Category Archives: Boxing Articles

Review: “Man In The Ring” At The Huntington

A Compelling And Intense 

Life Story Of Emile Griffith 

At The Huntington

Man In The Ring

By Michael Cristofer

Directed by Michael Greif

Through December 22

The Huntington Theatre Company

Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Kyle Vincent Terry and John Douglas Thompson
(Photo: T. Charles Erikson)

I was apprehensive when going to see Man In The Ring. The play by Michael Cristofer recounts the life of six time world boxing champion Emile Griffith. Mr. Cristofer had not even heard of Griffith until being asked to write the libretto for an opera about the former champ. That experience led to him writing the play. Given that, I thought this could turn out to be a real mess. 

I felt there was so much he would get wrong.  Boxing is a complicated, dark, and emotional sport. Emile Griffith’s life story is a complex one that is filled with many contradictions along with much success and terrible tragedy. There are a number of different parts of his life that could have dominated this work, but Mr. Cristofer has done a masterful job of giving us a complete and honest portrait of Griffith’s life. 

The fact that Mr. Cristofer did not have previous knowledge of Emile Griffith has proven to be an asset when it comes to telling the story. He comes to it with a blank slate and gets all of it right. Along with writing theatre reviews, I have also been a boxing writer for a number of years, as well as having spent a lifetime around the sport. If anyone would be sitting in a theatre looking for flaws in the story it would be me. It turns out I would have to dig pretty deep to point out any mistakes here. I was very impressed, and I am not easily impressed by boxing dramatizations.

Emile Griffith is played by two actors. Kyle Vincent Terry is the young Emile while John Douglas Thompson is Griffith in his later years, when the effects of the punches he took have begun to appear in what was known as Dementia Pugilistica, today as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Both actors appear on the stage together throughout most of the play, with the older Emile looking back on his youthful self while reflecting on the choices he made. It is fascinating watching the story unfold in this manner. There are times when the two have exchanges. 

John Douglas Thompson
Photo: (T. Charles Erickson)

John Douglas Thompson is among the finest stage actors performing today, and it is uncanny how he captures Griffith in the years when his mind is beginning to fade. In scenes that are both funny and tragic the effects of the dementia as it progresses are brought to the audience. One such moment occurs when Luis (Victor Almanzar), Emile’s lover and now caretaker brings him his shoe which ended up in the refrigerator. The exchange between the two is quite funny but also very sad. 

Kyle Vincent Terry’s young Emile is filled with the positivity and optimism that was Griffith (“Always hang your hat higher than you can reach”). The magnificently built immigrant from St.Thomas arrived in New York City to join his mother. He decided to come to the States to make it as a baseball player and/or singer. He also had quite a knack for making lady’s hats. This led him to a job with a fellow named Howie Albert (Gordon Clapp), a once aspiring boxer who now runs a millenary business. He was immediately taken by Griffith’s physique and talked him into taking up boxing. Mr. Terry really impressed me as Emile. As they would say in boxing “You got what it takes kid’, and he sure does.

Gordon Clapp and Kyle Vincent Terry
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Boxing fans will notice the absence of Emile’s trainer Gil Clancy in the play. This is not an oversight, the author has rolled Clancy and Albert into one character. It works very well. Mr. Cristofer also, and I am not sure if this is intentional, shows how poorly Griffith was managed at the beginning of his career. Emile is what is known as a “survivor” in boxing. His was repeatedly thrown in with opponents who were far ahead of him in experience yet still managed to win. Albert didn’t develop a great fighter, he got lucky. Emile had incredible natural talent and a head for boxing. He was mostly self taught.

Kyle Vincent Terry and Cast
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Griffith’s bisexuality was always an open secret in boxing and could have dominated this play. It certainly and rightly is a major part of the story, and Emile’s ambiguity about it is shown. His lifestyle was rarely if ever publicly discussed, that is until the weigh-in for his third fight with Welterweight Champion Benny “Kid” Paret (Sean Boyce Johnson). The scene is staged with an emotional intensity that reaches out to the back rows of the theater. Paret’s shouting “Maricon” (a Spanish slur for a gay man) at Emile caused the lighthearted challenger to lose his temper. 

What occurs next is seared into the memories of older boxing fans. In the fight which was broadcast live on nationwide television, Griffith unleashed a vicious beating on Paret while knocking him senseless. Paret would die ten days later. I have read that an earlier production of this play had trouble staging this scene. Director Michael Grief along with fight directors Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet pull it off brilliantly. Using a revolving boxing ring, a tall projection screen showing footage from the actual fight, as well as using stop action effects with flash bulbs going off brings that terrible event vividly to life. Paret’s wife Lucia (Carla Martina), standing above and to the side of the action tells us what was going on with Benny before the fight. Lucia is joined by Emile’s mother Emelda (Krystal Joy Brown) and Paret’s manager Manuel Alfaro (Eliseo Gatta) in giving all the background that led up to this tragic outcome. They make it clear Paret never should have been in the ring that night. It is very, very powerful. Whether or not you are a boxing fan, you do not want to miss this.

There is music throughout the play. Caribbean children’s songs are sung by the actors accompanied by two musicians. It is not a musical, but the music is an integral part of the play, and just wonderful.

CastOf Man In The Ring
)Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Man In The Ring is a complex work about a paradoxical man. Emile was a fun loving gentle man in the most violent of professions. A man who spent much time at gay bars while participating in the manliest of sports (this was at a time when being gay was equated with being a “sissie”). He was deeply effected by the death of Paret yet kept fighting for years after, though it was apparent he no longer fought with the same intensity.

As the play nears its conclusion we see Emile, now deeply suffering the effects of CTE, being brought to meet with Benny Paret’s son in a park. Emile is confused but the moment is touching. Young Paret, Luis, and Griffith are all involved in trying to make sense out of what happened. 

As a boxing historian I found so much in this play. The accuracy is just stunning. Mr. Cristofer not only did incredible research, but he also understands the subject.This is very impressive for a boxing “civilian”.

As a play reviewer, I saw an amazing work of theatre. This can be called a boxing play, and boxing fans should definitely see it. It is an important piece of work that should be added to the great literature on boxing. 

Beyond being a great boxing play, Man In The Ring is amazing theatre. It is impressive how much is covered in just 110 minutes. The entire cast and production team are nothing short of outstanding. It would be foolish to miss any work with John Douglas Thompson in it, but this work is solid from top to bottom.  

You might think I am giving this high praise because of my boxing background. If anything, my knowledge of the subject would have been more likely to have caused me to go negative. The fact that Mr. Cristofer was able to impress me speaks very well to this play. I brought an extra critical eye to the Huntington on the evening I saw Man In The Ring. I can assure you, you will not be disappointed in this play. It is a great boxing story, it is a great human story, it is great theatre. I highly recommend Man In The Ring.

huntingtontheatre.org 617.266.0800

“No Mas” Revisted

Leonard vs Duran II

Why Did Duran Quit?

By Bobby Franklin

When Sugar Leonard and Roberto Duran faced each other in the ring for the first time, it was for the welterweight title being held by Leonard. The fight took place on June 20, 1980 at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada. It was built up as, and lived up to, being one of the best world championship fights in history. It was supposed to pit the matador, Leonard, vs the bull, Duran. However, things turned out a bit differently as Leonard decided to meet the bull on his own terms and slug with Duran.

The hype leading up to the fight was particularly ugly with Duran at his worst with vulgar language and gestures. He even went as far as making lewd comments about Ray’s wife. Today we look at Duran as an elder statesman of boxing, but it has to be remembered that he was as brutal with his words outside the ring as he was with his fists inside of the ropes. Winning didn’t change his tone either. In an earlier fight, after he knocked out Ray Lampkin and was told Lampkin was taken to a hospital Duran responded “I was not in my best condition. Today I sent him to the hospital. Next time I’ll put him in the morgue.” Hardly the words of a gracious winner.

In spite of all this, Duran was an immensely popular champion in his prime, particularly with his fellow countrymen from Panama, where he was a national hero. He was also a fan favorite in the states because of his non stop acton style and amazing knock out record. A Roberto Duran fight was always exciting.

Sugar Ray Leonard also had a huge following. He first made headlines when he won Olympic Gold at the 1976 Games held in Montreal. Ray was an exciting fighter with a captivating smile. His fast hands and power punching were a throwback to great fighters such as Sugar Ray Robinson. 

The excitement that existed around the first Leonard/Duran fight was amazing. It rivaled a big heavyweight fight in interest, and was one of those matches that drew non fight fans. Everyone was talking about it, and everyone had an opinion on it. On entering the ring the two fighters had a combined record of 98 wins and 1 loss. Duran had many more pro fights than Leonard, 72 vs 27, but Ray did have a very extensive amateur career. These were two very experienced champions facing one another.

The fight lived up to expectations but with a slight twist. Leonard decided to eschew his boxing skills and instead went toe to toe with Duran. It was not a wise decision on Ray’s part but it sure made for quite the slugfest. Though it may have been a strategic mistake, Leonard did show he could stand up to Duran on Roberto’s terms. While the decision was not controversial, it was close.  

After winning the decision, Duran was on top of the world. He returned home and began partying. His weight ballooned and he did no training. Meanwhile, Ray Leonard became focused on what went wrong and what he could do to defeat Roberto in a rematch. He was motivated and wanted revenge.

During negotiations for the two to meet again, Carlos Eleta, Duran’s manager, agreed to have them face each other just five months after the first fight. This gave Duran only a short time to lose weight and get fit both physically and mentally to face Leonard again. It was something he was not able to do.

On the night of the return fight, November 11, 1980 at the Superdome in New Orleans, a very different Roberto Duran stepped into the ring. In contrast to the high energy “Hands of Stone” who bounded into the ring in Montreal, this Duran looked tentative and not sharp. He appeared lackluster climbing up the steps into the ring.

Before any fight a boxer’s mind can play tricks on him. His thoughts go back to training and whether or not he did everything he could to be prepared. Second thoughts can haunt a man who is about to step into the ring; “Why didn’t I run those extra miles? Why didn’t I spar more rounds”? As Shakespeare once wrote “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” Was Duran’s mind playing games with him that November night? Were his thoughts causing him to fear attempting to beat Leonard again?  In retrospect, you can see something, or the lack of, in his eyes before the bell rang. 

It is also interesting to note that when the first round started Roberto extended a glove to Leonard. It was almost like a peace offering. It was a brief gesture and went unnoticed by those at ringside, but it tells a lot about his state of mind as the fight began. It was as if he wanted to make friends, very uncharictaristic for Duran.

For his part, Leonard employed an entirely different tactic in this fight. He came out circling and jabbing. When Duran got close to him he was able to tie him up and take away his inside game. Ray had learned from his mistakes and was waging a brilliant fight. He was moving, throwing combinations, making Duran miss. Ray was performing a well choreographed dance of violence, and while he may not have been hurting Duran physically with his punches, he was making him feel foolish and helpless in there. Duran did not have the fire to match Ray’s skill.

In Duran’s mind he had to be thinking “This guy gave me a tough fight on my terms when I was in great shape, now I am not in great shape and he is dictating what is happening in here”. He was becoming frustrated.

In the 7th round Leonard really turned it on. He dropped his hands and dared Duran to try and hit him. He wound up with punches. Ray, through his action, was telling Roberto he wasn’t man enough to be in there with him. 

In the 8th round Roberto just threw up his hands and quit. He didn’t appear to be hurt, he just tuned to the referee and said he was done. People at ringside and those watching around the world were stunned by this. It was so far away from the image of Duran as to be completely unbelievable. Something serious had to have happened. In that one moment, Duran’s career went up in flames. His victory over Leonard five months earlier was forgotten. He was labeled with the worst name in boxing; “A quitter”. How could this have happened.

Roberto has never really given an explanation. It is likely he himself really doesn’t understand why he did what he did. It was something that just happened. Some say he got stomach cramps and had to go to the bathroom. It has been suggested he was intentionally throwing the fight and was supposed to go 15 rounds and lose a decision building up a rematch but grew impatient and just decided to end it then. I don’t believe any of this.

Roberto Duran was not ready mentally or physically for this fight. His doubts were preying on his mind. It wasn’t getting hit that was bothering him. In fact, if he had been getting beaten while in a slugfest he most likely would have gone down fighting. What happened here was he was feeling humiliated, and he had no idea how to deal with it. The world was looking at him and he felt like a fool. His reaction was to turn and get away from it. i believe it was as simple as that. Did he regret it? Of course, and for years, twenty years in fact, he continued fighting to prove himself. He never came close to quitting again. In many ways he did vindicate himself, his tough fifteen rounds against Marvin Hagler helped. But Roberto Duran and the words “no mas” will always be linked together. It’s amazing how the actions of just a few seconds can tarnish a reputation for life. 

Sugar Ray Robinson Went Out Fighting

Sugar Ray Robinson

Lost Title For Last Time In 1960

Kept Fighting Till 1965

By Bobby Franklin

By any measurement, Sugar Ray Robinson had a remarkable career. The man who has been called the greatest fighter pound for pound who ever laced on a pair of gloves had a total of 201 professional fights. Out of that number he lost only 19 times with 6 draws and 1 bout being ruled a no contest. As amazing as that record is, it is even more astounding when you consider that 12 of those 19 losses came after he lost the title to Paul Pender. Now, add in the fact that 5 of those defeats came in 1965, the last year of his career when the great champion was 45 years old.

In 1965 alone Robinson fought 12 times. He finished his career being very active, fighting twice a month on five occasions in just that one year. That’s amazing for a man of his age at the time. In that last year he also won more fights than he lost, posting 8 victories. 

After losing the title by a split decision to Pender in January of 1960, Robinson fought Paul again six months later, losing another split decision. Six months after that he would challenge Gene Fullmer for a version of the Middleweight Title in a bout that resulted in a draw. Just three months after that he would lose a decision to Fullmer. Remember, Robinson was doing all of this while he was forty years old.

In the 48 fights Robinson had after losing the crown to Pender five were against current, former, or future world champions. Out of those five he lost four decisions and had one draw. 

Today, it is not uncommon to hear the “experts” demean Robinson’s incredible talent. In an age where quantity trumps the quality of opposition, these “experts” love to play the numbers game. They will say things like “How great could Robinson have been? He lost 19 times.” What garbage.

Ray Dusts Off The Gloves For A Comeback

The number of wins a boxer has is less important than the quality of his opposition. But, in Robinson’s case, his record boasts both items. Robinson won his first 40 fights before losing a decision to Jake LaMotta. He had defeated Jake the previous year. After that loss he went on to have  90 straight fights without a loss, including 3 more wins over LaMotta. His final victory against Jake included winning the Middleweight Crown. He also won the Welterweight Title by defeating Tommy Bell.

Robinson, who began his career in 1940, would not taste defeat again until he lost the title to Randy Turpin in 1951. At that point in his career Robinson had a record of 129 wins against 1 loss and 2 draws. He regained the title from Turpin two months later. There’s the quantity. As far as quality goes? Just look at his record. Ray was fighting in an era that was dominated by great fighters, and he was competing in the division that had the largest number of them. What he accomplished was nothing short of phenomenal. 

Ray In His 201st Bout, Taking On Joey Archer.

Getting back to Sugar Ray’s post champion years, he never became an “opponent”. Up until his final fight he was campaigning for another shot at the title. In his last fight he took on leading contender Joey Archer. Joey won a ten round decision over Ray and just two fights later lost a split decision to Emile Griffith in a title fight. Even to the end and at the age of 45, Sugar Ray Robinson was in the mix of title contenders. 

If Robinson had retired after losing the crown to Pender, his record would stand at 143 wins, 7 losses, and 2 draws. He was only stopped once, and that was in his challenge to win the Light Heavyweight Championship from Joey Maxim. In that fight Ray collapsed from the heat and dehydration. 

It is a sad commentary that a great fighter like Sugar Ray Robinson should have his reputation questioned today, but that is the age we live in. Robinson’s achievements will never be matched. The Sugar Ray of 1965 would would have been able to handle today’s top middleweights. The younger Ray would have destroyed them. 

The next time you hear a “boxing expert” questioning Robinson’s abilities, just smile and walk away. That person wouldn’t know a left jab from a right cross.

Boxing’s Lessons

Punching From The Shadows

Memoir Of A Minor League Professional Boxer

Published By McFarland (McFarlandbooks.com) 

265pp

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Glen Sharp had a professional boxing career that consisted of three fights of which he lost two. In Punching From The Shadows: Memoir Of A Minor League Professional Boxer he chronicles his time in the ring and the gyms, along with his experiences with the many different and unusual characters that populated the world of boxing in the 1980s. He also discusses why a young man decides to take up such a brutal sport, and the effect it had on his life, both short and long term. 

Sharp has written a fast paced book that gives the reader much insight into what it takes to become a fighter. Unlike other sports from that era, when a young man would first enter a boxing gym it was very likely he would be training alongside seasoned professionals. This was true for the author, who would become friends with and a sparring partner for five time world title challenger Yaqui Lopez. I don’t think many young football players get a chance to workout with Tom Brady, but boxing was a very egalitarian sport. It was one of the things that made it so attractive.

Glen Sharp wasn’t some poor kid from the mean streets who sought out boxing as a means to escape a life of poverty. In fact, he explains how the belief that boxing is a poor man’s sport is overhyped. Dipping into the writings of Jose Ortega y Gasset as well as Homer, he describes boxing as a form of expression, an artistic pursuit. With the advances man has made, many skills that were once required for survival are no longer needed on a daily basis. However, there is still an urge in many a young man to test himself to see if he can pass the test when challenged on his ability to implement those qualities. These include strength, skill, courage, and endurance. Sharp found the best way for doing that was in taking up boxing.

Yaqui Lopez and Glen Sharp

In Punching Through The Shadows, Glen Sharp gives us an honest telling of his life in boxing. His self doubts and second guessing will be familiar to anyone who has taken a shot at practicing the sweet science. Along the way we meet people such as former Middleweight Champion Carl Bobo Olsen who trained Sharp for a period of time. Reading about the relationship between the former champ and the young prospect only strengthened my belief that having been a top ranked fighter does not necessarily mean you will be good at teaching the art of boxing. In fact, I came away from this book believing Glen Sharp gained more insight into what goes into making a boxer on his own than most trainers do. He really understands the “theory of boxing”.

In an interesting chapter entitled Boxing Is Economics Theory Expressed In The Flesh, Sharp, who has an undergraduate degree in economics puts that knowledge to use in explaining things like the cost/benefit calculation when throwing a punch. When a boxer throws a punch he is most vulnerable to being hit with one. How to mitigate that risk is something every fighter thinks of, though maybe not in economic theory terms. It makes for interesting reading.

When I say Sharp understands the “theory of boxing”, this is made very clear when he describes the styles of some of the leading boxers of the time. His analysis of Joe Frazier as not a slugger but as a skillfully aggressive boxer is both insightful and right on the mark. He also makes  great a point when he writes “What a fighter fears most is not physical discomfort…but rather a failure to live up to the image the fighter has of himself.” There are a number of such gems in this book.

Glen Sharp (left) On The Attack

Along with many insights into the world of boxing, Sharp also delivers a compelling personal story. His comparison of boxing with art  serves him well when discussing his own journey. His story is honest and open. He freely discusses his fears, his self doubts, and his disappointment in not being able to become a top boxer. Boxing is a sport of dreams that are rarely fulfilled. Glen Sharp, like just about any kid who ever put on a pair of boxing gloves, dreamed of one day becoming a world champion. As far a long shot as that is in reality, it is still painful to have to accept the fact that it just isn’t going to happen. In boxing, the default mode emotionally is to look upon one’s self as a failure in so many ways, most of all in believing it means you have failed the test of manhood. 

Sharp With Carl Bobo Olsen

It took Sharp some time to work his way through those feelings. After his third pro fight he stepped back from boxing. A while later he decided he wanted to give it another try. He still felt he could do it and the need to prove himself still burned inside of him. After speaking to a trainer and promoter about making a comeback, he was advised not to. It was a tough message to get and it hurt. He again uses the comparison with the arts to describe his feelings and how he dealt with this emotionally. It turns out he proved himself solidly.

When visiting a boxing gym today, the odds are you will see something more akin to a huge aerobics class setting than the boxing gyms from a few years back. Boxing gyms are now a platform for group exercise rather than places to learn the expressive art Sharp so well describes. He was around for the waning days of the old school boxing gyms and trainers who understood what it was all about. Punching Through The Shadows is a terrific chronicle of what boxing was and should be. It is also a great story of a young man’s quest to test himself and to deal with the emotional turmoil that is so much a passage into manhood.

If you spent time in a boxing gym before they became group fitness centers you will find much of what Sharp has written will bring back memories. If you missed out on those days, you will learn much about what it meant to train in an authentic boxing gym at a time when it was very different than today.

Glen Sharp With His wife Punky

I can’t think of another boxing book out there that gives such an inside look at what it was like to pursue the dream of boxing in the way Glen Sharp did. It is a great read on so many levels. Most of all, it is a very human story. I doubt there are many who will not be able to relate to some portions of Sharp’s book. I know I did.

 

When Fenway Park Packed A Punch

A Brief Look At The Time Boxing Matches Were Held At Fenway Park

By Bobby Franklin

Fenway Park 1912

Fenway Park is the home to a team that can now be called among the best, if not the the best, in baseball history. The Boston Red Sox were dominant this year and in the World Series. 

Fenway Park is the proud home to the Sox. It is considered one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country and one of the few remaining old time parks. Bostonians are not only proud of their team, they also take great pride in having such a wonderful home venue to host that team.

Fenway Park first opened in 1912. Over the years it has been the sight of baseball games. It has also been known to have other events as well. Among these were professional wrestling, rock concerts, ice hockey, football, ski jumping, and boxing.

The first boxing card to take place at Fenway was on Monday, August 11, 1919. In the main event that night, local boxer Frankie Britt won a 12 round decision over Ralph Brady in a lightweight battle.

There would be two more fight cards held at the park over the next year before taking a break. Boxing would resume being staged at Fenway on June 26, 1928 when Al Mello faced Billy Murphy for the New England Welterweight Title. Mello came away with a win after 12 rounds. Other local fighters who appeared that night included Hy Diamond, Charlie Donovan, Jack Donohue, and Ray Cross. They all were victorious.

There were 22 more fight cards held at Fenway from 1928 through 1937. The last during that period was held on August 24, 1937 when Tony Shucco and Al McCoy fought to a draw in the main event promoted by Rip Valenti. There would not be another fight held there until after WWII. 

During those years there were a number of great venues for staging boxing matches. These included the Boston Garden, Boston Arena, the Mechanics Building, and another ballpark; Braves Field.

Staging an outdoor fight always came with the risk of bad weather forcing a cancellation or hurting attendance. Often times big title fights were held outdoors because they could accommodate the huge crowds eager to attend so the risk was worth taking.  I don’t believe crowd capacity was the reason for holding outdoor fights in Boston. It more likely was because it is such an attractive place to be on a warm summer night. Also, in the days before air conditioning was widespread it could be a nice alternative to sitting in a stuffy arena.

During the 1930s some of the world’s leading contenders made appearances at Fenway Park. The ill fated Earnie Schaaf lost a decision to Babe Hunt on September 2, 1930. Tony Shucco fought there again in 1937 when he lost a decision to top contender Natie Brown. Maxie Rosenbloom defeated Joe Barlow there in 1932, and the great Kid Chocolate also fought at Fenway in 1932 defeating Steve Smith by decision. Future heavyweight king James J. Braddock made his only appearance at the park when he won a decision over Joe Monte in 1930.

 

Jack Sharkey vs Phil Brubaker

In 1936 former heavyweight champ Jack Sharkey, on the comeback trail, took on Phil Brubaker in a ten round main event at Fenway. He came away winning a close ten round decision. The Associated Press gave this report on the fight:

“Jack Sharkey projected himself back into the heavyweight picture today as the result of a close but convincing 10 round victory over young Phil Brubaker. Sharkey got up off the floor at Fenway Park last night, gave the 22 year old Brubaker an artistic boxing lesson, and promptly served notice that he’s serious about making a comeback. Knocked down, cut and battered by Brubaker’s first round rush, Sharkey rallied to outbox, outpunch and outpoint the California clouter. The 33 year old ex-champion, all things considered, waged one of his best fights to score an uphill victory.” 

The win would earn Sharkey a match against an up and coming heavyweight contender by the name of Joe Louis. Jack would retire after losing to Louis.

Boxing returned to Fenway in 1945 when two aging former heavyweight contenders faced off. Tami Maurlello took on Lou Nova. Both had challenged Joe Louis for the championship years before and were at the tail end of their careers. Tami showed he still had quite a bit of fire in him when he destroyed Nova in the first round, dropping him less then a minute into the fight. He then opened a cut over Lou’s left eye before finishing him off with a right to the jaw.

There would only be two more fight cards promoted at Fenway Park and they would be in the mid 1950s. Both would be headlined by one of the most exciting fighters to ever come out of Boston, the great Tony DeMarco.

In 1954, hot on the trail for a shot at the world welterweight title, Tony showed his vaunted power when he stopped George Araujo in the 5th round. Araujo put up a valiant effort but was outgunned by the power punching DeMarco.

The final boxing show to be held at Fenway Park took place on June 16, 1956 when Tony DeMarco once again headlined a show promoted by Sam Silverman. Tony was now the former welterweight champ, but was on the comeback trail coming off two wins since losing the title to Carmen Basilio.

Tony DeMarco Celebrates Victory Over Vince Martinez At Fenway Park

Tony showed he was still a serious contender to be dealt with as he won a ten round decision from the very talented Vince Martinez. Martinez started fast, winning the early rounds, but Tony came on to dominate the rest of the fight nearly stopping Vince in the tenth round.

I don’t know if Boston will ever again see another boxing show at Fenway Park, but it sure would be exciting. Taking a seat at ringside on that field of dreams would be an unforgettable experience. Maybe some promoter will consider doing it again.

BOXING’S FIVE DECADE MEN

BOXING’S FIVE DECADE MEN  

By

Mike Silver   

    

Barkley vs Duran

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to meet up with the great Roberto Duran. The legendary four division world champion was the guest of honor at the annual Ring 10 Veteran Boxers Association benefit. It was a rare public appearance for the now 67 year old warrior. Yes, 67! As expected, Duran’s presence electrified the 400 plus fans in attendance. 

      The fighter nicknamed “Manos de Piedre” (Hands of Stone) engaged in 119 bouts and knocked out 70 opponents. While those stats are indeed impressive (especially the number of knockouts) they are not unique. Boxers who accumulated 100 or more bouts were quite common during the first half of the twentieth century. In addition, 55 other pro boxers have knocked out 70 or more opponents. But, in spite of that, Roberto Duran’s record stands out for another reason that very few can match: He is one of only three boxers in the entire history of the sport who fought in five consecutive decades.

           What qualities did these boxers possess that allowed them to survive for so many years in their brutal profession? I came to the conclusion that the first ingredient had to be a deep understanding of their craft. All three were well schooled in the finer points of boxing technique.  That quality was further enhanced by the seasoning they gradually acquired during their first decade of competition. On top of that they had to be flexible enough to make the necessary adjustments as they aged. It also helped that all three had great chins. 

       These boxers weren’t just great athletes—they were very smart athletes. They were able to compensate for deteriorating speed and reflexes by combining experience with superior athletic intelligence and excellent defensive strategies. Even near the end of their careers they were rarely knocked out or subject to a sustained beating. It was a method utilized to great success by two former champions who stretched their careers to the maximum and are among the dozen master boxers who just missed the five decade mark: Welterweight champion Jack Britton (1904-1930) and light heavyweight champion Archie Moore (1935-1963). Both used an amalgam of those four skill sets—athletic intelligence, flexibility, superior defensive strategies, and vast experience— to keep them in the game long after their contemporaries had retired. 

      I could have added another master boxer to the list, the former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. But despite his having fought in five consecutive decades (1897-1930) there were several gaps in his record. Johnson remained active up to his winning the title in 1908. But from 1911 to 1930 there were seven years in which he did not engage in a single prizefight. I felt this was too much inactivity, even for a five decade man, so I decided that only a fighter with not more than three separate years without a fight could qualify. Those ground rules would have applied to George Foreman as well. Big George fought in four separate decades (1964-1997) but was idle from 1978 to 1986, so even if he had fought into a fifth decade that lengthy stretch of inactivity would disqualify him.   

   In chronological order here are the three members of the exclusive “Five Decade” club:

KId Azteca

Kid Azteca: Professional career 1929 to 1961. Won-lost-draw record: 192-47-11, including 114 wins by knockout . 

   A legend in Mexico, and one of that country’s greatest fighters, the 5’8” 147 pound welterweight had his first pro bout when Herbert Hoover was president, Babe Ruth was still belting out home runs for the Yankees, and Gene Tunney was heavyweight champion. When, 32 years later, he entered the ring at age 47 for his last pro bout Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were the home run kings for the Yankees, Floyd Patterson was heavyweight champion, and John F. Kennedy was president. But longevity is not the only item that distinguishes Azteca’s boxing career. He was a top ten title contender for seven years. Between October 1933 and May 1941 (40 months) Azteca was ranked as high as the #1 world welterweight contender by The Ring magazine. 

      

Kid Azteca

Kid Azteca earned his rating with wins over contenders Joe Glick, Young Peter Jackson, Eddie Kid Wolfe, Baby Joe Gans, the Cocoa Kid, Izzy Jannazzo, Morrie Sherman and future middleweight champion Ceferino Garcia (two out of three). In 1939 he lost a close decision to future welterweight champion Fritzie Zivic. After losing twice to Zivic in return matches Azteca finally gained a victory in 1947. Other notable opponents were Jackie Wilson, Baby Casanova, Bep Van Klaveren, Leon Zorrita and former lightweight champion Sammy Angott. Most of his fights took place in Mexico City but he also appeared in Los Angeles, Texas and South American rings. There are no gaps in his record—he engaged in at least one or more fights every year from 1929 to 1961. 

    Throughout his life Kid Azteca remained hugely popular among his countrymen and even appeared in several movies produced in Mexico. Unfortunately there are no films of him in action. Nevertheless, I don’t think it would be a stretch, considering his career and high rating, to say that Azteca possessed an outstanding defense. Fighters who are “catchers” or who engage in too many wars are worn out quickly and cannot sustain a career anywhere near that length of time.

Roberto Duran

Roberto Duran:  Professional career 1968 to 2001. Won-lost record: 103-16, including 70 wins by knockout. 

     The street urchin who emerged from the slums of Panama to become one of the sport’s greatest and most charismatic champions turned pro at the age of 16. Five decades later, on July 14, 2001, in the final fight of his career, the 50 year old legend lost a unanimous 12 round decision to 39 year old Hector Camacho. 

     The Roberto Duran who lost to Camacho was many years passed his prime. He was not the same fighter who took down Ken Buchanan, Estaban DeJesus, Sugar Ray Leonard, Ray Lampkin, Pepino Cuevas and Iran Barkley. Nevertheless, he could still display the subtle boxing moves and ring smarts that kept him from being dominated by much younger opponents. 

       Roberto Duran was one of the greatest punchers in the history of the lightweight division. But, as sometimes happens with exciting punchers who can also box, their cleverness often goes unrecognized or underappreciated. Duran had a world of natural ability but he also was intelligent enough to understand that there was far more to this sport than throwing punches at an opponent. There is a telling quote in Kelly Nicholson’s excellent article on Duran (“The Panamanian Devil”, International Boxing Research Journal, September 2018): “As to the motivation for his career, Duran would say shortly before the first fight with Leonard, ‘I got into boxing to learn it…I didn’t enter the ring to get out of the gutter. Those are stories. I got into it because I like it.” 

       Duran’s nascent career benefited tremendously from the expert teaching of his two old school master trainers Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel. These two professors of pugilism had nearly 100 years of combined experience. They answered his desire to learn as much as possible about his craft, smoothed out the rough edges, and made him even more dangerous. They taught him the tricks of his trade and the result was that Duran eventually developed into the type of throwback fighter that is virtually extinct today. 

     Watch a video of any Duran fight after 1974 and you will see that even in his dotage he never gets trapped on the ropes, often rides with and slips punches aimed at his head and performs subtle feints to lure his opponents into making mistakes that are paid for with damaging and accurate counter punches (especially to the body). As he moved up in weight and as he aged Duran’s punch was not as devastating as it had been during his eight year tenure as lightweight champion. As a result, he had to rely more on his strategic boxing skills. To watch Roberto Duran fight is to experience a textbook lesson in the lost art of boxing. He is one of the few genuine ring greats who still walks among us. 

Sweet Saoul Mamby

Saoul Mamby: Professional career 1969 to 2008. Won-lost-draw record; 45-34-6, including 18 wins by knockout.  

     It is virtually impossible to go through an entire professional boxing career and expect to come through relatively unscathed. But if anyone came close to achieving such a goal that person would be Saoul Mamby, which is all the more remarkable since he had his last professional fight at the age of 60!

      Just as there are born punchers I believe there are also born boxers. What I mean is that some neophyte boxers seem to grasp the concepts of on balance defensive boxing more readily than most. Perhaps it’s a genetic disposition that tells them it is better to give than to receive. 

      Saoul Mamby never thought it a good idea to receive a punch in exchange for the opportunity to land one of his own. He did not seek a knockout victory, although if presented with the opportunity his solid right cross was capable of dropping an opponent. His basic strategy involved keeping his hands up to protect his chin, using a busy left jab to keep an opponent off balance, and always keep moving. He never threw a right hand punch unless he deemed it safe to do so. It was a style that didn’t win fans but it kept him from taking a sustained beating. Jim Corbett would have approved.    

     Mamby’s defensive prowess was put to the test when he faced a prime Roberto Duran on May 4, 1976 in a non-title 10 round bout. The lightweight champion tried mightily to make Mamby his 49th knockout victim. Duran won the unanimous decision but he did not come close to scoring a knockout. Six months later Mamby faced another test when he crossed gloves with the formidable former champion Antonio Cervantes who had knocked out nine of his previous ten opponents. Like Duran, Cervantes could not find his elusive opponent’s chin and had to settle for unanimous decision.  

         His first attempt to win a title occurred in 1977 and resulted in a controversial split decision loss to the WBC Super Lightweight champion Saensak Muangsurin. The fight took place in Thailand, the champion’s home turf. Mamby believed he was the victim of a hometown decision.

  

Saoul Mamby

  Three years later, in his second try for the 140 pound title, he challenged Sang Hyun Kim of Korea. Once again he found himself fighting in his opponent’s backyard. Not willing to take any chances on a hometown decision the 32 year old challenger displayed a more aggressive style and was intent on ending the fight before it went to a decision. In the 14th round, Mamby saw an opening and landed a powerful right cross on Kim’s jaw that dropped him for the full count.    

    Winning a world title seemed to energize Mamby and in his first defense he stopped former lightweight champion Estaban De Jesus in the 13th round. Four more successful defenses followed before he lost a controversial 15 round split decision to Leroy Haley. After outpointing Monroe Brooks he was given a chance to regain the title from Haley but lost another close decision. In 1984, in his final title challenge, he fought Billy Costello for the super lightweight championship and lost a 12 round unanimous decision. 

     By the 1990s Mamby was losing more often (he won only five of his last 17 bouts) but, win or lose, he continued to frustrate opponents. Mamby finally announced his retirement   on May 19, 2000 in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was 52 years old. 

     Eight years later Mamby attempted a comeback. After being told that no boxing commission would dare license a 60 year old prizefighter Mamby found a place that would—the Cayman Islands. On March 8, 2008 he lost a 10 round decision to a 31 year old boxer with dismal 6-26 won-lost record. As usual Saoul emerged unscathed. As of today there are no plans for a comeback. 

End

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

Introduction of Kid Azteca:


Roberto Duran Gives Master Class On Boxing:

Roberto Duran meets Brighton & Hove ABC from South Coast Productions on Vimeo.

The Night Rocky Cried

Louis vs Marciano

By Bobby Franklin

Rocky Marciano cried the night he knocked out Joe Louis. Louis had retried in 1948 after defending his title against Jersey Joe Walcott. Joe stopped Walcott in the 11th round. Seven months earlier Louis had won a controversial 15 round decision from Jersey Joe, so winning decisively was a great way to cap off his career and make a dignified exit. 

Unfortunately, money problems forced Louis to embark on a comeback. He had a huge outstanding debt with the IRS, and the only way he knew how to make money was by stepping back into the ring. His first bout back after a two year layoff was against Ezzard Charles in an effort to regain the crown now held by the Cincinnati Cobra. After 15 brutal rounds Charles prevailed by earning a unanimous decision.

That fight did not earn Joe the money he needed to pay off his debts, so he continued fighting in the hope of getting another shot at the title. Louis fought often over the next year engaging in 8 fights with 8 wins. He still flashed signs of greatness, but it was clear his reflexes had slowed. At 36 years of age and after a lifetime of hard training his body was just worn down. On top of this, even with fighting so often, he could not earn enough money to pay off his debt. The interest kept compounding, and he was up against a tide that would not recede. 

His bout against Rocky Marciano, which took place on October 26, 1951, was a classic match of the young up and coming star versus the fading veteran. It’s a script that has played out many times, but in this case it was cloaked in sadness. Joe Louis was well loved by the public. Everyone knew that he would rather have been enjoying a richly deserved retirement but had no choice other than to fight. So it came to be that a man who was arguably the greatest heavyweight who ever lived would face a future great.

Even after all of these years it is still painful to watch the footage of that October night 67 years ago at Madison Square Garden.

Even after all of these years it is still painful to watch the footage of that October night 67 years ago at Madison Square Garden. Louis, now 37 years of age, entered the ring a 6 to 5 betting favorite against the unbeaten Brockton Blockbuster. Many felt experience would win out over youth, but the years had caught up to Joe.

When the bell rang for the first round a balding Joe Louis moved out in his classic stance. Rocky came out very aggressively and won the first two rounds big, landing numerous overhand rights that Joe just could not avoid. He had not been hit like this since his first fight against Max Schmeling in 1936, 15 years earlier. 

It is a testament to Louis’s championship heart that he was able to become competitive against his younger opponent when he won the 4th and 5th rounds. Even though he took those rounds it was obvious he was a shadow of his old self. He was throwing combinations but his punches were not firing off like they used to. It was taking just that much longer for his body to respond to what his brain was telling it. While Joe outweighed Rocky by nearly thirty pounds he could not keep the younger man off of him. The fifth round would be the last round Joe would win in his career.

In the sixth round you can see how Joe’s legs appeared stiff. He lost the bend in his knees and could not move away from Rocky. There was no spring in his legs. At this point he began to take an awful beating. Rocky was landing rights to the head while punishing Joe’s body. It was just a matter of time before the end.  Suddenly, Joe became an old man. Boxing is a cruel sport where old age strikes early.

When the bell rang for the 8th round an exhausted and bruised Louis stepped forward slowly. He was not only worn out from the blows of Marciano, but also from the years of fighting and training. Louis had been fighting professionally since 1934 and as an amateur before that. He had always trained hard and he had fought often, only taking time out to serve his country during WW II. He had never failed to give his all and was doing it again on this night. However, his tank was now empty and his opponent was relentless.

About a minute and a half into the round Marciano floored Louis with a short and powerful left hook. Louis stayed on one knee while taking an eight count. When Joe rose Rocky went in to end the fight. He backed Louis up to the ropes and landed two left hooks. After the second hook, Louis’s hands dropped to his side and Marciano landed a right that drove Louis down and through the ropes. As he landed on his back members of the press sitting at ringside reached up to help him. You can see the look of sadness on their faces. A police officer jumped onto the ring apron. Cornermen and the ring doctor rushed to him and made a protective circle around the fallen champ. There was a sudden outpouring of grief that can still be felt while watching the old black and white footage. The scene made me think of a line from Shakespeare’s Richard II, “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad tales of the death of kings”. 

As you look at Rocky’s face as they announce him the victor, you see no joy. It has been reported Marciano wept in his dressing room. He said to Louis, “I’m sorry Joe”. Joe responded “What’s the use of crying? The better man won. I guess everything happens for the best.”

Joe Louis would retire for good after this fight, but his financial problems continued. He turned to professional wrestling for a time and did some refereeing. He eventually ended up working as a greeter in Las Vegas. While his life didn’t turn out the way it should have, he never lost the love and admiration of the American people. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much to his country.

Rocky Marciano went on to win the championship and retired undefeated. The Rock remained retired, being one of the few who was not lured back into the ring. Tragically, he died in a plane crash in 1969 at the age of 45.

Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano were two of the greatest heavyweight champions. Both displayed class and dignity in and out of the ring. That class was displayed by each man when they met in the ring. If you want a lesson in how to be a good winner, how to be a good loser, just follow their example.

John Douglas Thompson To Play Emile Griffith In Boston Production

“Man In The Ring”

The Story Of Boxing Champion

Emile Griffith To Open 

At The Huntington 

John Douglas Thompson

In exciting news for both boxing and theatre fans, the Huntington Theatre Company production of Man In The Ring will be opening at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts on November 16. The play, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer, will run through December 22. Man In The Ring chronicles the life of former Welterweight and Middleweight Champion Emile Griffith. 

Griffith’s story will span the time of his humble beginnings in the Virgin Islands, his love affairs, and the tragedy in the ring that forever changed his life. It its a complex story that is both touching and tragic.

I am very excited to hear that John Douglas Thompson has been cast in the role Emile Griffith as an older man. Mr. Douglas is one of the best actors on stage today, and I had the pleasure of seeing him in the world premiere of Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf n 2012. He was simply phenomenal that night. Most recently, he played Starkeeper in the Broadway production of Carousel. It will be interesting to see him play Griffith as an older man who if suffering from the effects of his years in the ring as well as the emotional turmoil from the Benny Paret fight.  

Kyle Vincent Terry

Kyle Vincent Terry will be playing the younger Griffith. Mr. Terry served as fight choreographer for The Royale which I saw last year at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. The fight scenes in that production were very creative and well done. It is a challenge to create what happens in a boxing ring onto a stage, and Mr. Terry work was quite impressive.

Playwright Michael Cristofer won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for his 1977 play The Shadow Box. In his script for Man In The Ring, Mr. Cristofer explores Emile Griffith’s struggle with his homosexuality which was an open secret in the boxing world during his career. Benny Paret’s taunts of Griffith before their tragic fight have always been thought to have contributed to Emile’s fire in the ring that night.

“Emile Griffith was a true hero in my book”, says Cristofer. “He was a young immigrant form the Virgin Islands and a man struggling with his identity while in a brutal sport who, as an older man slipping into dementia, worked to find peace amid the love, pain, and joy that was his life.”

Emile Griffith

Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois says “One of the hardest things to do in theatre is to tell the full story of a complex person’s life. Michael Cristofer beautifully captures the excessive, eccentric, and emotional parts of Emile’s amazing story by mixing the champ’s easy charm with the raw and traumatic things he experienced.”

The cast also includes Victor Almanzer as Luis, Griffith’s lover and later his caretaker, Starla Benford as Griffith’s mother Emelda, Krystal Joy Brown as his wife Sadie, Gordon Clapp as manager Howie Albert. Sean Boyce Johnson is cast as Benny “Kid” Paret with Carla Martinez playing his wife Lucia. Eliseo Sosa will play Paret’s manager Manuel Alfaro. 

Man In The Ring will be directed by multiple Tony Award  nominee Michael Greif. Michael McElroy is the music director and composer of incidental music. 

Man In The Ring

Huntington Theater Company

Playing at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center For The Arts

527 Tremont Street, Boston 

November 16 through December 22, 2018

huntingtontheatre.org

617.266.0800

Was There Almost A Rocky 2.0?

Marciano Considered Coming Back To Fight

Ingemar Johansson in 1959

Was He Serious?

By Bobby Franklin

On September 22, 1955 Rocky Marciano stepped into the ring to defend his title in Yankee Stadium against the great Archie Moore. It was a bruising fight with Moore dropping the Champion in the second round, but Rocky eventually wore down his cagey opponent and stopped him in the 9th round. While the fight was one sided in the scoring up until the stoppage, it was by no means an easy fight for the Rock. Moore was a great boxer and a powerful puncher, and he landed punches on Marciano that would have flattened other mortals. But Marciano was no mortal when he was in the heat of battle. He seemed to get stronger when he got hit, and his drive and determination were too much for the 49 men he met and defeated in the ring.

This would be Marciano’s last fight, seven months later he would retire citing his desire to spend more time with his wife and daughter. He did leave a slight window open for a return to the ring when he said “No man can say what he will do in the future, but barring poverty, the ring has seen the last of me.”

It is reported that Rocky told those close to him that the real reason for his retirement was his displeasure with his manager Al Weill and the way his money was being handled. Rocky believed he was being taking advantage of and wanted out.

I was speaking with Mike Silver, the author of The Arc of Boxing, and we both agreed that while both of these reasons are legitimate we felt that Marciano may have finally tired of the grind of training and the pain he had to go through in each of his fights. Again, while the Moore bout may have seemed one sided in the scoring, Rocky took some terrible blows in the fight and had to be feeling the effects for days afterwards. The Champ was not a stupid man and may have figured it was best to get out while he still had his faculties, a decision, sadly, too few fighters make, and one that he should be admired for.

Rocky went on to enjoy retired life, and with only a bit of a tease when he pretended to consider a comeback when made an offer by promoter Jim Norris about a year after the his retirement, he looked to be permanently out of the ring. 

Rocky Marciano Training For a Comeback In 1959

Recently, I got to view some photos of Marciano that were taken in 1959. They show a healthy but bit pudgy former champ hitting a heavy bag under the watchful eye of his trainer Charley Goldman. Was this some type of a publicity stunt? I called the expert, my friend Dan Cuoco of IBRO to ask what he knew about this. He told me that Rocky had indeed contemplated a comeback in 1959. It was to be a one bout deal for in excess of a million dollars, and he would challenge Ingemar Johansson for the title. So, what happened?

There hasn’t been a lot written about this subject, but it does appear the former champion trained for about a month in Florida and that these sessions did receive coverage. Dan sent me a copy of an item that appeared in the Boston Traveler on January 16, 1960. In the short piece penned by Bill Liston, he states that he has heard that Marciano is training for a comeback but hopes it doesn’t happen. Though he believes Rocky would have no problem dispatching the new Champion he thinks Rocky should leave well enough alone. He also theorizes that Marciano was doing this to enhance his marketability for public appearances and refereeing. 

Charley Goldman Tapes Rocky’s Hands

Others have said he was serious about fighting Johansson and only gave up on it when his back, a life long problem he had, started giving him trouble. Mike Silver told me Rocky had met the Swede and felt he would have no problem taking him. I can see how tempting the thought must have been to Marciano. Here he would stand to make over a million dollars, hit the magic 50 and 0 mark on his record, and be on top of the world again. However, Ingo lost the title back to Floyd Patterson and that would lead to a third match between the two, and another year gone by before a bout with Marciano could be negotiated, another good reason not to keep at it.

I think the real reason is a combination of the two theories. There had to be no doubt in Rocky’s mind that he could beat Johansson and he had to have thought seriously, even if just briefly, about taking him on. He also saw how this enhanced his image as so many great athletes are forgotten not long after they leave the spotlight. By doing this, Rocky was able to keep his legend alive and his name in the news. he would go on to host a popular television show and continue to be in demand for public appearances.  In a second item sent to me by Mr. Cuoco, an AP story dated January 15, 1961, once again Marciano teased the public a bit about a possible comeback. When asked about how he would do against Liston or Patterson Rocky states “ I’m not the boasting type, I don’t want to say I could whip them. But then I don’t want to lie about it either.” He seemed to be enjoying tantalizing his fans with the thought they could see him in the ring again.

Rocky would eventually return to the ring in a futuristic and bit eerie way. The Rock and Muhammad Ali sparred a number of rounds together and the footage of that sparring was pieced together to make a computer created match that was shown in theatres across the country. The sparring was filmed in 1969, just a few months before Rocky’s untimely death in a plane crash. It was shown in 1970. It is strange that Marciano’s comeback, such as it was, would happen after his death. The computer had the Rock winning by knock out in the 13th round.

This article first appeared in the Boston Post Gazette on March 20, 2015 in slightly different form.

When Eddie Ran Into Ingo’s Toonder

Machen vs Johansson Took Place 

60 Years Ago

What Really Happened?

By Bobby Franklin

In 1958 Eddie Machen was the leading contender for the heavyweight championship held by Floyd Patterson. Machen was undefeated and held victories over such men as Joey Maxim (twice), Nino Valdes, Bob Baker, and Tommy Jackson. Of course, having a strong claim to a title shot during the reign of Floyd Patterson was a sure way of never receiving one. The leading contenders of the day were routinely bypassed in favor of inferior opposition.

While the top contenders included men named Liston, Valdes, Pastrano, and Folley, Patterson’s manager Cus D’Amato opted instead for bouts with the likes of unranked Roy Harris, Pete Rademacher (he was making his pro debut in his title shot), Brian London (whose ticket to Floyd was a loss to a young Henry Cooper), and Tommy Jackson (Floyd had already defeated him before becoming champion). It was truly a dark time for the heavyweight championship. 

Meanwhile, over in Sweden a young star was making some waves. His name was Ingemar Johansson and he was undefeated. Ingo was scoring knockouts with a lethal right hand that was known as “Ingo’s Toonder”. His record was impressive but not his opposition. He had won the European Heavyweight Championship when he kayoed Franco Cavicchi in the 13th round. 

His other notable wins were a 10 round decision over Brit Joe Bygraves, a one round kayo of Hein Ten Hoff, a 5th round knockout of Henry Cooper, and a decision win over American Archie McBride. None of these opponents were near the quality of Machen, Liston, or Folley. Also, Ingemar had not been seen by fans in the U.S., so he was truly an unknown quantity. On top of this, ever since Tommy Farr had given Joe Louis a very tough go of it in his title challenge, European Heavyweights had not been taken seriously.

What happens next in the heavyweight division is something that is worth looking into. It is 1958 and we have Eddie Machen as the top contender. He is undefeated in 24 fights with 15 knockouts. In any other era he would have received a well deserved title shot. But the title is now controlled by D’Amato and he is having nothing to do with signing Floyd to fight a serious opponent. Machen now signs to fight number two contender Zora Folley, another deserving contender. The two fight to a draw. Meanwhile, Patterson bypasses both men and takes on Harris and London instead. A disgrace.

After the Folley fight Machen is offered a match against Ingemar Johansson in Sweden. The fight doesn’t make any sense for Eddie other than it would be a decent payday, but number one contenders do not look for decent paydays, as the ultimate payday is winning the crown. Why would he take on an unknown quantity such as Johansson in Ingo’s home town and risk everything, while having nothing to gain?

For years it was thought Machen took a dive in the fight. When I was young that was the word among all the knowledgable fight people. The story was that D’Amato’s people, and he had some very shady people around him, had told Machen that if he lost to Johansson they would guarantee him a title shot later on. This was not unprecedented. Jake LaMotta had agreed to such a deal when he fought Billy Fox. He threw the fight and did get a title shot in return.

Why would D’Amato want Ingo to win? In Ingo he saw the potential for a big draw with little risk of Floyd losing. He had heard Johansson was another slow moving European heavyweight who would pose no threat to Floyd. His undefeated record would make good copy for publicity, and a win over Machen would give him number one contender status, a status none of Floyd’s previous challengers had ever come near to having.

The story gets really interesting here. Machen travels to Gothenburg and is knocked out in one round. Word in the States is Eddie took a dive. Movies of the fight were not distributed here so the rumors were easy to believe. It wasn’t until decades later that footage of the bout made its way to the U.S. 

Looking at it you see that not only did Ingemar legitimately kayo Machen, he nearly killed him. At the opening bell both fighters came out tentatively. Machen was standing straight up in a classic boxer’s stance throwing left jabs. Johansson was moving very quickly on his feet and circling Eddie while pawing with his left jab. About a minute into the fight, Ingo landed a tremendous right hand that dropped Machen. Eddie struggled to his feet and was dropped again by an Ingo right. He went down hard but managed to get to his feet. The fight should have been stopped here, but the “courageous” referee let it continue. Machen was driven to a corner and sank half way down while Johansson pummeled him mercilessly. The referee stood idly by. Finally, Machen fell to the canvas unconscious. It was as brutal a knock out as you will see. 

It looks as if this proves the fight was not fixed, right? Well, no. The fight could have been fixed and at the same time Johansson could have legitimately knocked out Machen. You see, Eddie would have been planning on losing a ten round decision. He would fulfill his end of the bargain and eventually get a title shot, though I very much doubt that would have happened. At the same time, Ingo proved to be much better than anyone believed and he was too much for Machen. His Toonder was the real thing. It ends up Machen ws knocked out before he could throw the fight.

Now, another question arises. If D’Amato was so hell bent on avoiding serious competition for Floyd, why would he now agree to have him defend against Johansson? Not only did Ingemar prove he could fight, he also showed he had one of the hardest right hands in heavyweight history. Cus would have taken Floyd and run for the hills to get away from him. If things had followed their usual M.O. it would have been Machen who would have been more likely to get a title shot after having been destroyed.

I believe D’Amato never saw a film of the Machen v Johansson bout. He believed Machen lost as planned, though made his exit sooner than exoected, and still figured Ingemar was an inferior opponent. Looking at how Cus managed Patterson it makes no sense he would have signed to fight Johasson after what he did to Machen. This was one time when Cus outsmarted himself, as Ingo took the title from Floyd in his next fight. Not only did he win the title but he destroyed Patterson in much the way he did Machen, only in this bout it ended in the third round. 

There is one final question that begs to be answered. If Machen was going to take a dive anyway, why didn’t he just stay down after the first knockdown? That’s easy to answer. Eddie was a pro with tremendous heart. He was seriously hurt when he went down the first time. It is likely he no longer knew where he was and began fighting on instinct, and his instincts were those of a courageous fighter. If you look at the film of the fight you will see Machen sitting in his corner after being stopped. He is seen mouthing the words “What Happened?” When his seconds respond you can read his lips again and see him saying “Really?”

And what did really happen? We’ll never know for sure, but I think the evidence backs up my theory.