Category Archives: Boxing Articles

The Ros Muc Legend

THE MAN WHO WAS NEVER KNOCKED DOWN: The Life of Boxer Sean Mannion.

By Ronan Mac Con Iomaire.

Rowman & Littlefield, June 2018. 240 pages.

Reviewed by Len Abram

Boxing biographies, like boxers in fiction and film, are usually about champions, those who reached the craggy peak of success, a title. This book is about a contender, who missed being champion, by not that much. In the 1980s, although Sean Mannion was a top contender, with many great fights, he never wore the gaudy belts of the WBA or the WBC, arbiters of the sport. For fellow Irishman Ronan Mac Con Iomaire, his biographer, Mannion deserves a second chance for the public to respect the fighter he was, and honor the man he is. The man who was never knocked down is still standing.

Iomaire has already helped produce a documentary about Mannion. In 2017, his “Rocky Ros Muc” was well received by Irish film critics. Mannion’s story begins in the village of Ros Muc in Connemara, western Ireland. Its most notable inhabitants, including Mannion, had to leave to find fame and success. Ireland’s people, it has been said, is its greatest export. The mother of the current mayor of Boston came from the village.

When Sean Mannion climbed through the ropes for every fight, the label on his trunks read “Rosmuc,” for his village of 500. Mannion was once offered thousands of dollars to change the “Rosmuc” to the name of a business or a product, but he refused. He wouldn’t do it for a million, he said. “Rocky Ros Muc” is a reference to the Rocky of the most popular boxing story on film. That Rocky was a thick tongued, Phillie native, who punches his way to glory against all the odds, from lower class to sports aristocracy. The 20 foot square of the ring has its own truth to tell in the sweat and blood of opponents. Pedigree, privilege, and position don’t count a whit once the bell is rung and the fight is on. At its best, the ring is a meritocracy.

In reality, as Iomaire explains, boxing is a big business, where few are fortunate – Sugar Ray Leonard was the first to make $100 million in the sport – and most of the rest, like Mannion, barely make a living. Managers, those who direct the talent and careers of the boxer, make a major difference, the choice of manager a mix of opportunity and luck. Mannion’s best manager, the legendary Angelo Dundee, appreciated his boxers and called each “my guy.” For Dundee, boxers, their well-being, came first. His job was to enhance their physical and psychological health to make them champions.

Dundee finished his career with 15 champions. He considered Mannion as one of his most talented boxers. Dundee noted how tough Mannion was. It was he who remarked that Sean had never been knocked down, the title of Iomaire’s biography. Mannion could take a punch and distribute its force, roll with it, to lessen its impact. Mannion was a natural fighter, and often sparred out of his weight class. Dundee’s regret is that he didn’t manage Mannion when he was 20, instead of 30, nearing retirement.

Iomaire has a convincing example of the other kind of management, where the boxer’s interests do not come first. In the early 1980s, a fight between the highly ranked Tommy Hearns and the unknown Sean Mannion was proposed. Aside from more money, success or even a good showing in the matchup would have elevated Mannion’s career and prospects. NBC commentator Dr. Ferdie Pacheco vetoed the fight because of Mannion’s manager then, Jimmy Connolly.

In June 1981, Connolly had committed Mannion to fight Davey “Boy” Green in London, but Mannion remained stateside for a wedding. Connolly was on the hook for a fighter against Green. He put in Danny Long after Long, just coming off a hard loss against Alex Ramos, had only 10 days of rest. Against Green, Long was beaten in four rounds, and his face, according to Iomaire, looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to it.

Pacheco was furious. Allowing Long only 10 days of rest was abuse, an example of what’s wrong with boxing. To the newspapers, he complained that’s how boxers got killed. Pacheco wouldn’t  allow any fighter managed by Connolly to be on NBC, not because of the boxers, but their manager. So the bout between Mannion and Hearns didn’t happen.  (Pacheco also told Muhammed Ali to retire when Ali’s reflexes slowed, but the champ ignored the advice.) 

Mannion continued his rise in the ranks until he got his chance to fight for the light middleweight crown. On October 19, 1984, in perhaps the most meaningful contest in his career, he went 15 rounds against one of the best of his class, Mike McCallum, whom Tommy Hearns reportedly feared and avoided fighting. A veteran of over 250 fights, a natural warrior like Mannion, McCallum would be his toughest opponent. Mannion, however, was fearless.

Fortune did not smile on the Irishman. Five weeks before the fight, Mannion’s eye was cut by an errant elbow during sparring. The stitches made it impossible for him to spar. The wound had to heal. Mannion trained, hit the bags and pads, and ran the miles, but he lost the sharpness gained through sparring. In the fight, McCallum’s punches reopened the cut and shut Mannion’s right eye. Although he was lucky to last through the 15th , Mannion lost the decision. McCallum went on to defend his title many times after, but never faced Mannion again, his toughest opponent.

The fight at Madison Square Garden, as Iomaire describes it, explains elements of Mannion’s identity, what made the fighter into who he is. South Station ran extra trains to New York to accommodate all the Boston Irish, on their way to attend the fight. Iomaire estimates that 10,000 of the 20,000 in the arena were Mannion fans.

Like the “Rosmuc” stitched onto his trunks, the Gaelic language of Ireland epitomized Mannion’s roots, and perhaps Ireland’s painful history, the poverty, wars, famines, and oppression. Paddy, Mannion’s brother and cornerman at his fights, used to shout at him in Gaelic to lift Mannion’s spirits and remind him who he was. Mannion feared no man, but he was worried that he would bring shame to Ireland and Ros Muc.

That wasn’t the case. When he returned to Ros Muc after his defeat, he was treated as a hero for representing Ireland in a championship bout. Sean Mannion never became champion in any division. He fought until retiring in 1993 at age 36. He worked construction in Boston to make a living. For a while, he trained boxers, but apparently his gym closed, the interest in boxing waning and the interest in property rising, as poorer sections of Boston gentrified.

Iomaire says little about Mannion’s personal life (we learn late he was divorced, remarried, and has a daughter) or his problem with drinking, perhaps those empty calories one reason he struggled to make his weight class. Readers will be fascinated by the episode when Mannion had to lose nine pounds in a day to make the welterweight requirement, or forfeit the fight. Mannion got through that ordeal, as he did through every challenge in the sport of boxing – except winning the title, champion.

Mickey Walker

The Toy Bulldog Took

On Heavyweights

Fought Greb In And Out Of The Ring

By Bobby Franklin

When trying to rank the greatest fighters of all time there are many different criteria used. Included in these are boxing ability, punching power, defensive skills, longevity, consistency, the ability to take a punch, and the opposition encountered.

Mickey Walker

Former Welterweight and Middleweight Champion Mickey Walker  would not rank high in the categories of boxing boxing ability and defensives skills, but he more than made up for that in the ability to take a punch, longevity, and the quality of the opponents he took on. Not only did he win the welterweight and middleweight titles, he also fought for the light heavyweight championship losing a decision to Tommy Loughran. But that was not enough for the 5’7” slugger. He also became a contender for the heavyweight championship. 

Walker, from Elizabeth, New Jersey, began his professional career in 1919, and in 1921 he held welterweight champion Jack Britton to a draw over 12 rounds. In 1922 he would get another shot at Britton and this time he pulled out a decisive win knocking the champion down 4 times on his way to winning the title.

In 1925, Walker moved up in weight class and took on middleweight champ Harry Greb in a bout that would become the stuff of legend. Well, not the bout in the ring but the one that supposedly took place in the hours after that encounter.

Walker and Greb Before The Bell

In a 1981 interview with Peter Heller for his book “In This Corner”, Walker told his side of the story. He concedes Greb won the fight in the ring that night but says he won the rematch that took place outside of a barroom hours later. About Greb, Walker had this to say “He gave me a good shellacking the night we fought. The fight after, on the street, I always take credit for winning that, so I was champion anyhow.” He goes on to relate how the two had been drinking together in the company of their girlfriends. The trouble began when they walked outside and Mickey told Greb “You know Harry, you’d never have licked me if you didn’t stick your thumb in my eye.” Walker said he didn’t mean it as an insult, but Greb certainly took it as one. Harry responded “Why you bum, I could lick you if I had no hands, and I’ll show you.” As Greb said this he began taking off his jacket. Just as Harry had his coat part way off and with the sleeves down by his elbows Walker fired off his best shot at him. According to Mickey, Greb flew four feet into the air and up against a wall before crashing to the ground. At this point a huge policeman stepped in and broke things up. 

After his evening with Greb, Mickey returned to defending the welterweight title but in 1926 he lost it to Pete Latzo. At this point he was having difficulty making the weight. He returned to the middleweight division and later that same year he won the title from Tiger Flowers. 

It was at this point that Walker got an itch to go after bigger game. Though he had not gotten any bigger he decided to campaign in the light heavyweight division and took on former champ Mike McTigue whom he kayoed in one round. He then won a decision over Paul Berlanbach. Mickey continued defending his middleweight crown while fighting the bigger men and eventually earned a shot at the light heavyweight championship taking on champion Tommy Loughran. On March 28, 1929 he lost a ten round split decision to the smooth boxing Loughran.  

After the loss to Loughran, Walker ran off 22 straight victories in the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. He also did something else; he began fighting heavyweights. He believed he would have better luck against the very big guys because they would be slower and easier to hit. For a time it looked like his reasoning was paying off. He beat the very tough Johnny Risko twice and then took on the fearsome Bearcat Wright. Outweighed by 42 pounds and a half a foot shorter than his opponent, Walker, after being down briefly in the first round, came back to floor Wright and by the tenth and final round had Bearcat hanging on. Mickey won the decision and the opportunity to take on Jack Sharkey in an elimination bout to determine a challenger to champion Max Schmeling.

Walker vs Sharkey

Walker fought aggressively against Sharkey and, while absorbing quite a few heavy blows fromJack, kept the pressure on to earn a draw with the future heavyweight champion. It was an amazing performance by the 5’7″ Toy Bulldog.

Mickey continued taking on heavyweights and defeated King Levinsky and Paulino Uzcudun while dropping a decision to Johnny Risko in their third meeting. In 1932 he would be matched with the now former champion Max Schmeling. A win over Schmeling would put Walker in line for a shot at champion Jack Sharkey. 

Walker vs Schmeling

Schmeling was the one big man Walker should not have stepped in with. Mickey’s straight at you style was made to order for the counterpunching German who knocked Walker down late in the first round. Mickey took an awful beating as Max continually landed with his vaunted right hand. Mickey kept attempting to land hooks on Max but was out punched time and again In the 8th round Walker, with his eyes swelling shut was dropped two more times. At one point Schmeling pleaded with the referee to stop the fight. When Walker returned to his corner his seconds waved the towel signifying their man had had enough. 

In the Schmeling fight Mickey showed incredible courage, but this fight also took a lot out of him. He would continue fighting but was never the same again. He would challenge one more time for the light heavyweight title, losing a decision to Maxie Rosenbloom. He never lost his middleweight title, rather he gave it up when he set his sights on the heavyweight throne. 

Schmeling Pleads With The Referee To Stop The Bout

Mickey Walker retired from the ring in 1935. His final record is believed to be 131 wins (60 by knock out), 25 losses, 2 draws, and 2 no contests. After retiring he opened a restaurant in New York City and also took up painting. He earned some renown as an artist and his work was displayed in galleries in New York and London.

Walker died in 1981 after suffering from Parkinson’s Syndrome no doubt brought on from his years in the ring. If greatness was judged solely on toughness and heart Mickey Walker would rank very near the top.

A Few Pearls of Wisdom from My Interview with the Great Archie Moore

A Few Pearls of Wisdom from My Interview with the Great Archie Moore

By 

Mike Silver

On February 26, 1983 I had the great good fortune to meet and interview the legendary Archie Moore. The former light heavyweight champion (1952-1962) had amassed one of the greatest records in boxing history. After a long and arduous 17 year campaign Archie finally won the championship in his 177th professional fight. He fought from 1935 to 1963 and retired with an outstanding 186-23-10 won-lost-draw record (including one no contest). It is safe to say his extraordinary number of knockout victories—131—will never be eclipsed.  

Archie was in New York City to present an award to one of his former opponents, Charley Burley. Burley was just one of at least a score of genuinely great boxers that Moore fought during his illustrious career. Many of the names in that record read like an entire HOF roster: Cassius Clay (Moore made it a point to say that he never fought Muhammad Ali since the future heavyweight champion had not yet changed his name at the time they fought), Rocky Marciano, Ezzard Charles, Charley Burley, Jimmy Bivins, Holman Williams, Bert Lytell, Lloyd Marshall, Harold Johnson, Eddie Booker and Teddy Yarosz, to name a few. If Archie Moore were fighting today he would be heavyweight champion after already having won both the middleweight and light heavyweight titles. 

Although his formal education ended in high school, Archie never stopped learning. He was a worldly individual and full of the wisdom of life experiences. He possessed an analytical mind and was intensely curious about a wide range of topics. Mostly self-educated Archie was, without question, one of the most remarkable, charismatic and accomplished characters I have ever met—in or out of boxing.  

Archie was an artist in the truest sense of the word.

As author Joyce Carol Oates has so accurately stated—“The brilliant boxer is an artist, albeit in an art not readily comprehensible, or palatable, to most observers”.  Archie was an artist in the truest sense of the word. In 1955 the near 40 year old Moore challenged Rocky Marciano for the heavyweight championship of the world. Although knocked out in the 9th round Moore put up a rousing fight, even dropping Rocky hard in the 2nd round for a short count. This is how the New York Times reported it the following day: “Moore…gave an exhibition of boxing skill that, even in defeat, was almost as thrilling and moving as the display of awesome power that eventually brought the victory to Rocky.” When this sport was still worth our time and attention Archie Moore’s name stood out like a brilliant shining star. 

Here is the interview:

MS: Archie, you are in New York to honor one of your former opponents, the great Charley Burley. So I think it’s appropriate to begin with him. You lost a unanimous 10 round decision to Burley and were knocked down four times. What happened?

AM: Charley Burley had a very deceptive style of fighting. He just tricked me. He tricked me because we both boxed similar but whereas mine was an apparent forward movement Burley’s was a continuous serpentine movement. He was like a threshing machine going back and forth. His body would sometimes lean over towards you and he’d pull it back just in time. Hitting him solid was almost impossible. But what made him so dangerous was that he could punch from any angle. He was never off balance although he appeared to be off balance on many occasions. 

MS: You had one of the longest careers of any boxer who ever lived. You fought in five separate decades—the 1930s to the 1960s. What was the secret of your boxing longevity?

AM: Well, I knew how to fight. I was also a master of pace. It was very important to know how to force pace and set a pace. As a result very few people could make me fight out of my system of fighting. Eddie Booker, Lloyd Marshall and Charley Burley made me fight out of my system. In my winding up years Marciano was one, as was Durelle. I had to fight out of my system to get back into that fight. Another boxer I had trouble with was Jimmy Bivins. Jimmy knocked me out the first time we met because he had such a deceptive reach. Although he was no taller than I was (5’ 11”)his arms touched below his knees. When he pulled his arms up they looked no longer than mine, but when he reached them out he hit me with the hook. 

MS: Well, you obviously learned from your mistake because you defeated Bivins four times after that. Looking over your amazing record I noticed that the great Ezzard Charles defeated you three times during your prime fighting years. Did Ezzard make you fight out of your system of fighting?

AM: No…no. He just outfought me. Ezzard was always in superb condition. He was a nice standup fighter and an expert boxer. Whereas he was not a terrific puncher, but he was a good puncher with both hands.

MS: Archie, you are acknowledged to be one of boxing’s all-time knockout artists. Are great punchers born or can a boxer increase power by perfecting such things as balance, leverage, and timing?

AM: Those ingredients you just mentioned are conclusive; all are an admixture as such as you just described, especially timing. 

MS: Who were some of the great punchers Archie Moore fought?

AM: Charley Burley was a terrific puncher, although to look at him you would not know it. His build fooled everybody. Burley’s legs were skinny, he was not extra wide of shoulder, he was small in weight and his height was the same as mine. But that man could get more leverage into a punch than anyone I ever fought. Another great puncher was Curtis “Hatchetman” Sheppard who once missed a punch to the jaw and broke a man’s collar bone. Lloyd Marshall was the snappiest hitter of them all. He could knock you out with either hand. Ron Richards was a tough hitter. Marciano was a very hard puncher—a bludgeoning type of hitter—super conditioned by Charlie Goldman. He was 100% aggression. There were others but I’d have to look at the record because I forget. 

MS: Archie I think it’s fair to say that since you were still fighting at an age when most other boxers were long retired you had to utilize every advantage, mental, physical and psychological, in order to maintain your edge over much younger opponents. Can you give an example?

AM: In 1955 I fought Nino Valdez in Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time Nino was the top ranked heavyweight. He was 6’ 4’ tall and weighed about 215 pounds. It was a 15 round bout and the winner was promised a bout with Marciano for the heavyweight title. The fight was staged at an outdoor arena in the late afternoon. As the sun began to settle on the west side of the ring I was sitting in my corner facing the sun and noticed that Nino was sitting with his back to the sun. The bell rings and I move to maneuver and before any activity starts I’ve already got my head under his chin and I’m muscling this big guy around. I face him into the sun and I keep turning him to the sun. He’s trying to get back around and I keep cutting him off. I’m always maneuvering him back to face the sun which was very bright. And all the while I keep spearing him with the left hand and keep twisting and twisting and turning him and try as he could, he could never make me turn into the sun. The sun was of course bothering him and I kept thumping him with the left jab. Hard stiff stiff jabs.  Pretty soon his eyes began to lump up. One eye closed up completely and the other was closing fast. By this time the sun was going down and the fight was coming to a close. I won 14 out of 15 rounds. 

MS: What does Archie Moore think of today’s boxers?

AM: “I think modern day fighters do not get proper basic training.  Boxing is based on disciplined training and disciplined repetition. Do you know the best friend a fighter has when coming up? (Archie pointed to a large floor length mirror). A very important part of training is practicing your moves in front of the mirror. But most fighters never come in contact with the mirror until they start to jump rope. Since they skip rope in front of a mirror why don’t they shadow box in front of a mirror? You can do that at home. You go through the motions. You learn how to duck. I can see where I’m going to hit my opponent. Am I at the right distance from him? I can hit him over the heart. I can hit him in his liver. I can step aside and hit him in the kidney. Go over the top, whatever. 

MS: After your victories over Joey Maxim for the title you defended it against Harold Johnson. This was your fifth meeting with Johnson, who you already had outpointed three times. In this fight you were behind on points when you knocked Harold out in the 14th round. 

AM: Harold Johnson was a great fighter. A picture book boxer. I was just his nemesis the same way that Ezzard Charles was my nemesis. Joey Maxim was a difficult boxer to fight because he knew so much about defense. Joe was 99% defense. And Joe was very durable and tough. 

MS:  What are the ingredients that go into making a successful prizefighter and what advice would you offer to a young boxer asking for guidance and direction?

AM: The first ingredient is discipline. Discipline and desire. It is said that desire is the candle of intent and motivation is the match that lights it, and that candle must be kept burning.  Once you make up your mind to go all the way to the top in boxing, first of all, go and get the best qualified instructor to teach you of the things you need to know. It should be someone you like, someone that you can deal with and someone you can listen to and obey. It should also be someone that you have trust in. Otherwise, somewhere down the line you’re going to have a breakup, a mix-up, or an argument and you lose a friend. Because the person who is your instructor, your trainer, your teacher, he’s closer to you than your father. 

MS: Trying to find a qualified trainer nowadays is easier said than done. The number of expert boxing instructors, as compared to years ago, has diminished. What can be done about that?

AM: As far as the area of improving the skills of boxers is concerned, I have developed a whole new system of teaching the basic boxing techniques. It is a new and revolutionary technique. I taught it to George Foreman and we went down to Jamaica and won the title with it. I thought George had untapped reservoirs of strength and it was up to me to channel it. 

MS: Can you describe your revolutionary system and how it works?

AM: I could readily describe it but I prefer not to at this time.

MS: OK. Let’s change the subject. Who in your opinion was the greatest pound for pound boxer you have ever seen. 

(Author’s note: Archie did not answer immediately, taking about ten seconds to consider his answer)

AM: Henry Armstrong. Here is a man who won the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles all in the same year, and the men he beat to win those titles were great fighters in their own right. 

MS: What about Sugar Ray Robinson?

AM: When Ray was active there was nobody any smoother. Watching Ray fight was like drinking a nice…soft…drink. I enjoyed watching Ray Robinson fight because I appreciate beauty in athletics. I enjoyed watching Oscar Robertson move on the basketball court, Jim Brown on a football field, Andretti in an automobile, Willie the Shoe ride the horses. Everybody had their way of doing things with skill. These are skilled men and there’s nothing I like better than skill. When a guy does something, and does it well, I admire that. There’s never been anybody more graceful, skillful with a rope than Ray and I’ve seen some awfully good rope skippers. I would rather see Ray Robinson punch a speed bag than watch the average guy go out and fight a six round fight. Ray was a skillful man, he was a game man. In his time there was nobody more beautiful than he was, although there were one or two guys that might have beaten Ray in their time. I would like for someone to say, personally, that I think Charley Burley could have beaten Ray in Ray’s best time. But people hate to go out on a limb. 

MS: Is there anything about your boxing life you would have changed or done differently?

AM: I’d have like to have made some money and have more financial gain out of boxing. You see a  boxer’s wish is to be independent. This is a profession. I like to be without obligations to other people but I was obligated. But I was mindful of whom I borrowed money from and I was careful not to get mixed up with people who would be embarrassing to you at a time when they wanted to collect.

MS: Thank you for your time Archie. 

(Mike Silver is the author of Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing and The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science. Both books are available on Amazon.com)


https://youtu.be/c7qFsEmK1gE

Tommy Collins vs Jimmy Carter

The Boston Massacre

By Bobby Franklin

It was April 24, 1953 when Tommy Collins stepped into the ring at the Boston Garden to challenge Lightweight Champion Jimmy Carter for the title. Collins had become a favorite of fans who were taken with his exciting style and hard punching. At the time of the Carter fight Collins had scored knock outs in 40 of his 58 victories. He had also lost 9 bouts with 7 of those losses coming via stoppage. His biggest win was a kayo of former Featherweight Champion Wille Pep, though many questioned whether that fight was on the level.

Carter Drops Collins

Collins was coming off of a 6 fight winning streak going into the fight while  Jimmy Carter had dropped his last 2 contests, both non title fights.  Carter’s record  stood at 87 fights, 64 wins (20 by stoppage),15 losses (1 by stoppage), and 8 draws. While Collins, on paper, appeared to be the superior puncher, Carter had fought and beaten much stiffer competition. The champion was also an extremely skillful boxer who threw his punches with great accuracy, something Collins would experience first hand. The odds were set at 2 to 1 in the champions  favor, but it was not long after the opening bell that 100 to 1 would have made more sense. The referee for the bout was Tommy Rawson, a former amateur boxing star who was reported to have had 220 simon-pure fights before turning pro. 

The fight was a huge event in Boston, drawing approximately 12,000 fans and setting a record gate for the time with gross receipts adding up to $152,155.00. It was also broadcast live on national television. 

As the fighters entered the ring a Marine Corps color guard stood at attention for the playing of the National Anthem. The Garden crowd was filled with excitement at the anticipation of their local hero winning the title. That excitement would dissipate quickly and turn to concern the local boy would be seriously injured or even killed.

As the fight began it didn’t take long to see it was a serious mismatch. Carter immediately showed he was the superior fighter taking control of the bout before the sound of the opening bell had faded. He boxed rings around Collins for the first two rounds. As bad as this was, it would turn much worse for Collins.

There is little doubt the bout should have been stopped after the third time Tommy hit the canvas.

At the bell for the third round Carter came out and landed a solid left hook to the chin of Collins. Seconds later he landed with a tremendous right hand that dropped Collins flat on his back. Tommy appeared to be out before he hit the canvas, but by some miracle, or perhaps curse, he made it  back to his feet at the count of nine. Referee Tommy Rawson very quickly wiped off Collins’ gloves and immediately sent him back into action. Carter dropped Collins again with a left/right combination. Again, Collins looked to be out but got back to his feet at the count of eight. And again, referee Rawson didn’t take any time to examine Collins and had him resume fighting. Carter would go on to deck Collins for a total of seven times in that third round. Collins was attempting to fight back but what little resistance he showed was displayed with wild swings. Six of the seven knockdowns were brutal. It can be argued the fight should have been stopped after the first one. There is little doubt the bout should have been stopped after the third time Tommy hit the canvas.

At the end of the third round, Collins with his left eye swollen shut couldn’t find his corner and had to be helped there by his seconds. Referee Rawson did not examine Collins between rounds. His seconds never should of allowed him to come out for the fourth round, but they did. Carter dropped Collins again shortly after the start of the round and again Referee Rawson allowed the bout to continue. Collins went down again, and as Rawson was counting over him his handlers jumped into the ring and called a halt to the fight. If Collins had managed to regain his feet it is apparent Rawson would have let the carnage continue. I woudn’t have been surprised if Rawson picked Collins up off the canvas and pushed him back towards Carter. 

Shortly after the fight, switchboards at TV stations across the country lit up with calls from the public who had witnessed this disgraceful officiating by the referee. The callers were expressing outrage at the brutality they witnessed and the fact it was allowed to go on for so long. 

“I asked Rawson, what do you want to do, get him killed?”

After the third round, Carters’ trainer Willie Ketchum pleaded with Rawson to stop the fight. He said “I asked Rawson, what do you want to do, get him killed?” Rawson replied “I know what I’m doing.” Fans at ringside were yelling for the fight to be stopped. The Boston Globe reported  a priest in attendance had started praying for Collins’ life. Even by the standards of 1953 when fights were allowed to go on longer before being stopped, this was a travesty. Rawson never hesitated to send Collins right back into the fray, and never even gave him a close look after the knockdowns. It was a sickening exhibition of officiating. It was also a disgrace the ringside doctor didn’t intervene or for that matter did anyone from the Boxing Commission. 

After the bout, commissioners from around the country weighed in with criticism of how Rawson handled the fight. George Barton President of the National Boxing Association said “It was the worst exhibition of boxing officiating I have seen in fifty years. I can’t understand why the referee allowed Collins to take such a beating. The fight was so hopelessly one sided that I think it should have been stopped after Collins had been knocked down for the third time in the third round.” Harold Kaese wrote in the Boston Globe “It was pitiful to see…where does the contest leave off and humanity step in?” Former Welterweight Champion Barney Ross was quoted as saying “I have never seen such a brutal affair in a ring in all my life.”

Referee Tommy Rawson stood by his actions in the ring that night stating that “Since it was a championship fight, I regarded it as my duty to see it ended in a decisive fashion.” If it had ended any more decisively poor Tommy Collins would have been dead.

This bout and Rawson’s actions during it were a stain on boxing. it did lead to some changes being made to the rules. These changes included implementation of the three knock down rule and the mandatory eight count. Amazingly, Rawson was not officially censured for his bizarre and disgraceful behavior. In fact, he was allowed to continue working as a referee which he did for many years. 

Boxing by its very nature is a dangerous sport where the possibility of severe injury and death are always present. That’s why it is so important for officials to do their utmost to watch out for the welfare of the participants. Watching the Collins/Carter fight and the disgraceful manner in which Tommy Rawson behaved is a text book example of what not to do.

It appears Tommy Collins was lucky a priest was at ringside praying for him. God heard his plea. 

Bat Masterson and Sam Taub

The Wild West Lawman 

And The Kid From The 

Lower East Side

by Bobby Franklin

If you are of a certain age you are probably familiar with Bat Masterson from the TV series in which Gene Barry played the dapper lawman. Barry’s version was of a well dressed gambler who subdued most of the villains by batting them over the head with his gold-knobbed cane.

Masterson was also the subject of a collection of Damon Runyon short stories published under the title of Guys and Dolls. The stories were turned into a Broadway musical and later a successful adaptation of the play into a hit movie. In the 1955 film version the character Sky Masterson was played by Marlon Brando.

The character of Bat Masterson was also used as the basis for a number of other movies and television series as well as books, short stories, and even comic books. He really became the stuff of legend, and with good reason.

Masterson was born William Barclay Masterson on November 26, 1853 in Quebec, Canada. As a young man he followed Horace Greeley’s advice and went West were he and his brothers worked on a section of track for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The subcontractor who hired them skipped out without paying the boys but Bat would later track the man down and see he paid his debt to them.

Wyatt Earp (Seated) and Bat Masterson

Masterson was also a buffalo hunter and Indian fighter. He was an involuntary participant in the Battle of the Adobe Walls, a five day siege in the Texas panhandle. From this experience Bat went on to to become a U.S. Army scout and was stationed at Fort Dodge.

He had also earned a reputation as a gambler and gunfighter, settling in Dodge City where he became the sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. He would eventually leave Dodge City and move to Tombstone, Arizona where he became friends with Wyatt Earp. The two would be participants in the “Dodge City War”.

Masterson was involved in many other exploits and it appears the man was even more interesting than the legend. He took a keen interest in prizefighting. He was present at the John L. Sullivan vs Jake Kilrain bareknuckle fight as well as the Sullivan/Corbett bout in New Orleans. Masterson had laid a bet down on Corbett in that contest. He would later work as a second for Charley Mitchell when Mitchell challenged Corbett for the title.

Bat Masterson In New York

After trying his hand at operating a couple of boxing clubs Bat moved to New York City where he became a columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph. He wrote about a number of different topics but his focus was mostly on boxing. He also worked as a timekeeper for many fights, most notably the Johnson/Willard fight in Havana, Cuba.

The last fight he attended was the Dempsey/Carpentier bout on July 2, 1921. On October 25, 1921 Bat Masterson died in his office after writing what would become his final column for the Telegraph. Here’s where Sam Taub comes into the story.

Young Sam Taub

Sam Taub was born on New York’s Lower East Side in 1886. With the advent of radio he would go on to become famous as the pioneer of blow by blow broadcasting from ringside. Later he would do the same on television calling the shots for the first televised boxing match, the 1941 bout between Lou Nova and Max Baer. For decades he wrote the column “Up And Down Old Broadway” for Ring Magazine. My friend author Paul Beston recalls a quote from that colorful column. Writing about the famous Long Count fight between Dempsey and Tunney, Taub wrote “As for Jack Dempsey, he accepted the outcome and never complained. HE knew who was to blame for the Long Count. That’s how it was long, long ago.”

Taub was among the best known boxing journalists of the 20th Century. He got his start at the New York Morning Telegraph working as an office boy for, you guessed it, Bat Masterson. The day Masterson died young Sam Taub heard him call out. When he came into Bat’s office the legendary lawman was having a fatal heart attack. Sam grabbed ahold of him as he took his last breath. In his later years Taub would sometimes introduce himself with the words “I’m the guy in whose arms Bat Masterson Died.”

Sam Taub

Both of these men were colorful characters, the kind that will never be seen again. The kind that were drawn to boxing when it was  truly an interesting sport filled with unusual people. What other sport would bring together a poor Jewish kid from New York’s Lower East Side and a gunfighter from the Wild West? 

“The Brain Of A Boxer”, Documentary Available April 6th

The Brain Of A Boxer
This Very Important Documentary
Available On Amazon, ITunes, and Google Play April 6th

A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to view Unforgotten: The Story Of Paul Pender at the Boston Film Festival has won numerous awards. The movie, directed by Felice Leeds, looks at the life of former Middleweight Champion Paul Pender, and included rare footage of Paul’s career along with much interesting commentary. More importantly, it took an in-depth view of the toll repeated trauma to the the head took on the former champ’s brain. The movie has now been released to the public and is available at Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. It has been renamed The Brain Of A Boxer. The new title, along with its broad availability, will, I hope, ensure this important film receives a wide viewership.

When Paul Pender died in 2003 after suffering years from symptoms of dementia, it was concluded the cause of death was due to Alzheimer’s disease. It wasn’t until his courageous widow Rose allowed research to be done on his brain that it was found that he had not been suffering from Alzheimer’s, but rather it was Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) that caused the deterioration in Paul’s brain and eventually led to his death. Furthermore, this damage very possibly began during his days playing high school football.

Paul Pender

Much has been learned about CTE in recent years. Lawsuits reaching into the billions of dollars have been filed against the NFL by families of football players suffering from this horrible, and very preventable, disease. Public awareness is growing about the injuries being inflicted on the young participants who engage in contact sports. More parents are less inclined to allow their children to play football our climb into a boxing ring because of the high risk of brain damage involved in such participation. However, the public still has a desire to view these sports and is willing to pay huge sums of money to do so, and as long as the money is there people will be enticed to take up these professions.

In The Brain Of A Boxer you will learn much about the causes of and the research being done about CTE. Most of us assume brain damage is caused by serious concussions which usually result in unconsciousness. However, research has shown how even minor hits to the head, especially when received by young adults and children, causes damage. It is very important for parents to be aware of the dangers involved in many of the sports their children are participating in, and to find alternatives for them. Learning the competitive spirit and having children challenge themselves physically is a very important part of growing up, but having a brain that is injured beyond repair is not worth the price of that experience.

In making The Brain Of A Boxer, Felice Leeds has included interviews with many people from the world of boxing as well as from medical circles. Hearing from those who knew Paul Pender gives us insight into the man. Paul hardly fit the stereotype of the boxer as is seen in so many Hollywood movies. He had a deep intellect and a love for language. It would have been no surprise had he followed a different path in life, such as becoming a college professor.

Former boxers, boxing experts, and friends of Pauls such as former Champ Tony DeMarco, Joe DeNucci, historians Dan Cuoco and Mike Silver, former amateur boxing star Richard Torsney, sportswriter Bud Collins, and Richard Johnson the curator of the Sports Museum in Boston all bring their memories of Paul Pender to life. He was a complicated and interesting man.

Dr. Ann KcKee

For the medical perspective we hear from Dr. Ann McKee who’s tireless research on CTE has done so much to shed light on this terrible problem. Dr. McKee was recently named Bostonian of the Year by the Boston Globe. She has been studying the brains of deceased athletes for a number of years and the results of her findings are stunning. It has been learned that CTE can show up in the brains of athletes at a very young age. It is a progressive disease that gets worse with time and has no cure. It is also a very preventable disease. By no longer allowing athletes to receive trauma to the head the disease can be eliminated from sports.

Rose Pender

Ms Leeds describes Rose Pender, the widow of Paul, as the true hero in this story. It was Rose who made the very difficult decision to allow her husband’s brain to be used for research. Paul Pender’s brain was the first to be studied. If not for the actions of this very courageous woman research into CTE may have been delayed for years.

The Brain Of A Boxer is a very interesting and important film. For those who love boxing there is much to enjoy. The archival footage is just amazing. Hearing the voice of Paul Pender as he talks about the dark side of boxing is eye opening. Also, for those of us who have loved boxing all of our lives, it forces us to confront some very difficult realities. Is the pleasure we get from watching athletes inflict head injuries on each other really something we should accept? Is it time to rethink how we view contact sports? And just maybe we should ask ourselves, would we allow our sons and daughters to take part in sports that can cause such serious damage to their brains? If the answer is no, than we have to deal with the question of allowing others to do so.

The Brain Of A Boxer is an important contribution to the discussion surrounding these issues. It is an excellent film, well crafted and fascinating to watch.

Richard Johnson, the curator of the Sports Museum in Boston, best described it. I believe he was quoting Paul Pender when he said “It is a full day if you have laughed and cried.” This documentary will make you do both.

Tony DeMarco and Felice Leeds

Many thanks to Felice Leeds for making this film. I urge everyone to see it now that they have the chance. It will make you laugh and cry. And I hope it will make you think about the price so many athletes pay for entertaining us.

The Brain Of a Boxer
Directed By Felice Leeds
Available at iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play
For more information go to:
http://facebook.com/unforgottenchamp

Book Review: “Murderers’ Row: In Search of Boxing’s Greatest Outcasts”

By Springs Toledo

Foreword by Eddie Muller

Tora Book Publishing, 297 Pages

Reviewed by Mike Silver

“It was midnight when eighteen-year old Archie Moore jumped off a freight train at Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He ran four blocks to catch a truck that was to bring him back to Civilian Conservation Corps camp 3760. It was the summer of 1935….” So begins Murderers’ Row: In Search of Boxing’s Greatest Outcasts by Springs Toledo. To say that this book is just about the lives of eight of the greatest boxers to never win a world title is like saying John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is just about a poor family in Depression era America. Springs Toledo has written not only a terrific boxing yarn, but an important social and historical document as well.

“To say this book is just about the lives of eight of the greatest boxers to never win a world title is like saying John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is just about a poor family in Depression era America.”

Imagine you are the world’s greatest pianist but the powers that control the concert world will never let you play Carnegie Hall no matter how many great reviews and accolades you receive. Now imagine you are the top rated contender in the toughest and most brutal of all sports but no matter what you accomplish you are denied your ultimate goal—the opportunity to fight for a world championship. That was the situation for eight extraordinarily talented black professional boxers: Charley Burley, Holman Williams, Lloyd Marshall, Eddie Booker, Bert Lytell, Aaron “Little Tiger” Wade, Jack Chase and The Cocoa Kid. At various times during the late 1930s and through most of the 1940s they were all top rated contenders in several weight divisions. Yet not one of the reigning world champions would get into the ring with them. They were denied a shot at the title for reasons that included race, economics and the mob.

In this masterfully crafted and thoroughly researched paean to eight largely forgotten ring greats we not only learn about the amazing athletic achievements of these gifted artists, but also how their futile attempts to land a well-deserved title shot impacted their lives and the lives of their families.

Eddie Booker

In the early decades of the last century boxing was the only major professional sport that was open to African-American athletes. It was also one of the few professions that gave blacks access to the type of wealth and fame that would have been unthinkable a generation earlier. For the poorest segments of society boxing was seen as a way to escape poverty and attain riches and fame. Nevertheless, the black man’s status as a second class citizen was a burden that extended into the sport of boxing as it did everywhere else. Racism played its part but so did economics. If someone offers a champion enough dough to risk his title against a tough challenger you’ve got a match—most of the time. But if there is a good chance a popular champion will lose his title to a fighter who is less of a drawing card—and many a top black fighter did not have the same following as a popular but less talented white champion—a promoter would be less inclined to put on the match. Yet, as Toledo points out, sometimes even the right price was still not enough to entice a champion into the ring with these dark destroyers.

It was common knowledge that having the right “connections” could help ease the way to a title shot. A mob managed boxer had a better chance at lucrative matches in major arenas than an independent. Realizing that their only chance to secure a title fight involved handing over their careers to the organized crime figures who controlled big time boxing, a few decided to go that route. But in making a bargain with the devil these proud warriors paid a heavy price that included being ordered to throw fights.

“Abused and cheated and unable to make a decent living, some turned to drink, further eroding their spirit and their skills”.

Toledo takes the reader behind the scenes and reveals the sordid underbelly of boxing. Abused and cheated and unable to make a decent living, some turned to drink, further eroding their spirit and their skills. Most poignant is the story of The Cocoa Kid (real name Lewis Hardwick). He was the son of a Puerto Rican mother of Spanish descent and an African American father. The Cocoa Kid had over 246 professional fights. For eighty-one months between 1933 and 1947, he was a top contender in the lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight divisions. No champion dared face him in his prime, not Barney Ross, not Henry Armstrong. By the late 1950s Cocoa was wandering Times Square, homeless and suffering from dementia. Admitted to a hospital, he didn’t know who he was. Fingerprints sent to the Navy (he was a veteran) identified him. He died alone and forgotten on December 2, 1966.

Cocoa Kid

The other stories are just as compelling, if not as tragic. Aaron “Little Tiger” Wade, least known of the group, was for a time rated the third best middleweight in the world. A squat 5’5” powerhouse he defeated Archie Moore, Cocoa Kid and Bert Lytell. Faced with the pressure to throw fights he became a bit unstable and battled alcoholism for much of his career, sometimes fighting when drunk. Wade’s story ends well. In his mid-40s he became a born again Christian, stopped drinking, reunited with his family and took a full time job at the Gallo Wine warehouse (a job that certainly tested his resolve). He also began studying for the ministry, eventually opening a store front church in the Fillmore district of San Francisco that served the poor of his community.

“All told, Marshall and the other Murderers’ Row contingent defeated a dozen future and former champions from featherweight to heavyweight no less than 17 times.”

Lloyd Marshall, one of the most feared fighters of his era, whipped Jake La Motta, Joey Maxim and Ezzard Charles—three future champions at middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight. All told, Marshall and the other Murderers’ Row contingent defeated a dozen future and former champions from featherweight to heavyweight no less than 17 times.

What makes this book such an enjoyable experience to read is Toledo’s descriptive and colorful writing style. He not only knows his boxing history, he understands the nuances of boxing technique. In his segment on Charley Burley, who many consider the best of the golden eight, he writes: “Charley Burley’s style was as complex as tax law. An uncanny sense of timing and distance allowed him to find blind spots and he would often leap into shots that carried enough force to anesthetize anyone, including full blown heavyweights.”

Charley Burley

Burley tried for years to get a shot at Sugar Ray Robinson’s welter or middleweight titles. Robinson, along with Joe Louis and Henry Armstrong, had proved to be the exception to the rule. These great black fighters managed the rare accomplishment of becoming cross over stars whose extreme popularity cut across racial lines. No doubt if someone offered enough money to Ray he would have complied, but it would have taken more than a small fortune to entice him into the ring against as formidable a challenger as Burley.
Since they were so often dodged by the top contenders and champions the best way for the elite eight to keep active and earn a payday was to fight each other as often as possible. And fight each other they did!—no less than 62 times. “It was a frenzy”, writes Toledo, “a free-for-all, a battle royal from the bad old days.” They matched up so evenly that a win in one fight could not guarantee the same result in a rematch. In the words of boxing scribe Jim Murray, who witnessed many of these classic encounters, they “put on better fights in tank towns than champions did in Yankee Stadium.”

The last of the Murderers’ Row had his final fight in 1951. Eventually their names drifted off into obscurity. As Springs Toledo points out, they would have remained mostly forgotten if not for Archie Moore. The wonderful “Old Mongoose” would have been counted as a Murderers’ Row member had he not won the light heavyweight title in 1952, at the age of 36, in his 171st pro fight. During the long and frustrating road to a title shot Moore was exposed to more than his share of boxing’s corruption and injustices. He knew that fate had been kinder to him than his former Murderers’ Row opponents.

“They would have remained mostly forgotten if not for Archie Moore.”

It is to Moore’s credit that he resurrected their names out of sympathy and respect. Beginning in the 1960s, whenever he was interviewed about his own remarkable career, Moore made it a point to mention them by name. Although he couldn’t correct the injustices done to them, he could at least make the world aware of their greatness. After all, who would know that better than Archie Moore? All eight were good enough to fight on even terms or better against him.

It was Budd Schulberg who first referred to several of the elite eight (in addition to other notable black fighters) as “That murderer’s row of Negro middleweights carefully avoided by title holders” in an article for Esquire in 1962. Since then authors Alan Rosenfeld and Harry Otty have given us two outstanding biographies of Charley Burley. And now thanks to Spring Toledo’s contribution the story of the Murderers’ Row is complete. “Consider me something of a private investigator”, he writes, “inspired by the memories of Archie Moore and hired by ghosts.” I have no doubt those ghosts are very pleased with the result.

Mike Silver is the author of The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science and Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing.  All are available at Amazon.com

 

Rest In Peace Joey Giambra

Former Great Middleweight Contender
Passes At The Age Of 87

By Bobby Franklin

Joey Giambra

To realize what a master boxer Joey Giambra was all you had to do was look at his face after he retired. Giambra, who passed away on March 2nd, didn’t have a mark on him and still retained his Hollywood leading man good looks. He had fought many of the top contenders of his day during his 77 bout career and was never knocked out. In fact, he only lost ten fights with five of those losses coming in his last eight fights as his career was winding down. His last fight took place in Boston where he lost a disputed ten round decision to local favorite Joe DeNucci. Giambra took the fight on 24 hour notice filling in for Joey Archer who had been injured.

Joey Giambra’s record reads like a who’s who of the middleweight division in the 1950s. He went undefeated in his first 17 fights before losing a decision to the very experienced Johnny Cesario in 1951.

Joey was right back the next month defeating Albert Adams and went on to score ten straight victories before dropping a decision to future champ Joey Giardello. Giambra would come back less than a month later to beat Giardello. The two would have to wait until 1958 to have a rubber match in which Giambra took the decision.

Joey Giambra was an artist in the ring. He was an excellent defensive boxer who could also mix it up in close. He had an accurate left hook that he could deliver to the head as well as the body. His right hand was like a laser. Hitting him with a clean shot was next to impossible.

Joey Giambra and Billy Martin

In 1962 when Joey was past his prime he was nothing short of magnificent in taking the hard punching Florentino Fernadez apart, stopping him in the 7th round. If you want to see the bull vs the matador, watch that fight.

Giambra fought both at a distance and in close, beating Fernadez to the punch time after time, finally busting up Florentino so badly and breaking his nose, that the referee would not let him answer the bell for the 8th round.

Other names on Joey’s record were Carl Bobo Olson, Bobby Dykes, Yama Bahama, Rocky Castellani, Gil Turner, Chico Vejar, Rory Calhoun, and Ralph Jones.

With so many victories and possessing such talent the question to be asked is why did he never get a shot at the middleweight title? It turns out Joey was a straight shooter and he wouldn’t play ball with the mob. In an interview he gave to the L.A. Times in 1989 Giambra tells the story of what happened: “Jim Norris who ran the Garden then, liked me and wanted me to get rid of my manager, Mike Scanlon, and give me one of his guys as my manager. I said I wouldn’t do it. Norris looked at me and said, ‘You’re a nice kid, Joey, but you’re naive.’ I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what naive meant.” That pretty much sealed his fate when it came to ever fighting for the title.

Joey Giardello and Joey Giamba

Joey had movie star good looks and many thought he could have had a career in Hollywood. It turns out he did have an appearance in a major motion picture. He was fighting in Reno in 1960 and Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe were at ringside. Gable took notice of hm and the next day sent a guy to find Joey and had him play a small part in the movie “The Misfits”. Giambra got $1,000.00 for saying “Hey you”.

Giambra was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and later settled in Las Vegas where he worked as a blackjack dealer and later drove cab. He had a son and a daughter and after his wife ran off he raised both children himself, doing a fine job with them. Joey also worked with a foundation that helped keep elementary school kids off drugs. He stayed fit and active until he had a stroke at the age of 78. Joey was always a clean liver and a great example for how to live life the right way.

Joey Giambra, Boxing’s Elder Statesman

Joey Giambra was a man of integrity and great decency. He never sold out his principles and he never became bitter. He was also one of the most gifted boxers to ever lace on a pair of gloves.

Rest in Peace Joey, you were truly the Uncrowned Champ.

Clay vs Liston 1

Will We Ever Know What Really Happened?

By Bobby Franklin

On February 25, 1964 the young upstart Cassius Clay stepped into the ring in Miami Beach, Florida to take on Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. The fight took place just three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and, like the Kennedy assassination, it has sparked many theories about what really happened.

Clay went into the fight undefeated but as a 7 to 1 underdog which was no surprise, Liston had won the title with a devastating knock out of Floyd Patterson and just a year later he had repeated the victory in the same manner.

MIAMI, FL – FEBRUARY 25, 1964: Sonny Liston (L) throws a punch at Cassius Clay (R) in a World Heavyweight Title fight February 25, 1964 at Convention Hall in Miami, Florida.(Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

In Clay’s two previous fights leading up to the title shot he had won a very close decision over Doug Jones and stopped Henry Cooper on cuts. In the Cooper fight Clay was dropped by a left hook thrown by Henry and if the bell had not rung just as he got up may have been kayoed. Neither of these two opponents would have ever been confused with Sonny Liston.

There were some sportswriters who not only didn’t give Cassius a chance, they feared he could be killed by Sonny. But then the unthinkable happened; Cassius Clay “Shook up the world” when Liston quit while sitting on his stool after the 6th round. This was stunnung, and immediately the cries of the fight being fixed rang out.

How on Earth could this loudmouth 22 year kid have made the unbeatable Sonny Liston give up the title by quitting? You have to remember, Liston was not only the Heavyweight Champion but also the scariest and meanest man on the planet. His awesome power and baleful stare sent chills down the spines of not only his opponents but of almost anyone who was in his presence. To the public in1964 this outcome just didn’t make sense.

Why would Sonny Liston quit and give up the most valuable prize in all of sports? Nobody could know for sure and Sonny wasn’t talking other than to say he hurt his shoulder.

190.tif

One theory has it that Liston had bet a huge amount of money on himself and had planned to lose a fifteen round decision to Clay, but when it appeared Clay was going to quit after the fifth round Liston figured he had better hang it up first or he was going to lose his bet. Liston also knew there was a clause calling for a rematch in the event he lost.

It seems unlikely Liston could have wagered enough money on himself that it would have benefited him more than having the heavyweight title. Perhaps the mob had gotten to him and pressured him to quit. That’s possible too, but it doesn’t explain one thing, the reason Clay wanted to quit.

After the 4th round Cassius came back to his corner and complained to his trainer Angelo Dundee that he had something in his eyes that was burning and he couldn’t see. He told Angelo to cut off the gloves. Dundee washed his eyes out and pushed Clay out for the 5th round. Clay, still not able to see, got on his bicycle and danced around the ring keeping his distance from Sonny. Sonny couldn’t or wouldn’t lay a glove on him. Cassius survived the round and in the fifth he was back on track and was hitting Sonny with beautiful left jabs that were causing Liston’s face to swell.

The fact that Sonny’s corner may have put a substance on the champion’s gloves should dispel the theory that Liston went into the fight planning to lose. I recently spoke to boxing historian Mike Silver about this. Mike has written a very good article about the controversy over the gloves entitled “Foul Play In Philly” where he compares what happened in Miami in 1964 to a similar situation that occurred when Rocky Marciano was fighting Jersey Joe Walcott for the title. Marciano was also blinded for a number of rounds during that fight. Rocky was always convinced Walcott’s cornermen had put a substance on his gloves. It is also believed the same thing happened when Liston fought Eddie Machen. It is called juicing the gloves.

I told Mike his article proves once and for all Liston did not throw throw the fight. “Not necessarily” Mike responded, “What if the people in Liston’s corner didn’t know Sonny was throwing the fight?” This would be the “Lone Gunman Theory”. Liston could have made a deal on his own with the mob, and the less people who know about such a deal, the less likely it would be found out. Knowing Sonny’s background this is very plausible.

Another camp posits that Liston quit because he had been threatened by the Black Muslims and he feared he would be shot if he won. This one could be listed as the “Grassy Knoll Theory” where a gunman is hiding somewhere in the crowd waiting to assassinate Sonny if things don’t turn out as planned. Again, given Sonny’s background dealing with mobsters, this also is somewhat believable.

So, what do I think happened? I used to believe the theory that Liston was going to planning on losing a 15 decision to Clay but then quit when he thought Cassius was going to. I no longer agree with that. The way the fight was going I doubt Liston would have made it the full fifteen rounds. He was tiring and the swelling under his left eye was getting worse. Liston had only a total of less than six rounds of action in the ring since 1961 and only less then two rounds since 1962. He was also confident he could easily beat Clay so he did not train hard for the fight. Meanwhile, Cassius Clay was in superb shape and he had been very active. He had 17 fights since 1961 and a total of 91 rounds of action. Quite a difference.

Clay was also pumped for this fight while Liston wasn’t. Clay’s confidence, or possibly fear, put all of his defensive mechanisms on high alert. His adrenalin was flowing and that made his already amazing reflexes all that much sharper. Put this all together and the outcome does not seem as implausible as many believed. Sonny was ripe for the taking that night and Clay had the tools to do it.

I’ll save the Magic Bullet Theory for when I write about the rematch.

Greb And The Southpaws

Having Fun With Boxing Lore

By Bobby Franklin

I have always maintained boxing is an addiction that is all but impossible to recover from. Once it is in your blood there is no getting rid of it. This applies to those who have actually competed (Once a boxer, always a boxer), or to those who get caught up in its very rich history.

Harry Greb

It is no secret baseball fans are sticklers for statistics, and boxing isn’t quite the numbers game that the American Past Time is. But in many ways the Sweet Science is even more fascinating when you start digging into the records of those who once made it great sport.

It seems like hardly a week goes by when I get a call, or I call, a fellow boxing aficionado and we share some new fact or oddity we have just learned. Sometimes these little known factoids just pop into our heads as if some enchanted muse of boxing has whispered to us. It is great fun to share these thoughts, and just about always the response is “Wow! I never thought of that”, or “That’s really amazing”.

By now I think we have amassed enough material to put together a game of Trivial Pursuit dedicated solely to boxing. We could also supply enough items to the TV show Jeopardy to keep them going with “Boxing” as a weekly category for years.

While a lot of these facts may not exactly excite the non boxing fan, they certainly prove to be great fun for those of us who are really into the history of the sport.

I have shared some of these in the past, and this week I want to offer up another.

Johnny Wilson

Harry Greb is considered by just about all boxing historians to have been one of the greatest fighters of all time. A few even rank him at the top of the list. Unfortunately, no film of him in action is known to exist, but just taking one look at his record is enough to confirm his being listed as great.

The other day I was thinking about Greb and the man from whom he won the title, my friend the late Johnny Wilson. I remembered talking with Johnny about their fights and how animated he would become when the name Harry Greb was mentioned even though decades had passed since they fought. I was recalling how Johnny was a southpaw and just how few middleweight champs had been southpaws. Then it hit me. Harry Greb not only won the title from a southpaw, but he lost it to one too.

The fellow who defeated him for the title was Tiger Flowers, also a leftie. As far as I have been able to determine this was the only time that a middleweight champion both won and lost the title to a left handed opponent. It may be the only time it has happened in any division.

Tiger Flowers

Is that a big deal? Not really. Does it change how we evaluate Greb’s greatness? Not at all. However, it is a lot of fun to come up with things like this, and it is a reminder about how many hidden gems there are to still uncover in boxing lore.

If you are into boxing history consider yourself an archeologist that is engaged in digging for more and more information among the ruins left behind. Grab your pick and start your search. You never know what you might find, but I’m sure you can come up with some artifact that will make the rest of us go “Wow! I didn’t know that”!