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In the suburbs of Midwestern Vulcan City, George Wilson, a young, heavyweight prizefighter from Brooklyn, stops at Pa and Ma Karlsen's diner and motel for a bite to eat before continuing to his planned rendezvous with his friend and manager, Freddie Dolan. George tells the Karlsens that Dolan has arranged for him to compete in a prizefight that promises to be a career-booster. While eating, George befriends the Karlsens and meets Miss Gormley, a sullen, classy blonde, who seems out of place at the motel. Later, in the city, after Dolan does not show up at their hotel, George learns from Tom Healy and Dominic Guido, the sports promoters with whom the fight has been arranged, that Dolan appears to have run off with George's advance money. However, George is confident that Dolan will turn up and, to Guido and Healy's surprise, decides to go on with the scheduled fight against local fighter Frankie Sebello. George takes up temporary residence at the Karlsens' motel, in part to be near the mysterious Miss Gormley, who rejects his overtures. On the night of the fight, Dolan is still missing, so at the last minute, Al Muntz, a downcast trainer, replaces him as George's second during the bout and George surprises everyone by winning. Athough Al is pleased and impressed with George, Willie Foltis, an ex-fighter who bet on Sebello, is angry with him. The next morning, Healy and Guido pay George the prize money. Wanting to stay in town to investigate Dolan's disappearance, George asks to be scheduled in an upcoming fight with veteran slugger Soldier Freeman, saying that the national press would be good for his career, but Guido refuses. Later, while checking at the city hotel for messages from Dolan, George encounters Miss Gormley and correctly guesses that she, too, is waiting for the trainer. Provoked by George to reveal more, she finally confides that Dolan has blackmailed her into agreeing to marry him by threatening to make public information that could get her younger brother jailed. After a time, Healy and Guido give in to George and schedule him to fight Freeman, but only if George agrees to take Healy and Guido as managers. Later George is told that Freeman, who wants to retire, has agreed to throw the fight in George's favor, so he can bet on him and win big. To keep the fight, George must agree to the arrangement. He hires as his trainer jaded-but-honest Al, who is against the fixed fight and enlightens George about Healy and Guido, who have mob connections. Later, an officious policeman, Calhoun, who knows Dolan is missing, sends George to identify a corpse found in the river. Although George realizes that the corpse is Dolan, whom he now suspects was killed by Guido and Healy, he claims not to recognize the body and later tells Miss Gormley that he plans to use the fight to take revenge on the mobsters. With Miss Gormley's help, George discovers that Dolan's sister, Gladys Macrowitz, lives in town. Gladys tells George that Dolan visited a couple of weeks earlier and was last seen with two men, whom George later identifies as Willie and Sam Benton, another ex-fighter who hangs around the gym. Now George suspects that Healy and Guido ordered Willie and Benton to kill Dolan, and when Willie, who has been secretly watching George's private investigation, holds him up at gunpoint, George's suspicion is confirmed. George quickly knocks out Willie and takes him to Al, who advises that they prevent Willie from telling Guido and Healy what George knows. With a large sum of money found in Willie's pocket, Al pays a tough trucker friend to transport Willie away for several weeks. Before the big fight, George plays Guido and Healy against each other to plant distrust between them, then assures himself that the big gambling syndicates have bet large sums of money on him. During the fight, George taunts Freeman in the ring until the fighter loses control, knocks George out and wins. Healy, fearing that the syndicate gamblers will view George's defeat as a double-cross, tries to escape with the gate money, but is caught in the act by Guido, and the partners shoot each other dead in an exchange of gunfire. Later, Calhoun grudgingly admits that George broke up the town's crime ring singlehandedly. Al, who believes in George's bright future as a fighter, offers to be his new manager when he gets settled. After saying farewell to his friends at the diner, George heads out of town. Miss Gormley follows, and after revealing that her first name is Peggy, drives off with him. As they drive away, they decide to "try" to live "happily ever after."