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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.

What Really Happened In The First Conn Vs Louis Fight

Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn

Polo Grounds June 18, 1941

What Really Happened?

By Bobby Franklin

(This article first appeared I the Boston Post Gazette and IBRO Journal In 2014)

Over my lifetime in boxing I
have heard the story of the first
Louis – Conn fight countless
times. Most followers of the Art
of Boxing are familiar with it.
Conn was boxing rings around
Joe Louis for twelve rounds and
leading on all the scorecards.
All he had to do was keep
dancing and jabbing and he
would win the fifteen round decision, but instead, the former light heavyweight champ got cocky in the thirteenth round and went for the knockout and ended up getting kayoed himself.

I recently noticed that ESPN Classic was going to show the fight and I began to realize, even though I was sure I knew just what happened during the match, that I had never seen more then some highlights from the bout. The memory I had of it was from what I had heard from boxing people throughout the years. I made some calls to a number of people well versed in the sport and asked each one how they believe the fight went, specifically, what punch did Conn rely on the most. With one exception, I was told that Conn had used his jab extensively and danced around Joe keeping himself at a safe distance from the champion’s power. It wasn’t until he decided to knock out Louis that he got close and Joe was able to end the fight. I also remembered a bit different version of the bout that was related to me by my trainer many years ago. I decided I was going to record the ESPN showing of the fight and see for myself how it went. They did show all the rounds, but many of them were not complete. Though I would like to see the fight in it’s entirety, I do believe I saw enough to understand Billy’s strategy against Louis.

It is also interesting to note that in his seven bouts against the big men [Conn] scored kayos in five of them.

A little background  first. Billy Conn was taken seriously as a challenger to Joe Louis. Conn had given up his light heavyweight title a year before in order to campaign full time as a heavyweight. He defeated a number of leading contenders including Bob Pastor (KO 13), Al McCoy (UD 10), Lee Savold (UD 12), and Gunnar Barland (TKO 8), so he had earned his chance at the championship. It is also interesting to note that in his seven bouts against the big men he scored kayos in five of them. That is almost half of the knockouts he scored in his entire career. Conn is not remembered as a big puncher, but he did show power against larger opponents. It was not because Conn had bulked up, as he did not. I would argue it was because the bigger opponents were slower and easier targets for his shots.

In the title fight Louis’ weight was announced as 199 1⁄2 (Joe worked hard to get below 200 for the weigh in as he didn’t want to seem to be a lot bigger then Billy). Conn came in officially at 174. It is believed by many that when they stepped into the ring their weights were 204 and 169 respectively. Giving Louis an advantage of over thirty pounds.

Now to the fight itself. Did Conn actually dance circles around Louis while sticking him with repeated jabs? No. Billy knew from the outset that it would be suicide to trade jabs with Joe, as the champion possessed the best left jab in heavyweight history. On top of this, Louis was also a genius at slipping and countering his opponent’s jab, and Joe had a great reach advantage over Conn. So, what was Conn to do?

Billy kept moving on his feet while feinting, but he didn’t stay that far away from the champion.Instead, he would move in and out. He would begin a jab, but then as Louis would start to counter it, Conn would turn it into a left hook, this is known as hooking off the jab. Billy would also get in close and throw left and right hooks to the body and head along with uppercuts, then he would tie up the champ. He was very fast and accurate, and he threw very few jabs throughout the fight.

Of course, during all of this Louis wasn’t just standing there. Joe was having a lot of trouble dealing with Billy, but he never lost his cool. The very hard punching champion was landing a lot of solid shots to Conn’s body. These punches began to take a toll in the later rounds as Billy’s legs began to weaken and he was losing strength. In the eighth round Conn shook Joe with a left hook. Billy had a very good round in the eleventh and shook his fist in the air after the bell rang as if to say, “The title will soon be mind”. Even though the eleventh round saw Conn landing solid blows on Joe, he was paying a price for it as Louis continued punishing him to the body.

Things became very interesting in the twelfth round. Conn came out on fire at the bell. His hands were still moving very fast, but his legs had slowed down just a bit. He continued mixing it up inside with Joe even staggering the champion a couple of times. On one of
these occasions as Joe was sent reeling, he threw his weight onto Billy. Billy pushed him off, but expended a lot of energy in doing so.

Billy’s knees buckled, and after the bell sounded he seemed disorientated and was confused as to where his corner was.

Now, and this is something you have to look very carefully to see because of the camera angle, just before the bell rang ending the round, Louis hit Conn with a very hard right hand. Billy’s knees buckled, and after the bell sounded he seemed disorientated and was confused as to where his corner was. His seconds seemed to notice this as they jumped into the ring and started splashing water on his face. This was the beginning of the end.

As the bell sounded for the fatal thirteenth round, Conn came out and tried to continue with his strategy of slipping inside and throwing hooks, but he was weaker now. He seemed to be going all out with what little he had left in him, but Joe could smell blood. Billy got off a couple of great combos, but then Joe went to work. He started connecting with uppercuts. Conn was hurt, and he was in with a guy who knew how to finish a fight. Louis ended the bout with a right uppercut and devastating left hook. Conn valiantly tried to get to his feet, but his legs would not respond. He had given it his all.

The narrative after the bout that has lived on is that Conn had the title and only had to dance around for the last three rounds in order to gain the decision. That instead, he got cocky and decided to slug with the champ. I believe Conn did not changed his tactics, that he had been worn down by Louis’ superior strength and body punches, and that he had no choice but to make a last stand and try to win by knockout.

It should also be noted that, while Conn was leading on the scorecards, he did not have the fight in the bag.

It should also be noted that, while Conn was leading on the scorecards, he did not have the fight in the bag. The scores through twelve were 5-7, 4-7-1 even, and 6-6. He had a good lead but Louis still could have won on points by taking the last three rounds.

None of this is meant to take anything away from Billy Conn. He fought a brilliant fight against a man considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. He showed guts, speed, power, and amazing skill, but Louis showed the patience that is the mark of a great champion and never lost his cool. This is a fight that should be studied by all boxing aficionados. It is one of the great fights of all time, and there is much to be learned by watching it.

 

Remembering Carlos Ortiz

Carlos Ortiz

One Of The Last Of The

Golden Age Champions 

Answers His Final Bell

By Bobby Franklin

Carlos Ortiz

Carlos Ortiz passed away on June 13th at the age of 85. Born in 1936 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Carlos began fighting professionally at the age of 18. Well schooled, he was a superb boxer/puncher who certainly rates up there with the best lightweights of all-time.

Ortiz turned pro in 1955 and Ortiz had a record of 28 wins suffering just one defeat over the first three years. That loss was to Johnny Busso in1958. He beat Busso in a rematch three months later. In 1959 he got a shot at the vacant Light Welterweight Title. In a bout against Kenny Lane Carlos won recognition as the new champion. 

He defended the belt winning by a tenth round knockout over Battling Torres in 1960. Next, he took on  the Italian champ Duilio Loi. The fight took place in California. Loi came in to the fight with 102 wins against just 2 losses. In a close fight Ortiz won a majority decision. This was only Carlos’s 35th fight and he was in there with an extraordinary fighter. 

Ortiz was so confident he could improve on his performance that he agreed to a rematch in Italy just three months later. This fight also ended with a majority decision but in Loi’s favor this time. The two met once more  in 1961. Again fighting in Italy with Loi winning a unanimous decision.

Carlos Ortiz Winning The Lightweight Title From Joe Brown

After the second loss to Loi, Carlos began fighting as a lightweight. In 1962 he challenged the great Joe Brown for the title. Ortiz won convincingly and his reign as champion began.

In 1965 he lost the crown to Ismael Laguna but won it back the following year. He would continue as champion until 1968 when he was defeated by Carlos Teo Cruz. Despite having lost by a split decision, Ortiz did not fight for  the championship again. He went into semi-retirement and fought only once over the next three years. That fight being a win against Edmundo Leite in November of 1969.

Carlos Ortiz Defeating Ismael Laguna In 1967

Carlos retired after that fight, but then made a comeback in 1971. As with so many fighters, he had fallen on hard times. Now 35 years old he was long last his prime but still felt he could win back the lightweight crown. 

After winning nine straight fights he was matched against Lightweight Champion Roberto Duran in a non-title fight on the undercard of the second Patterson/Ali fight in New York. Duran came down with the flu and dropped out of the fight a week before it was scheduled to happen. Former Champ Ken Buchanan stepped in to take his place.

Maria And Carlos Ortiz

The match turned out to be one sided. Father time had caught up with the great champion. Ortiz, exhausted, retired after the 6th round. He gave it all he had but just could not turn the clock back. It was the only time he was stopped in 70 fights. When interviewed after the fight a candid Carlos said 

“This was definitely my last fight. I started tiring in the 4th round. And I realized after the 6th that I couldn’t go on and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I was in the best shape I could have been. Time just caught up with me.” 

Boxing historian and author of The Arc of Boxing, Mike Silver knew Carlos well. I reached out to him for his thoughts on Ortiz, the man and the boxer. Here’s what he had to say:

Mike Silver remembers Carlos Ortiz: Carlos Ortiz’s storied career represents so much in boxing that has been lost over the past two generations. He was among the last of the great “golden age” champions and contenders who turned professional in the decade after World War II and achieved a level of skill that evoked admiration from the old-time trainers who’d seen every great lightweight champion since the 1920s. He was a consummate boxer and ranks as one of the greatest lightweight champions of the 20th century, up there with Leonard, Canzoneri, Ross, McClarnin, Mandell, Ambers, Williams, Carter and, yes, Roberto Duran. How he would have done against those legends is pure speculation, but they would have been competitive contests. Taking nothing away from Duran, but Ortiz’s competition in the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions had more depth. Duran held victories over Hector Thompson, Ken Buchanan, Esteban DeJesus, the Viruet brothers and Sugar Ray Leonard. Ortiz defeated Len Mathews, Paolo Rossi, Dave Charnley, Kenny Lane, Dulio Loi, Flash Elorde, Sugar Ramos, Ismael Laguna, and drew with Nicolino Loche in Argentina (Loche’s hometown). 

 When I am asked to recommend a fight to watch on YouTube that would demonstrate the art of boxing at its best my answer is the third match between Carlos Ortiz and Ismael Laguna. It is like watching a class in brilliant boxing technique, especially as relates to effective use of the left jab, timing, and counter punching skills. Laguna was a fine boxer with extraordinary speed, but Ortiz was a master technician with all the answers.    

I had the honor of interviewing Carlos Ortiz in 1998. (This interview is included in Mike’s latest book “The Night The Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments From The World Of Boxing”).  I have met and interviewed dozens of former world champions and top contenders. What impressed me about Ortiz was his intelligence, and I’m not just talking about boxing intelligence. Carlos, I am positive had a very high IQ, and could have succeeded in any profession he chose. But, thankfully for us, he chose boxing (or more correctly boxing chose him) and we fans are all the richer for it.

In his 70 fights Ortiz won 61 times with just 7 losses, 1 draw, and 1 no-decision. He scored 30 kayos.

My condolences to the Ortiz family, and to Carlos’s lovely wife Maria. Carlos Ortiz will be missed but never forgotten.

Did Baer Throw The Braddock Fight? Yes!

Braddock vs Baer

Was It On The Level?

By Bobby Franklin

(This article originally appeared in the Boston Post Gazette in 2019)

Baer And Braddock At The Weigh In

On June 6, 1934 Max Baer won the Heavyweight Championship of the World by defeating Primo Carnera in the 11th round. He had floored the courageous champion 11 times on his way to winning the crown. Baer, who had preciously scored a brutal kayo over Max Schmeling, looked like a man who would be champion for quite some time. He was a brutal puncher in the ring while possessing the charm of a Hollywood leading man outside of it. in fact, he had made himself a bit of a reputation acting in movies. He was a man sitting on top of the world.

Just a few days over a year later that would all change when Max put the title on the line on against the lightly regarded James J. Braddock. Braddock had been a leading light heavyweight contender a few years earlier, but injuries and a number of loses had derailed his career. He had managed to string together a number of wins over heavyweights and position himself for a shot at Baer. Nobody gave him a chance, and many thought he was risking his life to step in the ring with the murderous punching Max. 

In fact, earlier in his career Baer had killed Frankie Campbell in the ring, and many also believed he was the one responsible for the death of Ernie Schaaf who collapsed and died in his fight with Primo Carnera after being hit with a left jab. In an earlier fight with Baer Schaaf had taken some terrible shots and was knocked unconscious as the final round ended. He was saved by the bell and lost a decision to Baer.  It is believed the blows from Max had caused an injury to Ernie from which he never recovered, resulting in his death in the Carnera fight. 

It seemed unbelievable Braddock would have any chance against Baer. While he was certainly a very capable boxer, he just would not have the strength to hold off the dynamite that was in Max’s two fists. He went into the fight a ten to one underdog. However, he did go on to win the title that night, and along with that win he became known as the Cinderella Man. 

Most people are now familiar with the Braddock story from the 2005 movie directed by Ron Howard. In the movie Braddock’s fight with Baer is depicted as a life and death struggle with Jimmy hanging on to win a close and exciting fight. Actual footage of the fight tells a different story.

When I was a kid my father and I watched an 8mm film of the Braddock/Baer match on a home movie projector. It was the only time I had seen the fight until I viewed it again the other day. I do remember when watching it with my father how surprised he was at what he saw. He was a teenager when the bout took place but had never seen it. He was a great admirer of Braddock, particularly because after winning the title James had repaid the money he had collected while on relief (welfare) when things were bad for him and his family. I admired that about him as well.

They Were Just Dancing

What surprised my father while watching the film was how the two men were fighting. He had always believed Braddock had won in the manner depicted in the Ron Howard movie. After viewing the film for a short while my father exclaimed “Max threw the fight!” He was disappointed to see that, as it took the glow off of Braddock’s win. My father also liked Baer very much so that added to his disappointment. He justified it all by saying Max probably did it because he liked and felt sorry for Braddock and his family. 

I decided to take another look at the fight to see what I would think after all of these years. After viewing highlights from each of the 15 rounds, I have no doubt at all that Baer threw the fight. I even think it is possible Braddock was in on it as well. For most of the fight it looks like two guys trying not to hurt each other. It is nothing like the all out battle seen in the Howard movie. 

Let’s Talk

The fight, which took place on June 13, 1935 at the Madison Square Garden Bowl on Long Island, was one of the most boring in history. With the exception of one round, the 7th, Baer didn’t through any serious punches, and in that round he only opened up because the crowd was booing and he felt he had to look like he wasn’t dogging it. When he did land a decent right hand he hurt Braddock but immediately backed off. 

At the opening bell you would think it was Jimmy who had the tremendous power in his hands as Baer began the fight by backpedaling. As the fight progressed Baer did some clowning that brought laughter from the crowd and which was more exciting than fight itself. He also was talking to Braddock quite a bit, and if you watch closely it appears the two men are speaking to each other in the clinches. It would be interesting to know what they said to one another. 

They seemed to be afraid of hurting one another.

Going into the fifteenth round Braddock appeared ahead in the scoring. Max had to know this, yet he did nothing to try and save the title. In fact, the two men spent most of the round at close quarters exchanging light punches. They seemed to be afraid of hurting one another. The fact that Braddock was also not throwing hard punches gives me reason to believe he was aware of the fix. 

Braddock

In the end James J. Braddock was award the decision. The scoring on one judge’s card and the referee’s was pretty one sided. The other judge had it scored evenly by rounds at 7-7 with 1 even. However, he gave the fight to Braddock based on points which is the rule in New York when a judge’s card comes up even. 

Neither fighter made a particularly good payday out of this fight as it didn’t draw big money. Ironically, both would make the biggest purses of their careers in their next fight against the same opponent. They both took on Joe Louis.

I have not gotten into the reasons Max Baer would have thrown this fight, but after watching it closely I have no doubt that my father was correct when he said “Max threw the fight!

George Foreman Not An All Time Great

Weak Opposition And Fatal

Flaw Keeps Him From Elite Status

By Bobby Franklin

George Foreman

Big George Foreman is remembered as a powerful man and a devastating puncher. His brutal destruction of Joe Frazier in 1973 is etched in every fight fan’s memory. It is mainly off of this performance that George made it onto many people’s lists of all time greats. That January night in Jamaica he looked fearsome. In taking Frazier apart so one sidedly, he took on an almost superhuman status. But on closer examination of his record and boxing technique, the all time great designation doesn’t hold up.

Going into the title fight with Frazier, George had an impressive undefeated record of 37 and 0. Only three opponents had gone the distance with him. Yet, even with those impressive numbers, Frazier was made a 3 1/2 to 1 favorite to retain the title. Joe was also undefeated at the time and had defeated Muhammad Ali in the Fight of the Century less than two years earlier.

While Foreman’s record looks good on paper, when taking a closer look at his opposition the numbers give a clearer picture of why he was the underdog. Out of those 37 opponents there were very few that could be considered serious competition. In fact, in his last bout before facing Joe, George fought Terry Sorrell, who at the time had had a total of 19 fights winning only 4. Sorrell would close out his career with a record of 29 fights with only 6 wins (3 by KO), 22 losses (10 by KO), and 1 draw. 

Some might argue this was just a warmup bout for George before stepping in with the Champ. Well, a warmup bout usually involves having a warm body for opposition. I’m not sure it was ever verified Sorrell had a pulse when he stepped into the ring. 

Three fights earlier George had faced the immortal Clarence Boone. Boone had a record of 30 fights, winning only 3 with 26 losses and 2 draws. Of those 26 losses he had been stopped 14 times. I think the promoters used the same undertaker that provided Terry Sorrell for George.

George Foreman’s vs Gregorio Peralta. February 16, 1970.

Go back one more fight and you will see where an opponent was dug up who made Boone and Sorrell look like Louis and Dempsey. On January 29, 1972, George faced the immortal Joe Murphy Gordwin of Houston, Texas. This would be the final fight of Gordwin’s career and he would bring his remarkable record of 1 win, 1 draw, and an astounding 15 losses (13 by KO) into the ring with him that night. George surely had to be terrified; terrified he might kill Joe Murphy. 

Go back a little further in George’s career and you will find such immortals as Vic Scott (1 win 2 losses), Bob Hazelton (3 wins, 6 losses), Leo Peterson (3 wins, 4 losses), and Fred Askew (2 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw).

Of course, when a young fighter is being brought along, it is not unusual for him to be given “opponents” to face. But usually those “opponents” are fighters who, while not posing much of a threat, do have beating hearts and the ability to provide some opposition so the prospect will have a chance to learn his trade and improve.

Looking back at the rest of George’s opposition in those 37 fights, you will not find a lot of strong opposition. While many are better than those I have just mentioned, most aren’t too far ahead of the Boones and Sorrells. 

George did face a few solid “opponents” during those years. Levi Forte (20 wins, 21 losses 12 by KO, and 2 draws) and Roberto Davila (21 wins, 14 losses 3 by KO) both were the type of boxer an up and coming prospect would be expected to face, and both extended George the full ten round limit.

The most notable names on Foreman’s record at the time were Boone Kirkman, Gregorio Peralta (twice), and George Chuvalo. His wins over Kirkman and Chuvalo were impressive, he struggled with Peralta.

Kirkman was another up and comer who had faced a series of “opponents” and had not been tested. George simply overpowered him.

Chuvalo was known as incredibly tough. He had never been knocked off his feet, and a number of years earlier had given Muhammad Ali a tough go of it. But with the exception of a very odd win over Jerry Quarry, the Canadian never beat a top rated contender. His slow moving style made him an easy target for Foreman’s heavy but wide swings. Big George did look impressive in stopping Chuvalo.

I have written about Foreman’s fights with Peralta. George won their first fight by decision, and stopped Peralta in their rematch. In both fights, George’s flaws were exposed. It was these flaws Ali exploited a few years later to regain the crown.

Looking at the accumulated record of Foreman’s opposition at the time of the Frazier fight you see that combined they had a total of 289 wins, 376 losses, and 58 draws. if you remove the three fighters who had a pulse from that group, Peralta, Chuvalo, and Kirkman you end up with a group that had a total of only 100 wins with 355 losses, and 48 draws. 

Foreman Staggered By Jimmy Young

After defeating Frazier, Foreman defended the title twice in impressive fashion knocking out Joe Roman in one round and Ken Norton in two. Roman would have been considered an opponent if he had fought Foreman earlier, and was far from having an impressive record. Norton was never able to stand up to a big puncher as was seen when he went on to be kayoed in one round by both Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney.

After those two defenses George lost the title to Ali who used many of the tactics the over the hill Peralta had employed a few years earlier. After the loss to Ali, George still did not score any major wins with the exception of his victory in a slugfest with Ron Lyle, which was a battle of attrition, not skill.

He closed out his career with a loss to the light punching Jimmy Young, who also used technique to neutralize George’s power. Without that power Foreman had no boxing skill to fall back on to win a fight.

Foreman’s Flaw On Display

His major flaw was extending his arms when trying to parry punches. If you watch him in action, it appears he is trying to emulate Jack Johnson’s strategy of catching punches with an open glove. Only with Johnson, he would grab the punch just before it was about to land on him. With George, he would reach out and try to stop it just as it was being thrown. As a fight moved along he would begin pawing with both his hands and leave himself open. Ali, Young, Peralta, and Lyle were all able to land on him because of this fatal flaw. Any one off the great, and even not so great heavyweights of the past would have spotted this flaw and taken advantage of it. 

George certainly had amazing raw power, but that only takes a fighter so far. He did not develop the skills to make him a great fighter. Sure, he would always have a puncher’s chance against anyone. But hoping for a lucky punch is not the stuff of greatness. George simply never showed the skills to be considered an all-time great heavyweight champion.

I have not discussed Foreman’s second career because it really is not relevant to this discussion. Foreman 1.0 was the prime George and the one to look at when judging him as an all time great.  

A Greek Tragedy—Boxing Style

Book Review: “The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison by Carlos Acevedo”

Hamilcar Publications, 208 Pages, $18.99

Reviewed by Mike Silver

In 1989 a handsome and charismatic twenty year old undefeated professional boxer named Tommy “The Duke” Morrison was on a fast track to super stardom. But all was not as it seemed. “With his bleached pretty-boy look, his genuine charm, and his heartland roots” writes

Acevedo,  “Morrison was billed as a wholesome All-American type, despite an unsavory background that included any number of misdeeds, if not misdemeanors…Like Tyson, Morrison could not restrain his tumultuous nature—not for long, anyway.”

Tommy’s early career had all the earmarks of a “Tysonesque” buildup. That was no coincidence since his manager at the time was Bill Cayton, the entrepreneur who was also Mike Tyson’s first manager. In his first year as a pro Morrison was matched with one tomato can after another resulting in 20 straight wins, including 17 by knockout (15 in two rounds or less). The build-up was intended to impress the masses and get him lucrative television bouts and eventually a shot at the heavyweight championship. 

Despite the pushover competition, it was obvious that Morrison had a ton of natural talent and potential. As an amateur he was rated among the USA’s best heavyweights. He possessed good instincts, fast hands, and technical skills superior to most heavyweights. But what really set him apart was his explosive left hook. In addition, his PR team told the press that Tommy was a great nephew of the legendary movie star John Wayne (real name Marion Morrison aka “The Duke”). Whether true of not, the claim—never verified—added to his mystique. 

One year after turning pro Morrison’s knockout binge and photogenic visage caught the eye of Sylvester Stallone who decided to give the young fighter a co-starring role in Rock V. The notoriety vaulted him into the public consciousness but it was the beginning of the end for Tommy, although no one at the time could predict just how bad the train wreck was going to be.  

Aside from his usual recreational drug use, there is evidence that Morrison had begun taking steroids.

It was not just the Hollywood parties and endless parade of young women who found the attractive—and willing—movie star/athlete irresistible.  Aside from his usual recreational drug use, there is evidence that Morrison had begun taking steroids. The drug, popular with body builders and macho actors, was used by Morrison to maintain enough bulk to cope with oversized heavyweights.  Six months later he resumed his boxing career. His body now appeared more muscular and defined and fifteen pounds heavier. Thereafter he never weighed less than 220 pounds for a fight. 

Steroid use by an athlete has both physical and mental side effects. Unstable behavior, including lack of impulse control and poor judgement has been documented. If someone already has these tendencies they can be exacerbated. Injecting steroids can also negatively affect stamina over the long haul because the increase in muscle mass requires more oxygen to counter fatigue. This could have been the case in Morrison’s disastrous fight with former Olympic heavyweight champion Ray Mercer on October 18, 1991. At the time Morrison was undefeated in 27 fights with 23 wins coming by KO. He was the favorite to defeat Mercer (17-0). 

The referee, who seemed to be half asleep, stood by impassively while Mercer connected with nine punches, with the last three rendering Morrison unconscious. Only the ropes kept Morrison from falling.

Morrison dominated the first four rounds, outpunching and out boxing Mercer. But in the fifth round he suddenly seemed tired. In the midst of an exchange Mercer caught Morrison with a series of punches that drove him into the ropes. What happened next was one of the most disturbing endings to a bout ever seen. The referee, who seemed to be half asleep, stood by impassively while Mercer connected with nine punches, with the last three rendering Morrison unconscious. Only the ropes kept Morrison from falling. While still unconscious he was hit with six additional full power shots before the referee finally pulled Mercer off. It was a devastating defeat. 

Tommy Morrison

Tommy began his comeback 4 months later and over the next year knocked off eight opponents. The winning streak led to a match with former heavyweight champion George Foreman. In the best shape of his life, Tommy avoided going for the knockout, and instead used his superior speed and a jab and move strategy to win a unanimous 12 round decision. It was an impressive victory but just two fights later disaster struck once again when underdog Michael Bentt stopped Tommy in the first round after dropping him three times. Bentt was supposed to be a safe tune-up for an upcoming bout with heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. The Lewis bout was cancelled. Not only did Tommy lose out on a 7.5 million payday, he also lost his manager who walked away from Tommy after the loss. 

It was at this point that Morrison’s private life began to spin out of control. Convicted of drunk driving and drug possession (it was not the first time) he served 14 months in prison. Resuming his career Morrison took on an assortment of professional losers whose sole purpose was to fatten the records of prospects and contenders.  Acevedo: “Now more than ever, it seems, Morrison and the boxing underbelly are intertwined like characters in the final, bleak pages of McTeague, handcuffed to each other  (one of them a corpse) in Death Valley, California, waiting for the blistering sun to render its impersonal judgement.” 

Boxing’s lack of uniform standards, even at the height of the AIDS epidemic, did not require blood tests.

If being an ex-con, a drug addict, a bigamist (yes, he was married to two woman at the same time), and an alcoholic wasn’t bad enough, in 1996 the Nevada Boxing Commission lifted Morrison’s license when a blood test revealed he had the HIV virus. The commission refused to give out details, but shortly thereafter Morrison held a news conference and revealed he had contracted HIV because of a “permissive, fast and reckless lifestyle.” One person who knew Morrison said he actually had gotten AIDS in 1989 but had remained silent in order to continue fighting. Boxing’s lack of uniform standards, even at the height of the AIDS epidemic, did not require blood tests. (Eventually with all the publicity about Morrison several states did adopt mandatory testing for AIDS).

As Morrison’s physical condition continued to deteriorate so did his mind. His thinking became increasingly delusional and paranoid, including bizarre claims of possessing powers of teleportation. Continued drug use and CTE just made things worse. Tommy eventually convinced himself he did not have the AIDS virus, claiming the blood tests gave a false positive result. But as long as he refused to be retested no boxing commission in the U.S. would license him to fight. 

Incredibly, ten years after his last fight, and still refusing to be retested, Morrison was granted a license to fight in 2007 at the Mountaineer Casino Racetrack in West Virginia. He knocked out a fighter with a 4-2 record in the second round. One year later he travelled to the Dominican Republic and stopped another obscure opponent in the third round. After a proposed match in Canada was cancelled when Morrison refused the boxing commission’s request for a blood test he finally hung up his gloves for good. 

But Acevedo does acknowledge that Morrison was a fine athlete with “the fastest hands of any heavyweight since a prime Mike Tyson.”

Morrison ended his career with a record of 48-3, with 42 knockouts. The record is deceiving. Acevedo: “On the surface, this ledger is impressive, but boxing is a sport in which nothing should be taken at face value. From the day he turned pro, Morrison epitomized the smoke-and-mirror world of boxing where the line between athletic event and consumer fraud is often thinner than a lightbulb filament”. But Acevedo does acknowledge that Morrison was a fine athlete with “the fastest hands of any heavyweight since a prime Mike Tyson.” He also pays tribute to “the kind of heart [guts] often lacking among his peers” and notes the lethal quality of his left hook that combined with an exciting style that made him a perennial fan favorite. 

In August 2013, Morrison’s mother told ESPN that Tommy had “full-blown AIDS” and was “in his final days.” She also stated that Morrison had been bedridden for over a year. Tommy Morrison died on September 1, 2013. He was 44 years old. 

Carlos Acevedo is that rare talent who inhabits the best of both worlds. He is a magnificent wordsmith whose knowledge and understanding of the “sweet science” is apparent on every page.

There are some very talented authors who have written colorfully about boxing but come up short in their actual understanding of the technical aspects of the sport; and there are other authors whose writing ability is mediocre at best, but whose knowledge of the art of boxing in all its varied nuance is matched by very few. Carlos Acevedo is that rare talent who inhabits the best of both worlds. He is a magnificent wordsmith whose knowledge and understanding of the “sweet science” is apparent on every page. That was my impression after reading his first book “Sporting Blood: Tales From the Dark Side of Boxing”. This work is no exception.

Mike Silver’s books include “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-A Photographic History”; His most recent book is “The Night the Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments From the World of Boxing”.

Boston Lyric Opera Presents “Champion: An Opera In Jazz”

THE GRIPPING TRUE STORY OF A PRIZEFIGHTING BOXER IS TOLD IN

“CHAMPION: AN OPERA IN JAZZ”

From the Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winning, Oscar-nominated team of composer Terence Blanchard and librettist Michael Cristofer.

Boston Lyric Opera returns to first full staging in a theater since 2019

May 18, 20 and 22 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre

 

The true story of six-time world champion prizefighter Emile Griffith is told in Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO) new production of Champion: An Opera in Jazz by Grammy Award-winning composer Terence Blanchard (Fire Shut Up in My Bones), with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer. The contemporary opera is brought to the stage by acclaimed theater director Timothy Douglas and award-winning conductor Kwamé Ryan, and will be presented for three performances on May 18, 20 and 22 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater. Tickets are available now.

Champion chronicles Griffith’s sweeping life story, from his beginnings in the Virgin Islands to his athletic success in America, through passionate love affairs and a tragedy that changed his life. The story is told as memories from an older Emile with dementia who is on a journey to redeem himself from the fight that left his opponent Benny “Kid” Paret dead.

Brian Major

Champion’s story alternates between the story of the physically strong yet gentle Young Emile, who finds success in St. Thomas as a women’s hatmaker with a raucous social life before being recruited by an American boxing promoter, and an older Emile whose post-boxing life includes a long-time male companion who helps him navigate mental and physical decline, and a search for redemption.

Griffith’s rise as a champion athlete ran parallel with his complex personal life; he married a woman, had sexual relationships with men, and openly frequented gay bars in 1960s New York. Whispers about Griffith became public when his opponent Benny “Kid” Paret taunted him in front of the media at a pre-match weigh-in. Enraged, Griffith dominated Paret in a brutal fight, landing a rapid series of 17 blows that ended the match and put Paret in a coma. Paret died of a brain injury soon after.

Markel Reed

“The story of Champion is one of a desire to find a sense of belonging,” says Acting Stanford Calderwood General & Artistic Director Bradley Vernatter. “The details may be unique to Emile Griffith, but it is the story of many.  Terence Blanchard’s score is a mix of styles, one that is uniquely American, and reveals the warmth of Emile’s story, and the complexities of his life.”

The cast of Champion: An Opera in Jazz includes returning artists and company debuts:

  • Brian Major (playing Emile Griffith) who makes his BLO debut;
  • Markel Reed (Young Emile) who makes his BLO debut;
  • Tichina Vaughn (Emelda Griffith, Emile’s mother) who makes her BLO debut;
  • Chabrelle L. Williams (Cousin Blanche/Sadie Griffith) who sang the lead role, Milica, in BLO’s Svadba and originated this role in the World Premiere cast of Champion at Opera Theater of Saint Louis;
  • Jesus Garcia (Luis Rodrigo Griffith) who starred in BLO’s most recent productions of The Barber of Seville and La Bohème;
  • Todd Thomas (promoter Howie Albert), who makes his BLO debut;
  • Stephanie Blythe (Kathy Hagen), who makes her BLO debut with this performance and was recently cast in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2023 production of Champion;
  • Neal Ferreira (Ring Announcer) a BLO Emerging Artist alumnus and veteran of many BLO productions, including the 2018 production of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti; and
  • Nicholas LaGesse (Man in the Bar/Young Man), a BLO Emerging Artist.
Chabrelle Williams

Boston Lyric Opera’s Champion: An Opera in Jazz will be performed Wed., May. 18 @ 7:30PM, Friday May 20 @ 7:30PM and Sun., May 22 @ 3PM  at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater, 219 Tremont Street, Boston. Individual tickets start at $25 (plus fees) and are available now at blo.org/champion

 

 

Frank Dell’Apa Remembers Mike Marley

Mike Marley

Remembered By His Friend 

Frank Dell’Apa

By Bobby Franklin

Michael Marley

The Harvard and Commonwealth Avenue Section of the Allston neighborhood of Boston was a very interesting place back in the 1950s and early 60s. Comprised mostly of apartment buildings along with some two family homes, it had a very New York feel to it. With a combination of nice restaurants and dive bars it attracted all types. The variety of immigrants that had settled there differentiated it from other parts of the city which tended to be defined by one group or another.

 Among the people who lived there over the years were Wrestler Maurice Tillet; also known as the French Angel, Killer Kowalski, and Wallis Warfield Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor. Add the name of Michael Marley to that eclectic crowd.

From an early age Mike was a natural in front of a camera. He was quick on his feet, had a great sense of humor, and was never afraid to speak his mind. He grew up in Boston, but in many ways he was an old time New York City guy. He easily fit in with the crowd at Jimmy Glenn’s Corner Bar on West 44th Street while also being welcomed by a redneck crowd in Reno. Mike was comfortable in almost any setting.

LeRoy Neiman Sketch Of Mike During Exhibition Bout With Tommy Hearns

Mike Marley passed away on March 2 at his home in Falmouth, MA. The cause of death was Parkinson’s Disease. He was 71.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike’s longtime friend, Boston Globe journalist Frank Dell’Apa. The two attended the University of Nevada at Reno and it was Mike who encouraged Frank in becoming a newspaper writer. I already knew quite a bit about Mike, but in talking with Frank I really have gotten to know what a truly remarkable guy he was. 

I’d like to share some what Frank Dell’Apa told me about Mike:

Friendship With Ali

15 Year Old Mike Marley Upstages Muhammad Ali

 “It was the Ali relationship that defined Mike’s life. He was 12-year-old when Herb Ralby gave him a ticket to B’Nai B’rith Sports Lodge dinner at Sheraton – Mike was there to get Stan Musial’s autograph, he was a baseball fan at the time. But 20-year-old Cassius Clay stole the show, according to Ralby’s story in the Globe. That was it, Mike became an Ali fan and he started the Cassius Clay Fan Club, which became the Muhammad Ali Fan Club – Mike got business cards that billed him as “The World’s Youngest Boxing Writer” (also Ted Whitfield Fan Club) and became a Ring Magazine correspondent.

“Two years later, Ali came to Boston for the Liston fight and Mike called him at his hotel: Mike fired off an Ali-like rhyme and Ali recognized him as “you’re that kid that’s following me …” and asked Mike if he was “a black boy or white boy,” and Mike replied: “I’m a white boy, should I hang up?” Ali said no and invited him up to his room.

“Then Ali had the hernia operation and the fight was postponed; Mike went to the press conference at Boston City Hospital and Ali put him on the dais as “this little boy from Boston, My No. 1 fan”/ that’s when Mike praised Ali for his boxing prowess, etc. … and also his “humility,” which brought a smile to Ali’s face and also was Ali’s cue to get Mike off the podium since he was starting to actually take the limelight somewhat … they stayed in touch.

“Mike went to Lewiston and almost every Ali fight after that … he got to the training camp in Chicopee,  met everyone, including Diamond Jim Riley, Rudolph Valentino “Rahman” (Ali’s Brother). Angelo Dundee didn’t want to be responsible for Mike and prevented him from boarding the bus to Lewiston. (Mike ended up getting a ride with Diamond Jim Riley). Malcolm X had been assassinated Feb. 21, 1965; Ali-Liston 1 Feb. 25, 1965; Ali-Liston II May 25, 1965 – some thought Ali could be a target of assassins, etc.

“At that time, Mike met another Bostonian — Louis X, who became Farrakhan, they made a connection and met a couple times later – both went to Boston English. … Drew “Bundini” Brown, Wali Muhammad … Mike got on the bus with all of them post-fight (he was only white person on bus) and was part of the family from then on.  Mike’s mother, Dorothy, raised him and he loved her (a photo of her greeted you at his Falmouth home) and his brother Joe (Chip), but father figures/male role models were the boxing guys.”

As  Journalist

Mike With Kris Kristofferson

“Mike’s roots were in journalism and newspaper writing, old school Boston –  totally influenced by the sports writers of the Globe, Herald, Traveler, Post, Record-American, etc. he grew up with. … it was a competitive business and they were clever writers, wise cracking, sense of humor – Bud Collins took a liking to Mike when Mike was abut 12 – Mike always talked about Col. Dave Egan, John Gillooly, etc

“Then came the sports talk shows, they were naturals. Mike was a Glick Nick, he was up late with Larry Glick. To the end, he went to sleep listening to late-night radio talk, now on an Alexa. 

“Also, not many fight writers actually ever got into the ring, at least the modern generation – you guys that did get in there bring an unequaled understanding of the sport to your writing. Bobby Townsend in Brockton was another, he went on to modest pro career. Mike decisioned Townsend in the amateurs. Mike got his start in boxing at New Garden gym where he was trained by Al Clemente and Johnny Dunn. He fought at Arena Annex, the Fargo Building, and in Lowell. He received a boxing scholarship to University of Nevada-Reno, which is where I met him – first time I saw him he was in the ring and he won by TKO against an opponent from Chico State – he was basically all footwork, jab and move. (Crazy having a collegiate boxing team; those were the most passionate college sporting events I’ve seen to this day – forget Final 4s, Beanpots, football Bowl Games – when your classmates are in the ring, it’s not just school pride on the line, it’s something else, as well). [btw – just happened we both went to UNR, lucky for me]

“He told me it was after he fought Johnny Coiley that he realized he wasn’t going to be a pro. Later when at NY Post Mike sparred with Tommy Hearns in Atlantic City.

“We worked together in Reno, Mike got me hired on the school newspaper, then part-time at the Nevada State Journal. I went to Las Vegas before Mike, because Mike actually had been fired three times (and hired back twice) in Reno; minor things, and he would’ve gotten hired back had he stayed – but he decided to come back to Boston and was driving for Ambassador Taxi in Cambridge. Las Vegas Sun hired him and two years later he was hired by sports editor Jerry Lisker at the  NY Post – he covered the Yankees for a couple years, then boxing. I’d say Mike was destined for NY – he loved coming back to Boston and North End was a must (Limoncello, Mare; coffee at Café Dello Sport, Paradiso) … but Boston couldn’t hold him, he needed to be in NY.

 “It was a competitive scene covering boxing in NY; NYT/Daily News/Post/Newsday, also SI and AP/UPI – regulars, experts – Phil Berger, Michael Katz, Marley, Wallace Matthews, Pat Putnam, Ed Schuyler, Dave Raffo – ringside seats and up front at press conferences. Mike was ahead of everybody in “scoops,” and sheer New York-brashness even though Bostonian. He  found Roberto Duran’s father working in a kitchen, I think; also found Tyson’s father; wrote about Tyson getting into a street fight, etc. Mike was close with Tyson, and of course Ali. He also knew Larry Holmes well. As much as Mike admired Ali, he thought Holmes would’ve defeated Ali.

With Lifelong Friend Ali

 “Mike is the only person I know who worked for both Cosell and Don King … he passed the NY bar and could go toe to toe with Harvard Law grad Bob Arum and did so in press conferences. Won  6 Emmys (producer for SportsBeat / Cosell). He was in the room when Arum got involved in boxing for first time, Chuvalo v. Ali in Toronto – as Mike said, Arum had never seen a fight or been in one.”

Mike’s Character

“Mike had a heart of gold – he was a criminal defense lawyer, picked up a law degree from Fordham in his “spare time” while working for NY Post. He basically raised a young kid from Harlem via Big Brother, also sponsored young kids in Ghana. The essence of Mike was he never went after anyone that couldn’t defend themselves; he challenged the guys with the money and the frauds. He was a muckraking journalist and he defended those who needed help, whether in print or courtroom – and the rest of the time he just enjoyed life to the max.”

Thank you to Frank Dell’Apa for sharing his memories of Mike Marley. Mike will be sorely missed. I smiled when I learned Mike’s slogan for his law practice was “Reasonable doubt for a reasonable price.” It is tempting to call Mike a character, but that term isn’t fair. He was a truly interesting person who lived life to the fullest and did his best to help others. 

My deepest condolences to Mike’s brother and former grammar school classmate Joe Shadyac. 

Rest In Peace Mike Marley.