Today’s the release of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which is being hailed as one of the summer’s most awesome movies. After seeing it, you’ll naturally wonder how you’d fare in a simian apocalypse. Answer: Not well! Even a professional MMA fighter would stand very little chance against a fanged, vastly more powerful creature, let alone a whole village full of ‘em.
And yet, there’s a sad chapter in American history when average Joes attempted to duel Mighty Joe Youngs, boxing or wrestling our evolutionary relatives for cash — and to entertain other circus-goers. The animals didn’t have much say in the matter, and judging by these stories, it wasn’t a great experience for the human combatants either…
At the 1959 Great Stoneboro Fair in Pennsylvania, teenager Dale McFadden (weighing in at all of 115 lbs.) got in a cage with a 130-lb. gorilla. “Back then I was…quick as lightning, but that gorilla was faster,” he told Grove City’s Allied News in 2012. The overconfident adolescent had “a little too much courage” from drinking beer; the gorilla wore boxing gloves and a muzzle, but McFadden still required first aid after getting his skull pounded for a few minutes. “I did get my five dollars,” he recounted to the Allied News, and “might have bought more beer” with it.
In a 2007 Golf Digest interview, professional golfer Boo Weekley revealed that, in an attempt to win $50, he fought an orangutan at a county fair when he was 16. Weekley signed a legal waiver and promptly got his ass handed to him: “The orangutan didn’t look like much,” he said, but “I woke up bleeding in the back of a friend’s pickup. The orangutan had knocked me cold with one punch… My friends thought it was hilarious.”
Weekley told the magazine that he wouldn’t support this practice today, because the fight “wasn’t fair for the orangutan, and it sure as heck wasn’t good for me.” Golf is a little more tranquil.
“Wild Man” Joe O’Connell
This brawler was inducted into the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame, but perhaps his gorilla opponent deserved the honor. Joe O’Connell, who went by the moniker “Wild Man,” started boxing in 1942, and “[g]ot kissed in the boxing ring by Marilyn Monroe one time,” according to the Baltimore Sun. But even that smooch probably couldn’t ease the pain he suffered after getting in the ring with earth’s largest primate, a match that “was over pretty quickly.”
This Alaskan gemologist wrote a 2011 blog post about wrestling a 125-lb. chimpanzee in the summer of 1965 — and wrestling with his conscience afterward. He’d gone to a county fair, figuring “it was a good place to pick up some chicks.” A carnie offered him a couple bucks to fight the chimp. Lumetta, then a six-foot, 220-lb. college football player, assumed it’d be an easy victory.
“I gave him a direct hit to his chest which sent him into a frenzy of screaming and swinging,” Lumetta recalled, and the chimp “knocked me to the floor of the cage and proceeded to jump up and down on my back…he threw me across the cage with his feet!” (Looking back at the incident, Lumetta — who died earlier this year — felt the sideshow attraction “took advantage of our poor animal brethren. I participated in doing just that.”)
Yeah, maybe the apes are right to take over the planet from our jerk species — but still, let’s not encourage any future Caesars with karate lessons, OK?