Sparring with Jack Kid Berg (1934)
By Moe Moss (Stepney)
If I were not a professional boxer I'd plump for the job of sparring partner. Very few fighters make this branch of boxing a full time job. But it has its advantages.
I was engaged as sparring partner to Kid Berg when the East Ender was training for his fight with Mushy Callahan for what was termed the junior welterweight championship of the world. Perhaps some of you will remember that at the beginning of the fight, which took place at the Albert Hall, Lord Lonsdale protested from the ringside that there was no such title. However, that's beside the point, and it's none of my business anyway.
Kid Berg returned to this country four years ago when he was at the peak of his career. He had just beaten Tony Canzoneri and was a hot tip for the lightweight championship of the world.
He went to train at the Star and Garter Hotel at Windsor. At the time I was little more than a featherweight and, at the age of 16, not overloaded with experience. It was a big surprise to me when my manager asked me one day if I would like to spar with "Yiddle" Berg, at the time the most popular boxer in this country. Of course, I jumped at the chance. I was proud to meet the "Whitechapel Express". To spar with him was an honour.
Mr Johnny Sharpe, my manager, told me that I would be on probation the first day. If I was no good I would be "fired". He said it was a great chance for me to learn something and told me to keep my eyes open.
I Meant To "Get Him"
I went down to Windsor feeling that I had a chance to make my name. I don't mind saying now that I hoped I would be able to put "Yiddle" on his back in my first spar with him. That would have given people something to talk about.
I found at once that Kid Berg has two different personalities. In private life he is a born joker, a pleasant companion and a real pal. In training and in the ring, life becomes serious. He never smiles, hardly ever says a word, and is the typical strong silent man.
He greeted me in friendly style and made me feel at home right from the start. When we got into the ring together he made me wonder what I had done to annoy him. His eyes glinted dangerously. He rushed in at me, slinging punches with both hands. I retreated for a moment, got over my surprise, and then went for him. Remembering my ambition to put him on his back, I did my best to put in a really damaging blow. I didn't do so. But in the three rounds we sparred I managed to hold my own fairly well.
Afterwards "Yiddle" congratulated me on my showing, as did his manager, Mr Sol Gold. "You're young Moe," said "Yiddle". "But you're just the type I want. You've got the same style as myself and you can take it." Actually, after my experience in the Berg training camp, I was billed as "The Miniature Kid Berg".
My first experience as a sparring partner was very pleasant. During the day I trained with Berg, and I was able to see how he had fought his way to the top. He takes his gym and road work very seriously. If he goes out on the road, he lets you know that he's doing work. He doesn't stop at the end of a couple of miles. He runs the seven, eight or ten miles which his trainer has planned. No half measures.
A peculiarity of "Yiddle's" is that when he enters the gym he takes a long time to get started. Once started, he doesn't stop to exchange the time of day with anyone until he has finished his programme. But he must have everything just so. He changes the position of the mats so that he won't trip over them; he has a big punch bag lowered an inch or so; he has the woodwork over the punch balls dusted so that the dust won't get into his eyes when he starts punching. Then he gets down to it.
My first week I sparred every day with Berg. My first try-out was a success, and they were pleased with the way I mixed it with "Yiddle". On the second day I was down there Fred Green, who had had plenty of experience in the Berg camp, left the Windsor camp to fulfil other engagements. Fred Green was first-choice sparring partner to Berg ever since they met in a contest at Premierland. Green was the first man to put Berg down, and it was typical of Berg's thoroughness in training that he should engage such a tough lad.
In the short spars we had each day Berg never put me down, though I grew to respect his two-handed fighting. When he had finished his training each day he dropped the "life is real, life is earnest" pose and was full of spirits and ideas as to how to make "camp life" go with a swing.
He Tore Into Mushy
We used to have sing-songs most nights or a visit to the pictures. Berg had picked up a good working knowledge of poker in the States, and cards formed one of our chief amusements.
As the day of the big fight approached I studied "Yiddle" carefully to see if there was any change in his manner. I expected to see him full of nerves and "on edge". Instead, he seemed to get chirpier. He took the forthcoming fight as a matter if course and certainly didn't worry about it. He was confident without being boastful and, in my youthfulness, I couldn't understand how he kept his serene outlook.
I went along to the weigh-in with Berg and afterwards watched the fight. Berg used exactly the same tactics as he had employed in the gym. He tore in with both hands working. He never gave Callahan a chance to "find his feet". Berg's fists don't stop even in a clinch. He is doing something all the time. He gave Mushy a real thrashing and the American retired at the end of the tenth round.
Afterwards I went to Berg's dressing-room with Mr Johnny Sharpe. My manager took Berg's glove off and then started cutting the bandages through with a pair of scissors.
"Careful with those scissors," said Berg. "I did my hand in at the end of the second round."
"You did what?" we all cried.
True enough. When Berg's bandages were off we saw that his right hand was swollen to twice its normal size. How he had fought with such a bad injury I don't know. But it showed me what stern stuff one has to be made of to be a real champion. Berg just laughed it off.
"You don't notice those things when you're in the thick of a fight," he said.
My first experience as a sparring partner had certainly taught me something.
Jack Kid Berg on film
Watch Kid Berg KO Louis Saerens in four rounds at Lea Bridge (1933)