Archive for heavyweights

Jack Dempsey: When Fists Get Real

Jack Dempsey: When Fists Get Real

By Aaron Lloyd

During Jack Dempsey’s tenure as heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926, and for a time afterwards, the pugilist-turned actor scarcely spent more time in a ring then he did in the theater and movie set.  Never the acting equivalent of notable screen legends such as Charlie Chaplain or Douglas Fairbanks, Dempsey did star in two feature films, Daredevil Jack (1920) and Manhatten Madness (1925) and he played a recurring role on Broadway in a play entitled The Big Fight.  In The Big Fight, Dempsey’s role required that he knockout a fellow by the name of Ralph Smith, and for weeks, Dempsey’s “lightly-thrown” right hand was enough to send the seven-foot, 275-pound Smith to the canvas in the plays “climactic scene.”  One night, however, Dempsey accidentally delivered a blow with a tad bit more mustard than he had intended, and Smith went crashing to the canvas (much like he had hundreds of times before), only this time, instead of staying down and being “counted out” in the first round (per the script), the former club fighter-turned actor got up and went after Dempsey in a totally unscripted turn of events.  Dempsey, stunned but sensing the need to continue “acting,” found himself in what was beginning to resemble a real fight.  Dempsey got Smith in a clinch and said, “Hey you bum.  Go Down.  You’re ruining the show.” The bewildered cast and crew kept the play going, as the “mock” bout went to the second, third, fourth, and finally the fifth round, before Dempsey was able to land a genuine knockout blow that sent Jones to the canvas for good.  The crowd, none-the-wiser, cheered the villain’s demise, not knowing that they had just witnessed an extra four rounds of authentic heavyweight fisticuffs.

After the show, an infuriated Dempsey went storming into Jones’ dressing room ready to continue his assault, shouting, “What the hell were you trying to do out there, fight for real?”  To which the dazed actor replied, “Sorry Jack, but you hit me so hard in the first round that I didn’t even know where I was from then on.” 

Apparently the show must go on, even when “fists get real.”           

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What If? Liston vs. Johansson in 1961

What If?  Liston-vs.-Johansson in 1961

By Jim Amato

Champion Ingemar Johansson vs. Sonny Liston was a fight that very well could have happened. After Ingo shocked Floyd Patterson to win the title in 1959, he was the “man.” At this time Sonny was just beginning to establish himself as a heavyweight to be reckoned with. By the time Floyd and Ingo met again in June of 1960, Sonny had defeated Nino Valdez and Cleveland Williams twice. One month after Patterson – Johansson II, Sonny stopped the clever Zora Folley. Then two months later he outscored the classy Eddie Machen. There was little doubt that Sonny Liston would have to be dealt with.

Think about this: What if Ingemar would have won his 1960 bout with Patterson? There would have been no need for a 1961 rubber match with Floyd. Enter Sonny. He would have been the most logical contender. So how would a match between Johansson and Liston panned out in June of 1961?

ROUND 1: They both come out jabbing. Ingemar is pawing with his jab using it as a range finder for his “Thunder of Thor” right hand. Sonny is putting more behind his jab and they are snapping Johansson’s head back. They are finally on the inside and Ingo is holding his own. After the referee breaks them, the two again are in a jabbing contest. Finally, Johansson lets the right hand fly over Sonny’s extended jab and it connects. It actually sends Sonny back a step. Ingo moves in but he is met by a solid jab and a thudding right to the body. They wrestle around on the inside at the bell.

Liston’s jab won a close round for him but Ingemar landed the first damaging punch.

ROUND 2: Sonny is really pumping the jab and has Johansson on the defensive. Ingemar is trying to get under the jab but on the inside Sonny is landing heavy, looping body shots that hurt. Ingo is game and he is trying to launch his vaunted right hand. Sonny’s jab is keeping Ingemar of balance and unable to get the full power behind the right. Ingo’s nose is bleeding and he has several large red welts on his midsection.

Liston controlled the round and is now up two rounds to none.

ROUND 3: Sonny is sticking to his game plan and the jab is doing a lot of damage. Ingemar keeps trying but he is telegraphing the right hand and Sonny is paying attention. Finally Ingo gets one in and Sonny again stumbles back a few steps. The crowd is on their feet. As Johansson moves in, Sonny lands a monster left hook to Ingo’s jaw that sends him to his knees. The courageous Johansson is up at eight but Sonny shuffles right after him. Ingemar lets a desperate right fly and it catches Sonny on the top of head and stops Sonny’s attack for the moment. Liston shoots in a few jabs as the round comes to a close.

With the knockdown Sonny gets a 10-8 round.

ROUND 4: Ingemar comes out winging but does not land any effective shots. Sonny remains calm and starts planting that jab again. Ingo is starting to become weary and Liston starts doing more work on the inside. Johansson tries to tie Sonny up but Liston will have none of it. Sonny works Ingo to the ropes and he is just raking him with body blows. Finally a tremendous uppercut to the jaw sends Ingo sprawling to the canvas. Johansson shows true grit as he is up at nine. The referee hesitates a moment and then waves the two fighters together. Liston walks back in and is literally throwing bombs. Ingo is trying to survive but each shot lands with a telling effect. A left hook slams into Johansson’s jaw and he sags to the canvas just as the referee has grabbed Liston from behind to hold him back.

It’s over. The bout has been stopped at the 1:58 second mark of round four. The winner and new champion of the world, Sonny Liston!

Ingemar is helped up by his corner men and led back to his corner. He appears to be OK. A good sportsman, Sonny comes over to check on Ingo and they shake hands. As Sonny is being interviewed he praises Johansson’s courage. He also said that Ingemar was the hardest puncher he ever met including Cleveland Williams. Sonny even admitted that he was stunned a few times.

Johansson when interviewed seemed disappointed in losing his title. He said he could not believe Sonny absorbed his best shots and kept coming. He also said that Liston hurts you every time he lands a punch no matter where it lands. He predicted a long reign for Sonny and expressed no interest in a rematch.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Karl Mildenberger

Karl Mildenberger

By Jim Amato

Outside of former heavyweight champion Max Schmeling, Karl Mildenberger is the most popular heavyweight Germany has ever produced. Karl was born on November 23, 1937 and began his foray into professional boxing in 1958. He won his first eleven bouts, but in 1959 he suffered his first setback to Helmut Ball. Karl then went on to win his next nineteen bouts. Among his victims were Jimmy Slade, Franco Cavicchi, Harold Carter, Young Jack Johnson. Wayne Bethea, Howard King and Pete Rademacher.
 
On February 24, 1962, Mildenberger challenged Dick Richardson for the European Boxing Union title. Richardson shocked Karl stopping him in the very first round. Karl would bounce back to go unbeaten in his next twenty two contests. He fought draws with Archie McBride, Zora Folley and Amos Johnson. Mildenberger would defeat Joe Bygraves, Von Clay, Bethea again and McBride in a rematch. He also defeated Joe Erskine and Billy Daniels. On October 17, 1964 Karl would knock out Santo Amonti in one round to capture the European crown. Mildenberber made three successful defenses against Piero Tomasoni, Gerhard Zech and Ivan Prebeg, before decisioning Eddie Machen.
 
Finally, Karl received a shot at the world’s heavyweight championship. On September 10, 1966, Mildenberger took a lofty 49-2-3 record into the ring to face Muhammad Ali. It turned out to be a tough fight for the champion. Early on it seemed like Ali was a bit confused by Karl’s southpaw style. As the fight progressed though, Ali’s size, speed and superior skills took over. Muhammad finally halted his stubborn challenger in round twelve. Karl has the distinction of being the first southpaw to fight for the heavyweight title.
 
Mildenberger returned to action defending his European title twice against Tomasoni and Billy Walker. He also stopped Amos “Big Train” Lincoln. Ali had been stripped of the heavyweight championship for refusing induction in to the United States Army. The World Boxing Association held a tournament to determine a new title holder. Eight boxers were chosen and Mildenberger was one of them. His first opponent would be strong but crude Oscar Bonavena of Argentina. After Karl’s performance against Ali many felt he had a good chance to defeat Bonavena. Oscar though turned in a career best performance. He floored Karl in four different rounds, but the game Mildenberger made it to the final bell. Bonavena won a clear cut twelve round decision.
 
Karl would again defend his European title successfully against Gerhard Zech. Then came a seventh round knockout loss to Leotis Martin. On September 18, 1968 Mildenberger met Henry Cooper in London for the European crown. Karl lost the title to Cooper via a controversial disqualification for illegal use of the head. It would be Karl’s last fight.
 
Mildenberger would retire with a fine 53-6-3 record. He recorded 19 knockouts while he was stopped on four occasions. He met five men who also challenged for the world title. Karl also held the European title nearly four years defending it six times.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

 

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Henry Clark

Henry Clark

By Jim Amato

There were many who thought he was going to be the next Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.  He was a tall, smooth boxing heavyweight with a world of potential. His professional career began in 1964 and before long he was mixing it up with some of the best fighters in the world, including a four round decision loss to the rugged Joey Orbill in his pro debut!
Less than two months later he pounded out a ten round verdict over future title challenger Manuel Ramos. The following year he whipped tough trial horse George “Scrapiron” Johnson. In 1966, he fought a no-decision bout with Amos “Big Train” Lincoln, and he lost a decision to highly regarded Zora Folley. The year 1967 saw Henry establish himself as a force in the heavyweight division by winning on points over Bill McMurray, Steve Grant on two occasions, Fred Lewis, Eddie Machen and Roger Rischer.
Henry opened 1968 by defeating the clever Leotis Martin. This led Henry into a major bout against come-backing ex-heavyweight king Sonny Liston. This was Sonny’s first major step on his comeback trail and he passed with flying colors. Sonny pummeled a game but overmatched Clark in scoring a seventh round stoppage.

The year 1969 had mixed results. Henry drew with Brian London and kayoed Bob Stallings. He then lost on points to “Florida” Al Jones and Jeff “Candy Slim” Merritt. In 1970, his best win was a points call over Jimmy “The King” Fletcher. In 1972, Henry won and lost to Jack “The Giant” O’Halloran. He was then stopped in nine rounds by an up and coming Ken Norton on the Muhammad Ali-Bob Foster undercard.

Henry came back to win three bouts in 1973 and then on March 4th 1974 in a rematch, Henry blew out the now ranked Jeff Merritt in one round. Henry quickly followed with a decision win over faded ex-contender Mac Foster. Henry remained unbeaten through four more fights and was then matched with the dangerous Earnie Shavers in Paris, France.

Try as he might for the KO, Shavers was unable to stop the wily Clark and had to settle for a hard earned points win over Henry. They met again six months later on the undercard of Ali-Norton III. This time Henry was overwhelmed by the murderous punching Shavers in two rounds.

Henry attempted to bounce back four months later but was defeated over ten by Howard “Kayo” Smith. Henry did not fight again for over two and a half years. When he did return he was defeated in ten rounds by fringe contender Bernardo Mercado.

Henry’s final tally was 32 wins, 12 losses and four draws. He scored seven knockouts but he was only stopped on three occasions. That was by Liston, Norton and Shavers. Surely no shame there.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena

Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena

By Jim Amato

Who was the greatest fighter to come out of Argentina? Well pound for pound you would probably say Carlos Monzon or possibly Pascual Perez. You could make a case for Nicolino Locche too. Who was the biggest and baddest of all Argentine fighters? Many would say Luis “Angel” Firpo. I’ll go with Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena.

When Oscar started his career in 1964, he met tough opponents like Tom McNeely and Dick Wipperman. In his first bout in 1965, he was overmatched and defeated by veteran contender Zora Folley, after which Oscar left New York and returned to Argentina. He then defeated the very capable Gregorio Paralta and American import, Billy Daniels. When he returned to New York in 1966, he outpointed equally rugged George Chuvalo.

Oscar was then matched with 1964 Olympic Gold Medal winner, Joe Frazier. The fight was classic. Oscar had Joe down twice but Frazier came back to win a close decision. In 1967, Oscar was entered in the eight man tourney to determine the defrocked Muhammad Ali’s successor. Oscar traveled to Germany and trounced southpaw Karl Mildenberger. In his next match he was floored twice and soundly beaten by the eventual tourney winner, Jimmy Ellis. Oscar regrouped in 1968 by beating Folley in a rematch, as well as the respected, Leotis Martin. He was then matched again with Joe Frazier for the New York State version of the crown. Oscar fell behind early, came on strong in the middle rounds, but lost the eventual verdict. However, Bonavena would still remain a viable contender for several more years.

Two years after his loss to Frazier, Oscar would face the “comebacking” Muhammad Ali.  It would be one of the most grueling fights of Ali’s career. The “Greatest” came out on top by stopping a dead game but exhausted Oscar in the fifteenth and final round.

In 1971, Oscar won by a disqualification over the colorful Al “Blue” Lewis. In 1972, Bonavena lost a very debatable decision to former champion Floyd Patterson, and two years later he was defeated by the highly regarded Ron Lyle.  The loss to Lyle pretty much pushed Oscar out of the title picture. Bonavena was still a rated fighter when on May 22, 1976, he was shot and killed at a brothel in Las Vegas.

The hard partying “Bad Boy” had finally met his match.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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March 8, 1971; 42 Years Ago The Greatest Show on Earth Took Place

March 8, 1971; 42 Years Ago The Greatest Show on Earth Took Place

By Jim Amato

There are certain dates that will stick with you as long as you live. Your birthday, the birthdays of family members, anniversaries, the day that you got your divorce(s), etc…Happy and important days that mark milestones in your life.

One such date I’ll always remember is March 8, 1971. The “Battle Of The Century“, it was so aptly named. Two undefeated boxers who each had a legitimate claim to being the heavyweight champion of the world would collide. When Muhammad Ali first won the title in 1964 his name was Cassius Clay. He would shortly thereafter change his name and then proceed to change the face of boxing. He dominated the scene until 1967 when he refused induction into the US Military due to his religious beliefs. Then came the Eight Man Elimination Tourney that was won by Jimmy Ellis. The powerful New York State Athletic Commission would recognize the winner of a matchup between unbeaten boxers Joe Frazier and Buster Mathis. A bout in which Joe won. In 1970, Frazier stopped Ellis to claim the vacated title. Later that year, Muhammad Ali returned to the ring and halted highly ranked contenders Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. The stage was now set. Ali and Frazier would clash for the undisputed title.

The first Ali-Frazier bout was the epic that all others are compared to, even today. There is no reason in this article to describe the bout itself. Reams of print have appeared documenting the action that took place in the ring that magical night. What I would like to share is the impact the fight had on me and probably millions of others. I have never before or since March 8, 1971 felt the same way about a prize fight. Yes there were a few that stirred my anticipation like Duran-DeJesus II and III, Leonard-Duran I, Leonard-Hearns I, Pryor-Arguello I, Hagler-Hearns and Leonard-Hagler. Still to this day Ali-Frazier I tops them all.

Was Ali-Frazier I the best action fight of all time? I would have to say no; but for sheer anticipation, drama and excitement, this fight was the whole package. You had movie star Burt Lancaster as a commentator and Frank Sinatra as a photographer. Each boxer would receive $ 2.5 million for their nights work. That was an unheard sum of money for one fight in 1971.

I have never been so wound up with anticipation for a boxing match in my life. I was a few months shy of my seventeenth birthday and had been a boxing fan from the time I was ten. I had closely followed all the events leading up this day in boxing history.

On fight night I was at a party and we gathered around the radio listening to the round by round summary. We were pretty much split on the outcome of the fight but almost all of us were rooting for “Smokin’ Joe.” From the round by round reports we could sense that this was a bout with shifting momentums. The ever proud Ali realized that Joe had come to fight this evening. Maybe Ali took Frazier too lightly. Maybe Muhammad rushed too soon to get back in the ring after his lengthy layoff. Maybe, just maybe the Joe Frazier of March 8, 1971 was one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. I’ve never seen a boxer who laid it all out for one fight like Joe did that night. You’ve heard it said that a boxer would rather die than be defeated. On this night Joe would have died a hundred deaths before giving in to Ali.

Round after round went by and as we listened to the radio. In the eleventh Frazier rocked Ali and we as a collective group cheered. Even the ones who had bet on Ali to win. As the bout moved into the “championship” rounds, we were all on the edge of our seats. Then it happened. It was announced on the radio the Joe had decked Ali in the fifteenth round. More cheering and now the wait. Finally it was time to render the decision. The winner and still heavyweight champion of the world…Joe Frazier!

Oh what a night. Forty two years later I can remember it like it was yesterday. Joe Frazier has passed on and Ali, my friends and myself are in the twilight of our lives. Still, when I think of that night it takes me back to my youth and to the ultimate excitement that probably the greatest single sporting event of all time brought me. Thanks Joe and Muhammad.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Boxing Destinations: The Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame

Boxing Destinations: The Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame

By Aaron Lloyd

If you are a boxing fan, no trip to the western portion of New York State would be complete without a stop at the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame in Belfast.  Situated about an hour and fifteen minutes southeast of Buffalo, the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame pays homage to the hard-headed (and hard-handed) souls of the “pre-Marquess of Queensbury” era, most prominently, John L. Sullivan, the last sanctioned bare knuckle champion and first American athlete to amass more than a million dollars over the course of his career.  Displayed proudly on the property are two of the original training barns that Sullivan used in preparation for his 1889 bout with Jake Kilrain, both containing period pieces of training equipment and preserved exactly as they stood more than 120 years ago! Step inside and immediately be transported to a time when knuckles were soaked in brine, beer was the only performance enhancing drug, and the Boston Strong Boy could still “lick any son of a bitch in the world.”  As you peruse the exhibits and take in the testosterone infused ambiance, be sure to check out the “Room of Repose” where Sullivan and trainer William Muldoon relaxed after a long day and gathered to confer about ring strategy.                          

“I have stood where Ali stood. I have stood where Foreman stood. I have fought in Madison Square Garden. The unique experience of standing where The Great John L. Sullivan stood – the man who started it all – is in a class by itself,” said former NABF heavyweight champion Baby Joe Mesi. “It is simply awesome. The whole world needs to see this place; it is a true boxing treasure.”

So stop in and do some exploring.  Who knows, in addition to the insight and inspiration, you might just stumble across one of the many jugs of hooch that Sullivan had hidden in the building’s many cracks and crevices!    

The Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame is in the summer during their annual induction ceremony (July 13th and 14th 2013) when a number of activities and events are scheduled; however, tours are offered year round by appointment for groups of five or more at a cost of $10 per person, and all proceeds go toward continued renovation and maintenance of the property.  For more information on induction itineraries or progress on future restoration projects, please visit their website at www.bareknuckleboxinghalloffame.com or contact hall of fame coordinator Scott Burt at sburt@aol.com.

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A Fox in the Henhouse: Carnera vs. Chevalier (1930)

A Fox in the Henhouse: Carnera vs. Chevalier (1930)

By Aaron Lloyd

Primo Carnera, the 13th lineal heavyweight champion of the world, known disparagingly as the “Ambling Alp” (perhaps as much for his naiveté as his lumbering giganticness), fought his entire career without knowledge that the majority of his fights were not “above board.” More side-show curiosity than top tier pugilist, Carnera, standing 6’6” and routinely weighing more than 260 pounds, was an attractive commodity for the unscrupulous sorts looking to derive profit out of “stage-managing” a heavyweight to the championship in the 1920s and 30s.  While many boxing pundits are divided on the exact degree of fraudulence that defines the legacy of Primo Carnera, most would agree that without the right underworld connections he would never have made it to the pinnacle of the sport solely on his own merits.  In fact, it is widely believed that most of Carnera’s fights (including his championship victory over Jack Sharkey in 1933) were manipulated by his manager Leon See and New York mobster Owen “the Killer” Madden, a claim that is substantiated by the inordinate number of investigations, and withheld purses, sprinkled throughout Carnera’s record.  More snake oil salesmen than a reputable management team, Carnera’s merry band of pranksters hastily made a bee line out of town after each fight before the stench of the hoax had time to settle in, hitting 22 different cities in 1930 alone.  It was quite a show, and everywhere Carnera went there was a throng of fans eager to witness the spectacle of the “strongman-turned boxer,” and there was no shortage of individuals willing to take a dive for the right compensation.  However, on one occasion, a 32-year journeyman named Leon “Bombo” Chevalier nearly sabotaged the whole racket when, after a change of heart, he decided to go “off-script” and fight Carnera on even terms.   

Chevalier, outweighed by 60 pounds and sporting a very modest 19-11-4 record that including 11 knockout wins, was a convincing candidate to become Carnera’s 26th knockout victim when the two met on April 14, 1930 in Emeryville, California.  Before the fight, Chevalier and his manager Tom McGrath had reportedly agreed to the terms of the “prearranged” outcome (which involved him ultimately lying prone on the canvas at the fight’s conclusion) and seconds before the opening bell there was little doubt that Carnera would record his 16th straight stoppage victory.  Unfortunately, Chevalier, overcome by a combination of emotion, poor judgment, and an overwhelming sense of Carnera’s ineptitude, decided that a signature win over Carnera would be more beneficial to his career than a few instant gratifying dollars in his pocket.  So, in an interesting turn of events, Chevalier began to take on the qualities of a real opponent, and to the astonishment of those supposedly “pulling the strings,” the fight was taking an unexpected and rather precarious turn.  Chevalier was having success getting to Carnera, and were it not for some calculated “Plan-B” thinking by Madden and his cronies, Carnera might have incurred a major setback on his path to the championship.  Being the prepared mobster that he was, however, Madden had the wherewithal to plant a “mole” in Chevalier’s corner before the fight, on the off chance that just such an event might transpire, and in between the 5th and 6th rounds, one of Chevalier’s chief seconds, a man named Bob Perry, emerged to become an indelible part of boxing lore.

With Chevalier showing no signs of conceding, Perry responded by taking a sponge soaked in resin and red pepper and raking it across Chevalier’s eyes moments before the start of the sixth round.  He then forced his impaired fighter out for the sixth frame, anticipating a Carnera knockout and an end to this “fix gone awry.”  Instead, Chevalier continued his assault on Carnera, wildly and blindly inflicting damage on his oversized counterpart for the next three rounds.   In the ninth round, however, Chevalier suffered a flash knockdown, and despite rising instantly and showing no outward signs of duress, looked on in disbelief as the towel from his corner came cascading onto the canvas.  Perry, sensing his opportunity, had sprung to the apron and thrown in the towel, and the referee, as surprised as everyone else, had no choice but to call a halt to the action and award Carnera the victory by way of a 9th round TKO.  Instantly, the crowd, many of them pro-Carnera supporters, protested the abbreviated outcome and a full scale riot erupted, with the corner-turned-con at the epicenter of the fury, suffering a laceration over his right eye as he made a hasty retreat back to his dressing room.  Once there, Perry was questioned by the California Boxing Commission (CBC) about his involvement in the so called “plot” and the purses’ of both fighters were withheld pending a more thorough investigation.  Eventually the commission relented and both fighters were paid accordingly, but not before Carnera suffered the indignation of having his license revoked by the CBC as well as the New York State Athletic Commission.  Speaking on the matter of lost potential revenue, sportwriter Grantland Rice later opined, “That towel may be the most costly piece of tapestry ever known.” Fortunately, Carnera enjoyed many more years of sustained profitability on his path to the heavyweight championship, but the financial exploitation and mistreatment he endured by his handlers caused Carnera to offer up this bit of advice regarding the manager-fighter relationship: “He who goes slow, goes surely. He who wants to travel far is kind to his horse.”  As for Chevalier, who crossed the double-crossers and literally “lived to fight another day,” he fought an additional 19 times through 1934, officially retiring with an overall record of 25-20-8, including 14 knockouts.  The rest is boxing history… 

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Big Buster Mathis; Has History Been Unkind To Him?

Big Buster Mathis; Has History Been Unkind To Him?

By Jim Amato

At one time, Buster Mathis Sr. of Grand Rapids, Michigan was the best amateur heavyweight in the world. This was in 1964, after he had twice defeated another promising amateur named Joe Frazier. He was on his way to the 1964 Olympics Games in Tokyo but an injury sidelined him. Frazier took his place as an alternate. Joe won the Gold Medal and the rest is history.
Where does Buster Mathis stand in the annals of heavyweight history? Did he ever get the respect that he may have deserved? He was a good enough prospect to have Cus D’Amato guide his professional career. He was a very big man for his era and was surprisingly fast and agile for a big man.
 
At the beginning of his pro career Mathis weighed 300 pounds, be he shed weight and subdued opponents. In his fourth fight he would outpoint a rugged customer named Bob Stallings. In his sixth fight he would halt Chuck Wepner.
 
Buster was built up like most prospects at that time were. His record is spotted with journeymen like Charlie Polite, Mike Bruce, Everett Copeland, Sonny Moore…After 23 straight victories he was matched with old foe Joe Frazier for the New York State recognition of the heavyweight title that had been taken from Muhammad Ali.
 
This time Joe would have more rounds to work over and wear down Big Buster. Finally in the eleventh round Buster went down and Joe had a piece of the heavyweight pie.
After the loss to Frazier, Mathis put together a nice five bout win streak. He beat Mel Turnbow, James J. Beattie, Amos “Big Train” Lincoln, Dick Wipperman and James J. Woody. That was pretty respectable opposition at that time. This led to another shot at the big time; a match with the brawling Canadian contender George Chuvalo.
The bout with Chuvalo would be the highlight of Buster’s fine career. If anyone ever doubts that Buster was a world class heavyweight, get a hold of the film of this fight. Mathis was the master of Chuvalo throughout the twelve round contest.
 
The win over Chuvalo put Buster right back in the thick of the heavyweight picture. By this time the once 300 pound Mathis was tipping the scales around 235. Six weeks after the Chuvalo triumph, Buster would take on the erratic but always entertaining Jerry Quarry. On the night they fought, Quarry was nothing short of brilliant. It was a boxing clinic and Buster was soundly defeated. At this point Buster took some time off after a high profile loss.
 
It would be well over two years before Buster would re-enter the ring and his opponent would be none other than the come-backing Muhammad Ali. Buster had ballooned to over 250 pounds and although game to the core he was totally outclassed by Ali and lost a twelve round decision. This would finish Buster as a serious contender.
Buster would defeat the undefeated Claude McBride but in his next bout he was savagely KO’d by another unbeaten prospect named Ron Lyle. That would be the end of Buster’s career.
Big Buster only lost four of thirty four fights. He lost to Frazier, Quarry, Ali and Lyle. Does that make him all bad? The Buster Mathis that defeated George Chuvalo was one of the best heavyweights of the late 1960′s.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Hard to Believe: Kearns and the Shocking Con

Hard to Believe: Kearns and the Shocking Con

By Aaron Lloyd

Throughout the vaunted history of prizefighting, there have been so many countless instances of underhandedness, that the sport of boxing alone could have fielded a women’s professional softball league with its duplicity.  However, one particular occurrence stands above others in its brilliance and treachery that it almost demands commendation based entirely on its artistic and theatrical merits. 

The year was 1920, and Jack Dempsey, the world heavyweight champion, was being shopped around by his manager Jack “Doc” Kearns in an attempt to maximize his “profit to risk” liability.  After shooting down a list of potential “suitors,” a meeting was eventually arranged between Kearns and a man by the name of Francois Deschamps, who managed the business affairs of French light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier.  Kearns immediately recognized the marketability of a fight with such international implications, especially against a fighter as revered as Carpentier, whose matinee idol looks and war-hero status made him a hot commodity at the ticket office.  Kearns initially imagined the fight taking place in either London or Paris (promoted by himself of course) with a host of eager European speculators all clamoring to foot the bill.  Unfortunately, as the scale of the event grew, so did the price tag, and Kearns became grounded in the realization that the promotional details were out of his area of expertise, and he therefore, reluctantly embraced the idea of having his long time nemesis Tex Rickard help with the fights’ orchestration.

Now, Rickard was no stranger to the intricacies of developing an effective promotional strategy for a prizefight of this magnitude, and his “Midas-like” touch on the Joe Gans-Battling Nelson lightweight championship fight fourteen years earlier, was a testament to his ability to draw a crowd.  However, when approached by Kearns, his initial enthusiasm for the project was tepid at best, and while the fight more or less sold itself, Rickard seemed less than enthusiastic about taking on the proposition.  Sensing Rickard’s spiritless tone, Kearns casually made mention of the fact that two Cuban financiers had approached him with the intention of hosting a fight in Cuba, and were willing to pay the champion $100,000 for a walkover against a little known bullfighter named John Sanchez.  Rickard’s interest was piqued, but he still respectfully declined any and all involvement at that time.   

Several days passed before Rickard had another “chance” meeting with Kearns, this time at the Hotel Claridge, a lunch spot with which Rickard was known to have been a frequented patron.  As Rickard was customarily perusing his menu, he noticed a group consisting of Kearns, sportswriters Damon Runyon and John Lardner, and two unidentified well dressed Latin businessmen, being seated at an adjacent table.  After his curiosity finally got the better of him, Rickard called the head waiter over to his table and asked him if he knew the identity of the two important looking individuals wearing silk hats, the finest suits, and smoking expensive cigars, seated with Kearns.  The waiter informed Rickard that from what he gathered they were a couple of sugar and tobacco millionaires from Cuba who were in town to discuss the particulars of “some major boxing event.”  Once Rickard could contain himself no further, he made his way over to the table to see what information he could gather firsthand, and was met by a most gracious and accommodating Kearns.      

“Tex, allow me to introduce Senor Juan Rodriguez,  and Senor Manuel DeCosta.  They are here to discuss the fight in Havana.”

Puzzled, Rickard responded, “You meanthe fight with the bullfighter? Sanchez”

“No, that’s all changed.  These gentlemen have a certified check worth $500,000 to guarantee  Dempsey-Carpentier.”

“Si , si,” replied Rodriguez.  The fight will draw a million dollars in Havana.”

After taking a moment to process this interesting new development, Rickard excused himself, gathered his things, and on his way out, he leaned in to Kearns and whispered, “See me tomorrow.  I’ll match their offer.”

The rest as they say, is boxing history.  Two days later, the “Battle of the Century” was signed, with Rickard taking on promotional duties for boxing’s first million dollar gate.  On July 2, 1921, over 80,000 spectators paid more than $1.7 million to see Jack Dempsey knockout Georges Carpentier in the fourth round to retain his National Boxing Association sanctioned title. 

As for the two Cuban financiers who had originally agreed to bankroll the event in Havana, well, after returning the rented duds, and collecting their just compensation, they went back to their unassuming day jobs as bus boys at the restaurant across the street.

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