Why Ring Lardner thought the first Dempsey vs. Tunney fight was fixed.


(ED. NOTE -- One of the legendary sportswriters of the 20th century was Ring
Lardner. The following excerpts from "Ring: A Biography of Ring Lardner," by
Jonathan Yardley, Random House, 1977, date from the time Lardner was writing
a national column for John Wheeler's Bell Syndicate, which he began in 1919.
Included here are vignettes from two famous fights, Dempsey-Firpo and the
first Dempsey-Tunney bout.)

(In 1923), special assignments took (Lardner) to two fights involving the
Wild Bull of the Pampas, the Argentine heavyweight Luis Firpo: in July,
1923, against Jess Willard and in September against Jack Dempsey. The second
bout was held in Jersey City (sic) and won by Dempsey. It was a brilliantly
fought contest in which Firpo gave the champion as much as he could handle;
this was the bout in which he knocked Dempsey out of the ring, a moment
frozen on a great sporting canvas by the artist Edward Hopper. Ring's report
on the bout showed that even though his interest in the outcome of sports
events was by now minimal (unless he had a bet down), his admiration for
skill and courage was undiminished:

"They was a big question before the fight as to whether or no the Wild Bull
could take it. He took it and took it plenty and come back for more, and got
it. They aint nobody living that could take what he took before he finely
took that left and right in succession and became the tame cow of the
pampas. Anybody that said he quit ought to be writing jokes for the theater
program. In fact Luis didn't know when the fight was over and was still
groggy when he staggered down the steep stairs out of the ring, escorted by
some of the same policemens that had tried to keep me from seeing the fight.

"And they was another question settled to-night, namely can Dempsey take it.
Jack was on the receiving end of four or five of the most murderous blows
ever delivered in a prize ring, but he come back after each one and fought
all the harder. Even when he fell into Mr. Rice's lap, he picked himself up
without assistance and stepped right back to the place where all the
shooting was going on . . .

"He never lost sight of the main idear, that he must get this guy and get
him quick. He didn't get him one too quick and if the fight had went a round
longer they would of been wholesale deaths from heart disease with maybe
some of the victims in Dempsey's corner. All and all you won't hear no
squawks to the effect that those who paid to get in didn't their money's
worth, even they paid a hundred smacks for a seat. It was a FIGHT."


                            LARDNER THOUGHT DEMPSEY-TUNNEY A FIX

. . . the heavyweight championship fight of September 24 (1926) in which
Gene Tunney took the title away from Jack Dempsey (was) one of the last
major sports events Ring covered, and it left bitter taste in his mouth. For
one thing, he had come to admire Dempsey greatly, respecting his skill and
courage. For another, he plainly thought Tunney, who spouted Shakespeare and
ten-dollar words, was a P.R. man's creation. When Ring visited Tunney's
training camp at a small town west of Saratoga, he and Grant Rice
encountered the champion walking the countryside with a book under his arm.
Ring asked him what it was. "The Rubaiyat," Tunney replied proudly, and then
waxed rhapsodic on the beautiful scenery he had encountered during the day.
To which Ring retorted: "Then why the book?" Ring was similarly disdainful
in a letter to the Fitzgeralds.

"You ought to meet this guy Tunney. We had lunch with him a few weeks before
the fight and among a great many other things, he said he thought the New
York State boxing commission was 'imbecilic' and that he hoped Dempsey would
not think his (Tunney's) experience in pictures had 'cosmeticized' him.

Ring had no stated intention of attending the fight, much less covering it,
but Heywood Broun declined at the last moment to report it; Herbert Swope
and Jack Wheeler asked if he would fill in, and he reluctantly agreed. The
fight was held in Philadelphia, and Tunney, at twenty-nine two years younger
than Dempsey, won a shocking ten-round decision. Ring wrote just one story
under his own by-line, and his assessment in that was concise: "It was only
this morning that Dempsey told the appers he would fight like hell. He did.
His favorite tune seemed to be 'Oh How I Miss You Tonight.'"

But that was not the only store he wrote.After the fight, he repaired to his
hotel with Rice and Benny Leonard, who had held the lightweight title for
eight years and was widely respected for his knowledge of the game. The
rain, a sore throat and a hangover had done Rice in, but he was under
obligation to file a story to the Herald-Tribune. Ring told him, "Take a
slug of bourbon and lie down. I'll file your overnight." He did, in a story
that bore scarcely a syllable's resemblance to the florid Rice style:

"Gene Tunney, the fighting marine, is the new heavyweight champion of the
world. In the presence of 135,000 persons, who sat through a driving
rainstorm in Philadelphia's Sesquicentennial Stadium, Gene Tunney gave
Dempsey one of the worst beatings any champion ever took. He not only
outpointed Dempsey in every one of the ten rounds, but the challenger
hammered the champion's face almost out of shape. It was like nothing human
when the tenth round ended . . .

"Tunney fought a great fight, but it was quite evident that when it came to
a matter of pressure Dempsey had blown completely up . . .

"Tunney took the best that Dempsey had to give without any sign of breaking
down for leaving his feet. It might have been slightly different if Dempsey
had been able to keep up his few head-long assaults, but after twenty or
thirty seconds of hard rushing he tired quickly and was forced to slow down
and take a lot of punishment."

The story portrayed a champion who was fighting listlessly and a challenger
who could not finish him off, and it made neither fighter happy; since both
thought Rice had written it, they refused to speak to him for some time.
What presumably angered them was the story's between-the-lines implication
that, at best, something was odd about a fight in which a fighter of
Tunney's checkered puglistic background could so completely dominate the
champion, who was himself the most dominating fighter of his time. The
implication was not accidental. Benny Leonard thought the fight was a fix;
he said so, and Ring -- who seems to have needed no persuading -- agreed. He
said so emphatically to Scott and Zelda: "I get $500 on Dempsey, giving 2 to
1. The odds ought to have been 7 to 1. Tunney couldn't lick David (Lardner)
if David was trying. The thing was a very well done fake, which lots of us
would like to say in print, but you know what newspapers are where possible
libel suits are concerned. As usual I did my heavy thinking too late;
otherwise I would have bet the other way. The championship wasn't worth a
dime to Jack; there was nobody else for him to fight and he had made all
there was to be made (by him) out of vaudeville and pictures. The average
odds were 3 to 1 and the money he made by losing was money that the income
tax collectors will know nothing about." Ring added that he thought the
entire chain of bouts leading to the championship fight was rigged "to give
the public a popular war hero for champion." His comment on that was: "Well,
he's about as popular as my plays."

Whatever the actual facts in the case, Ring firmly believed his
interpretation of the fight was correct; it was salt in whatever remained of
the wound inflicted by the Black Sox seven years earlier.


                          LEONARD STUNS HAGLER IN SPLIT DECISION

(Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, April 7, 1987)

By Richard Hoffer

Sugar Ray Leonard's enormous bravado, which was nearly offensive in the
pre-fight buildup, became a promise fulfilled Monday night when, after was
essentially a five-year layoff, he returned and upset boxing's dominant
champion, Marvelous Marvin hagler. The sheer audacity of what he attempted
was somehow matched by the strategic elegance with which he did it.

The comeback, culminated before the largest world audience to ever see a
bout, had been judged foolhardy by most. The symmetry of their careers,
their destinies so intertwined, somehow forgave the circumstances of the
obvious mismatch. They deserved each other five years ao, but this was
better than never.

Still, only those who believed in time travel gave Leonard any chance
against Hagler. Leonard would have to return five years, to a time when
hands were fast and legs tireless, to meet the foreboding Hagler on anything
near equal terms.

Well, he wasn't the welterweight of 1982, when he first retired after eye
surgery. But there was more about Leonard than his tasseled shoes that
recalled his time of greatness. For 12 tactically brilliant rounds, he
circled and countered, confusing and confounding the bewildered middleweight
champion, until he had secured a split decision.

Though the judges did not entirely agree on what they saw -- Lou Fillippo
had it 115-113 for Hagler, Dave Moretti 115-113 for Leonard, JoJo Guerra
118-110 for Leonard -- the only person near the ring in the parking lot at
Caesars Palace to voice any genuine surprise at the decision was Hagler
himself. "I beat him and you know it," he said immediately afterward. "I
stayed aggressive. C'mon. I won the fight."

But Leonard's game plan never let Hagler in the fight. He circled outside,
daring Hagler to stalk him, occasionally entangling the champion in a brisk
flurry. Hagler missed monumentally as he chased Leonard. Although neither
was hurt or in any danger of going down, it was clear that Leonard was
hitting more than Hagler and gaining angles on a man not particularly known
for his balance.

"Hit and run, stick and move, taunt and intimidate," explained Leonard,
facing the press in a jaunty yachtsman;'s cap afterward, "a variety of
things."

It was not always pretty and may have disappointed the nearly 300 million
people watching, in that it lacked boxing's conclusive conclusion. But it
was not ugly, as even Leonard's attorney, Mike Trainer, had predicted when
the comeback was announced a year ago.

Richard Steele, the referee, said: "Maybe he fought him the only style he
could win with."

Leonard, of course, knew better than to lead Hagler into any kind of brawl.
Hagler (62-3-2, 52 KOs) had leveled Thomas Hearns, the last fighter to try
that, in just three rounds. In fact, he did fighter Hagler the only possible
way.

And he fought him that way the entire night. Leonard (34-1, 24 KOs) danced
outside from the first round. The clinching was plentiful. And at times,
Leonard leaned back into the ropes, imitating the last great popular
champion, Muhammad Ali. It was obviously frustrating for Hagler. His long
looping rights missed by feet, it seemed. Once he threw a punch, followed it
into a ring post, while Leonard bobbed and returned to the center of the
ring.

Leonard gave him head feints, his hands dropped, offering his chin
disdainfully. Once, in the seventh round, Hagler threw three large right
hands in a row. They sailed wide, tremendous arcs in the desert air.

Leonard was masterful in his attempt to frustrate Hagler. In the fourth
round, Leonard mocked his opponent with a bolo punch to the stomach.

Hagler, of course, would not be unnerved in the way that Roberto Duran was,
when Leonard frustrated him into submission. Still, he was made, and the two
often crossed stares at the bell, and several times had to be escorted to
their corners. Hagler was often exhorting his long-time nemesis. "C'mon,
c'mon, c'mon," he kept repeating.

"Once," said Leonard, shrugging his shoulders, "he called me a sissy."

In the later rounds, when Leonard was obviously and desperately tired,
Hagler began to close the distance between the fighters. In the ninth round,
Leonard appeared in trouble in his own corner, but he battled out of it with
a vicious fury. At times, he seemed to die against the ropes. Or was he
inviting Hagler in for that staccato counter-punching?

In that ninth round, the best of the fight, Leonard four times ensnarled
Hagler in some reckless flurries.

It was dangerous and, considering the scoring up to that point, unnecessary.
In the 11th round, Leonard got cute. He got up on his toes, smirked as he
circled the champion, and threatened yet another bolo punch.

In the 12th and final round, with Hagler continuing to miss, Leonard mocked
him by raising his right glove, apparently in anticipation of victory.

Inasmuch as this fight is expected to pull in more than $60 million, a
record gross, there will undoubtedly be some who felt they didn't get their
money's worth. Yet Leonard, who received a flat guarantee of $11 million to
Hagler's $12 million (plus a percentage of the gross), certainly made an
effort to earn his.

For, he won with as much grit as wit. At the fight's end, he collapsed into
the arms of his handlers. Those legs, suspect going into the fight, hadn't
failed him until then.

Leonard, 30, had fought just 12 rounds in six years but his year of
conditioning apparently dissolved the ring rust that so affects boxers. Of
the unlikeliness of his achievement, Leonard said: "It's the first time a
young guy came back against an old guy." Previous examples of failure do not
apply.

Hagler, 32, was obviously disappointed, and he referred very quickly to the
trouble he has with judges in Las Vegas. He lost his first title bid on a
controversial draw with Vito Antuofermo here. But he admitted that Leonard,
who he had pursued for years, fought a "courageous fight." He could pursue
him, but it doesn't look like he'll ever catch him.

Hagler, who was stopped short of his 13th title defense in the sixth and
final year of his reign, must now hope for a rematch. Leonard will not
likely be quick to oblige, if at all. In the ring he said, laughing,
"depends on the contract." But later, he refused to guess one way or the
other as to what he'd do.

The decision certainly creates some interesting matchups, and it will be fun
to speculate on the combinations. Hearns, who has lost to both, will want in
on the action. Permutations abound. If Hagler and Leonard remain true to
their peculiar destinies, they are likely to chase each other around for
years more, until finally, they really are too old for this kind of thing.

(ED. NOTE -- Leonard and Hagler were fighting for the International Boxing
Federation, or IBF, middleweight title.)


                                         THE UGLY SIDE OF BOXING

(Scripps Howard News Service, Feb. 1, 1998)

The Bible says "The love of money is the root of all evil."

Mike Tyson, a converted Muslim and multimillionaire many times over, may or
may not agree with that passage. But in Richard Hoffer's book, "A Savage
Business, The Comeback and Comedown of Mike Tyson" (Simon and Schuster,
$23.00), Hoffer says money and evil were intertwined in Tyson's dubious
comeback after he was released from prison on March 25, 1995.

"I think the whole comeback, people saw it as money for the taking," Hoffer
said in a phone interview. "The prospect at so much money at so little peril
or jeopardy, it was so intoxicating. ... All that money inflames inflation
and greed."

Hoffer, a senior writer at "Sports Illustrated," takes an incisive look at
the sordid world of boxing, concentrating on the shadowy rise and public
fall of Tyson.

Hoffer shows how Don King maneuvered to set up a limbo line of pretenders to
take a fall for Tyson, setting him up to earn $135 million in less than two
years. Hoffer pulled no punches in describing how King handpicked Tyson's
first sorry opponent, Peter McNeeley.

"McNeeley, an irrepressible lug of such suspect credentials that the world
was set howling with the announcement of him as Tyson's opponent, was an
example of genetic matchmaking," he wrote. "It was as if King, who had a
pretty large pool of inept heavyweights to dip into for Tyson's first foe,
was unwilling to trust in even their established incompetence.

"... McNeeley, delight that he was, happened to be one of those fighters who
was born to lose."

Hoffer said that promoters actually fought to NOT include McNeeley on their
cards. And no wonder. McNeeley may have had an impressive record of 36-1
before facing Tyson, but his opponent's record was a laughable 148-436.
McNeeley's only loss came the first time he fought somebody with a winning
record.

But that didn't stop King from setting up this mismatch, which ended after
McNeeley's corner threw in the towel in the first round. Tyson's next match
wasn't any better, a third-round TKO over another soup can, Buster Mathis.
Then came the paper champions at King's disposal.

"The three champions -- Bruce Seldon, Frank Bruno, and Francois Botha --
were rendered all the more ridiculous by their necessary subservience,"
Hoffer wrote. "They were champions, but at the same time they were really
just hopeful challengers, angling for some of that Tyson loot."

Hoffer explained how each fighter emerged from the heavyweight morass to cla
im one of the three major alphabet-soup titles. Each of their stories had
some degree of skullduggery, especially Botha's meteoric rise to the top of
the International Boxing Federation rankings.

"Number 10 in the IBF's July rankings, Botha had soared to No. 1 in less
than a year," Hoffer wrote. "How mysterious was this? Botha had never beaten
a fighter in the top 30, and now he was ranked ahead of Riddick Bowe,
Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and lots more fighters.

"After Botha leapfrogged Michael Moorer, Moorer's promoter, Main Events,
filed suit against the IBF. According to the complaint, Botha got the rating
`in conformance with the plan of Don King' and IBF president Bob Lee had
`solicited bribes and/or extorted monies' to effect that plan. Lee suddenly
agreed that Moorer was a worthy challenger and ordered the new IBF champion
... to give Moorer first shot. (And the lawsuit was dropped.)"

King was able to set up Tyson's one-sided demolitions of Bruno and Seldon.
But before Tyson could unify the heavyweight title, Evander Holyfield got in
the way.

Hoffer shows how Holyfield "stood up to the bully" and shockingly TKO'd
Tyson in November 1996. The book concludes by describing their infamous
rematch and Tyson's subsequent one-year suspension for biting Holyfield.

Hoffer expects Tyson to fight again this year, but he isn't quite sure what
to think of Tyson's newfound fascination with wrestling. Tyson recently
appeared at a World Wrestling Federation event and supposedly will
participate in Wrestlemania XIV in March.

"It looks like to me that he's mocking boxing," Hoffer said. "He could be
looking at a way to get out of boxing."

Still despite Tyson's flaws, Hoffer feels the money will be too big for
Tyson to stay away from boxing for too long.

"There would have to be a lot of fiascoes before you burn out his image
entirely," Hoffer said. "He's going to be worth money for a long time.
There's a big payday for anyone associated with him."