toughness of this game warrior.
After dropping a 6 round decision to Jack Dempsey in a rematch in 1920, Miske went on a tear, winning his next 17 fights in a row and using the money to invest in an automobile venture to secure his family’s future. The money was lost as the dealership went bankrupt, and despite his ever-worsening illness, Miske realized that he still would not be able to quit the ring and continued fighting to try and secure a future for his wife and children. But after his January of 1923 fight with Harry Foley, Billy became so ill from his disease that he nearly died. He officially retired after the fight. But the months ahead drained the family’s finances and he knew he was getting very close to the end. He begged his manager to get him one last fight and payday so he could give his family one last nice Christmas to remember him by. Reddy refused, saying Billy’s body could not take it. Billy insisted and pleaded. The only fight Reddy could get was against killer, “KO” Bill Brennan. Miske was so ill he could not even train for the fight. His wife knew something was wrong, but still did not know what it was. Against all odds he traveled to Omaha and knocked out Brennan in the 4th round, and used the winnings to give his family a royal Christmas. The morning after the Christmas celebration, the pretending show was over. He became violently ill, and confessed to his wife the truth of his suffering. He died a few days later. He was just 29. Tonight, we enshrine Billy Miske forever into Minnesota Boxing immortality. Wait…he was already there.