Jimmy Cannon on Bobo Olsen; 1st fight in Maple Leaf Garden recalled

 
                                  MAGIC LINGERS FOR OLD WARRIOR

(London Free Press, January 16, 1999)

By Jim Kernaghan

It was a miracle of modern technology set in a fantasy building on a magical
evening and 67 years later, Cliff McWhirter recalls the marvel vividly.

The first man to win a boxing match at Maple Leaf Gardens is the last
remaining warrior of that night in 1932 when Gardens fans got the Maple
Leafs game from Boston plus a boxing/ wrestling card, both live. The Leafs
will be moving to their new Air Canada Centre digs soon, but you wonder
whether any modern electronic wizardry there will ever match the excitement
that long-ago night held for a Depression-era teenager.

"It was unbelievable," the 83-year-old London native recalled yesterday. "We
were just kids at the time and here we were in brand-new dressing rooms in a
building we've never seen the size of in our lives. And thousands of people
filling the seats, with Foster Hewitt calling the game while our fights went
on. It was unbelievable."

An old clipping from a paper of that January night explains:

"The only place in Toronto tonight where you can hear Foster Hewitt's
broadcast of the Boston Bruins-Maple Leaf game will be in Maple Leaf Gardens
over the loudspeakers. The ice has been taken out, the building comfortably
heated and every Toronto hockey fan is invited to be present to cheer the
Leafs on to victory.

"In addition to the hockey broadcast there will be a high-class program of
amateur boxing and wrestling and a splendid evening's entertainment is in
prospect."

The story goes on to say "Cliff McWhirter of the West Toronto A.C., who
meets Ed Ashton, is a former London boxer. He has sufficient experience to
meet the best in his class."

As it turned out, he did. But McWhirter's recollection gives some body to
the evening.

"I asked that our bout be first because I wanted to be part of the first one
at Maple Leaf Gardens," he said.

"What a night. Everything was fresh and new and the place was packed, with
seats full at ice level. I had beaten 'em all (in his class) around Toronto
and Ashton was the last. He was a squat, heavy-set kid who could punch. I
had no trouble with him. There was $15 (payment) in my shoe in the dressing
room afterward."

The kid from London would go on to fight 27 times as an amateur before
turning pro and appearing in 159 bouts over the next 12 years, mostly in the
U.S., mostly as Cliff McWhirter but some as "French-Canadian" Babe LaVarre.

He still wonders about that magical Maple Leaf Gardens night and what might
have been had he gone in a different direction.

"I had no idea what the Olympics was all about," McWhirter says. "I'd beaten
all the top ones in Toronto in my class. I was a bantamweight and Lefty
Gwynne was a flyweight and they wanted to match us in a big bout. But Lefty
went to the Olympics and won a gold medal for Canada. I went to the U.S. and
turned pro. I guess I made a mistake but didn't know it at the time. I
missed out on something pretty big."

Getting to fight first that night was important, as it turned out. Under the
headline Radio Broadcast Makes Ten Strike, one C.W. MacQueen wrote of the
boxing card being curtailed for the "showing" of the Leafs in Boston.

"In the first bout, Cliff McWhirter of the West Toronto A.C. secured the
decision over Eddie Ashton of the Dufferin Club through his cleverness and
faster punching."

There was some sadness when the Maple Leafs moved out of Toronto's old
Mutual Street Arena, a raucous athletic abattoir whose inhabitants figured
the new place was going to be too snooty for 1931 sports tastes. Gambling,
not to mention fights in the seats, might be frowned upon.

As it turned out, there have been plenty of fights at Maple Leaf Gardens
ever since. But McWhirter's was first and whether it's Tie Domi, Kris King
or whomever, he won't be around for the last one. The ex-bantamweight star
is tired of fighting snow drifts and leaves for Florida today.


                                  TIME'S GAINING ON BOBO OLSON

(New York Post, December 8, 1955)

By Jimmy Cannon

CHICAGO -- You're Bobo Olson and the years are going for you. You're 28 and
Ray Robinson, whom you fight tomorrow for the third time, is 35. Time is a
robber. It steals the greatness of pugs while they're still young. At 35 a
doctor's young. So is an attorney or a writer. In the movies Clark Gable,
who is old enough to be your father, still gets Jane Russell when the
picture ends.

You're an authority on Robinson's greatness. He knocked you out in 12 rounds
in '50. In '52 he beat you again. It was a close fight. This time you're the
champion. And Robinson's a guy who temporarily quit the racket because he
figured he was all through. Hoofing doesn't damage a pug. The hours a night
club entertainer keeps do. For 31 months Robinson didn't box. You have this
going for you, too. But can you forget that this guy beat you twice?

Only Robinson and Archie Moore have knocked you out. You got over Robinson.

Stories go with both of them. You come out of Honolulu. Your manager, Sid
Flaherty, a master sergeant in the Army, was matchmaker at Hickam Field. He
saw you on an amateur card. You were 16 then and, when he was shipped back
to the states, he sent for you. But they wouldn't give you a license in
California and you returned to Hawaii. Then, when you were old enough to get
a permit, Flaherty brought you to California again.

You became dissatisfied with Flaherty. He told you not to take Robinson the
first time. You were obstinate. You believed you were ready. So Robinson
dumped you.

You beat Joey Maxim who is managed by Jack Kearns. You knocked him down. Did
you realize that Kearns also has a piece of Moore? So Kearns worked on
Flaherty. He said making weight would sap Moore's stamina. He wouldn't be
able to go the route. His years would pull him apart. Making weight would
weaken him. Originally, did you go for this? Or did you doubt yourself from
the hour the match was made?

You were careless about training for Moore.

You sat, sallow and spangled with sweat, in your corner before  the Moore
fight commenced. You appeared to be seized with a dreadful tension. Moore
was a guy accustomed to fighting heavyweights. You were a soft touch and he
took you out in three.

You're supposed to be a lock tomorrow night in the stadium. The bookmakers
declare you an easy winner.

You're not a spectacular fighter. You've knocked out guys.Usually you wear
them down. You're fasthanded and industrious. You dig to the body a lot.

The excuse is you weren't ready for Robinson. Moore was a lightheavyweight.
But what about the late Dave Sands who beat you twice?

You couldn't knock out Gavilan who was a welterweight. He had a bad right
hand that night, too. You were merciless and worked him over 15 rounds. But
he was there when it was over. He made a game fight for a one-handed guy.
How the hell could you knock down Maxim, then, who is really tough? There's
a lot of speculation about that.

You're quietly suspicious around strangers. Your manager acts as if he were
an ambassador instead of a pug's aganet. You're a good team. You made a lot
of money together. His mistakes have been insignificant. So Moore knocked
you out? You took home a bundle, didn't you? You've been well-handled and
tomorrow night you're supposed to be a cinch. Robinson doesn't think so. You
behave as if this is just another fight. Is it? Or do you still remember
Robinson as he used to be?

You're Bobo Olson and the years are going for you.

(ED. NOTE -- Of course, in this fight, Sugar Ray Robinson knocked out Bob
Olson in the second round to win the middleweight championship of the world.
Robinson won the rematch, the following May in Los Angeles, too, knocking
Olson out in the fourth round. After a brief retirement, Olson made a
comeback in 1957 and continued to fight until 1966, retiring with 91 wins,
16 losses and two draws.)


                                     JAMES LOUIS BIVINS

(http://www.uhu.com/boxing/feature/bivins.htm)

By Jerry Fitch

Born on December 6, 1919, in Dry Branch, Georgia, his family moved to
Cleveland in 1923. Jimmy was a good student in high school, and almost made
class Valedictorian at Cleveland Central High.

Started boxing as an amateur in 1936, had only 39 amateur fights, won the
1937 Cleveland Golden Glove Novice 126lb. Title, and the 1938 Cleveland
Golden Glove Open Division at 147lbs., where he was runner-up in the
Nationals at San Francisco, losing a very controversial decision to Cozy
Storace of Rome N.Y.

Jimmy turned pro in January 1940 under the tutelage of his amateur mentor,
Wilfred "Whizbang" Carter. Starting at 147lbs. he had by years end beat such
notable fighters as Nate Bolden, Charley Burley and Anton Christoforidis to
obtain a #9 ranking in the middleweight division by Ring Magazine.

From 1941 through 1942, he moved up in weight and class of fighters he met.
Often giving away as much as 35-40lbs. he met such some big boys in Tony
Musto, Lem Franklin and Buddy Knox.

By the time 1942 had ended he had defeated 5 world champions and was rated
#1 contender in both the heavyweight and light-heavyweight divisions,
something that had never been done before or since. And he usually only
weighed around the 175lb. limit.

Jimmy had many highlights in those two years, including defeating former
middleweight champions, Teddy Yarosz and Billy Soose. He also defeated
hometown rival and future 175lb. champ, Joey Maxim, stopped undefeated Joe
Muscato of Buffalo, defeated Tami Mauriello, Bob Pastor and Lee Savold (in
his N.Y. debut). But the biggest win of those two years was his March 11,
1942 defeat of World light-heavyweight champion, Gus Lesnevich, in a
non-title bout in Cleveland. Bivins people tried to get him under the
light-heavy limit so he could lay claim to the title if he won. But Jimmy
was finally made to drink lots of water to get him over the weight. Jimmy
floored Gus and won easily.

After the Bivins-Lesnevich bout, Gus' manager was heard saying, "We don't
want to meet Bivins again, now or later, he is too good". And they held true
to their words... Jimmy didn't get a title shot at Lesnevich or anyone else
for that matter!

When the United States got into the War most titles were frozen and some
newspaper and boxing people started having "Duration" or war time titles and
Jimmy got into the thick of things.

On January 7, 1943, he trounced future heavyweight champion , Ezzard
Charles, flooring him four times in winning a lopsided decision. This proved
to be a final elimination for the "Duration" lightheavy title. On Febuary
23, 1943, Jimmy and former NBA champ, Anton Christoforidis met over 15
rounds for the "Duration" light-heavyweight title and Jimmy emerged the
victor. There was even some talk in the papers that the winner would receive
a championship belt from the NBA... but that never happened.

On March 12, 1943, Jimmy Bivins and Tami Mauriello were matched for the
"Duration" heavyweight title before a packed house at Madison Square Garden.
Frank Sinatra sang the National Athem for his pal, Tami, but at the end it
was Jimmy winning again, almost stopping Mauriello in the process. It is
said Jimmy made Sinatra cry as a result.

After two more wins over Watson Jones and Pat Valentino on the west coast,
Jimmy met another great Cleveland product, Lloyd Marshall, in defense of his
"Duration" light-heavy crown. Jimmy was down in the 7th, Lloyd down three
times before being stopped in the 13th round. That bout took place in the
rain soaked Cleveland Stadium before 18,000 fans on June 8, 1943. After that
bout Jimmy announced he would only be fighting as a heavyweight.

Jimmy met and defeated some pretty good fighters such as Herbert Marshall,
Melio Bettina and Lee Q Murry (twice) before going into the US Army Special
Services for a year in early 1944.

Most people felt that when the war ended Joe Louis would give Jimmy a crack
at the greatest prize in sports. But first Joe gave Billy Conn a rematch and
then met Tami Mauriello, a man Jimmy had defeated twice.

Jimmy went back to the ring wars in 1945 and went 7-0-1 that year and only a
draw against Melio Bettina kept him from being perfect. His wins included a
6th round knockout over the great Archie Moore, decisions over Curtis
Sheppard (one of four times he beat the "Hatchet Man"), Johnny Flynn and
Buddy Scott.

In Febuary of 1946, Jimmy met future champion, Jersey Joe Walcott, and
dropped a 10-round split decision. Then a strange thing happened, he lost
two more bouts in a row, to Lee Q Murray and Ezzard Charles.

From this point on Jimmy never seemed to get back to the greatest of the
early 1940's. This is not to say he didn't have some big wins or that he
still wasn't a force in the heavyweight division. But he never reached the
pre-1945 peak he had obtained. And there were no more talk of title shots.


From 1946-1952, Jimmy remained active in many cities and kept a top-ten
rating until 1953. It seemed everytime they counted him out, he'd come up
with a big win.

Some of his bigger wins during those later years were against contenders
such as: Turkey Thompson, Billy "Chicken" Thompson, Clarence Henry, Wes
Bascom and Coley Wallace. The Bascom and Wallace fights were especially
gratifying because they were on National TV. Jimmy flattened Wallace in 17
seconds of the 9th round in St. Nick's Arena, with one right hand.

In 1953 Jimmy still remained in the top ten heavyweight ratings although he
only had three bouts. In 1954 he was inactive and in 1955 he ended his
career with two wins, one over highly touted, Mike DeJohn of Syracuse, N.Y.
In winning 86 of 112 bouts, Jimmy defeated 8 of 11 world champions he met,
including some of the all time greats, and he was only 5' 9" tall and
usually weighed around the light-heavyweight limit.

A life long Clevelander Jimmy worked as a driver-salesman for several
different companies until he retired and for a long time judged local pro
and amateur fights and operated his own boxing gym.

Still living here, he finally is getting recognition in recent years. Among
his honors are being entered into two different Greater Cleveland Sports
Hall Of Fames, was givin the "Integrity Award" by the Rochester Boxing
Association in 1979, was entered into the Canadian Boxing Hall Of Fame on
October 8, 1988, and finally was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame
on October 29, 1994, in Los Angeles.

Jimmy's class was summed up best in April 1979, when he accepted the
"Integrity Award". When telling a story of how he could have had a title
shot if he had "played ball" with the "mob" in New York, his response was,
"Heck, I'm a fighter, not a ball player".


                                EX-TEXAS CHAMP TOMMY RAMIREZ

(Corpus Christi Caller-Times, June 28, 1998)

By Javier Becerra

In an era when Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Jake La Motta and Sugar Ray
Robinson dominated the national boxing scene, Tommy Ramirez was becoming a
hero in the Corpus Christi community.

Motivated by a beating courtesy of friend and local boxer Tony Elizondo, the
Victoria native entered the ring as a 22-year-old amateur in 1947. One year
later, Ramirez turned pro and captured the Texas middleweight championship
with a 13th-round knockout of Laredo's Julio Serna -- a title Ramirez held
until his retirement in 1952.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ramirez's achievement and the
struggles he faced as a prize fighter in the years after World War II, Ico
Gonzalez and the Coastal Bend Boxing Club, along with boxers Roberto
Elizondo, Lupe Suarez, Jesse Benavides, Lefty Barrera and Frankie and Harold
Warren, will honor the 73-year-old Navy veteran with a banquet July 23 at
the Festival Ballroom on Morgan.

Ramirez persevered through a period when pay was limited.

Boxers, when they were able to hear about possible fights, rarely traveled
farther than San Antonio or Houston. Even rarer would hometown boxers
compete out of state, much less get a shot at a world title.

Gonzalez wants to bring to light the talents and accomplishments that made
fighters such as Ramirez icons in the community during their time.

"They were great, the heroes of the era,'' Gonzalez said. "Tony Elizondo,
Mandy Leal, they were all outstanding fighters.

"But they are heroes that are forgotten, and we must bring them back so that
kids can know who wrote the history. They won't know it unless somebody
brings it out.''

For five years Ramirez worked the pro boxing circuit in South Texas,
traveling to San Antonio, Houston and as far as New Orleans for bouts.

In a far cry from the million-dollar purses earned by today's boxers,
Ramirez made as little as $25 per fight, and as much as $500 for defending
his title. In the late 1940s and early '50s, Ramirez said he and fellow
boxers fought to make a living and to put food on the table.
"At that time we were hungry fighters,'' Ramirez said. "Jack Dempsey used to
get in a train and go from town to town. He made it because he could fight.
We had to fight for the money because times were hard. We were hungry
fighters, literally.''

Gonzalez said Ramirez was an exciting fighter, whose intent was to get in
the ring and brawl with his opponent until a knockout came. Once Ramirez
became a fixture in boxing circles, fight cards had no problems drawing the
public, Gonzalez said.

On one occasion, Ramirez drew 7,000 people to an arena in Houston to see the
160-pound middleweight fight against Salt Lake City's Ralph Hamms. Nicknamed
the "The Blonde Bomber,'' Ramirez said fight fans knew Hamms as "The Brown
Bomber.''

"Hamms was knocking out all the Mexican boxers,'' Ramirez said. "He knocked
out Julio Serna and a good middleweight southpaw from Austin named Pete Gil.
They (promoters) took me to Houston to fight the guy, and I knocked him
out.''

After years of scrapping in the streets, Ramirez said if not for boxing, "I
would have wound up dead because of all the fights. I probably would have
got shot.''

A dedicated fighter, Ramirez said his three-year stint in the Navy during
World War II helped build a foundation in which he rooted his training
regimen.

"I would get up at 4:30 in the morning and start with five or six miles of
road work - every morning, rain or shine,'' said Ramirez, who participated
in the taking of the Mariana Islands in South Pacific 13 days after the
historic D-Day. "That's how come I had success. I met a lot of guys who
could have been champions, but they wouldn't work at it.''

Ramirez said a boxer's life was a struggle, and he did not allow his sons to
enter the sport.

"I wouldn't let them get in the ring because it's a tough racket,'' Ramirez
said. "You have to go every day with the same thing - road work, shadow
boxing, jump rope and punching the sandbag. If you want to be something, you
have to dedicate yourself to it.''

Ramirez left the Sweet Science with a record of 45-4 - never having been
knocked out. Former Caller-Times sports editor Louis Anderson said Ramirez
was "one of the finest boxers to ever come out Corpus Christi.''

Gonzalez said Ramirez and other local boxers had the ability to bring the
boxing community together. Now Gonzalez wants to bring the community
together for them.

"Tommy (and the other boxers of his era) are not ordinary guys,'' Gonzalez
said. "They went through a lot of hardships. Money was scarce. They risked a
lot training and being in the ring.
"They had it hard. But, they were tough guys, and they did what they
could.''