Basque Fact of the Week: Paulino Uzcudun, the “Basque Woodchopper”

My dad’s favorite sport to watch was boxing. I never asked him why (so many questions were never asked…) but I always assumed that it was because, of the sports on our American TV, boxing was the most straightforward, something he didn’t have to grow up with to understand, unlike American football. However, I recently learned about Paulino Uzcudun and now I wonder if maybe my dad had known about him and that is where is love of boxing came from…

Paulino Uzcudun, the “Basque Woodchopper.” Photo from Wikipedia.
  • Paulino Uzcudun was born in the Gurutze baserria in the town of Errezil, Gipuzkoa, in 1899. Even as a child, he was known for his immense strength. When his father died, he left home, eventually becoming a butcher in Donosti. In his youth, he became known as an excellent aizkolari, or woodchopper, hence his eventually boxing nickname.
  • In 1923, after completing his military service, he went to Paris to begin his professional boxing career. During his career, he became heavyweight champion first of Spain, in 1924, and then latter of Europe, in 1926. He began boxing in the United States in 1927.
  • He had many memorable bouts during his career, facing off with heavyweight champions including Max Baer (who he beat) and Primo Carnera (who he lost to twice). Perhaps the pinnacle of his career occurred in Yankee Stadium on June 27, 1929. Uzcudun lost a semi-final bout for a chance at the world title, losing in points after 15 rounds, to the German Max Schmeling, who later won the title. He would go on to fight Schmeling two more times, drawing once and losing their last bout.
  • The newspaper writer Grantland Rice wrote these stanzas about Uzcudun in 1929, emphasizing Uzcudun’s stocky and rugged stance:
This axman from the Pyrennees 
Is tougher than his native trees. 
And no man yet has made [him] run, 
I mean Paolino Uzcudun. 


He has a large and hairy paw, 
They break their fists upon his jaw; 
For socking rock is not much fun, 
I mean Paolino Uzcudun. 


He has a chest built like a cask, 
This heavy, thick-set, burly Basque, 
Who grins to see his claret run, 
I mean Paolino Uzcudun.
  • Paulino’s last fight, in 1935, was with Joe Louis, the famous “Brown Bomber”. Louis was a brutal fighter and Uzcudun was at the sunset of his career. Louis stopped Uzcudun in the 4th round with blows that Columnist Jim Murray later described: “Louis knocked Uzcudun’s gold teeth in so many directions, the ring looked as if somebody had stepped on a railroad watch.” It was the first time, in his 70 professional fights, that Uzcudun had been knocked off his feet.

Thanks to Eneko Sagarbide for introducing me to Paulino.

Primary sources: Boxing.com: Some Like it Hot, by Mike Casey; Wikipedia; Arozamena Ayala, Ainhoa. UZCUDUN, Paulino. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2020. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/uzcudun-paulino/ar-136928/

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