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."