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Dempsey Vs Firpo 100 Years Later: Was It Really A Legendary Fight?

By Bobby Franklin

Dempsey Vs Firpo By George Bellows

On September 14, 1923 Jack Dempsey and Luis Angel Firpo stepped into the ring at the Polos Grounds in New York. What happened in the first round turned a one sided fight into the stuff of legend.

The previous July, Jack Dempsey had defended his title against Tommy Gibbons via a 15 round unanimous decision. The fight, held in Shelby, Montana became better known for bankrupting the town than it did for being an exciting fight. 

Since winning the title from Jess Willard in 1919, Dempsey had defended the title four times. He was fighting once or twice a year, which was fairly active for a heavyweight champion in that era. After Willard won the title from Jack Johnson in 1915, he only fought one time before facing Dempsey. 

In addition to beating Gibbons, Dempsey also defeated  Billy Miske (KO in 3 rounds), Bill Brennan (KO in 12 rounds), and Georges Carpentier (KO in 4 rounds). The Miske  and Brennan fights were financial flops, while the Carpentier fight drew the first million dollar gate. The fact was, Dempsey was not a big draw as champion. The fight against Carpentier drew a large crowd because the French Champion was promoted for his heroism during the Great War. This was contrasted with all of the negative publicity Dempsey had received when it was reported he avoided being drafted. The majority of people came to see Jack get beaten. 

During this time, Jess Willard was on the comeback trail. He was itching for a rematch with Dempsey. He believed there had been some monkey business with Jack’s gloves in their fight in Toledo, and he wanted to prove he was the better man. Jess was also still a huge draw,

In May of 1923, Willard took on Floyd Johnson in Yankee Stadium. The fight drew 65,000 spectators. Contrast this with the 13,000 who showed up for the Dempsey/Brennan fight or the approximately 11,000 who attended the Dempsey/Miske bout. It was clear Jack needed am opponent  who could draw if he wanted to make big money.

Firpo Landing A Right On Jess Willard

On July 12, 1923, Jess Willard took on Luis Angel Firpo of Argentina at Boyles Thirty Acres, the same site where Dempsey fought Carpentier. Billed as the Battle of the Giants, this fight actually drew a larger crowd than the Dempsey fight. The winner was to get a shot at the Heavyweight Championship. In front of 100,000 fans, Firpo stopped Willard in the 8th round.

While a Willard vs Dempsey rematch certainly would have been a huge attraction, Firpo now became quite an attraction himself with his display of raw punching power against Willard. Thus, promoter Tex Rickard had a drawing card to match against Dempsey.

Going into the fight with Dempsey, Firpo had fought 28 times losing just twice. He hadn’t lost a match in four years and had scored 22 knockouts. He was crude yet powerful with a devastating right hand. His free swinging style earned him the name Wild Bull Of The Pampas which was also a reference to his home of Argentina.

1923 was a busy year for Firpo. He fought eight times leading up to the Dempsey fight in September. Among his victims were Bill Brennan and Charley Weinert, both of whom he kayoed. 

Firpo And Dempsey

The Dempsey matchup against Firpo proved to be a fight the public wanted to see. 80,000 fans jammed the Polo Grounds on the night of September 14 to see the two fierce punchers go at it. They were not disappointed, though the match might not have become legend if something unusual hadn’t happened in the first round.

The champion weighed 192 pounds while Firpo tipped the scales at 216 pounds. Luis was also taller at 6′ 2½″ to Jack at 6’ 1”, and the size difference showed when the two men met mid ring for the preflight instructions. 

At the bell, Dempsey came out with fire in his eyes. It was clear he was looking to make an early night of it. In the first few seconds of the fight, In his haste to get to the challenger, Jack actually slipped to the canvas briefly. With under a minute gone Dempsey had decked Firpo four times. With the fourth knockdown it looked like the fight was over as the Argentinian was slow to arise, just beating the count. He was dropped again almost immediately. This was turning into a one sided match. 

Firpo was throwing haymaker rights hoping to connect. Dempsey was staying low and focusing on the body where he was doing serious damage to the challenger. After being down for the fifth time, Firpo went for broke throwing punch after punch while hurling himself forward. One of these punches grazed Jack and caused him to drop to a knee for less than a one count. Could Firpo get lucky?

Dempsey kept pounding the body and dropped Firpo again with a right hand and then a seventh time. The end appeared near. By now Firpo was throwing right hands almost exclusively. Big, strong and powerful, he remained dangerous.

Firpo Knocks Dempsey Out Of The Ring

It was at this point the fight turned from Pier Six Brawl to something else. Firpo was lunging at Dempsey throwing those rights. He backed Jack against the ropes where he caught the champion with a good right hand to the jaw. He followed this up with another right to the side of the face that was more of a push. This was enough to cause Dempsey to fall through the ropes and out of the ring. 

The crowd, which had been on its feet since the first knock down was going wild. Dempsey was back in the ring by the count of five and the fight resumed. Firpo was going wild now and was all over the champion, but could not hurt Jack again. 

At the bell for the second round Dempsey was not wasting any time. He dropped Firpo for the eighth time, and then finished him off with a left and a right to the chin. The fight was over at 57 seconds of the round. 

Dempsey Stands Over Firpo

There was and still is controversy over the fight. When Jack was knocked out of the ring, the rules state he had to return under his own power. It has long been argued whether or not the sportswriters at ringside assisted him with getting back through the ropes. The referee, Johnny Gallagher was criticized by some for not disqualifying the champion. He was also called to task for not keeping Dempsey away from Firpo when the challenger was on the canvas. While there was no neutral corner rule at the time, the referee was supposed to prevent the fighter from scoring the knockdown from standing directly over his floored opponent. Gallagher was suspended from the sport after an investigation and never refereed again. In 1930 he was found dead in a New York City hotel room. The official cause of death was liver failure due to alcoholism. Many believed he committed suicide.

As for the fight. If you take out the moment Dempsey was knocked out of the ring and the controversy surrounding his getting back in, the fight would be looked back on as an exciting but one sided affair. It’s doubtful it would have become the thing of legend. For a century now the fight has stirred excitement in the hearts of boxing enthusiasts. It has been mentioned in movies and was the subject of a famous 1924 painting by George Bellows titled “Dempsey and Firpo”, but popularly known as “Dempsey Through The Ropes”.

Jack Dempsey would not fight again for three years, losing the title to Gene Tunney in 1926. Luis Firpo retired in 1926 but made a comeback ten years later. His last fight was a loss by stoppage to Arturo Godoy in 1936.

In his fight with Dempsey, Firpo was dropped nine times in less than four minutes. The fight was almost as one sided as the Dempsey/Willard fight, and in fact, Jess was still standing at the end of that fight while Luis was counted out against Jack. However, The Wild Bull did something Willard never came close to; he not only decked Jack, he knock him clear out of the ring. This eclipsed what was otherwise a very one sided fight. Firpo was always dangerous in there, but he did not have the skill to defeat Dempsey.

While the fight can be broken down and analyzed, it is better remembered for the emotional thrill it has given fight fans. The line from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” seems appropriate here:”When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” I can go along with that!

Rest In Peace Roy Harris

Heavyweight From Cut And Shoot Texas

Challenged For Heavyweight Title

Roy Harris

By Bobby Franklin

Roy Harris, who in 1958 fought for the Heavyweight Title, passed away on August 8th. He was 90 years old. He died peacefully at his home in Cut and Shoot, Texas surrounded by his children and large family. Mr. Harris was born in Cut and Shoot on June 29, 1933, and he lived his entire life there.

When Roy was eight years old, his bother Tobe traded a couple of wild ducks for a pair of boxing gloves. Their father gave the boys boxing lessons. This was the start of the long road that led to Roy getting a shot at the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Roy and his brothers would spend their free time sparring in a makeshift ring. Eventually, Harris would move on to an amateur boxing career where he won four consecutive Texas State Golden Glove Championships. He then turned pro in order to earn money for college tuition. 

Young Roy Getting Pointers From His Father

In the professional ring, Harris reeled off 23 consecutive wins. With victories over Charley Norkus,  Bob Baker, Willie Pastrano, and Willi Besmanoff, Roy was deemed worthy of a shot at champion Floyd Patterson. The fight took place on August 18, 1958 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, California.

The gate of 21,680 fans set an attendance record at the time for the state of California. In addition to the live gate, another 200,000 people watched the fight on closed circuit television. The fight also put the town of Cut and Shoot in the spotlight as reporters descended on the challenger’s hometown.

The fight didn’t disappoint when it came to action. Though the people in Roy’s hometown were disappointed he wasn’t able to bring the title belt home, they were and remain proud of the battle he put up. 

Floyd Patterson And Roy Harris At Weigh In

In the second round Harris landed a solid uppercut on the Champion’s chin that dropped Patterson. When Floyd got up he was hit with a left hook that he later admitted “dizzied” him.

As the fight entered the seventh round, Patterson began to hit his stride and dropped Harris. In the eight round he floored the challenger two more times, and in the twelfth round floored the very game Harris one more time.

Roy was willing to come out for the next round, but his trainer Bill Gore stopped the fight before the bell rang. It was the right thing to do. The man from Cut and Shoot had given it his all but Patterson was just too much for him. 

Harris would continue fighting hoping to earn another shot at the crown. He added some impressive wins to his record including victories over Charlie Powell, Joe Bygraves, and Alejandro Lavorante. While not getting another title bout, he was matched with the number one contender. Unfortunately, that meant stepping in the ring with Sonny Liston. Liston was at his deadly prime at this point. Patterson was avoiding him and the future champ was mowing down the top contenders.

Roy Teaching Fourth Graders

Outweighed by eighteen pounds, Harris took the fight to Sonny. He just did not have the fire power to hang in there with the ferocious Liston, and was dropped three times in the first round. The fight was stopped because of the three knockdown rule which automatically meant the bout was over. 

Roy had three more fights before retiring in 1961. His professional record is 30 wins and 5 losses. Most importantly, he quit boxing with his faculties fully intact.

While his boxing career may have been over, he was just beginning his life’s work which included becoming a school teacher and then a lawyer. While in college Harris also was in the ROTC and earned the rank of Captain in the Army.

On top of his teaching, military, and law careers, Roy was also elected Montgomery County Clerk, a position he served in for twenty-eight years. He was always there for his friends and family. Anyone in need knew they could count on Cut and Shoot Roy.

Roy Gets A Good Luck Kiss From Wife Gloria

On September 24, 1955 Roy married the love of his life, Gloria Jean Groce. Together they raised six children. He never completely recovered from the loss of Gloria Jean who passed away in 2008. He loved her deeply. His family has always remained close and have lived by the values Roy instilled in them.

He remained active in the community for the rest of his life. Helping neighbors, supporting family members, and even taking time to give boxing lessons at the local gym. 

Also known as “The Battler From The Backwoods”, Roy Harris was the epitome of what a real man is. He was a soft spoken Southern Gentleman, handsome and physically imposing. While all business in the ring, he was a kind and gentle man when not wearing the gloves. He devoted his life to helping others, never left where he came from both physically and in the values he lived by.

Roy Enjoying A Full Life

Boxing fans mostly know Roy Harris by his losses to Patterson and Liston. He should also be remembered for his many victories in the ring, but mostly for the exemplary life he lived. His family and the people of Cut and Shoot, Texas will never forget his grace and goodness. He may not have won the Heavyweight Title, but the Championship he possessed was much bigger than that. Roy Harris was a true Champion and the best of role models in the way he lived his life. The world would be a better place if there were more people like him in it.

Nature Vs Nurture: Looking At Ali And Marciano

By Bobby Franklin

Boxing has been called physical chess. Gene Tunney once described the sport as “The art of thinking expressed in action”. In fact, in spite of its primitive nature, boxing was the most cerebral of competitions. While the basics of the sport went back to Cain and Abel, the science developed over the centuries. Prizefighting became an art form, albeit a brutal one. When matches were made, fans didn’t just discuss the size and strength of the men involved, they also argued over whose style would prevail. In the simplest of terms there were those who favored sluggers and those who favored “boxers”, but it was more nuanced than that.

It is easy to put fighters into an either or category. Muhammad Ali would be called a boxer by many while Rocky Marciano would be placed in the slugger file. However, it’s not all that simple. While Ali had great speed and reflexes, when those physical attributes declined later in his career he ended up on the receiving end of some serious punishment. An example would be his fight with Earnie Shavers, a bout in which he took some horrific punches; hardly the performance of a “boxer”.

Rocky Marciano would be put into the slugger slot by many fans. This does not do credit to the very great technical skills he had. Did Rocky ever take the type of brain rattling shots in a fight that Ali did when he fought Shavers? I think the answer is clearly no. On a technical level, Marciano had better defensive skills than Ali.

Now I know many will be shaking their heads at that statement, but bear with me. In Ali’s earlier career he possessed amazing physical skills. They could be called phenomenal. He had an uncanny sense for anticipating punches, something he called his “internal radar”. Along with this sense he had the amazing speed to react to what his radar signaled him. As he aged he started to lose that ability to react. Once he slowed down he started getting hit more. In truth, he had never acquired the technical skills to mount a great defense as he slowed down. He started winning fights on guts and willpower. He got hit with a tremendous amount of punches in the second half of his career. This was what caused him to end up in such terrible condition toward the end of his fighting days. This worsened after his retirement. He actually ended up in worse shape than any other heavyweight champion.

Why did this happen? It was because Ali became a victim of his own natural talents. He never learned the fine points of the art of boxing. He didn’t need to when he was young. He did so many things wrong, but never paid a price for these mistakes because he was so fast. Once the speed left him he had no skill set to fall back on other than his ability to absorb punishment and his improvisational moves.

Now let’s look at the slugger, a man whose natural abilities were not the greatest fit for boxing, but when schooled properly he was able to take what he had and become an unstoppable force in the ring. He also used the schooling he received to become a difficult target for damaging punches.

Rocky Marciano was not the usual model for becoming successful as a heavyweight fighter. He wasn’t as tall as the average competitor, he had short arms, weighed under 190 pounds, and came to boxing later than most (his first wish was to be a professional baseball player).

When the great trainer Charley Goldman was initially asked to school the young prospect from Brockton, he didn’t have much hope for turning him into a top boxer, but once he got to know Rocky he could see there was something special in this man.

Marciano though clumsy, possessed amazing strength, stamina, willpower, self- discipline, and an extraordinarily hard punch. Goldman was able to work with him to develop a style that played on Marciano’s plusses and compensated for his weaknesses.

Over time the Rock became one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time. Goldman schooled him well, but the style Marciano used would not have worked for a man that didn’t possess his unusual physical attributes. He became a cagey yet brutal force in the ring. It wasn’t just his powerful punch but also his ability to throw one blow after another with all the force of his body behind it while moving forward. Yes, he had skill, but he also had the endurance to be as strong in the later rounds as he was in the early rounds; in fact, he actually got stronger as his fights progressed; just ask Archie Moore.

Some fighters are called “naturals.” They are the ones that show tremendous talent from the moment they first step into the ring. This talent is the type that is not taught; it is rather a combination of great physical ability and good instincts. Ali possessed both of these traits. Marciano, while very powerful, was not blessed with great moves right out of the box. His had to be developed.

What Charley Goldman did with Rocky was to come up with moves that would take his strengths and build on them while compensating for his shortcomings. It took time and a lot of dedication, and hard work to mold the diamond in the rough from Brockton into the great champion he became. Ali, on the other hand, had so many natural moves that Angelo Dundee pretty much let him ad lib his development. This is not to say he did not give Ali instruction, but this advice came more as suggestions rather than schooling. This method worked as long as Ali had possession of his amazing physical gifts, but he paid a huge price for having not learned to supplement that gift with a schooling in the Art of Boxing.

In Ali’s career you can see an arc in his skills. That arc follows the changes in his athleticism and the decline that ensued as his physical abilities waned. With Marciano, the trajectory you see shows continual progress. He was always learning, always listening, and aways improving.

With both men, their physical strengths played a major role in their greatness. But with one, Ali, he almost exclusively depended on his natural gift, while the other, Marciano, nurtured the strong points he had. So when comparing the two I would say nurture was the better path than nature.Rocky Marciano retired in 1955 at the age of 32 after his 49th fight, and until his death in 1969 he was clear headed and showed no signs of damage from his career. Of course, because of his unfortunate death at the age of 45 there is no telling how he would have fared as he got older. But we do know when he walked away from the sport he was fine.

Ali retired in 1981 after his 61st fight. He was 39 years old and had already been showing signs of brain damage for a number of years. He not only stayed in the game too long, he took terrible punishment in those later years. Much of this is attributable to the fact he never learned good defensive skills. Those would be the kind of skills men like Archie Moore and Harold Johnson possessed that allowed them to fight for many years without ending up badly damaged. If Ali had at least some of the skills these men possessed he very well would have been able to avoid the awful shots he took from Earnie Shavers and others.

Just imagine how great Muhammad Ali would have been had he allowed himself to be schooled in the finer points of the art. If he had, he may have walked away with his faculties intact as Marciano did, rather than becoming the poster boy for boxing head injuries.

 

“BELTS? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ BELTS!” A MESSAGE TO ERROL SPENCE JR. AND TERENCE CRAWFORD: TOSS THE BELTS AND KEEP THE MONEY

BY 

MIKE SILVER

Six weeks ago at the press conference announcing the highly anticipated July 29th welterweight title fight between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford something remarkable happened. Errol Spence boldly called out the four sanctioning bodies (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO)   for the huge fees they charge to every boxer who fights for one of their title belts. “We got to know where this money is going to”, said Spence. “How is it helping the fighters out? What are they doing with it?” 

Highway Robbery

Spence had good reason to ask. According to ESPN both he and Crawford are guaranteed a minimum of 10 million dollars apiece for their Showtime pay-per-view unification fight. Since all four organizations’ title belts will be on the line Spence and Crawford are supposed to give up 3 percent of their purse to each group as a “sanctioning fee”. That amounts to a total 12 per cent of 20 million dollars ($2,400,000) to be split four ways by the sanctioning groups. At the very least each boxer will have to pay $1,200,000 to these groups for the privilege of fighting for the belts. (If pay-per-view sales are strong the amount will be even higher).That is an obscene price to pay for the right to be recognized as champion by these self-appointed quasi-official ratings organizations.  

Scam Artists

By the early 2000s the Mexico City based World Boxing Council (WBC) had already collected over $20 million in sanctioning fees from boxers’ purses, with an estimated ninety per cent of the money generated in the Unites States. The main source of income for the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO (aka “the alphabet gangs”) are the aforementioned sanctioning fees. Each organization takes 3 per cent of the champion and challenger’s purse for every title fight they certify. The increase in the number of weight divisions in the 1980s from ten to 17 is directly tied to the desire of all four organizations wanting to collect additional fees while giving back to the sport nothing of value. It was a matter of simple economics– more weight divisions meant more title fights and thus more fees.  But it still wasn’t enough for these greedy hustlers. Adding yet more weight divisions would be too hard a sell, so they decided on a clever innovation. The sanctioning organizations invented additional titles within each of the 17 weight categories with names like “International”, “Global”, “Interim”,  “Super”, “Super, Super”, “Regular”, “Green”, “Diamond”, “Gold”, “Silver”, “Youth”, “Francophone”, “Champion in Recess”, “Franchise”.  As a result, there are nearly 200 of these fabricated titles currently crowding professional boxing’s schizoid landscape. Most of these “champions” are unknown to even the most avid boxing fans. But that is of no concern to the alphabet gangs. What is important to them is that every boxing match broadcast by cable TV or a streaming internet service is for some kind of cockamamie title that requires both challenger and champion to cough up the 3 per cent sanctioning fee.  With the rush to crown so many champions the fights often involve novice professionals with fewer than a dozen fights. 

New titles pop up every year, so it’s safe to say the only people keeping track of all the belts (and fees) are the organizations’ bookkeepers. The WBA alone has 45 “champions” across 17 weight divisions. As soon as a title fight ends a representative of the sanctioning organization enters the ring to present the winner with an oversized leather and metal belt.   

In his outstanding book, Boxing Confidential, author Jim Brady put the current title situation in historical perspective: “In the 1950s, there were approximately 5000 fighters worldwide. There were generally eight weight divisions, with one champion in each. That breaks down to one champ every 625 boxers. Today, with just the major sanctioning bodies and not counting the whackos, you have about one ‘world champion’ for every sixty-nine pros. It’s ridiculous.” No other major sport, with the exception of professional wrestling, would put up with the absurdity. 

So, in the words of Errol Spence, “Where is the money going to? How is it helping the fighters out? What are they doing with it?” In his blog post of June 22nd, the Editor of England’s respected Boxing News, Matt Christie, wrote, “It clearly isn’t being used to pay honest and knowledgeable people to compile rankings, it’s not adding to a pension pot for boxers, it’s not being spent on the carrying out of background checks on the criminals they do business with, nor is a penny going to charities like Ringside Charitable Trust.” 

With no one to rein them in the alphabet gangs find it easy to make up their own rules and then break them when it suits their purposes. They manipulate their ratings of contenders to accommodate the needs of a few powerful promoters ahead of the welfare of boxers and the sport. Even casual fans know their monthly ratings are not to be trusted. Champions recognized by one sanctioning organization are not even rated in the top ten contender lists of a rival group. Under the table payments and secret deals between promoters and sanctioning organizations can get a less than mediocre fighter rated among the top contenders in his weight division. In order to provide a popular alphabet champion with a safe title defense the boxer’s promoter can arrange to have an inferior opponent rated to justify the mismatch. If boxing had a national commissioner similar to other professional sports the sanctioning organizations would have been thrown out years ago. 

A Rare Opportunity

Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford have a rare opportunity to actually do something that could help their sport and all fighters who are forced to give up a large chunk of their earnings to these thieves. All it would take is for Crawford and Spence to refuse to pay any sanctioning fees to the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO. There is no logical reason why they should have to pay. With or without the belts would any fight fight fan on the planet doubt that the winner of Spence vs. Crawford is the best welterweight in the world? The new champion, whoever it will be, does not need a belt to prove it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if their refusal to pay sanctioning fees encouraged other high profile boxers to do the same?  Every boxer would benefit and so would the sport. It’s a long shot, but maybe this can be the start of a movement that will eventually drive the alphabet gangs out of the sport. Denying them fees would eliminate their raison d être and like rats deserting a sinking ship they would quickly disappear. 

If both Spence and Crawford refuse to pay fees, the sanctioning organizations, according to their rules, will strip them of the belts and declare the titles vacant. If past history is any guide all four groups will then seek to crown their own welterweight champion and return to doing business as usual.  

The People’s Champion

But what will we call the winner of the Spence vs. Crawford showdown if the new champion walks out of the ring without the four alphabet belts. Since he will no longer be a standard bearer for the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO, why not call him “The People’s Champion”.  That title—“People’s Champion”—should only be reserved for the fighter who has proven to be the best in his weight class by beating the best. It would have nothing to do with holding 2, 3, 4 or more alphabet belts. The belts should be considered meaningless unless the fighter has earned the title of “People’s Champion” by meeting and defeating the best competition. The fans’ acknowledgement is all that is needed. That was the way it used to be from the early 1900s to the 1970s. 

When Jack Dempsey knocked out Jess Willard to win the heavyweight championship in 1919 there were no sanctioning organizations and no belts or fees. In fact, of the hundreds of photos I have seen of the legendary “Manassa Mauler” I have yet to come across one showing him wearing a championship belt. The public recognized Dempsey as a legitimate world champion because he beat the man that beat the man. The approbation of a “sanctioning organization” was unnecessary, and it was the same for every heavyweight champion that followed him for the next 60 years. So, to paraphrase the famous “badges” line from the classic 1948 film, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, both Spence and Crawford should tell the alphabet bandits—We don’t need your stinkin’ belts!” 

When the undefeated heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted into the army in 1967 he declared himself “The People’s Champion” and until defeated by Joe Frazier the people agreed with him.  When great fighters such as Sonny Liston, Harold Johnson, Emile Griffith, Carlos Ortiz and Eder Jofre won their respective titles in the early 1960s there was no WBC or WBA. The only sanctioning organization that existed in the U.S. was the old National Boxing Association which began in 1921 and eventually grew to represent a loose confederation of 43 member states. Over the next 40 plus years it was staffed by a small group of unpaid but knowledgeable volunteers that recognized champions and rated the top ten fighters for each of boxing’s eight traditional weight divisions. Some of the volunteers were employed by their state athletic commission; most of the others had full time jobs unrelated to boxing. What they all had in common was a love for the sport. They were not seeking to use boxing to line their pockets. The ratings of the NBA were considered reliable and they could not be bought. Unlike today’s sanctioning organizations, the NBA was independent of promoters and did not seek to influence who would referee or judge a title fight. Their only purpose was to add a measure of credibility and coherent structure to boxing, something that is sadly lacking today. Yes, there was a sanctioning fee imposed for NBA recognized title fights. It was a token one dollar. That’s right—one dollar! And it was paid by the promoter. 

But, as noted earlier, things began to change in the late 1970s coinciding with renewed interest in televised boxing that took off a decade later. The National Boxing Association had since morphed into the World Boxing Association (WBA) and moved its headquarters from the U.S. to Panama where a new group took over. (Its current headquarters are in Venezuela). Executives at the CBS and ABC television networks, although satisfied with boxing’s high Nielsen ratings, were concerned about the sport’s less than stellar reputation and a recent scandal involving a corrupt Don King sponsored tournament. To defer blame for any future scandals they insisted on some type of official imprimatur when advertising title fights so they turned to the only “sanctioning organizations” available at the time—the WBA and a spinoff organization calling itself the World Boxing Council (WBC) with headquarters in Mexico. Don King and Bob Arum, the sports major promoters, each had contracts with most of the champions and contenders attractive to television. The competitors were quick to realize the importance TV was allocating to these mostly insignificant entities so they formed mutually beneficial partnerships with them (King with the WBC and Arum with the WBA). The rest is history. (For a complete explanation of how the alphabet gangs came to power see chapter 15 in Mike Silver’s book, “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland Publishers, 2008). 

So I ask you, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., for the good of the sport you love and have devoted your life to, at this most important time in your respective boxing careers, toss your alphabet belts and refuse to pay the sanctioning fees. You will not only keep over two million dollars that no one should be entitled to take from you, but also strike the first significant blow that could mean the beginning of the end for the alphabet gangs. For too long they have robbed too many fighters while at the same time devaluing what it means to be a true “world champion”. Hopefully your action might encourage other high profile boxers to do the same. If some good comes out of it future generations of fighters will bless and honor you for your courage and commitment to doing what is right. 

Mike Silver is a former inspector with the New York State Athletic Commission and author of three books on boxing: The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science; Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing; The Night the Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments From the World of Boxing. All are available on Amazon.com.   

John Henry Lewis: Forgotten Great

By Bobby Franklin

John Henry Lewis

It has long been talked about how many great fighters never got a chance at a title. Many agree that if people like Charlie Burley and Holman Williams got the breaks they deserved in boxing, history might very well be different. For many years the fighters who became known as The Black Murderers’ Row lived in obscurity. However, in recent years they have been receiving their due. Thanks to the work of writers like Springs Toledo whose epic book Murderers’ Row: In Search Of Boxing’s Greatest Outcasts did so much to educate the public about these forgotten men, their names are now much more familiar to the boxing public.

It’s interesting to note that it is not only those who never got a shot at the top who have been forgotten, but there are also great fighters who did win and defended titles that have faded from memory. One reason for this is there were so many great fighters back in the 1920s and 1930s that some overshadowed others. Benny Leonard, Joe Louis, Barney Ross, and a host of others gained legendary status and have become almost immortalized, with countless articles and a number of books written about them. They deserve all the praise they get. Others have slipped from view though.

Joe Louis And John Henry Lewis

One of these was Light Heavyweight Champion John Henry Lewis. Up until recently I wasn’t able to find many photographs of the former champ. While I was familiar with his name it was mostly for the same reason most people would have heard of him; He was kayoed in one round when he challenged Joe Louis for the Heavyweight Title. It was John Henry’s last fight and he was almost blind in one eye. The story goes that Joe Louis gave him a shot as the two were friends and he wanted him to have one big payday before the boxing commissions took his license from him. It has also been said that Joe the Champ dispatched him early to spare him taking too many punches. In fact, John Henry was quoted later saying  “…that was really the easiest fight I was ever in. I went to sleep early and easy.”

The loss to the great Joe Louis should not define John Henry’s career. While no footage exists of his fights, except for a 15-second clip of the Louis fight, Lewis certainly deserves to be mentioned when the greatest light heavyweights of all time are discussed. The International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO) listed John Henry as the 15th greatest light-heavyweight in their All-Time Ratings on December 31, 2019.

Lewis had a total of 117 fights of which he won 101 with 57 by knockout. He lost 11 times and Joe Louis was the only man to stop him. He also had five draws. On the way up he fought Light Heavyweight Champion Maxie Rosenbloom five times, winning two and losing three. In their third fight Lewis dropped Rosenbloom five times. That was something that did not happen to Maxie. It is interesting to note what Lewis said about his bouts with Rosenbloom: “Maxie and I fought five times, and each time I learned something new. He was the craziest and trickiest fighter you ever saw. Of course I had learnt a lot from my father and those old time fighters, but fighting with Maxie was like going to college.”

In the era in which John Henry fought, it was no shame to lose a fight. The important thing was to learn from your losses, and having fifty rounds with Maxie Rosenbloom truly was like going for a Phd in boxing. The things he picked up in those fights are what contributed to him becoming a great champion.

Lewis’s father had also been a fighter and owned a boxing gym in their hometown of Phoenix. Arizona. It was there at an early age that John Henry and his brother got to meet old-timers like Sam Langford and Eddie Anderson. He said “…they taught us some tricks like jabbing and footwork.” That knowledge stayed with him and was instrumental in him later developing into a savvy and complete boxer.

John Henry was close to his father who not only taught him boxing but instilled in him the importance of dressing and behaving like a gentleman. Looking at a photo of the two of them together you can tell these are two classy gents. Lewis retained his gentlemanly demeanor even when he was signed to fight Two Ton Tony Galento, a fighter not known for being careful with his words. When Tony pulled out of the match due to having contracted pneumonia, a disappointed Lewis visited him in the hospital. The fight was never rescheduled.

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John Edward Lewis’ philosophy on life was summed up succinctly in the aftermath of the Louis-Lewis fight when Joe Louis went to John Henry’s dressing room and spoke to him and his dad. John Henry’s dad stared in awe at Joe and then said. “You are a great man, Joe. I’m honored to shake your hand.” Louis blushed, “I’m sorry what happened to John, but we both made some money, and after all, that’s what counts in the long run.” “No,” John Henry’s father broke in. “Money isn’t what counts in the long run, as you will learn when you are as old as I am. Human dignity and mutual respect for your fellow man count in the long run. Remember that, both of you, victor and vanquished.” And both men did remember that – the record proves it.

Jock McAvoy And John Henry Lewis

Lewis won the Light Heavyweight title from Bob Olin on October 31, 1935 by decision in an exciting fifteen round battle. From then until his final fight in 1939 against Joe Louis, John Henry fought 59 times in a combination of title defenses and non-title fights against light heavyweights and heavyweights. He lost only five times including the loss to Louis. One loss was a controversial decision to heavyweight Al Ettore whom he defeated in two subsequent bouts. He also beat Johnny Risko, Elmer Ray, Jimmy Adamick, Al Gainer, Jock McAvoy, Len Harvey, and Patsy Peroni. Before winning the title he defeated Red Burman, Tiger Jack Fox, future heavyweight champ Jimmy Braddock, and Tony Shucco. His career of 117 fights took place over ten years in an era that was extremely rich with talent. Lewis still wanted to fight despite having lost the vision in his left eye which was the reason the commissions pulled his license; a wise decision. He was only 25 years old. (Jock McAvoy and John Henry)

Upon retirement he became a liquor salesman. Having started boxing professionally at the age of 14 he managed to put together a spectacular career and leave the game while still a young man.

John Henry Lewis died in 1974 at the age of 59. He was suffering from emphysema and Parkinson’s disease. It is believed he was a descendent of Tom Molineaux the great bare knuckle boxer. It is sad that this great fighter and soft spoken gentleman has been all but forgotten. Perhaps if he didn’t have to retire so young things may have been different. When you hear the name John Henry Lewis, resist the urge to immediately think of his fight with Joe Louis. Rather, take some time to look at his record and learn more about his outstanding career.

Carter Vs Griffith: Spectacular First Round Kayo But Was It Within The Rules

By Bobby Franklin

Emile Griffith

On December 20, 1963 Emile Griffith and Ruben Hurricane Carter stepped into the ring to face each other at the Civic Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Griffith was the reigning welterweight champion who was  campaigning as a middleweight seeking a title shot. Carter was ranked number two in the middleweight division. A win by either man would be a big step towards getting a shot at champion Joey Giardello.

At the time of the fight Griffith had won seven out of nine against middleweights including wins over Denny Moyer, Yama Bahama, Don Fullmer, and Holly Mims.

Carter had twenty-one fights at this point in his career with four losses and seventeen wins. He had scored 11 kayos including a one round devastation of Florentino Fernandez. In his last fight before facing Griffith he lost a very close split decision to Joey Archer.

The fight in Pittsburgh didn’t last long and the ending was quite a surprise. After Griffith had been dropped to the canvas twice in the first round referee Buck McTiernan stopped the contest and raised Carter’s hand. The stoppage was a good call as Emile was clearly unsteady and could have been seriously hurt had the fight continued.

I have watched the Griffith/Carter fight over and over again as it was a shock to see Emile Griffith taken out so fast. It has to be remembered that on top of having not been stopped previous to this match, he also went to the end of his career with only one other kayo loss. That happened in 1971 against middleweight champion Carlos Monzon. Griffith had not been off his feet in that fight, but rather was stopped when he was caught in a corner and unable to respond to Monzon’s barrage of punches. In a career consisting of 112 fights, Monzon and Carter were the only two men to defeat Griffith via a stoppage. 

Rubin Hurricane Carter

I have always believed the kayo by Carter was a fluke and that if the two had met a dozen times it would never happen again. So, how did Carter do it. Well, his devastating left hook was, of course, the major factor. Rubin could hit and hit hard. He was a good boxer, but did have flaws. Those flaws, such as throwing his punches a bit too wide should have enabled Emile to avoid getting tagged so seriously. Emile was a master boxer/puncher. Of course, no matter how good a fighter is, if he gets caught with a punch from the likes of a Hurricane Carter it can be lights out.

Recently, I was talking with Mike Silver boxing historian and author of The Arc Of Boxing about this fight. Mike pointed out something very interesting  that might explain how Carter was able to land the left hook that put Griffith down for his first trip to the canvas, a punch he never recovered from. I rewatched the bout after my conversation with Mike and I believe he is onto something.

Here’s what happened in the fight. Griffith weighed 151 1/2 pounds while Carter came in at 157. Griffith was above his welterweight fighting weight while Carter was around his usual poundage.

Before the fight started the referee called the two men to the center of the ring for a final few words on the rules. Among his instructions were “I insist on a clean break”. When you watch the fight remember those words.

At the bell, the men came out of their corners and the action was lively. They traded quite a bit of leather over the first minute with each giving as good as he got. In the first clinch of the fight referee McTiernan called for the men to break, and they both stepped back, obeying his instruction, before resuming boxing. 

A short while later the two again were exchanging punches with Carter landing a good left hook to the midsection of Griffith. a couple of seconds later they fell into another clinch. This is where Mike Silver’s shrewd observation comes into play. As with the first clinch, the referee calls for the men to break. Griffith steps back, but Carter, instead of stepping back, immediately jumps in with the left hook that floors Griffith. It is a powerful shot landing on Emile’s chin. 

Griffith hit the canvas and got onto his knees while taking a nine count. When he arose he was wobbly and was dropped again. It was at this point the referee stopped the bout. It was all over at 2:13 of the first round. 

Griffith On The Ropes Against Carter

Mike Silver makes the point that the blow landed by Carter was thrown and landed on the break when, by the rules, he should have stepped back before starting to fight again. I have watched this over and over and agree with Mike. It was basically a sucker punch and illegal. Did Carter do it on purpose? I think he did. Should he have been disqualified for it. Well, that’s a tough question to answer as it happened so quickly the fans would have certainly been in an uproar as most wouldn’t have seen what took place. Also, the old adage that a fighter must protect himself at all times would have been cited. But that adage doesn’t apply to illegal blows that occur when the referee’s instructions are not obeyed. 

Remember, just a few months earlier Carter had lost a close decision to the very slick boxing Joey Archer. In that fight he was not able to land a knock blow on the elusive Archer. Ruben might have gotten it into his head that he had to pounce at any opportunity to get in a power shot on a smooth boxer such as Griffith, and not leave it up to the judges as happened with Archer. He saw his chance when the fighters broke from their first clinch. The referee did not step between them as some do, but rather trusted them to break cleanly on their own. The second clinch is where Carter took advantage of this chance to play by his own rules. 

The two never fought again, but I am sure if they did Emile would have been very careful coming out of the clinches. The fight was a major win for Carter and led to him getting a shot at the crown a year later. In his title challenge he lost a fifteen round unanimous decision to Joey Giardello. Ruben put up a great fight and bruised the champion but could not land the power shot to end the fight. 

Take a look at the Griffith vs Carter on Youtube. You have to watch closely, but if you do I believe you will see what I’m talking about. After the clinch before the knockdown you will see Carter pounce right on Emile without having stepped back as he was supposed to do. He did not break cleanly and that is how he scored the knockout. He never stepped back, and that is how he landed the punch that won him the fight. 

Jimmy Young: The Most Underrated Heavyweight Of The 1970s

By Bobby Franklin

Jimmy Young

The 1970s are remembered as one of the most exciting eras in heavyweight boxing history. Earnie Shavers, George Foreman, and Ron Lyle all had explosive power. While some credit Foreman as an all-time great based on his brutal knockout of Joe Frazier,his fight with Lyle is often called one of the best heavyweight bouts that ever took place. It was an exciting fight, with both boxers tasting the canvas before Big George scored a knockout over Ron.

Earnie Shavers’s reputation rests on his one-round kayos of Ken Norton and Jimmy Ellis and even more so on two fights he lost. Those losses were his fifteen-round fight with Ali, where he rocked the aging champ time and again, and his second fight with Larry Holmes for the world title. Before Larry was champ, he had lost a one-sided decision to Holmes in 1978. His win over Norton landed him a shot at Champion Holmes in 1979.

Their second fight appeared to be a repeat of their first encounter until the 7th round when Earnie hit Holmes with a devastating right hand that put the champion down flat on his back. Holmes survived the round and went on to stop Shavers in the 11th round. Larry won every round other than the 7th.

The fights I mentioned above are all still widely discussed and repeatedly viewed on YouTube. There is nothing like the big punchers to get a fight fan’s adrenalin pumping. However, being a big puncher by itself does not make someone a great fighter. There is more to boxing than just having power. This is proven by another contender from the 1970s who has slipped from view as time has passed; Jimmy Young.

Young On The Offensive Against Ali

Jimmy Young was a savvy boxer out of Philadelphia who became well known when he challenged Muhammad Ali for the title in 1976 in a nationally televised fight. He wasn’t given much of a chance against the champion but surprised the public when he gave Ali more than he could handle over 15 rounds, losing a hotly contested decision.

Most people don’t recall that Young took on both Lyle and Shavers before facing Ali. In 1973 Young was stopped in three rounds by Earnie, but the two fought again a year later, with the bout being ruled a draw even though just about everyone but the judges saw it as a clear victory for Young.

Young Forces The Action Against Lyle

Two months later, Jimmy stepped into the ring as an underdog against Ron Lyle. After ten rounds, Young was given a one-sided decision, having easily outboxed Lyle. The two would fight again in 1976, with Young once again clearly defeating Lyle.

It should be remembered that both Lyle and Shavers fought Young before they faced Ali, so they were far from washed up and were able to give The Greatest a couple of his toughest fights. Nevertheless, Young certainly fared better and took less punishment from these big punchers than Ali did.

And let’s not forget Jimmy Young’s fight against the man who was not only rated the hardest puncher of the 1970s and, by many, the hardest puncher of all time, George Foreman.

Big George appeared unbeatable after his destruction of Joe Frazier in 1973. He followed this up with a one-round kayo of Joe Roman and a second-round demolition of Ken Norton in 1974. He then lost the title to Ali later that year. While the loss tarnished his reputation, he was still looked upon as a feared puncher, and his bout against Ron Lyle in 1976 saw the fireworks fly between the two power punchers.

Young Decks Foreman

Foreman would continue on with a second knockout win over Joe Frazier and kayos over Scott LeDoux, John Dennis, and Pedro Agosto before facing Jimmy Young in 1977 in a fight in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Once again, the light-punching Young was given very little chance of beating the big guns, and once again, Jimmy proved his critics wrong. Jimmy out-boxed Big George and dropped the former champion in the final round of the fight. The win was decisive enough that Foreman retired after it.

Ali Vs Young

So, here we have the man considered to be the lightest punching heavyweight of the 70s with three wins and a draw that he deserved to win against the biggest punchers of the era. Throw in the fact that he lost a hotly disputed decision to Ken Norton as well as the contested loss to Ali, and you are looking at a fighter with arguably the best record against the top fighters of the 1970s and certainly against the big punchers. Remember, Lyle was kayoed by Foreman, Shavers was kayoed by Lyle, Foreman kayoed Norton, and Ali kayoed Foreman. Young, with the exception of his first loss to Shavers, in what was only Young’s 10th fight as opposed to Shaver’s 44th, and you have a man who did better against each of these men than they did against one another with the exception of Ali vs. Foreman. And, if the judges had been seeing more clearly, they would have had the wins against Norton and Ali. It’s also notable that Ali would never again fight Jimmy.

It’s interesting to note that had things gone just a slight bit differently, and if Jimmy Young had not been handled by the mob (that’s another story worth telling), he might be the man remembered as the best fighter of the 1970s, while also the lightest punching one.

Foul Play in Philly?

By Mike Silver

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On September 23, 1952, in Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium, Jersey Joe Walcott defended his heavyweight crown against challenger Rocky Marciano. During the seventh round of a thrilling fight a caustic substance got into Marciano’s eyes. He returned to his corner blinking and squinting. “There’s something in my eyes, they’re burning.” Freddie Brown, one of the best corner men in the business, sponged Rocky’s eyes with copious amounts of water, giving the challenger some relief. But the burning began again in the eighth round. At the bell Rocky returned to his corner in obvious distress, telling his trainer Charley Goldman, “My eyes are getting worse. Do something, I can’t see.” Goldman and Freddie Brown continued to douse his eyes. Al Weill, Marciano’s volatile manager, was beside himself. Leaving the corner he approached referee Charley Daggert and pleaded with him to investigate Walcott’s gloves and shoulders. The referee waived him back to the corner.

If there was something illegal going on in Walcott’s corner Weill’s complaining must have gotten someone’s attention because by the end of the 10th round Rocky’s eyes have cleared and his vision returned to normal.

After 12 brutal rounds Walcott was ahead in the scoring. Unless Rocky can win by a knockout he will lose the decision. Less than a minute into the 13th round Marciano connects with a devastating right cross to Walcott’s chin and one of the greatest heavyweight title fights of all time comes to a sudden and dramatic ending.

The kinescope of the closed circuit telecast lends credence to the belief that Walcott’s gloves were doctored.

Was there foul play in Philly? The kinescope of the closed circuit telecast lends credence to the belief that Walcott’s gloves were doctored. At the end of the sixth round the camera shifts to Walcott’s corner and if you watch closely you can see Felix Bocchiccio, Walcott’s manager, rubbing Walcott’s left and right gloves as if he is applying something. Was this just a nervous reaction? I think not. The action looks too deliberate. After the eighth round the camera again follows Walcott to his corner. As soon as he sits down we see Bocchiccio leaning through the ropes and he again rubs Walcott’s right glove for at least six seconds in a circular motion before the camera moves over to Rocky’s corner. (My personal kinescope copy clearly shows this but for some reason it has been cut from the version available on YouTube). Just before the bell rings to begin the ninth round the camera moves back to Walcott’s corner and we again see his manager quickly rub Walcott’s gloves and then wipe his hands on the fighter’s stomach and trunks, as if trying to remove something. This part is included on the current YouTube version. Could the substance just be Vaseline? It’s doubtful. There is no reason to apply Vaseline to a fighter’s gloves in the midst of a fight.

Rocky never believed Walcott was aware of anything illegal going on in his corner. “He was too wrapped up in the fight (to notice),”

Rocky Marciano always believed that Jersey Joe’s manager had rubbed a hot, irritant salve—perhaps a capsicum ointment—on Walcott’s gloves and upper body. Rocky had good reason to suspect foul play. Felix Bocchicchio had resurrected Jersey Joe’s career and put him on the road to the championship, but he was also a well-known gambler and an organized crime figure in Philadelphia and New Jersey with a rap sheet dating back to 1925.  Rocky never believed Walcott was aware of anything illegal going on in his corner. “He was too wrapped up in the fight (to notice),” Marciano said. “He was too great a champ to go along with something like that. They wouldn’t tell him. But somebody did it, because I know what was happening to my eyes.” Peter Marciano, Rocky’s brother: “Rocky believed he was blinded intentionally until the day he died. He spoke of it often.” After he retired as undefeated champion Rocky accused Bocchicchio of rubbing the substance on Walcott’s gloves and upper body in a story published in the Saturday Evening Post in October 1956. Walcott’s manager sued for libel. A Pennsylvania jury believed the allegations and found in favor of the Post.

In Liston’s corner his principal seconds are two men whose home base just happens to be the City of Brotherly Love.

Now let’s jump ahead to February 25, 1964.  The scene is the Miami Beach Auditorium. Cassius Clay, a 7 to 1 underdog, is about to challenge heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. It’s not Philadelphia, but it might as well be. In Liston’s corner his principal seconds are two men whose home base just happens to be the City of Brotherly Love: Joe Polino, a well-known trainer and corner man, and former heavyweight contender Willie Reddish, Sonny’s chief trainer.

As the fourth round came to a close it was apparent that the odds did not reflect what was taking place in the ring. The challenger appeared quite capable of pulling off a huge upset. But near the end of the round Clay looked pained and began to blink furiously. He returned to his corner in an agitated state. “Cut the gloves off!” screamed young Cassius whose eyes felt like they were burning up. A caustic substance of unknown origin had somehow gotten into Clay’s eyes just as he seemed to be taking charge of the fight. The very capable and experienced Angelo Dundee, Clay’s trainer and chief second, kept a cool head. He sponged the stricken fighter’s eyes in an attempt to wash away whatever was causing the problem. At the bell to begin the fifth round Clay was still complaining. “I can’t see. We’re going home.” “No way” answered Dundee. “Get in there and fight. If you can’t see, keep away from him until your eyes clear. This is the big one. Nobody walks away from the heavyweight championship.” Dundee shoved him out of the corner.

Even though he was fighting half blind Clay incredibly was able to survive the round despite Liston’s best efforts to render him unconscious. Swaying and shifting like an Indian rubber man Clay instinctively avoided most of Liston’s punches. It was an amazing display by an extraordinarily talented 22-year-old athlete.

In the following round, with his vision improved, Clay dominated Liston, landing dozens of unanswered punches. The exhausted and demoralized champion returned to his corner at the end of the sixth round a tired and beaten fighter. Claiming an injured shoulder he told his seconds he could not go on. Cassius Clay—soon to be renamed Muhammad Ali—became the 22nd heavyweight champion of the world.

There is strong reason to believe that someone in Liston’s corner tried the same illegal methods used in the Marciano-Walcott fight to influence the outcome…

Conclusion: There is strong reason to believe that someone in Liston’s corner tried the same illegal methods used in the Marciano-Walcott fight to influence the outcome by temporarily blinding Clay. When asked his opinion Angelo Dundee, ever the diplomat, said that a substance used to treat Liston’s cut under his eye must have accidentally gotten into Clay’s eyes. But couldn’t it have gotten into Liston’s eyes as well, and why would anyone choose to treat an eye cut with a caustic substance in the first place?

Eddie Machen told reporters, “The same thing happened to me when I fought Liston in 1960.

Two days after the fight heavyweight contender Eddie Machen told reporters, “The same thing happened to me when I fought Liston in 1960. I thought my eyes would burn out of my head, and Liston seemed to know it would happen.” He theorized that Liston’s handlers would rub medication on his shoulders, which would then be transferred to his opponent’s forehead during clinches and drip into the eyes. “Clay did the worst thing when he started screaming and let Liston know it had worked,” said Machen. “Clay panicked. I didn’t do that. I’m more of a seasoned pro, and I hid it from Liston.”

Years later Joe Polino, Liston’s assistant trainer, told Philadelphia Daily News reporter Jack McKinney what actually happened.

According to Polino, in between the third and fourth rounds, Sonny had told him to “juice the gloves.” Polino said they were always ready to do that if Sonny was in real danger of losing. He admitted they had done it in Liston’s fights with Eddie Machen and Cleveland Williams. He said it was a stinging solution but did not specify what was in it.

According to McKinney, “Polino told me that he put the stuff on the gloves at Sonny’s express instructions and then threw the stuff under the ring apron as far as he could.” McKinney also added, “Joe himself felt so conflicted over this. He’d been sucked into it, but he knew if he ever came clean he would never work again.”

…both Walcott and Liston were handled by Philadelphia boxing people.

In each of the above scenarios the heavyweight champion of the world was facing defeat. It appears that desperate and illegal measures were taken by someone in the champion’s corner to influence the outcome. The other common denominator is that both Walcott and Liston were handled by Philadelphia boxing people. Philadelphia was home base for Blinky Palermo, the notorious fight fixer and longtime godfather of the city’s boxing scene. Blinky operated freely in Philly but was banned in New York State. This is not to say that he was involved in either incident (in fact he was in jail in 1964) just that Philadelphia was no stranger to boxing scandal considering who had been in charge for many years. Fight fans with long memories remember the notorious incident involving Harold Johnson, who claimed he was drugged after someone had given him a “poisoned orange” just before he stepped into a Philadelphia ring to face Cuban heavyweight Julio Mederos in 1955. Johnson, the betting favorite, was stopped in the second round. Professional boxing was suspended in Philadelphia for six months following the incident.

Perhaps because Marciano defeated Walcott to win the title the matter was not pursued by Weill or anyone else. There was no investigation by Pennsylvania boxing officials into the possibility that Walcott’s gloves were doctored. Florida officials were even more lax in the aftermath of the Clay-Liston bout. Florida didn’t even have a state boxing commission. Instead, local municipalities (in this case Miami Beach) ran the show. The only investigation that took place concerned the veracity of Liston’s claim that he injured his shoulder, which may have been bogus or exaggerated, but could not be proven.

The nefarious attempts to alter the course of boxing history failed…

Both Rocky Marciano and the fighter then known as Cassius Clay were destined for greatness. The nefarious attempts to alter the course of boxing history failed because Clay’s amazing speed, reflexes and uncanny athletic instincts enabled him to survive the fifth round. The attempt to foil Marciano was also unsuccessful because of the Rock’s almost super human toughness and determination. For three full rounds Marciano could barely see the target in front of him yet he kept attacking in his relentless way, bringing the fight to Walcott despite taking punches that would have stopped most heavyweights in their tracks. On that night it would have taken more than the two fists of a mortal being, let alone a “caustic solution”, to defeat the indestructible “Brockton Blockbuster.”

Article is excerpted from “The Night the Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments from the World of Boxing” by Mike Silver (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020).

Jerry Quarry Vs George Foreman

Remembering Jerry Quarry
How Would He Have Fared Against
George Foreman?

By Bobby Franklin

Jerry Quarry

Jerry Quarry would have turned 77 years old this year. Unfortunately, the ravages of too long a career in the ring led to Jerry developing severe dementia and he passed away at the early age of 53 in 1999. Though what happened to him is not uncommon, it is still tragic to think of just how badly he ended up. There are a lot of what ifs in Jerry’s life, but the biggest one is what if he had retired much earlier and followed a promising career as a boxing commentator? He excelled at the job with his keen insight, pleasant demeanor, and articulate use of language. Make no mistake, Jerry Quarry was as talented outside of the ring as he was in the squared circle.

When looking at his record you see an outstanding career. He had a total of 66 fights over 23 years against the best in the heavyweight division. He first retired in 1975 after being stopped by Ken Norton. Two years later he made a comeback but clearly was only a shell of his former self. After three wins in which he looked terrible he wisely hung up the gloves again.

In 1992, 9 years later, while showing signs of advanced dementia, he was talked into having another fight. It is sickening to watch the film of this fight in which he took on Ron Cramer, a fighter with a 3/4/1 record. It would be Jerry’s last fight and that bout tells all anyone needs to knows about the slime that infest boxing.

Quarry Stopping Earnie Shavers

Out of his 66 fights Quarry lost only 9 time. The ugly loss to Cramer should not even be counted. Of the other 8 defeats, two were at the hands of Muhammad Ali and two by Joe Frazier. Ken Norton, Jimmy Ellis, George Chuvalo, and Eddie Machen were the only other men to defeat Jerry.

The Chuvalo loss was, to stay the least, odd. Machen beat him when he was on the way up and that was a story of experience over youth. I recently wrote about the Ellis fight. Jerry was at the end of his A game against Norton.

Jerry Outboxing Ron Lyle

So much for the losses. His victories were exciting and outstanding. After the Machen fight he improved and beat Brian London and Alex Miteff. He then went on to fight a draw with former Champion Floyd Patterson. This is the fight that caused people to take a closer look at the young heavyweight from Bakersfield, California. The Patterson fight earned him a spot in the WBA Tournament to find a successor to Muhammad Ali. There he was matched once again against Patterson whom he defeated.

Next he stopped Thad Spencer and then had the disappointing decision loss to Jimmy Ellis. Jerry came back from that loss to score five straight wins culminating in a victory over Buster Mathis. That earned him a shot at Joe Frazier for the undisputed heavyweight title in 1969. Joe was just too much for a very courageous Quarry who was stopped in the 7th round. He would lose a rematch with Frazier in 1974.

Frazier and Muhammad Ali were two hurdles Jerry could never get over, but he did show outstanding ability when matched up against the most ferocious punchers of the era.

Quarry Victoius Over Mac Foster

In 1970 he took on undefeated Mac Foster who had kayoed all 24 of his opponents. Jerry dismantled the hard punching Foster in six rounds. In 1971 he took on undefeated Ron Lyle who had knocked out 17 of his 19 opponents. And that same year he completely obliterated Earnie Shavers in one round. Shavers had kayoed all but one of the 45 men he had defeated.

Based on the Shavers, Lyle, and Foster fights it has to be asked how Jerry would have done against an up and coming George Foreman? Word was that the Foreman camp wanted nothing to do with Quarry. His outstanding chin and excellent counter punching which he used so well against the other big punchers would have proved a serious problem for George. I believe he had the movement and power to beat Foreman and I think it would have looked similar to the Mac Foster fight where Jerry methodically took his opponent apart.

It’s a shame that fight never took place. My money would have been on Quarry. Next to Frazier and Ali, he was arguably the best heavyweight of the early 1970s. When you remember Jerry Quarry remember him for the great boxer he was. He was a credit to the sport, though boxing never returned the favor to him.


Holly And The Hurricane

Carter Vs Mims

Learning While Fighting

By Bobby Franklin

Holly Mims

Recently, I watched the 1962 fight between Ruben Hurricane Carter and Holly Mims. The fight took place on December 22, 1962 at Madison Square Garden. It is a highly interesting bout to watch. In it you can see how Carter had to adapt from depending on his powerful punch in order to deal with the wily veteran Mims.

Carter’s original opponent for that night was Gomeo Brennan. Brennan pulled out the morning of the fight when he woke up with a head cold. A call was put in to Mims who lived in Washington, DC and he agreed to fill in for Brennan. He caught a flight to NY and by that evening was in the 

ring facing the hard punching Carter.

Mims was a savvy boxer and was always in shape. he had fought just a month earlier. However, stepping in with short notice against such strong opponent may not have seemed like a wise move. Of course, it could also be argued that in what was only his 16th bout Carter may have been smart to avoid such a ring wise veteran as Mims who could make him look bad even if Carter won. It actually proved to be a good move on Ruben’s part even though Holly gave him all he could handle.

Ruben Hurricane Carter

Two months earlier Carter had destroyed Florentino Fernandez in the first round with a devastating knock out. Carter had raw power and a solid chin, but was he beginning to rely too much on that power to score victories? That is the curse of the heavy hitters. They get lazy when it comes to learning the finer points of the game. The list of promising superstar punchers who never quite made it because of this lack of learning is a long one.

This is where the Mims fight showed a lot about Carter. Ruben was the favorite going into the match. The odds were large in his favor probably due to the fact that Mims only had a few hours notice before taking the fight. Holly had 82 fights at that point in his career and had never been stopped. Ruben was in only his 16th fight. Eleven of Carter’s victories were by kayo with the Fernandez stoppage putting him on the fistic map.

Mims came into the fight with 59 wins, 23 losses, and 6 draws. He had been fighting since 1948 and had faced the likes of Joey Giardello, Rocky Castellani, Spider Webb, George Benton, and Henry Hank. 

Holly Mims (Left) Blocks A Right By Ruben Carter

When the bell rang in the Garden that night Carter came out in explosive fashion. Memories of his destruction of Fernandez were still fresh in his mind, and he probably felt he could repeat what he did that night. He did hurt Mims, and for a moment it looked as if he would score an early kayo. However, Mims was no Fernandez. He was a complete fighter who knew how to handle any situation in the ring. When hurt, he knew how to cover up, how to hold, how to fight back and let his opponent know he’d better not get too wild or he will pay a price. 

Carter was not able to pull off a first round victory, but he kept the attack up in the second round. By now Mims was figuring Ruben out and was hitting him with beautiful jabs from a distance, and when Carter would get within power punch range, Holly would move in close where he was the superior in-fighter. 

In the fourth round Mims dropped Carter with a left hook right hand combination  near the ropes. Carter was up immediately, but he had been shaken. He didn’t see this coming and you can see by his face he was recalculating his strategy. At the end of the round he tapped Mims on the shoulder in a sign of respect for the veteran.

Carter (Left) Nad Mims Mix It Up Inside

Starting in round five Carter showed he was more than just a powerful puncher. He had the mind of a good boxer. He came out shortening up his shots. He had been made to pay for swinging too widely, but what differentiated him from so many other punchers, he was able to adapt mid-fight. It turns out he had more than a punch, he had the mind of a good boxer. Sure, Mims was still frustrating him, but he didn’t allow that to discourage him as so many others would have. 

Watching this fight is a pleasure for a couple of reasons. First, you get to see the brilliant boxing of Holly Mims. He is amazing in the ring. The term “educated left hand” could have been coined just for him. He was the consummate counter-puncher, could fight in close and at long range with equal skill, and was very difficult to hit with a solid blow.

With Carter you see a young fighter developing right before your eyes. After he was dropped in the 4th round he could have let his frustration take hold and he would have lost. Instead, he realized he had to do something different, and he did even if that meant having to give up on scoring a knockout. 

Ten rounds in the ring with Holly Mims was like going to boxing graduate school for Carter.

Ruben Carter won a unanimous decision that night, one he worked hard for. Even if he had lost the fight to Mims it would have been worth it for what he learned that night. Ten rounds in the ring with Holly Mims was like going to boxing graduate school for Carter. He came out of that fight a much better fighter than he was going in. 

In 102 career fights Holly Mims was only stopped once, and that was on cuts and near the end of his career. In 40 fights Carter was also stopped only once, and that was also on cuts. Mims was not known as a puncher having only scored 13 knockouts in his career. Carter will always be remembered as a knockout artist having scored 19 knockouts in his 27 victories. Both will be remembered as being fighters who were next to impossible to kayo.

Watch the Mims/Carter fight, then watch it again. It is a very interesting fight and you will not only be entertained by it, you will learn a lot from it.