Terry Christle doesn't think about boxing when he performs surgery on someone's ailing hip. He doesn't think much about the operating room when he decks an opponent with a left hook. He doesn't think much about either activity when he plays a Bach fugue on the piano.
Christle, who was born in Dublin, is a middling middleweight prizefighter with perhaps a better heart than hands. Still, his record is 10-0-1, and he is managed by Pat and Goody Petronelli, the brothers who handle Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Under their guidance, Christle ended a 2½-year absence from the ring in May by knocking out Kevin Brazier in Atlantic City, and he continued his undefeated string by beating Tom Cole in Lowell, Mass., late in August.
Christle is probably the only unbeaten professional boxer in the world with a medical degree from Trinity College in Dublin. He studied orthopedics and did postgraduate work in anatomy at Trinity, the finest school in Ireland. And on quiet afternoons he used to relax by playing the pipe organ in a Franciscan church beside the River Liffey in Dublin. In fact, when Christle signed his first pro contract, he made his manager sit down and listen to a Beethoven sonatina.
The Irish press has dubbed the 27-year-old Christle variously as the Fighting Physician, Dr. Punch and the Savage Surgeon. He was the Irish amateur middleweight champ from 1977 to '79, the year he also stopped Michel Mouqory in the third round and took the French crown. He qualified to fight for that title because his mother was born in France.
Christle came to Brockton, Mass., last winter to take a determined shot at a boxing career. "So, you're a doctor," said a doubting Goody.
"Yes," answered Christle.
"And you can fight, too?"
"Listen, we don't want people coming in here and wasting our time. Are you sure you're not just a smooth-talking Irish doctor who thinks he can box?"
"I'm sure," Christle said firmly. But Goody still tried him out with Robbie Sims, Hagler's half brother and the WBC's fifth-ranked middleweight. Christle acquitted himself satisfactorily in three rounds of sparring, and the Petronellis took him on.
"Terry's gotta move and move now," says Pat. "He doesn't have time on his side." Christle put off the residency requirement he needs for a medical license in the U.S. to concentrate on boxing. He works in the clinical labs at a Boston hospital during the day and trains at night and on weekends. "Terry's giving it three years," Goody says. "If he doesn't make it, it won't take that long."
Christle also taught anatomy at Trinity. He claims to know where to hit a person to make it hurt, and he plans to suspend his allegiance to the Hippocratic oath during his ring career. He beat Brazier after landing a right uppercut to the groin. You don't need to be an anatomist to know that that hurts.
Christle's whole family has managed to combine boxing with professional careers. His father, Joe, is a law professor who fought in the amateurs in Ireland. Older brother Mel was an Irish amateur heavyweight champ who also went into law as a barrister. Christle's younger brother, Joe, is a cruiserweight with a degree in theoretical physics. Only Mum seems to have eschewed fisticuffs.
It all started when old Joe sent his Dublin-born sons out to the country to learn Gaelic, the ancient language of the Emerald Isle. But the city boys had to learn boxing to protect themselves from the jibes of their country cousins, who found the idea of learning the old tongue a bit balmy. So the brothers took lessons from their Uncle Jim, a Dublin boxing trainer who also plays fiddle in a band.
Within a year 18-year-old Terry had won his first national juniors title. During the five years he spent at the Royal Irish Academy of Music—this was before he went to medical school—he honed his boxing skills as a kind of educational recreation. At Trinity, he prepped for the French amateur finals mainly by studying a text for a physiology exam.
Christle has the heart of an Irish poet. He quotes from the plays of Sean O'Casey and the verse of William Butler Yeats with the same enthusiasm he uses to paraphrase the moves of Sugar Ray Robinson. He recites from Shakespeare as if the Bard were a boxing muse. "Beware of entrance to a quarrel," the middleweight says. "But, being in, bear it that the opposed beware of thee."
And Christle doesn't much care for physicians who want to ban the sweet science. "My impression is that those who attack boxing speak from ignorance," he says. "All they see is two blokes pummeling six bells out of each other. They act like they've got a monopoly on morality. As a doctor, I feel I have a right to advise, but not to moralize."
He thinks most ring injuries are caused by bad refereeing and mismatches. And he shrugs off the notion that a hand injury could jeopardize his surgical career. "If I left the ring and became a surgeon full-time," he says, "I'd look myself in the mirror when I was 35 and ask why the hell I didn't give it a try."
For now, boxing has most of Christle's attention.