A Guns 'N Hoses without Myrl Taylor is like a crime novel without a murder weapon. The larger-than-life St. Louis bad-ass -- former Sonny Liston sparring partner, felon, union boss, bodyguard, boxing official --passed away this past summer and will be sorely missed at the annual cops-versus-firemen boxing event.
"He's a Damon Runyon character if there ever was one," says Jerry Clinton, chief executive officer and chairman of Grey Eagle Distributors, who co-founded Guns 'N Hoses with Taylor seventeen years ago. "We call him the father of amateur boxing. He poured his whole heart and soul in this thing. It's left a big void."
In hindsight it's ironic that Taylor worked with the law, considering all the years he actively worked against it. In his youth he was a renegade bruiser with fireplug fists, Jerry Lee Lewis' hairdo (and demeanor) and a sailor's vocabulary.
"He was a two-time loser," laughs Clinton. "He went up once for armed robbery, then he got nailed on a concealed-weapon charge. In my remarks at his eulogy, I said, 'Myrl would leave the community from time to time, would take a sabbatical.'"
But he turned his life around, became head of the local Teamsters in the '70s and started getting involved with organized...boxing. It was then that Clinton suggested the idea of a charity boxing event. In New York City at the time, the cops fought London bobbies for charity, and Clinton wanted to pit St. Louis' finest against NYC cops. Taylor, however, thought it would be better to round up area firefighters to fight local police. They did, and now the event consists of seventeen different three-rounders and draws 17,000 people to the Savvis Center each year.
Guns 'N Hoses is also a big moneymaker. All the proceeds go to benefit Backstoppers, a St. Louis charity that aids the families of police officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty. Last year the event raised $163,000. (Interestingly, the event is also the Savvis Center's most profitable concessions night of the year, according to Clinton. "These are the blue-collar people. They like their beer.")
So who are the better fighters -- cops or firefighters? "It's pretty equal," says Clinton. "The cops will win one year, the firefighters the next. That said, firefighters are usually in better physical shape because they have those hours where they have so many on, so many off, and they have gyms in their firehouses." Last year the firefighters prevailed; the year before, it was the cops.
"Myrl was a genius at matchmaking these guys," adds Clinton. "I've seen nights where it's come down to the last fight; it would be 7-7 and the last fight would determine who would be the champions, the policemen or firemen."
"I don't put Big Bad Wolf against Little Bo Peep," said Taylor in an interview last year. "I make sure the guys are equal."