Before he became Manny Pacquiao, he was “Kid Kulafu.”
So goes the catch phrase in “Kid Kulafu,” the latest Pacquiao bio-flick to hit the silver screen. The movie tells the story of a young Pacquiao and the moniker he used when he was still learning the fine art of boxing. As shown in the movie, the moniker came about because a young Pacquiao used to collect bottles of “Kulafu,” a liquor brand, in exchange for the help his uncle gave to his then financially-strapped family.
The movie underscores the Herculean struggler a boxer goes through before becoming a marquee name in the sport. A cursory review of the sport’s history shows that many boxers came from impoverished backgrounds and only took up the sport as their way out of the quagmire. Not a few hid behind aliases to conceal from their loved ones their participation in the dangerous sport.
Believe it or not, before “Kid Kulafu” there was “Kid Blackie,” “Melody Jackson,” and “Rocky Mack.”
“Kid Blackie” is the nickname former world heavyweight boxing icon Jack Dempsey used when he was taking part in several bootleg fights early in his career. Dempsey was born William Harrison Dempsey and he grew up idolizing Jack “The Nonpareil (No Equal)” Dempsey who held the world middleweight title in the late 1800s. William’s two brothers, Bernie and Johnny, boxed ahead of him in the pro ranks and used the name “Jack Dempsey.”
William Dempsey left school early and started working at several railroad stations. To augment his income, he challenged the tough guys in the saloons to fistfights and won several bets. To dodge authorities who were on the lookout for illegal fights, William used the alias “Jack Blackie,” a nickname given to him by the saloon patrons because he sported jet black hair. Down the road, he started taking part in organized fights, but it was not until 1916, when his brothers had retired, that William decided to jettison “Kid Blackie” for “Jack Dempsey.” As Jack Dempsey, he won the heavyweight title in 1919 and became one of the most revered figures in the sport.
“Melody Jackson” is the alias American triple champ Henry Armstrong used when he was relatively new in the fight game. Henry Armstrong was born Henry Jackson and he turned pro in 1931 after just three amateur bouts. Jackson was knocked out in his pro debut, but he loved the sport so much he relocated to Los Angeles, California, a boxing hotbed, along with a friend named Harry Armstrong. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, however, Jackson returned to amateur boxing. As he had already boxed as a pro and was prohibited from fighting as an amateur again, Jackson circumvented the rule by telling officials that his real name was Henry Armstrong and that he was younger “brother” of Harry Armstrong. Jackson kept the Henry Armstrong alias when he returned to pro boxing full time. In the late 1930s, Armstrong set a record by simultaneously holding world titles in the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight divisions. To this day, he is recognized as of the greatest boxers in history.
Lastly, there is “Rocky Mack,” the nickname Rocky Marciano used to protect his amateur status. One of six children, Marciano was born Rocco Francis Marchegiano in 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts. He took on several odd jobs growing up, i.e., delivery boy, gardener and laborer, and did not develop an interest in boxing until he was drafted by the US Army in the 1940s. Though a clumsy fighter, Marchegiano merited attention because of his toughness and punching power. In 1947, fighting under the name “Rocky Mack,” he turned pro with a third-round stoppage of Lee Eperson. He used the name “Rocky Mack” so he can still return to the amateur ranks in the event his pro career falters. Marchegiano briefly returned to the amateur ranks before resuming his pro career. Using the sobriquet Rocky Marciano, he held the world heavyweight title from 1952 until 1956 and retired with an undefeated record of 49-0. Marciano is the only heavyweight boxing champion to retire with an undefeated record.
In boxing, every alias has a story. More often than not, the story is worth sharing.
For comments, the writer can be reached at atty_eduardo@ yahoo.com.