Dan Parker's article on the boxing octopus 45 years ago.

                             I say the Boxing business smells  

(Ring Magazine, June, 1953)

By Dan Parker

With this tight setup, it's easy to figure out what happens. Every possible
combination pairing the "eligibles" is worked out to keep the money in the
family and, at the same time, satisfy insofar as possible with such limited
resources, the demands of the TV cameras. The faces of some fighters are
better known coast to coast than those of our most important statesmen.
Johnny Bratton, and Johnny Saxton, for instance.

Bratton, who had eight bouts on TV out of eleven he fought in 1952, is one
of the cleverest boxers around -- when he wants to be. If he has any talent
that surpasses his boxing skill, it is his ability to look like a champ 
against a good fighter and like a tramp against a bum. Many a trusting soul 
went for his rent money last December 5, when Johnny, fresh from a brilliant 
knockout victory over Joe Micelli, and favored at the almost-prohobitive price 
of 5-1, lost a decision to an earnest but comparatively unskilled youngster 
named Ralph Jones. Instead of using his masterful footwork to lead Jones 
astray, Bratton chose to slug it out with an opponent whose forte is brawling 
of the back-alley type. A lot of money was made by short-enders that night. 
Two weeks later, against Rocky Castellani, Jones was again a clumsy tyro and
Castellani handled him with consummate ease.

Johnny Saxton, a Blinky Palermo buildup job, has participated in several
obvious stinkers in his day. Referee Ruby Goldstein had to stop a fight on
January 25, 1952, when Livio Minelli, Saxton's opponent, proved to be a tyro
of the first water. Goldstein called the fight a "no contest" decision in
the 7th round insofar as Minelli was concerned. Livio's purse was held up but,
as usual, he was paid when the odor had subsided. Back in the Garden again on
March 14, Saxton picked up another easy victory when referee Harry Kessler
disqualified Lester Felton for holding and refusing to obey his orders to
make a fight of it. The biggest affront to the airwaves, and the nostrils,
however, was Saxton's kayo victory over one Raul Perez, a Hymie Wallman special
import from Cuba. The "fight" took place last December at Madison Square Garden 
and Saxton put Perez to sleep in 2:17 of the first round. Jim Jennings, a 
boxing writer at ringside, describing Perez's putrid performance, wrote: "He 
fought like a 4-round preliminary pugilist, and a mighty poor one at that."

Ezzard Charles, the ex-heavyweight champion, has had his share of cripples
on the national hookup, too. On October 8, 1952, in Cincinnati in a Blue Ribbon
bout that won no ribbons, Ez took all of 2 rounds to knock out Bernie Reynolds. 
(Even the sponsor has to take a licking when such matches are made.) Earlier, 
in a Denver night club, movie actor Robert Mitchum accomplished the same 
results in a few seconds flat, and without benefit of training. Wes Bascom, 
whom Charles knocked out in St. Louis on January 14, was such raw material 
that even the IBC felt constrained to apologize for his presence in the ring 
by having the mike man announce at frequent intervals during the one sided 
affair that, although he had fought only twenty-six times as a pro, Wes had 
demanded the match. Many far more deserving fighters are pleading for 
matches, not demanding them, but the IBC isn't listening.

A fighter the IBC can always depend on when it has to fill a main bout in
the middleweight or light-heavyweight division is Jake LaMotta, who can bounce
out of retirement on a week's notice. When the IBC had to get an opponent for
Lou Viscusi's Danny Nardico, Tampa light heavyweight, in a Miami TV fight last
New Year's Eve, La Motta was Johnny on the Spotta. Though Jake had been 
inactive for months and admitted after the bout that he wasn't in condition, 
he was sold so successfully to Florida fans through IBC ballyhooey that he went 
to the post an 11 to 5 favorite. Nardico gave Jake the worst beating of his
career, the bout ending when he couldn't come out for the 11th round. The
match was made to order for a betting coup by insiders.

Despite the alarming scarcity of talent, scurvy ring politics plus the
boycott of managers outside the International Guild are keeping many promising
fighters out of work. Hein Ten Hoff, a German heavyweight with a legitimate
international reputation, has been allowed to gather dust since arriving in
this country last November. It wasn't until March that he got his first
fight, and he had to go to Salt Lake City, Utah, for it. He knocked out his
opponent in the 2nd round. Art Aragon, a West Coast welterweight, could be on 
TV every month if his manager, Jimmy Roche, agreed to cut some of the vultures 
in on his earnings. The same holds true for Pat Lowry of Toledo, an ex-Marine 
who could be developed into a second Jimmy McLarnin; and Percy Bassett,
promising Philadelphia featherweight. Bassett traveled to Paris last February 
and knocked Ray Famechon out cold in the 4th round.

A similar situation recently threatened Tommy Collins of Boston in his quest
for the lightweight title, but his astounding popularity he's captured
the hearts of Bostonians as no other fighter has done since the heyday of John
L. Sullivan -- foiled the IBC. A reformed featherweight, Collins and his
handlers badgered the authorities for a lightweight championship bout between 
himself and Jimmy Carter. At first the IBC, which holds the rights to Carter's
services, objected. They wanted their man to fight another IBC chattel, George 
Araujo, for the title. And they received the usual backing from Bob 
Christenberry, New York State Boxing Commissioner, who wanted to see a 
lightweight championship match staged in The House Where the Garbage
Collector Calleth, as a Boston sportswriter terms Madison Square Garden. The 
IBC finally capitulated and agreed to "partner in" on the venture with Sam 
Silverman, the Boston promoter. Subsequently, Christenberry backed down and 
agreed to sanction an April bout -- in Boston.

Christenberry, who accepted the chairmanship of the New York State Athletic
Commission over a year ago with the promise that he'd either clean up the
game or resign, has done neither yet. Bob's chief accomplishment to date, 
besides landing headlines, has been to effect a working agreement between 
the New York Commission and the National Boxing Association, an organization 
which up to then had been notorious for following the IBC party line. Whether 
this will help Bob's crusade or handcuff him is a moot point. Bob lost some 
of his zeal for crusading when the IBC switched several important matches 
from New York (including the Collins-Carter go) thus calling down on his head 
the wrath of the Hotel Men's Association, of which he is president, for chasing 
business out of New York.

The sad truth is that boxing commission men have been reduced to stooges,
afraid to assert themselves lest they offend the sponsors, the IBC or the
television audience. The fact that not a single IBC TV show has been
cancelled, despite the increasing shortage of boxing talent, is quite a
commentary on the situation. In the old days the commissions could order a
promoter to postpone his show if he offered a substitute attraction that
wasn't up to par in case of breaks in the card. Now, anyone wearing a pair
of trunks who can negotiate the ring steps under his own power is acceptable 
if the advertised attraction falls through. The show must go on regardless
and even irregardless, as TV commentator Jimmy Powers would say.

A look at the 1952 statistics shows pretty conclusively just how much
television has taken over the sport. Royalties from boxing shows sponsored
by radio and television last year were estimated at $1,800,000, a 100 %
increase over the 1951 figures. Gate receipts, meantime, had slumped from
$5,100,000 to $4,600,000. In other words, television has replaced the box
office as boxing's chief source of revenue.

Up to the time television began to get in its deadly licks, there used to be
fifteen or twenty boxing shows in the United States on an average Monday
night, about ten on Tuesday, five or six on Wednesday and Thursday, fifteen
or twenty again on Friday and ten on Saturday. Altogether, 150 to 200 cities
were staging boxing shows on a regular basis.

A typical week's boxing schedule for the nation today is ten televised shows
and thirteen without the benefit of the medium. There's a boxing show on TV
every night of the week, except Sunday. Only in cities not reached by the
television hookup does an independent promoter dare take a risk and hold a
boxing show. It is worthy of note that England, which pioneered the
telecasting of boxing bouts before World War II, doesn't have televised
boxing now. The British learned their lesson early.

In this country, promoter Mike Jacobs started televising his weekly shows
from Madison Square Garden on a regular basis in 1944. For several years he 
and his Madison Square Garden Corporation pocketed all the proceeds. The fight 
managers finally rebelled when they learned that Mike had surreptitiously
inserted in the fighter's contract a fine-print clause which dealt them out
of the TV gravy. The latest IBC contract with the managers (expiring May 31)
calls for payment of $2,000 out of TV money to each main-event boxer on the
Wednesday-night shows, this in addiiton to his purse. Main-bout performers
on the Friday night shows originating from Madison Square Garden receive 
$3,600 each, along with their purse. The IBC, which gets $30,000 from the 
Pabst Brewery for the Wednesday shows, thus nets $26,000. But for its Friday
night bout, it must split 50-50 with the Garden Corporation, the balance of
$19,800 left from the Gillette program revenue of $27,000 -- after it has paid 
the boxers $7,200. That explains why the IBC prefers to stage its best
attractions, such as they are, on its Wednesday-night shows. Whenever
possible, it originates the Pabst programs in one of the four arenas it owns
the Chicago Stadium, the Detroit Olympia, the St. louis Arena and the
Indianapolis Arena, thus keeping the rental fee in the family.

Several independent television shows of network proportion have sprung up in
the past year, imposing a further drain on the diminishing supply of boxing
talent. On Monday nights over the Dumont network, a show is telecast from
Eastern Parkway Arena in Brooklyn. The Ridgewood Grove Club in Brooklyn is
the source of a Tuesday-night attraction sent out over the American Broadcasting
Company's network. ABC also has a Saturday-night program, promoted by Ray
Arcel, a manager and trainer. This show originates mainly in Boston,
although it also utilizes such cities as Syracuse and Toledo. With the IBC 
having the best fighters under exclusive contract, the independent promoters 
have only the dregs to show the public.

But does the public mind? It's doubtful. Down through the years boxing has
survived some pretty awful treatment and bounced back with as much appeal as
ever. However, that TV monster seems to be succeeding where the worst human
efforts failed. Something has to be done if the fight game is to survive
(assuming, of course, that to save boxing would be the desirable thing;
there are two schools of thought on that subject).

It would seem that the most immediate remendy needed is some nourishment for
boxing's withering roots. Unless the plight of the small club is taken into
consideration, it won't be long before these incubators of boxing talent
become but memory. Intelligent assistance instead of ruthless competition is
the only cure which will bring back the neighborhood club, now being crushed
into the ground by the IBC steam roller.

The International Fight Managers Guild seemed to recognize the problem at
their general meeting in New York last March when they decided that fights
would be put on television networks only four nights a week, instead of six
as at present. They also decided to up the minimum a main-event boxer would 
get for a TV performance to $5,000. How the IBC will take to this remains to 
be seen.

A more radical remedy but one not likely to be employed because it would
mean a temporary drop in revenue for the IBC, would be a one-year ban on 
boxing shows on TV. That would permit small clubs to operate again and 
encourage the normal development of a new crop of boxers. Television fans 
will howl at this proposal but a year's abstinence is better than the 
disintegration of the sport altogether.

Occasionally, a match such as the Gavilan-Davey affair will hold its own
against television. Although the fight wasn't blacked out in the Chicago
area, it drew a gate of $275,415, an all-time high for a welterweight 
championship match. This was an exceptional case, however, and one not 
likely to be repeated soon again.

The least effective measure taken to date to help the sick sport was Jim
Norris' widely publicized offer to J. Edgar Hoover, chief of the FBI, to
take charge of his boxing interests at $100,000 per year for ten years. This
million-dollar stage-money offer got a billion dollars worth of publicity
for the IBC but was pure hokum. Someone commented that Hoover would be just 
the man for the job because he was familiar with the fingerprints of most of
boxing's big shots. Anyway, the gangbuster formally rejected the offer,
probably in the same tongue-in-cheek manner that Norris, knowing Hoover
wouldn't accept, had made it.

That boxing would benefit greatly from Hoover's attention in his official
governmental capacity almost everyone will agree. But barring that, what it
needs is intelligent treatment by television. Maybe the brains of TV will
decide someday to give what's left of the sport back to the boxing men (if
any are around by that time) and steal silently into the night as if they had
never trafficked in tainted cauliflower. That is, if the public doesn't beat
them to the punch by tuning in real puppet shows, which are much more
talented.

(The above article was mailed to us by ring historian Steve Yohe. Our thanks
to him for the kindness.)


                           BOXING LOSES A KIND AND HONEST MAN 

(Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 1997)

By Mike Fitzgerald

The smoke clung to the low ceiling, dimming the dusty lights that bathed the
metal folding chairs in a faint glow.

The canvas floor of the ancient boxing ring was stained in spots with blood,
a stark reminder of gruesome battles already fought.

The ringside bell would be clanged with a hammer and the three judges sat on
wooden stools, their faces expressionless as they stared through the ropes.

The microphone was lowered just like in the movies and the ring announcers
didn't pitch products or shout personalized phrases. But their voices were
strong and sure as they introduced the respective fighters, who sometimes
wore tattered sweat shirts in lieu of a sparkling warm-up jacket.

The fans, who only had to cough up a few bucks to get in, waited in line for
tall plastic cups of beer and a few side wagers were openly discussed. When
the fights started, it was easy to discern who was rooting for the boxer in
the red trunks or the blue.

Every week the Showboat Hotel would host a night of boxing matches and each
time it was a trip back into the 1940s. It was a chance to see the rising
and falling stars of the ring world, some on their way to the big-money venues
of the nearby Strip, others just hoping to wring one or two more paychecks from
their battered bodies.

I loved covering the big fights at Caesars or the MGM or the Riviera.
Hagler. Hearns. Tyson. Leonard. Camacho. Mancini. Holmes. Spinks. Witherspoon. 
I was fortunate to see so many of the big names whose careers crossed through 
the 1980s.

The lavish press conferences and postfight parties. Sitting close to Bo
Derek and Jack Nicholson at ringside when the air was absolutely electric 
with excitement and anticipation.

They are unforgettable memories.

But the weekly trips to the Showboat were also very special, because my
favorite boxing personality of them all would be there.

He was a truly kind man who knew the fight game inside and out, but who
somehow managed to reflect the sport's romanticism and appeal, not its
sinister and shallow sides. Mel Greb died last week in Las Vegas at the 
age of 73.

Greb was credited with arranging 60 world championship fights and was most
famous for putting together the 1963 rematch between Sonny Liston and Floyd
Patterson, which established Las Vegas as a boxing capital.

The last time I saw Mel was about 10 years ago when we went to one of his
favorite places for lunch, the New York Deli, which was tucked away just off
the Strip. I was with friends and fellow writers Bart Ripp and Frank Maestas
a couple of characters themselves and the lunch couldn't have been more 
hilarious as the stories flew faster than left jabs or overhand rights.

Then, as usual, Greb pulled a wad of hundred dollar bills from his pocket
and insisted on peeling one off the top to pay for the beers and pastrami
sandwiches. Today's boxing world is sure a different one than Mel Greb knew
and loved. The money is ridiculous and the sites have been turned into
carnivals that only the wealthy can afford.

I actually like Bob Arum and have enjoyed the outrageousness of Don King
over the years. And there are still plenty of nice people in the sport 
George Foreman, Eddie Futch and longtime Las Vegas trainer Johnny Tocco 
first come to mind.

But the death of Mel Greb, who never needed the spotlight, makes me very sad
because he symbolized an era when boxing was truly an art, a romantic novel
come to life -- as it did every week in that smoky room at the Showboat
Hotel, where you walked through the door and magically entered the 1940s.

Perhaps none other than Muhammad Ali summed it up best: "We lost a great man
and heaven gained a great boxing promoter and an honest man."