For Harryman, each fight was good fight

first_imgCOMMENTARY: Retired Wilmington dock worker will be enshired Saturday in the California Boxing Hall of Fame. By Doug Krikorian STAFF WRITER Jimmy Harryman was the original Ultimate Fighter, and tales of his unscheduled encounters in various venues across the years have become legendary. He was banned for life from a San Pedro touch football league because of his roughhouse tactics that resulted in too many opponents winding up with too many bruises on their faces from too many of his punches. “My life,” he said softly, “has been stranger than a novel. They should do a movie on me, but they won’t because it would be too outlandish. No one would believe it. A normal human being doesn’t experience what I have – and live to tell about it.” Harryman pauses a moment, this deceptively soft-spoken fellow who will be inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame along with, among others, Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Shane Mosley on Saturday at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City. “It’s not just all the street fights I’ve had, and there have been hundreds of them over the years,” he said matter of factly. “I’ve been so blessed in my life. Never been arrested. Never been seriously hurt. Been shot at several times. One time a guy pointed a gun right at me, pulled the trigger, and nothing happened. But something bad did happen after I got hold of him. Had guys come after me with knives. “I somehow made it out of a deadly airplane crash when I was a paratrooper. Another time I was a passenger in a truck that crashed. I was thrown 37 feet and lived. The driver was killed. Another time, as I was driving on the Long Beach Freeway, a guy commits suicide by leaping off an overpass and landing right on my windshield. It smashes to bits, but, except for getting some glass on my face, I wasn’t hurt. I’ve always been pretty lucky.” Harryman is now 74, and recently retired from the docks in Wilmington where he worked for more than 50 years when he wasn’t playing football, wasn’t playing rugby, wasn’t getting married and wasn’t fighting, which he has done with uncommon success ever since he was a youngster growing up in the tough Willowbrook area near Watts where he had rumbles on a near-daily basis. Indeed, it was Harryman’s unsanctioned conflicts outside boxing rings that gained him his greatest notoriety, including a featured article entitled “King Of The Street Fighters” that appeared in a Nov. 6, 1966 issue of the old West Magazine in the Los Angeles Times. After that, he became like one of those storied gun fighters in the Old West. Those seeking to make a reputation for themselves came down to the docks and sought him out. “Guys were showing up from all over the country challenging,” said Harryman, who later also was chronicled in Sport Magazine. “And I beat every one of them. I considered myself a pretty good boxer – had a good right hand, left hook and uppercut – but I was much better as a street fighter. I had done it so often I knew all the tricks and it became second nature for me. I look at these mixed martial arts matches, and I would have been a natural in it. I could wrestle pretty good, but I was a much better boxer than these guys. Most of them don’t know how to throw a punch.” Jimmy Harryman insists he never seeks confrontations, but that they just seem to have a knack for coming his way. “A couple of years ago, I’m sitting in a movie theater in Carson, and I get up and signal to my wife where I’m sitting,” Harryman related. “And some guy sits down in her seat, and he’s holding a baby. I tell the guy, `Pardon me, you’re sitting in my wife’s seat.’ And the guy pulls a knife and asks me what I’m going to do about it. And my wife grabs me and insists we sit elsewhere. And I don’t want to hit a guy with a baby, so I go along with her. “After the movie, we’re walking outside and the guy with the knife and a couple of his buddies are walking in the parking lot in front of us. And this one big guy keeps staring back at me. My wife, who still was upset about what happened in the theater, says, `What you lookin’ at?’ “And now the big guy, and the guy with the knife and their buddy jump me and all hell breaks loose. My son happens to be at the theater, too, and he joins in. I knocked out two of the guys, including the guy with the knife who was without his baby. Cops soon came and told me to go home.” Stories such as this one abound from Harryman, who has flattened so many men over the years that he admits to this day he’s paranoid about one showing up at his Ranchos Palos Verdes home to seek revenge. “I always sleep with one eye open and make sure all our doors are locked,” Harryman said. “You never know.” Now that Harryman is no longer in prime shape – he spreads 229 pounds over his 5-foot-11 frame that for so long carried 205 pounds – you would think Harryman has mellowed. Not really. He still likes to shadow box, and it’s evident when he does that he still can deliver a crippling punch. He still doesn’t like big guys who converse loudly in tough language and swagger around arrogantly, and during the interview recently there was just such a person in the restaurant. “See that guy walking around,” he said, pointing to a huge fellow who cut an intimidating presence. “Believe me, in the past, he and I would have gotten into it. He wouldn’t be acting so tough after I finished with him.” But Jimmy Harryman stresses that he’s always been a sportsman in his fights. “I never stomped on a guy after he was down,” he said. “That’s not my style. After I deck him, I leave them where they lay and walk away.” But, oh, did, Harryman have his share of memorable debates in a variety of places – sporting fields, parties, bars, restaurants, movie houses, grocery stores, liquor stores, clothing stores, appliance stores, drive-ins, and, most of all, the docks. One of the most famous ones, still heavily discussed by old longshoremen who witnessed it, came one afternoon when a truck driver didn’t check with Harryman, a cargo clerk, before dumping a load of cotton in the wrong place. “I asked the guy what the hell he was doing, and he answered in a very abusive manner,” Harryman said. “The guy was huge, I’d say about 6-4 and 260 pounds with massive arms. I wasn’t that physically imposing – I’m sure that’s why so many big guys thought they could handle me – and the guy then asked me what I was going to do about it. “Suddenly, the brawl was on. I’d say over a 100 guys had gathered around. It was like David versus Goliath. I never hit a guy with so many hard shots without the guy going down. Finally, after about 15 minutes, he went down to one knee and it was over. I hear he killed a guy several months later and went to prison.” Harryman has broken too many jaws, cheekbones, noses and eye sockets to recount, yet he looks remarkably well for a person who has had such extensive combat, with only a trickle of scar tissue lining his eyes and a dented nose betraying his past activities. In retrospect, Harryman was preordained to be a fighter, since he grew up in a dysfunctional family in which his father, a brawling alcoholic, often used his fists on him, as well as his mother, who passed away when she was 29. “My dad was not a nice man,” he said. “When he wasn’t beating up my mom, he was beating up me for coming to my mom’s aid.” After the death of his mother, Harryman moved in with his grandmother, near 119th and Springdale in Willowbrook. “I was forced to fight almost every day as a kid, and I soon discovered I was good at it,” he said. Harryman has five children – four sons and a daughter – and 10 grandchildren from his marriages. “I might now be old,” Harryman said, his eyes twinkling. “But I’d have a surprise for some young guy who makes a mistake and mouths off to me and calls my number. I still won’t walk away from a beef no matter who the person is …” [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! He was a paratrooper who made 38 jumps and survived a crash in a C-47 that killed everyone in the front of the plane, as well as the person who was seated next to him. He was a football player who was a star fullback at Compton College in 1954, played a season at the University of Washington that was cut short by a knee injury, played for a while with the Calgary Stampeders, and had unsuccessful tryouts with the Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers, and Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a serial participant in matrimony, although he has remained with the last of five wives, Kathy, for the past 28 years and calls her the only person he ever has feared. He was a professional fighter who had 13 matches – he wound up 9-3-1 – and quit after the last one when he was stopped in the 10th round because of eye cuts by a party named George (Scrap Iron) Johnson, who would say of Harryman afterward, “Harryman ain’t no fighter. He tried to play football in the ring.” He was a guy who never initiated trouble, but never backed away from it no matter the circumstances, inspiring his boxing manager Lee Prlia to once say about him, “Jimmy’s three times better in the street than he is in the ring.” last_img