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‘The Only Thing I’m Champion Of’
The Bull Dog Breed by Robert E. Howard

Reading from pages 19-34of Boxing Stories, 2005, University of Nebraska Press

In this yarn about the knuckle head sailor Steve Costigan, based in Sailor Tom Sharkey, a famous professional trial horse who fought in the 1890s, Howard typed a tale to thrill all of us stupid boxers who have tried testing our face against a better man’s fists.

The opponent in this underground boxing story is Tiger Valois, loosely modeled on Georges Carpentier, a French dandy who is a masterful boxer, far above Costigan’s level. However, Steve is such a goon that Valois feinting game is nullified, as Costigan isn’t a smart enough fighter to go for the fake punch.

The most deeply explored theme in The Bull Dog Breed is the internal struggle of a fighter to keep going, more of an identity affirming act for Costigan than a sound strategy. But the coolest aspect of the story is Mike the bull dog, a scrappy little pug who brings out the basic best in Steve:

“…to my mind, a man that won’t stand by his dog is lower down than one which won’t stand by his fellow man.”

The ethnic humor is hilarious and nigh unprintable today, including “a Chink in English clothes.” Of course the French are heartily reviled in this pleasing yarn and Steve’s loyalty to his dog does not go unnoticed by the crew of the Sea Girl, after he leaves the ship for a strange harbor rather than abandon his dog at the command of his irascible captain.

Along the way we discover that Steve is a quintessential working class hero in that he will not fight with weapons, only his hands, which was quite a moral statement in the homogenous America of the late 1920s and early 30s. This lends Costigan a certain nostalgic charm as appreciated from the vantage of our now honorless predatory America, where being an unarmed tough guy is sure suicide.

Most importantly, what Howard illustrates in these tails of a boxing working man, is how far our society has fallen. For today, no boxer who is not a champion with perfect record is worth notice and the real grit and drama endured by working class fighters is no longer a cause for readers or viewers to cheer on such a character, but to dismiss him as beneath interest. Steve Costigan is willing to fight for his honor against a foe he believes to be unbeatable, making him a character of his time, when enough men tried on boxing gloves to give such a middling hero appeal.

A Well of Heroes

Add Comment
Bruno DiasFebruary 12, 2018 3:53 PM UTC

Hey James, i would like to hear your opinion about this Costigan's story, called "Texas Fists". What's your take on that?
responds:February 13, 2018 7:52 AM UTC

This will be my next REH review, Bruno.


Bruno DiasFebruary 9, 2018 6:27 PM UTC

Read that very recently. Costingan is almost becoming my favorite Howard protagonist.