Portland boxer fought discrimination during Depression — but was knocked flat in sensational bid for world title bout

Ah Wing Lee sprawled in opposition to the ropes within the very first spherical, listening to and seeing nothing besides possibly birdies.

“He was chilly as a dill pickle,” a spectator famous. “The referee may have counted 50 over Ah Wing, he was so lifeless to the world.”

Lee’s opponent, Benny Pelz, pounded away with lefts and rights. This was precisely what Pelz, referred to as the “unhealthy boy of South Portland,” had predicted would occur.

“I’ll be light-weight champion of China at 10:30 tomorrow night time,” he’d declared.

However Ah Wing Lee didn’t collapse to the canvas.

James Jower

Left: James Jower throughout his time working at a Chinatown playing home. Proper: Pearl and James Jower in 1935. (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

As an alternative, the fighter from Portland’s north facet, realizing the victor can be nationally ranked, one way or the other awoke and furiously battled again. Followers jumped to their ft, screaming.

After Lee knocked Pelz down in a later spherical and ended up successful the combat, spectators stumbled into the night time, surprised by what they’d simply seen.

“Attempt that one in your situation machine, Mr. Film Director,” The Oregonian’s boxing correspondent wrote within the subsequent morning’s newspaper. “It was so sensational no person would imagine it on the display.”

The November 1932 bout, at what’s now the Keller Auditorium, made Lee essentially the most celebrated athlete in Portland. A neighborhood boy, primed for a world championship combat!

James Jower

A small publication in Seattle promoted Ah Wing Lee early in his boxing profession. (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

And but, inside two years, Ah Wing Lee would disappear from the highlight — and from the boxing scene solely. He by no means acquired a title shot.

Over the subsequent 5 many years, he not often talked about his combating profession. His daughter, Valerie Hazen, assumed he was “ashamed” of it.

There was, in any case, that ridiculous nom de ring, given to him by a promoter. Ah Wing Lee’s actual title was James Jower. And the made-up moniker wasn’t the one insult that Jower, who died in 1994 at 86, endured within the combat recreation. One publicity picture confirmed him pulling a rickshaw; in one other, carrying his boxing trunks, he wielded chopsticks as a substitute of gloves.

Sportswriters additionally ceaselessly referred to the boxer utilizing what now can be thought of racist nicknames.

1932 Press Photo Ah Wing Lee, Lightweight Portland Boxer

Ah Wing Lee in 1932. (The Oregonian)

The primary time Hazen noticed the picture of her father pushing an opponent in a rickshaw, she gasped.

“I assumed, ‘Holy cow, how may he try this?’” she recollects. “It will need to have been so demeaning.”

Effectively, he needed to earn a dwelling. The Nice Despair threatened the household’s clothes retailer in St. Johns, run by Jower’s father, Wan, who immigrated from China as a younger man.

Jimmy Jower was an excellent scholar at Roosevelt Excessive Faculty, and he liked taking part in basketball and soccer. Preventing was one other extracurricular exercise, although not as organized.

The Jower boys — Jimmy was the third of 5 sons — “realized to defend themselves as a result of they have been at all times being challenged and beat up” as a result of they have been of Chinese language descent, Hazen says. “My dad by no means spoke Chinese language until he was speaking to his mom.”

James Jower

Pearl and James Jower having fun with a day on the seaside. (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

Jimmy liked sports activities of every kind, however he liked a woman named Pearl much more.

Pearl Wong, two years youthful than Jimmy, grew up in Chinatown along with her mother and father and 6 brothers. Her father was a well-to-do importer — till the Despair worn out his enterprise.

Jimmy and Pearl — he was shy and taciturn, she bubbly and assured — appeared undaunted by the financial cataclysm that welcomed them into maturity. They’d one another.

“He completely adored her,” Hazen says. “He mentioned they by no means had an argument till they’d been married 30 years.”

As an alternative of becoming a member of the household enterprise after highschool — his brother Henry would run Jower’s Clothes Retailer for a few years — Jimmy headed to the College of Oregon, intent on turning into an architect or an engineer.

James Jower

Ah Wing Lee on the duvet of Portland’s Sports activities Reporter publication. (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

He began combating professionally to assist pay tuition.

Boxing was meant to be a brief factor for Jower, a way to an finish, however he thought of turning into a hoop lifer. Even with a school schooling, he knew, his prospects have been restricted.

“Within the Nineteen Thirties, Chinese language couldn’t get jobs” within the U.S., Hazen factors out. “Nobody would rent them.”

This was the height of the “Exclusion Interval,” when congressionally mandated immigration restrictions saved Chinese language from getting into the U.S., and people within the nation have been banned from taking part in lots of professions and dwelling in most neighborhoods.

Such pervasive discrimination meant Chinese language-People had to determine how one can earn a dwelling in their very own small communities.

1933 Press Photo Young Peter Jackson, Boxer

California’s Younger Peter Jackson, who fought Ah Wing Lee in 1933. (The Oregonian)

James Jower labored for a time in a playing home in Portland’s Chinatown. He ran a roulette-like card recreation referred to as Fan-Tan.

However when he was a school scholar attempting to make hire every month, he discovered that boxing was the easiest way to attain a fast buck.

A promoter named Joe Waterman caught Jower in an undercard combat and acknowledged the southpaw’s expertise. However he didn’t assume the child’s chosen combat title — Jimmy Lee — had the pizazz wanted to attract followers, particularly in Seattle, which provided the most important purses within the Pacific Northwest. So Waterman renamed him Ah Wing Lee.

Jower quickly left college and began combating within the Emerald Metropolis, the place he compiled a powerful 35-5 file in his first yr as a professional there. Then got here three bouts in Portland in opposition to Pelz. All three resulted in blood-soaked attracts, with every unsatisfactory resolution ginning up native combat followers for an excellent more-hyped rematch.

1959 Press Photo AH-Wing Lee

James Jower, engineer, in 1959. (The Oregonian)

By 1933, with Pelz lastly defeated of their fourth assembly, Jower was prepared to maneuver onto the nationwide stage. There was only one downside: a hernia hampered his coaching and combating.

He had an operation to repair the painful situation — however he gave himself just a few days to get well. As a sportswriter who coated Jower’s profession later put it: “These have been despair days and a fighter wanted to see motion each week so as to eat.”

So on Friday, July 7, 1933, nonetheless limping from his restoration, Jower confronted Chicago-based Eddie Anderson, referred to as the “Wyoming Thunderbolt.”

The Portlander threw all of the thunderbolts.

James Jower

Pearl and James Jower in 1969. (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

Jower knocked Anderson down 5 instances, finally ending the bout with a vicious left hook within the third spherical. The pummeling Jower gave Anderson was so intense, one newspaper reporter wrote, “that it was an excessive amount of for the nerves to face.”

Dropped for the final time, “Anderson’s eyes twitched twice, however in any other case he was immobile.” Ten minutes would go earlier than he managed to rise to his ft.

Simply over two weeks later, Jower took to the ring once more, this time for the vacant Pacific Coast light-weight title, a key stepping stone to a world title combat. Proof that he was seen as a rising star: His opponent, California state champion Younger Peter Jackson, got here as much as Portland for the bout.

Greater than 15,000 combat followers packed Multnomah Stadium to see their fighter battle for a spot within the large time.

However Jackson, it shortly turned clear, was each extra highly effective and tactically superior. He repeatedly knocked Jower down within the third spherical.

Within the fourth, Jower tried to go on the offensive, aiming a left hook at Jackson’s jaw. Jackson noticed it coming and reacted with a brief, straight proper that landed on Jower’s chin.

“At precisely 10:48 o’clock within the Multnomah stadium final night time perished a dream — the dream that sometime the Pacific Northwest may see the light-weight championship of the world,” wrote L.H. Gregory, The Oregonian’s influential sports activities columnist.

James Jower

Throughout the Despair, Jimmy Jower spent two summers working at canneries in Alaska. (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

Gregory was totally impressed by Jackson, a Black Californian.

“Except the colour line bars him, it’s onerous to see how he can keep away from turning into ultimately the champion of the world,” the columnist wrote.

(Jackson — who was born Peter Martin and took his ring title in honor of a late Australian Black heavyweight named Peter Jackson — by no means did get a shot on the world championship. The closest he got here was in 1936, when he misplaced a match for the World Coloured Welterweight Championship.)

Even after Jower’s defeat, L.H. Gregory nonetheless believed that the St. Johns fighter, if he added extra expertise on the regional circuit, may earn a shot on the world title. He inspired Jower to “get some extra fights underneath your belt earlier than going through Younger Peter Jackson once more.”

Jower didn’t take the columnist’s recommendation. He’d determined his combat profession was over.

James Jower

A newspaper picture captures Ah Wing Lee throughout his heyday. (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

Why? It’s potential the Jackson combat left him embittered.

Years later, Jower advised a reporter that he “had a pleasant build-up and thought combating was my recreation till Younger Peter Jackson modified that concept.” He joked that he remembered the primary spherical of the combat however needed to depend on the subsequent day’s papers to seek out out he’d made it by way of two extra and a part of the fourth.

However Hazen says her father privately steered as soon as that the combat wasn’t on the up-and-up.

“I believe he needed to throw it,” she says. “I keep in mind him telling me that.”

Boxing actually was crooked in that period — it wasn’t uncommon for boxers to be compelled to take dives. Whether or not this was the case with the Jackson combat is unknown.

What is thought: Jower walked away from boxing, though he hadn’t earned sufficient cash to return to school, his unique cause for lacing on the gloves.

James Jower

James Jower (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

The Despair was nonetheless very a lot in drive, and so he bounced across the area seeking a paycheck, typically leaving Pearl behind in Portland. He spent a few summers in Alaska, working in salmon canneries, pining for his spouse.

In 1942, with employers out of the blue in dire want of manpower because the U.S. joined the combating in World Battle II, Jower discovered work again in Portland as a draftsman at Business Iron Works.

“That is extra almost what I’ve needed to do than the rest,” he advised The Oregonian when a reporter found that the once-famous Ah Wing Lee, now 34 years previous, was working within the metropolis’s wartime shipyards.

He and Pearl settled right into a dependable routine for the primary time of their decade collectively, with Jimmy commuting to Ross Island every single day to assist construct warships. The couple began a household — Valerie was born in 1944.

James Jower

James Jower, proper, together with his daughter Valerie and her son Michael. (Courtesy of Valerie Hazen)

However the job at Business Iron Works lasted solely so long as the Axis Powers, and Hazen’s earliest reminiscences are of her mother and father comfortable collectively however fighting the payments.

“We have been extremely poor, however my mom managed to pay for piano and artwork classes after I was rising up,” she recollects.

Valerie and her father weren’t shut, Hazen says, as a result of he was naturally reserved and didn’t discuss himself. However, she says, “I idolized him.” She says he had “excessive intelligence and excessive integrity.”

The household’s financial difficulties lastly started to ease when a buddy helped Jower get a job with the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers. He quickly was working as an engineer though he by no means graduated from school, and he earned excessive marks on the job.

Life was good till Pearl died of most cancers in 1970, leaving Jimmy “extremely bereft,” Hazen says.

The lack of his beloved spouse was traumatic, however it did lead Jower to grow to be nearer together with his daughter. He even “accepted my hippie way of life,” she says.

She remembers her father as “super-generous” and says he insisted on offering the down cost on her first house.

Jower spent his retirement years fishing and {golfing}. He held onto the scrapbook chronicling these bygone days when he stood inside hailing distance of boxing greatness, however he by no means confirmed it to anybody or talked about it.

He was at all times very modest about his accomplishments, Hazen says.

“To offer an instance of his excessive modesty,” she provides, “I recall that Dad advised me he didn’t desire a memorial service when he died. He simply needed to vanish quietly.”

— Douglas Perry

[email protected]

@douglasmperry


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