Monday, April 22, 2013

NBC Afternoon at the Fights

A big 'thank you' to the folks at NBCSports Network for showcasing boxing Saturday afternoon. This was a tough ratings slot because they were forced to go head-to-head with the opening round of the NBA's playoffs. While the NBA certainly holds the upper hand with viewers, boxing as a sport benefited greatly from the sheer number of channel surfing NBA fans who got their first taste of free professional boxing on Saturday afternoon. Thankfully, they were treated to a pair of entertaining fights.

The middleweight fight was interesting if only because it was a stylistic match up of the stolid, tough flat-footed brawler  vs. the smooth  fleet footed counter puncher. The outcome was predictable as Curtis Stevens used slick counter-punching to dominate a game Derrick Findley over eight hard rounds. Findley displayed plenty of grit and determination but was in the end simply too slow to cause Stevens any concerns. Each round seemed a replay of the first - Findley walking in, absorbing punishment before throwing one heavy handed blow that missed as often as it landed. He was considerably stronger than Stevens but lacked the ability to throw effective combinations and was often caught flat footed and in an awkward, defenseless position after attempting a combination. Stevens, who hadn't fought in nearly two years was tentative in the early going but by the third had found his rhythm, pumping jabs and combinations in spurts that did little to slow Findley's advance but nonetheless won him round after round.

The main event between Tyson Fury and Steve Cunningham was dramatic and I wasn't sure if what I was watching was WWF wrestling or a heavyweight boxing match. The match up was billed as a "voluntary" IBF eliminator match but, as an unnamed AP boxing reporter noted, it was actually an opportunity to "showcase (Tyson) Fury to American boxing fans." And, oh my, what a match up it was!

After the referee had issued the customary command to "touch gloves and come out fighting" it was clear that the British bad boy from Manchester had come to America to earn a reputation as a fighter and not a gentleman as he pounded Cunningham's gloves in a very unexpected and unsportsmanlike manner. Nonplussed, Cunningham glared at the British giant for a moment before returning to his corner with a determined look of controlled indignation.

Fury trash talked throughout the fight. From the opening bell Cunningham endured boasts, taunts and shouted commands of "Come on you pussy!" all the while pounding his chest in simian displays of aggression that begged Cunningham to come forward and "fight like a man." But Cunningham, an undersized former Cruiser weight champion of considerable ring experience, was immune to the bluster. He fought a somewhat tentative first round but those familiar with the tactics of the ring would have noted the smaller man's measuring feints and jabs which were clearly gauging the distance between fist and jaw.

The opening seconds of the second round revealed Fury to be a victim of his own overconfidence as he all
but offered his chin up to the fistic gods as a sacrifice. Just 18 seconds into the round Cunningham pounced with economical precision and sent Fury to the canvass with a lightning quick overhand right. Fury, realizing that the American was not to be underestimated, took the full 8 count before rising and spent the better part of the next three rounds getting his legs back beneath him. The British giant used his immense size to tie up the smaller man at every opportunity, laying on Cunningham often and using rough house tactics when in the clinch. Please allow me to pause while offering an aside:

There is something about Manchester fighters that I don't care for. Whether it's Ricky Hatton's leaping low blow to the groin of Kostya Tszyu in a 2005 title fight or Fury's blatant head butt in the fifth round of this fight, it always seems that the boys from across the pond resort to dirty tactics when things go against them. That kind of reaction is to be commended in a bar fight but not in a boxing ring. The recent crop of British hopefuls, which includes Fury, employ a kind of grab, clinch and foul strategy that American fans just aren't used to but British fans seem to revel in. But, back to the fight...

My observations aside, it must be noted that Fury did survive the knockdown and began to do what he does best - he turned the contest into a "dog fight." He effectively stalked the crafty Cunningham for the next three rounds employing a swiftness of foot I would not have credited the 6'9" goliath of possessing. He did not rely on his length alone in negating Cunningham's quickness; he used an adequate jab to keep Cunningham at the desired distance, he cut the ring off in a calculated attempt to maintain that distance, and placed real power behind all of his clubbing blows whether they landed flush or not.

As the fight went on those crashing fists continued to rain down on the much smaller Cunningham who found that Fury did not tire like most big men. Instead, Fury seemed to gain steam with each ensuing round. Fury's aggressive stalking maneuvers forced Cunningham to stand and fight. Cunningham's work on the inside was masterful, punishing and precise, but once again Fury surprised me - where skill and talent were not enough he proved to be a willing mixer with a reserve of endurance that the heavyweight division has not seen since Marciano. I'm not saying he's in Marciano's class, I'm saying that for someone so large his endurance was astonishing. He threw more than two times as many punches as Cunningham, a crafty ring veteran who is known as one of the division's better combination punchers. And what's more, Fury appeared to be getting stronger albeit sloppier.

He must have sensed all of this as well because he did not try to aim his punches. He maneuvered Cunningham into the ropes time and again and simply tried to land glove on skin whether it be arm, neck, shoulder or side. His punches were sloppy but delivered with murderous intent and though he is still a raw talent his power and endurance are a wonder.

While my recall may be termed 'gushing with praise' there is a dark side to Fury that I am not enamored with. The fifth round was the beginning of the end for Cunningham. Fury had just about regained control of the fight when he employed brutal tactics typical of a Manchesterton; in a clinch along the ropes he leaned into his opponent during the break and stuck his forehead into Cunningham's cheek and deliberately attempted to cut his opponent in a blatant head butt. Cunningham responded with a rally of his own, ripping a combination to the Englishman's head but it was clear to see that his punches now lacked the steam of the first few rounds.

The sixth was a repeat of the fifth, remarkable only for the intense pace of the action. Cunningham was

clearly the more skilled pugilist countering with  precise power that would have felled most other heavyweight contenders, but it was the aptly named Tyson Fury who was going to be the clear winner. His mauling attack was simply too much for the brave but undersized Cunningham and his chin, criticized after the fight because of the knockdown, was good enough to allow him to plunge in recklessly, time and again, without fear. The bell to end the sixth found Fury manhandling Cunningham in yet another clinch.

The seventh round was a contest of wills that found Cunningham wanting. Cunningham, visibly shaken by Fury's relentless onslaught and too tired to run, tried desperately to fight off the ropes. For much of the round he gave as well as he got but Fury's power had sapped what little energy he had left. Fury's shots were launching the former champion into the ropes with jarring frequency and with 15 seconds left in the round Fury sent a ferocious chopping right hook behind a stiffening forearm (borderline illegal) that put the brave warrior on his back. With blood spurting from his mouth, staining the canvass ruby red, he watched the referee begin his count. He struggled for a brief second to rise before falling back with an anguished grimace and lay back clearly demoralized. It was clear he possessed the warrior's desire to rise one more time but it was equally clear that he would not win this contest.

Tyson Fury was announced the winner at 2:55 of the 7th. He celebrated his win by kicking up his heels (literally) and then proceeded to give a rather bizarre post fight interview.  He chastised the crowd over the loudspeaker for not cheering more loudly for Cunningham. He demanded they recognize Cunningham's effort though whether that was to increase the perceived value of his win over the former champ or to truly recognize his courage can be debated but it seemed a genuine nod of respect.

His post fight interview was a riotous calamity of jokes, swagger, and singing. When asked by the ringside reporter, "What do you see here in the first?" he replied " Well, aside from Tyson Fury looking sexy as usual..." He followed up his comedy act with a thank you to Madison Square Garden, New Yorkers, and Americans in general before belting out a song for the crowd  in a wavering singing voice that must be viewed to fully appreciate.

Fury is his best promoter. He is brash, arrogant, irreverent and convinced of his own greatness and it is that list of ingredients that will provide him a recipe to stardom. He is a new and exciting face for a sport that sorely needs personalities. As long as he wins he will continue to be a significant draw both here and in Europe. Judging by fan reaction to the bout across cyberspace he is either loathed or loved and that is a potent promotional combination.

As for his talents  - I saw many flaws. He doesn't fight well going backward, his jab can be lazy and he is ripe for a counter cross from either side as his hands rarely come back quickly from a jab. His main assets are his endurance and size - and maybe heart. He is very quick of foot for a big man but his hands are slow and he has a bad habit of swinging for the fences off the wrong foot. He was constantly off balance but I suspect that Cunningham's high skill level had a lot to do with that. He's only 24 and as the old saying goes, 'you can't teach size.' All in all he's a tough and willing mixer whose style and personality will put butts in seats. Could he beat either of the Klitschko brothers? Not a chance in hell... right now. In 3 or 4 years - we'll see.

What an afternoon of boxing!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 PCA/ACA Conference a Success

From the frying pan and into the fire...having just finished the fourth and final volume of Tales of the Ice House: The Collected Boxing Stories of Robert E. Howard, I turned my attention to the 2013 PCA/ACA conference held in Washington, DC this past weekend. My paper considered the impact of John L. Sullivan and the cult of masculinity upon the creation and execution of Howard's uproariously funny boxing character Sailor Steve Costigan.

Joining me in the nation's capitol were fellow Howard-heads Mark Finn, Jeff Shanks and the legendary Rusty Burke and many a night was spent discussing the state of Howard Studies with our new friend - John L., he of the single barrel variety. He swore up and down he "couldst lick any son of a bitch in the world" and he done so - just ask Mark Finn.

I rubbed cuts and traded jabs with some very interesting academics about all things Howard,  Pulp, and gender and was doubly pleased to learn that Howard is now being studied seriously in institutions of higher learning throughout the world. The feedback I received was both positive and serious with inquiries ranging from mere curiosity to the best way to acquire the texts as formal reading requirements for certain classes.

Understand, these folks were not asking about Howard solely because of Conan, but were instead interested in learning about his other creations as well - specifically Sailor Steve Costigan and his iron man brothers. Thanks must go to Shanks, Finn, Burke and the other Howard scholars who had paved the way in years prior - well done fellas! I just hope I helped advance the Howard cause for Sailor Steve Costigan and Mike the bull dog in a manner that does them proud.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tales of the Ice House - an Update

Fans of Robert E. Howard and Boxing listen up:

TALES OF THE ICE HOUSE: The Collected Boxing Stories of Robert E. Howard


The grunt work for all four volumes of the Robert E. Howard boxing collection has been completed. Patrice Louinet, Mark Finn, and my humble self have assembled every scrap of Howard boxing material we could find, including many never before seen artifacts, into the most comprehensive collection of Howard boxing material ever produced. This is definitive people.

We will announce the release date as soon as Rob Roehm provides one. Rob has the unenviable task of preparing each volume for publication. It's a mountain of work but if you've haven't seen the books he's produced so far please head over to and prepare to be amazed. I am confident these books will knock your socks off!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The War to Prove...

One of the great fighters of all time will be lacing up the gloves to meet his arch enemy, an inferior fighter who inexplicably reaches the apex of his skills when facing the modern equivalent of Tamerlane...Manny Pacquiao. Though not afflicted with the physical maladies that weighed heavy upon the twelfth century universal conqueror, Manny Pacquiao is every bit the Asian hero and looks this evening to finally thwart his longtime enemy, the noble challenger Juan Manuel Marquez.

They will fight at a catch-weight of 143 lbs. and it is expected that this fourth fight between the two combatants will finally end the popular enmity that has brewed between these magnificent boxers. This isn't the same melodramatic frame-up as Achilles and Hector; no, there will be no gods to intervene tonight. This confrontation will pit the counter-puncher against the aggressor, the Black Mamba versus the Mongoose, and the battle will likely reflect the history that led these two fighters back to each other.

Marquez is a classic counter puncher who relies heavily upon the aggression of his opponent. he is not savvy enough nor physically apt to take the fight to any top tier combatant. However, he is uniquely possessed of the counter punchers gift of timing and power. He is a proud warrior of Mexican heritage who relies on his mind as much as his volatile emotion. Though hammered in the past from pillar to post by Floyd Mayweather Jr., a fighter whose physical abilities are outside the ken of normal man, he is yet as dangerous as the cobra, the Mamba, a snake who waits for the perfect moment of weakness to strike. He is a world class fighter, a champion, whose heart cannot be questioned and it is because he is so dangerous that this fight, the fourth in a trilogy (yes, I know it means three) to finally prove who is the best, is the draw it is. Mayweather may be acknowledged king but these two are the people's champions and to his eternal regret shall he hear their names called in earnest fervor.

Pacquiao is like the equatorial tempests of the east, building slowly before spilling over the shore as an angry god filled with spite and malice. Only this god is a representative of the people - a martyr of sorts who places himself in harms way in an effort to spare the common man from the arduous and painful journey of his fistic betters. In the ring Manny Pacquiao is a tropical Typhoon - punching fists, whirlwind movement, and an inexorable ability to keep coming forward in the best Howardian Iron Man tradition ...always moving forward and cognizant of the social burden he carries as an Asian champion in a western man sport.

My prediction is based on what I've seen and what I know of both boxers. Manny is prepossessed in his duties as a member of the Philippine House of Representatives and pulled in too many directions. Yet, he is the better fighter while Marquez is the better boxer. This fight will come down to desire - who has the desire to stand and fight, to contest yet again the dregs of honor and notoriety, and the simple will to win that will be required of the victor in this fight.

As such, it is apparent that I admire both fighters and it with some reticence and indecision that I declare Manny Pacquaio the victor by 11th round TKO. I have seen Marquez do amazing things but his desire to finally prove that he is the best will undo him and lure him from his counter punching shell. He will seek to annihilate his foe and open himself up to the power-punching dynamism that Manny is known for. There is not a man at this weight who can long endure Pacquiao's fists nor his undeniable will to win.

Manny Pacquaio TKO 11th round in exciting fashion.

Monday, August 6, 2012

80s Sword and Sorcery

I have been following an interesting Facebook thread over at the Robert E. Howard Readers Group. It seems that the group's founder(s), as well as a good portion of the members, have become increasingly irked by a cadre of a boisterous fan-boys whose posts are frequently seen as childish, snotty, and frequently off-subject. They have been accused (rightly so) of repeatedly straying away from the subject of Robert E. Howard, an offense normally not damning in itself but when coupled with name-calling, strident personal challenges, the implied threat of violence and even thinly disguised plagiarism-for-profit scams...well, I think we can all agree that some changes are in order.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah; like I said, I've been following those posts with a certain indignant tolerance and all the while asking myself 'why?' I'm not exactly a model of self restraint when it comes to emotional volatility. I've dropped the gloves (much to my embarrassment) for lesser indignities than the verbal vomit these goofs are spewing. What was different this time and why the sudden tolerance; am I getting wiser and more tolerant as I age? Unlikely...

Thankfully, I didn't give in to frustration and leave the group - instead, I read a follow up thread started by Jeff Shanks and realized the answer was right in front of me all along and it had surprisingly little to do with Robert E. Howard, my friend's gripes, nor the moose-drooling blowhards that had been ruining the normally enjoyable back and forth chatter between Robert E. Howard fans. Here's what Jeff said that helped grease the wheels inside my punch-drunk brain; "Okay, why don't we put all the pastiche nonsense and bad 80's S&S behind us and get back to talking about Robert E. Howard."

That's it! Bad 80s Sword and Sorcery fiction. It wasn't so much that they were talking about 80s S&S it was that the aforementioned goofs were doing so both outside of the desired conversational direction/subject (Howard) and from a woefully ignorant and misinformed point of view. The reason I had waded through the crap wasn't tolerance after all. Thank goodness I'm not going soft after all. No, the reason was all that talk of "bad" 80s S&S had me fondly recalling my misspent youth which had been spent as often as not with my nose parked in one of those books.

Anyhow, this blog entry isn't about the goofs, it's about the 80s S&S references and how those references inadvertently roused in me a desire to revisit some of those 80s novels and short story collections. Amazingly, I have managed to successfully retain many of those old books in storage and can with a little physical effort muscle those old boxes out from under the dust and cobwebs and back into the light of day once more.

What a generic term - 80s Sword and Sorcery -  but to a guy who's teen years really were defined by the 80s, that descriptive is really just an umbrella term for "books with covers that featured heroic swordsmen, scantily clad women, and some kind of menace." This could be historical fiction, heroic fantasy, adventure, horror, D&D style adventures, reprints of old stories, epic fantasy and pastiche. Also, 80s S&S includes more than that work published, literally, in the 80s; it manages to thematically and creatively pierce the early 90s as well before giving way to new genres like steampunk that would come to characterize the death of rock and the birth of grunge. Heck, it might be argued that it covers stories that you first read in the 80s but had been published years or even decades before. At least that's how I see it.

So, in anything but the spirit of those now infamous goofs over at The Robert E. Howard Reader's Group, I will slowly revisit those stories over the coming months here at the Punch-Drunk Bard blog. Here's hoping that my stroll down memory lane will only reinforce how I feel about these stories and novels.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wladimir Klitschko KO Thompson in 6

Champion Wladimir Klitschko (58-3 51 KOs) battered challenger Tony Thompson (36-3 24 KOs) into submission via a 6th round mercy stoppage to retain his WBO/IBO/WBA/IBF belts.

It wasn't long ago that I declared that greatness in boxing was as much a product of "quality of opposition as it is by records or championship belts." After having watched the Waldimir Klitschko/Tony Thompson tilt - and witnessing the utter lack of interest stateside in this fight - I can't help but feel vindicated. Thompson (36-3 24 KOs), is a 40 year old slugger best known for already having lost to Klitschko by 11th round TKO in 2008. Thompson is a game, solid, heavyweight with several quality wins on his resume and, despite an obvious skill set that placed him front and center (yet again) as the mandatory challenger, he was completely outclassed by Dr. Steelhammer. Folks, this wasn't a close fight; it was a clinical vivisection.
Despite the obvious mismatch, the challenger's advanced age, and the predictable result I felt compelled to dig a little deeper into the latest championship victory of a man whose record and title run would demand instant inclusion into the 'greatest ever' debate. I watched a replay of the fight and came away thinking that Wladimir might be unjustly judged by the complete LACK of a suitable challenger to his dominance. Is it really his fault that there is no Frazier to his Ali? Are his obvious physical advantages to be held against him? How would he have fared against the dominant heavies of other eras?

The answers to these questions are not easy to come by - especially if you are an American longing for the days when Americans dominated what was for over a hundred years the most glamorous designation in the sporting world - world's heavyweight champion. Or maybe they are easily answered if you call Europe home. After all, Americans have dominated the division for the better part of a 130 years and perhaps, for them, this is just the cyclical nature of sport finally laying hold of boxing's premier title.

To those boxing historians out there, sure, I am aware of the Freckled Wonder (Fitzsimmons), the diminutive Canadian, Tommy Burns, the misunderstood Max Schmeling, the brief reigns of  the Amblin' Alp (Primo Carnera) and Johansson with his "Hammer of Thor" punch, nor the few other alphabet soup Euro "champions" of the 80s and 90s - - nor have I forgotten the British phenom, Lennox Lewis. What I am trying to say is that while I know there have been European exceptions the rule has been that American's have held, for the most part, the heavyweight belt since the bare-knuckled days of the great John L.

That dominance has held mostly true until the Klitschkos stalked upon the scene in the early 2000s. At last count their records are a combined 102-5 with 91 KOs and of those 5 losses two of them came on injuries where the elder Klitschko (Vitali) was winning easily. Dominance of this sort is almost unheard of in the annals of heavyweight boxing - and forget for a moment that we are talking about brothers sharing the significant titles with the same level of dominance as other past champions.

It's easy to forget that they have met every significant contender of their era - aside from themselves, a result of a promise to their mother that they would never fight each other - and with only one exception (the controversial stoppage of Vitali by Lewis in 2003) the brothers have won every significant fight and avenged each rare loss with a magnificence that would have garnered acclaim the level that Ali or Frazier enjoy to this day.

is their dominance simply a byproduct of a "weak" heavyweight division? To be honest, I had thought so until their dominance reached a Holmes like level. What else can they do but meet, and beat, the best the division can muster? A close examination of the recent Klitschko/Thompson fight reveals several things to the patient observer. Wladimir Klitschko moves better than any heavyweight of his size ever. His chin remains suspect but I maintain it no longer matters when your opponent cannot solve your jab, your cross, your movement nor your hook. Wald is possessed of one of the best jabs I have seen since Larry Holmes, another lonely and forgotten champion who deserves more recognition than he has been offered. It is like a pile-driving piston moving at Mach 4. It is beautiful. It is perfect. There is only one heavyweight who can lay claim to an equal or better jab in all the annals of recorded boxing and that is Larry Holmes. His straight right is eclipsed in modern effectiveness only by his own brother , Vitali, and is usually delivered behind that wonderful jab which, together, have wreaked havoc upon 58 victims. He moves with the speed and grace of a man 30 pounds lighter without taking unnecessary punishment.

Wladimir has learned from his setbacks rather than wallow in defiance of the obvious. He has weaknesses and he has learned from them: witness the Lamont Brewster debacle where Brewster played the part of an aggressive Joe Frazier, or the Purity result where he clearly ran out of steam against a game opponent despite the manhandling he had administered for 10 rounds, or even the punishment he endured at the hands of the heavy hitting South African,Corrie Sanders. He could have thrown in the towel, swallowed as accurate the unfair "great white hope" ridicule he faced in the wake of each of these losses but instead he learned from each of these setbacks and became a better fighter each time. What is there not to like, to respect, about that kind of dedication to the sport we love so much?

Some of you will read this and shake your collective heads at my perceived idiocy. I can hear your objections even now; "Can't you see that Ali would dance his way to an easy late round KO over the flat footed Russian" or that "Tyson would murder this guy with his speed" or that "Louis would take the measure of this pretender in less than 6!" A favorite of mine is the constant lament that "The heavyweight division is so weak that I could dominate" or, the 'brothers' wouldn't even have cracked the top 15 in any decade leading up to this one. Riiight...let's hear what Thompson had to say about Wlad's perceived lack of talent: "I just think that we’re (America) so used to dominating the heavy part of the sport, that we just found reasons to, you know, put the contenders down, and not give the Klitschkos full credit." I trust his judgment considering he had only lost to one other opponent in his 20 years as a professional boxer.

As I said, I watched this fight and many others and can honestly say that Wladimir is a deserving, talented champion who could stand toe to toe with the greats of most eras.

Round 1: 10-9 Thompson
The challenger landed the only meaningful blow of the 1st round and used an effective jab to force Klitschko to simply follow Thompson around the ring. A tactical round for both fighters.

Round 2: 10-9 Klitschko
The champion began to dictate distance in this round. He pushed the pace and his straight right landed effectively throughout. Thompson's jab continues to land. A somewhat sloppy round.

Round 3: 10- 9 Klitschko
Thompson continues to use an effective jab but it is clear he has nothing else to capture the Russian's attention. The end of the round finds Klitschko hunting the game Thompson around the ring. I wouldn't argue much if you gave Thompson the round but Klitschko was the aggressor and he landed 4 good body shots and several jabs and Thompson didn't offer much.

Round 4 : 10-9 Klitschko
Not much action other than what Klitschko initiated. Thompson landed a hard jab which was answered by a much harder right hand by Klitschko. Klitschko is overly careful in this round but one senses this is about to end.

Round 5: Klitschko 10-8
Klitschko starts to use his jab to establish range and it clearly affects Thompson. Klitschko has lulled his opponent into a false sense of security. Using the jab, Klitschko sets up a powerful straight right that Thompson never sees (thanks to the stiff jab) and the challenger kisses the canvas.

Round 6: Klitschko wins via TKO
Thompson never recovers from the big right hand in the 5th and the referee saves his 40 year old body and brain from severe damage. Klitschko was beginning to shows flashes of his actual speed and it is too much for Thompson who appears able to go on but stumbles slightly when asked to move forward after the 2n knockdown and it is probably a life saving decision on the ref's part.

This fight is typical Wladimir: slow start, feel your opponent out, make them miss and begin to measure them against an ever increasing output. Nothing fancy, noting rash, just sound technique and amazing power. Even glancing blows cause these professionals to seize up in shock upon partial impact. It only gets worse as the rounds go on and his confidence grows along with his desire for a KO. My only gripe is that he could have gone to the body at any point in this fight and ended it even earlier.

Yes, Thompson was 40 years old but he was the mandatory challenger and no one else seems capable of lasting more than a few rounds against Wladimir. Thompson hadn't lost since his first meeting with Klitschko. No one else was calling him out and demanding a match. No one else is even remotely on par with these two men. They are all waiting for these two brothers, Wladimir in particular, to retire so they have a shot at the title because as long as these two stick around there simply is no one even remotely capable, outside of a lucky punch, to defeat these two guys.

Say what you will, they did all that they could as boxers and they continue to dominate their era like no one else has before. Champions of the ages or simply of the age?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Friends and No Sleep - Howard Days 2012

This past weekend folks from around the world came to Cross Plains, Texas, for the annual celebration of the world's greatest pulpster - Robert E. Howard. For those in the know, this two day event is something of a literary pilgrimage that offers fans of Robert E. Howard and his work an opportunity to connect in a uniquely personal way with their favorite author. It's the equivalent of a spiritual journey that no true Howard fan should miss if they can help it.

And it's not easy getting to Cross Plains, Texas. It lies somewhere near the geographical center of the state and requires that one keep a sharp eye out as you travel from the more civilized ports of call lest you miss it. Hours from Dallas and the better part of an hour from the interstate, it pokes its sleepy small-town head over forgotten oil derricks and rolling wheat fields so suddenly you're apt to mistake it for a simple crossroads gas stop.

But, for those fans that braved the elements, dared torrential downpours and dodged hail the size of hockey pucks it was a welcome site. And did they come! From the Scottish Highlands to the hills of Hollywood the Howard Faithful were treated to a heaping helping of Texas hospitality by the good folks from Project Pride who host the annual gathering.

I had intended on writing a full-fledged trip report as I have done in year's past for the retired Cimmerian magazine and my REHupa mag, Iron Legions. But this year the mood of the event had lulled me into a contented, laid back, Howard fan-geek state. The atmosphere wasn't so much electric as it was satisfying. I mean that in the best possible way. I spent far more time this year enjoying the little things that make Howard Days so special for so many fans. I only had one panel to worry about and even that turned out to be a low key appeal to fans to open themselves up to the merits of the boxing stories. As usual, Fists at the Icehouse went over well with the large crowd that gathered to see "a fight at the Icehouse!" Howard scholar (and Venarium winner) Jeff Shanks and I played cornermen to Mark Finn's foghorn bellerin' rendition of Costigan as he sauntered to and fro, dancing lightly as he regaled the crowd with Howard lore. To satisfy the jeering throng, I tried to get ol' Finn to step up to the scratch line but he knew there was no money it and after a few feints and shuffle steps, he promptly turned out the lights and left the fans wanting more! Finn's a regular Tex Rickard for sure. The Icehouse is for the three of us an actual alter - a real battleground that Howard sparred in - and to be able to step upon and absorb the ambiance is nothing short of special. Good times.

And that's what this Howard Days was all about, really - good times. I finally got to meet Stygian winner Keith Taylor but wished I had had more time to speak with him. He reads this here blog so I know we can make a lengthier conversation happen some day. Congrats to him- he does a bang up job on all things Howard related. If you are a follower of his blog you no doubt read that some goofy fan almost made him late for the award ceremony. That'd be me. I just wanted to talk with him for a few minutes and what was supposed to be a few words stretched quickly into a few minutes. Sorry Keith!

As I said, good times. I was tired the whole weekend and yet I still found myself engaged in conversations late into the Texas night with old friends and new. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Seth Humble, Brad Ellison, Mark Caroll and his wife, Jennifer Baughman. Wow! Not only were they huge Howard fans but they were great people. There were many other new faces this year and almost all of them were interested in learning more about Howard's boxing stories. Hell yeah! I got to watch Mark Caroll GM a motley crew thru an RPG game adventure that was epic. Finn, Harron, and others were a sweaty, deflated mess after Mark was done with them.

I also got to spend some quality time with some of my best Howard Days buds - the Quijas Brothers - Dominic and Eli, and their sons Joseph and Isaiah. They've been coming since about 2006 and they are passionate about Robert E. Howard. I am serious; these guys know their stuff and live it. I feel young and full of energy when I am around these guys and it was nothing but good times hanging with them. Speaking of young fans, I was pleasantly surprised to see a young man (name escapes me?) reciting Howard poetry at the Howard poetry slam hosted by Barbara Barrett. I know Joseph wanted to get up there but he must have been in slack-jawed awe after having witnessed the inimitable Tim Arney bellow "Drunk! Drunk! Drunk!" while nearly vaulting over Ed Chaczyk and the Wyrd Sisters in a kind of apoplectic poetic ecstasy.

That reminds me of some more good times I had all weekend with the old guard. Howard giants like Dennis McHaney, Paul Sammon, Tim Arney, Gary Romeo, Todd Woods, and Jeff Shanks hung out and talked with me, Aurelia, Ben Friberg, Al Harron, Jim Barron and Ed Chaczyk. We were all like bees jumping from one flower to the next, gathering up the Howard news at each table and soaking our brains in it. Ah, good times.

I would be remiss if I did not give an extra shout out to Dennis, Todd, Ed, Tim and Al...the only things that could have made our late night gab fests any cooler than they already were would have been to have Charles Gramlich and Tom Foster show up about midnight and say, "I heard there was a party in Cross Plains! Let's talk Robert E. Howard!"

I could go on and on but I'm just rambling, collecting bits and pieces of a great weekend and trying to assemble them like some giant jigsaw puzzle. I know how good it will look when I am finished but I'd rather not be rushed just yet. I think I'll just fit a few pieces together here and there until the next Howard Days rolls around. I sure as heck have enough memories to get me there.

To the good folks of the Middleton Ranch I salute you - the dinner was fabulous, the sunset serene and the Caddo Peak climb an adventure. Thanks to everyone involved. And can you believe!!! I haven't even mentioned the biggest news - for me - of the weekend: Howard Payne University has donated the original Robert E. Howard library (made famous by Rusty Burke's Howard Bookshelf over at REHupa) to the Howard House and Project Pride! What a thrill it was to see those books, with inscriptions to Bob, sitting in a case for all the Howard faithful to ogle over. With each passing year the Howard Home becomes more a living monument to the memory of Robert E. Howard than I dared dream possible. Perhaps it is time we call it a shrine?!

If I missed anyone - I am sorry. I slept a little more than 5 total hours during the weekend and as I drove back home to Albuquerque it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. No doubt after I have a chance to truly reflect on the event I will remember you as the days go by.

See you all next year!