STANLEY KETCHEL’S LAST FIGHT: A SCENE SET FOR MURDER by Bill Kelly It was Saturday, October 15, 1910. In the aftermath of a bone-chilling late winter rain, a bright sun peeked through black sourdough clouds with renewed determination. The sprawling, 3,000 acre ranch was a perfect spot for a fighter in training, close to the village of Conway, some forty-five miles from the flourishing city of Springfield, Missouri. There was, in the young fighter’s entourage, a millionaire sportsman named R.P. Dickerson, who loved the pugilist like a son. An ardent fight fan, it was he who invited the cream of the middleweights to his sprawling ranch deep in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Many said it was Dickerson’s wish to keep the middleweight champion out of the reach of the underworld fixer and notorious gambler, Arnold Rothstein. Ten years later, Rothstein would appear before a Chicago grand jury on suspicion of fixing baseball’s World Series, a case that would be dismissed with indictment. He had been able to reach many in the boxing world. Stanley Ketchel would not be one of them, the millionaire playboy vowed. Ketchel was his idol. It was the fighter’s trainer and confidant Wilson Mizner, whose loyalty to Rothstein connected the underworld to Ketchel. A first-nighter and ringsider at all the big fights, Mizner traveled in the company of famous people like Diamond Jim Brady and Bet-A- Million Gates. A notorious womanizer, Mizner counted among his conquests Evelyn Nesbit, Lillian Russell, the voluptuous Mrs. Kid McCoy and the wanton Mrs. Nat Goodwin, who had been on more laps than napkins. Mizner lived his life in an atmosphere of drama, and was on familiar terms with most of the great showmen, beauty queens, gamblers, prize fighters and international crooks, including Rothstein and Nicky Arnstein and the murderous "Nigger Nate" Raymond. Ketchel’s life irrevocably changed when he refused to throw a fight for Rothstein at Mizner’s urging. It was rumored that Rothstein threatened to "put out a contract" on Ketchel if he failed to comply. Neither did this rattle the kid who had climbed through the hierarchy of apprentice hoodlums to become middleweight champion of the world under the management of Joe O’Connor ( 1904-1909) and Willus Britt (1909-1910). And so, while Ketchel was in training, it was generally agreed by Press and public alike that the millionaire Dickerson brought the champ to his Ozark ranch to protect him from corrupt people like Rothstein -- a guy so crooked he had to screw his socks on. At the ranch house hideaway, the champ, attired in a gray sweat suit, arose before dawn and ran 15 miles over back country roads that twisted through the beautiful Ozark countryside. Overhead, fleeting purple clouds unrolled like a Persian run casting a dark shadow on the mountainside. He returned, did a series of exercises, took a hot shower and dressed. The ranch foreman, C.E. Bailey, accompanied him to the main house for a hearty breakfast. A WOMAN NAMED GOLDIE "The cook’ll rustle you up anything you asked for," Bailey said. The fighter and the cook gazed at each other expectantly as Bailey executed introductions. "This is Goldie," said Bailey. "Goldie, this is Stanley Ketchel, the middleweight champion of the world." The face hitting forty if you looked closely -- but from a short distance, maybe thirty. Her figure was well preserved, and her peroxide blonde hair fell to her shoulders. Ketchel, some ten years younger, studied her intently. She was pretty, he thought, but she possessed the wear and tear of a sad old ballad. He instinctively knew she was attracted to his swarthy animal magnetism. She retreated to the kitchen without uttering a word. When she delivered a sizzling plate of steak and eggs to the patio, the fighter checked out her breasts and made some lewd remark. She concentrated all her energies on making him comfortable -- that’s what she had been hired to do. The woman named Goldie turned uninterestedly and went back into the kitchen. The foreman returned to his chores leaving Ketchel alone on the patio. Almost alone. Before he could finish his breakfast, a shadowy figure approached Ketchel from behind. When the champ turned to see who it was, he was looking straight into the muzzle of a high-powered rifle. A loud boom loomed through the thickening purple haze that had settled over the Ozarks. Birds rose out of the trees and circled low. Showing the courage he had shown in countless ring battles, Ketchel struggled to his feet as if trying to beat the ten count. A second shot rang out. He fell to the deck, bubbles of blood popping from his mouth and reddish puss oozing from two crude cavities in his chest. Bailey, who had been working in the harness shop at the time, heard the shots and came running. He got to Ketchel’s side in time to hear the fighter’s last words. "They got me," Ketchel faintly whispered. "Who was it champ?" Bailey asked. "Tell me." With a sickening finality, Ketchel gasped, "Di - I tried to --- he shot me." Bailey raced to the window and ordered a hired hand to hitch up a team of horses and get ready to rush the dying man into Conway. Next, he phoned Dickerson, who hustled three specialized physicians aboard a speedy train to the training camp. But they arrived too late. Murder had counted out Stanley Ketchel. WHO KILLED STANLEY KETCHEL? Dickerson was in tears. He offered a $5,000 reward for the apprehension of Ketchel’s killer. He vowed that whoever brought about the middleweight champion’s demise would pay for it with his own life. The widespread publicity on the case circulated by the local and national press had whipped public indignation over Ketchel’s murder into a frenzy. Ned Brown, sports writer for the New York World, spoke the feelings of boxing fans when he wrote that lovers of the sweet science had suffered a tremendous loss. Gossip columnists said that police were suspicious that an egotistical gangster named Arnold Rothstein and his gambling coterie were responsible for the murder. Arnold Rothstein became the chief suspect in this most unparalleled tragedy, if only because of his nefarious syndicate career that had mushroomed into sports. Was Ketchel’s determined fight to keep the sport clean really a motivating factor ? His money-crammed wallet was empty. A diamond stick-pin had been taken from his body. Professional ‘hit men’ stick strictly to the mission at hand -- murder. For this reason Rothstein’s involvement seemed an absurd concept to many. Wilson Mizner was sitting in on a high-stake poker game at the Millionaire’s Club in New York City when he received the news. Numbly, he looked up from a straight flush and remarked, "Tell them to start counting ten. Ketchel will get up." The intoxicating boom that brought farmers from miles around to the Dickerson ranch, had also alerted Sheriff C.B. Shields of Wright County, Missouri. He arrived at the murder scene in a buckboard with three armed deputies. This was a time when scientific sleuthing was unheard of, and a detective had to rely on experience and common sense. It also helped to have a suspicious disposition. Ketchel lay on a soft bed, his body covered with a clean white sheet up to the stalk of his neck. Blood from two raw holes seeped through the sheet causing onlookers to wince. There was no question that he was dead. Aware that it was important to gather all the information he could while everything was still fresh in the minds of witnesses, Sheriff Shield’s questioned Bailey first. He said he heard the shots, came running, and followed drips of blood to Ketchel’s side. He reported the few brief words Ketchel spoke before he lapsed into unconsciousness: "Di - I tried to --- he shot me." Everyone that Shields questioned agreed that it would have been impossible for an intruder to approach the ranch on horseback or in a wagon without having been noticed by kitchen help or ranch hands. Also, witnesses said Ketchel always wore a $1,000 diamond stick pin. It, as well as five hundred dollars was missing. A complete search of the grounds failed to turn up any clues. Sheriff Shields deduced that taking Ketchel’s money and jewels was a flake of brilliance designed to steer detectives away from the real motive. Therefore it was his judgement that Ketchel’s murder was a pure and simple act of vengeance. When Dickerson arrived, he provided the sheriff with a complete list of ranch employees. None of the ranch hands working outside confessed to hearing either of the shots. Mighty strange when you consider some of them were working closer to the crime scene than Bailey -- and he heard the shots. "Who was in the house at the time?" Shields asked. Bailey replied, "Goldie." A FIGHTER’S LIFE RECALLED During the marathon interrogation of Goldie, her stories switched sides more than windshield wipers. But what was she trying to conceal? Maybe Dickerson’s statement to police provided the rationale for murder. His impressionable story went back to 1902. Stanley Ketchel was then Stanislaus Kiecal a seventeen-year-old lad fresh out of the hobo jungles of unemployed America. He had run away from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and rode the rails to Butte, Montana. Butte was a town sooty and gaunt by day, but by night it turned into a rip-roaring hell-town. In Butte, the wide-eyed youngster strolled the plankwalks that covered the mud-sloshed streets, looking for a hand-out among the hundreds of gamblers, whores, cattlemen, Bible- spouters and copper miners who frequented the town’s never-ending array of saloons, gambling hells, vaudeville theaters, hotels and sporting houses. Although Butte was a far cry from the glittering lights of Broadway, it managed to attract some of the finest actors as well as tough-man contests. There are several stories about how Kiecal’s fighting career came about. This is one of them: Young Stanislaus landed a job as a waiter at the Copper Queen, a honky-tonk palace of amusement on Main Street that depended on scantily-clad dance hall girls to lure the five-dollar-a-day copper-mining suckers into its precincts. Goldie, a peach with the prettiest pair, was the main attraction. In a tenement that simply reeked with alcohol, gambling and prostitution, Goldie’s main function was to accommodate the free spenders, who found her irresistible. In this woman-scarce town, Goldie had her choice of men; sugar daddies, business tycoons passing through and top-hatted Joes bearing red roses and spouting poetry. Her beautiful round eyes put many a man on the blink. Stanislaus Kiecal had no chance. He was seventeen and barely skimping by on two-dollars a day he made as a waiter. He pined for Goldie from a distance. She wouldn’t give him a second look. One night in 1904, three husky miners strolled into the Copper Queen looking for trouble. They were so soppy with booze they rippled when they walked. The big man with the shaggy beard grabbed and fondled Goldie. Her screams brought Joe the bouncer on the run. "This is my table," a soft voice uttered. "I'll take care of this." All eyes turned toward the young waiter, who spoke. Joe the bouncer proceeded to shove Ketchel out of the way. The ensuing fight didn’t last long. In a scrap that astonished not only the patrons, but Goldie, Kiecal stretched Joe the bouncer out on the floor. Then he disposed of the three miners in quick fashion, lining them up on the floor beside Joe the bouncer. The owner’s reaction was to fire Kiecal. But one of the town’s leading sport’s figures intervened. His name was Cyclone Maurice Thompson, of Sycamore, Illinois. Cyclone was a welterweight fighter who was training for a bout with Sid La Fontise. One of his most memorable wins was a 20 round decision over Billy Papke in 1911. His ring career started in 1892 when he was 16 years old. Through the intervention of Thompson, Kiecal was given the higher-paying position of chief bouncer. When he wasn’t bulldogging drunks at the Copper Queen, he earned extra money as Thompson’s sparring partner. Cyclone taught his young protege the tricks of the trade. He thought Kiecal was the most natural-born fighter he had ever seen. After Cyclone had KO’d La Fontise, he took Kiecal under his wing. The first thing he did was to change his name to Stanley Ketchel. The very speed in which Ketchel dispatched his first opponent, Kid Tracy, in 30 seconds, made him a favorite of the rough-hewed miners of Butte. Week after week, they packed the stands to cheer their local hero in the broiling noonday sun. Ketchel’s peculiar half- crouch and lightening wallops were greatly discussed over poker games and Red Eye in various Butte saloons. A local newspaper editor marveled at his tearing-in, killer instinct. Ketchel’s reputation spread across the plains to the boom town’s of Miles City, Gregson Springs, Coloma, and Livingston. Opponents were imported by train to satisfy the qualms of gamblers who bet heavily on Ketchel. In 1904, no fighter could stand up to the savage fury unleashed by Ketchel; not Kid LeRoy, Young Grisley, Bob Merrywell Jimmy Murray or Jim Kelly. Ketchel stretched them all. He flattened 49 of his 64 opponents between 1904 and the time of his murder. He lost a decision and fought a draw with his old teacher, Cyclone Thompson. "I didn’t have my heart in it," Ketchel said. Since Ketchel had become so popular among Butte residents, a local matchmaker was quick to see the advantage of importing a top-ranked fighter and making a quick killing. The miners, he reasoned, would lay every nugget they had on the "indispensable" Ketchel. The matchmaker scraped up every dime he could borrow to bet on a hard-hitting French Canadian welterweight named Mose La Fontise, brother of Sid. Mose La Fontise was spirited aboard a train for Butte. Everybody in town was at the fight. For twenty-four rounds, La Fontise, covered with blood and eyes puffing like popcorn, groggily stood off the dogged, plodding Ketchel. Finally La Fontise collapsed in a heap. The referee didn’t even have to count. "Never in boxing history," wrote a Butte editor, "has a fighter been better in the art of fisticuffs." Tabloids across the country took up the cry and someone dubbed him "The Michigan Assassin." It caught on like a hooked marlin that wouldn’t let go. From that day forward, Goldie was among the neighborhood fans that packed the jerry- built arena of Butte. When Ketchel strolled into Frank’s Bar and sat down at a reserved table in the back room, Goldie hurried across the crowded room to join him. Impulsiveness oft-times outweighs considerable intelligence: They fell in love. Not until Ketchel took on Joe Thomas would the big-city promoters believe in his record and much heralded punching ability. Thomas was a real fistic phenom. He was a colorful and popular welterweight champion who had defeated every man in the division with ease. The LeRoy Jones of his era. The match was made and Thomas’ title was on the line on July 4, 1907. Butte gamblers passed away the hours in the poker room of the train all the way to Marysville, California. At the Butte train station a throng of admirers protected by ten gallon hats stood in the blistering sun to wave good-bye and wish their local hero luck. It was difficult for Ketchel to leave his beloved Butte and all his friends especially Cyclone Thompson...and Goldie. What had started out as the puppy-love of a timid, 21-year-old kid for a sexy blonde dance hall girl, ten years his senior, had blossomed into serious romance in Goldie’s peach-colored boudoir with its satin pillows. She had a viselike hold over him that worried Cyclone Thompson. He believed every woman with curves had angles. BILLY PAPKE AND GOOD-BYE GOLDIE With moisture in her eyes Goldie kissed Stanley good-bye, knowing in her heart that each clickity-clack of the track widened the gap between them. A gap that no bridge could cross. The fight was an oil gusher for promoters at Marysville, but it did not satisfy the argument of who was the better man. The vicious scrap ended in a 20-round draw. Fight fans clamored for a rematch. The second fight was held in Coloma, California, on September 2nd. To avoid another draw, both fighters agreed to a fight to the finish. As in the first fight, Ketchel’s looming hard-rock punches wafted the air as Thomas, with his superior boxing skills, danced out of harm’s way, peppering Ketchel’s face with crisp, jolting jabs, until his eyes looked like busted grapes. But Ketchel caught up with him in the thirty-second round and flattened him like a flounder. A new Welterweight Champion of the World was born. On December 12, in San Francisco, Ketchel again stopped Thomas, this time in 20 rounds. He engaged in many scintillating battles after that, the best of which were those with Billy Papke and the Twin Sullivan brothers. Mike was the smaller of the two twin Sullivan brothers. Both men fought all the big fighters of their time, frequently sharing a common opponent. When eight days after Valentine’s Day in 1908 Ketchel KO’d Mike in the first round, his brother Jack, who was thirty pounds heavier, challenged Ketchel. Three months later, in Colma, Ketchel knocked Jack out in the 20th round to win the Vacant World Middleweight Title. Meanwhile, Goldie cried herself to sleep at night while Ketchel’s love for her paled into insignificance. His fame had outgrown their love and he was far too busy to answer her letters. She was heartbroken. On July 31, Ketchel stopped Hugo Kelly in three rounds. On August 18, he KO’d his old foe, Joe Thomas in two. On June 4, 1908 he retained his Middleweight title by defeating Billy Papke, "The Illinois Thunderbolt" in ten rounds. They fought again on September 7, 1908 in Vernon, California. It was one of the bloodiest, most memorable fights of all time. When it was over, Ketchel’s face was cut to ribbons and his right eye was closed. He left the ring, a champion shorn of his crown. One sport’s writer wrote: "Ketchel lost his Middleweight Title in a trick fight that started when Papke hit Ketchel a terrific blow to the bridge of the nose the moment the referee told them to shake hands at the beginning of the bout. Blinded and in agony, Ketchel fought on for twelve rounds, then went down for the count for the first time in his career." Boxing writer Vernon Gravely wrote: "By the time the fight was eighty seconds old, Ketchel appeared like a man who had been through eighty rounds: his right eye cut and swollen, his jaw puffing up, blood streaming from his mouth and nose, the man dubbed "The Michigan Assassin" gazed in bewilderment at his seconds, who stood by in utter dismay. Ketchel returned to his feet only to be dropped an additional four times during the round. Papke hell-bent on exacting revenge against the man who had given him his sole defeat just three months earlier." Referee Jim Jefferies halted the fight after Ketchel went down twice in the twelfth round. But the man who couldn’t be discouraged went out like a champ. On November, 26, in Coloma, Ketchel got his revenge. He regained his middleweight crown by stopping Papke in 11 rounds. On July 5, 1909, he again fought Papke in Coloma. The fight, fought in a rainstorm, was their most thrilling engagement. "The Michigan Assassin" retained his throne on a 20 round decision. A HISTORIC EVENT IN BOXING Having run out of opponents in the welterweight and middleweight divisions, Ketchel cast his eye on the heavyweight crown -- a formidable obstacle, since the champion was a black fighter named Jack Johnson who weighed 220 pounds and stood 6-feet tall. Ketchel weighed 159 pounds and stood 5-feet-9. Out-weighed, over-reached, and in every way physically inferior to his opponent, Ketchel stepped into the ring against the "Black Avenger" at Coloma, on October 16, 1909. The most colorful of all events attracted a standing-room-only crowd of 10,000 hysterical spectators. Another 3,000 fans were turned away. In rounds 8, 9, 10 and 11 Ketchel swarmed the champion to the delight of the crowd. In round 12, with a surprise maneuver he knocked the giant Negro down. Johnson quickly regained his feet and hit Ketchel so hard that he lay on the canvas for ten minutes before they could bring him around. "I thought I killed him," Johnson later said. "See here," and he held up one of his gloves drenched in Ketchel’s blood. Two of Ketchel’s teeth protruded from the glove. His front gold-tooth flashing, Johnson bragged, "That's where I uppercutted him on the mouth." Ketchel lived up to the tradition that a good man never knows when he’s beaten. In 1910 he went east and flattened Porky Flynn in Pittsburgh, then Willie Lewis and Jim Smith in New York. Rothstein and his collection of gorillas reportedly followed him every step of the way, offering him big bucks to throw a fight so they could clean up. Ketchel refused even under the threat of death. In the early fall of 1910, Ketchel went to his manager, Willus Britt, and said he wanted a rematch with Jack Johnson. "I'm in better condition than Johnson is right now," he said. "I was ahead and except for that one blow I would have beaten him easy." Britt kept putting him off. "Put some weight on Stanley, and I’ll get the fight." He had no intention of doing so. While many historians have deduced that Ketchel’s trip to Dickerson’s ranch in the Ozarks was a maneuver to hide him from Rothstein’s goons who had been ordered to kill him for not playing ball, a letter written to someone named Bill, confiscated by police after the murder, implied otherwise: Dear Bill: More than ever before I’m stuck on this farming thing and I guess I’ll be here for life. I have bought 3,300 acres and I intend to incorporate for about $300,000, put in a saw mill and lumber it off. It will give me one of the finest farms in the world. If I do any more fighting, Bill, it will be for charity. This is the place for me. Write to me with all the news and five my best to Will Lewis, the best little fellow in the world. Your farmer pal, Stanley. The statement supplied by Dickerson to authorities that showed that a woman named Goldie and Ketchel were lovers in Butte, threw a different light on the baffling murder case. In an effort to connect the Goldie of Butte to Goldie of the Ozarks, Sheriff Shields requestioned the platinum blonde cook. It was obvious to him that she was hiding something. Foreman Bailey told Shields of Ketchel’s reaction when they were introduced. Women forgive injuries, but never forgive slights. Was Ketchel’s murder an act of revenge for all those weeping nights of scorn? Did Ketchel not mention his killer during his dying breath because he wanted to spare Goldie from going to prison? And whose name began with ‘Di--’ that Ketchel knew? THE CHAMP IS GOOD FOR ONE MORE EDITION As Shields kept prodding and questioning people at the ranch, he ran into more people who were offering information about the chemistry felt when Goldie and Ketchel were in the room together. The following day was productive when Shields obtained a warrant and searched Goldie’s room. He found a box of photographs. Some showed a ranch hand named Walter Dipley in an affectionate pose with Goldie. Shields put two and two ogether. ‘Di’ ....’Dipley’. Now that the cat was out of he bag, Shields found witnesses more willing to talk than they had been at the outset. As the mystery unfolded, Goldie and Dipley became the prime suspects. It was revealed that they were lovers and that Dipley was extremely jealous of any man who looked at her. Further search of the premises failed to locate Dipley. A posse was formed and yelping bloodhounds vacuumed the area with their noses. Dipley eluded the posse and remained on the dodge. On the run, frazzled and hungry, Dipley took refuge at the isolated cabin of Tom Haggard, deep in the Ozarks. Haggard grew suspicious of his guest when he jumped like a cat at every strange sound. And something else -- he slept with his rifle beside his bed. When Dipley fell asleep, Haggard slipped out the door and high-tailed-it to the neighboring cabin of his brother, Joe. After talking it over, they came to the conclusion that Tom’s guest was the man the entire countryside was looking for in connection with Ketchel’s murder. That night, they crept back into the cabin and jumped Dipley while he slept. They tied him up and summoned the sheriff. Dipley was brought to the county seat for questioning. He confessed that he killed Ketchel because he had made unfitting advances toward his sweetheart, Goldie Smith. The fury around the Ozarks about "Dipley's terrible deed," had barely subsided when police announced that Goldie had been charged as an accessory to murder. Interrogated at length, she vigorously denied that she was the Goldie of Butte, or that she was involved in Ketchel’s murder. Telling Dipley that Ketchel had put the moves on her turned out to be a mistake, she admitted. He once told her, "I'll kill any man who looks at you twice." The trial attracted nationwide attention. The judge explained for the record that if Goldie Smith, in any way had encouraged the murder or had any knowledge of it, the jury should return a verdict of first-degree murder for both defendants. At the time of the trial, Goldie was currently on her 4th divorce. Without any eyewitnesses, or direct evidence to go on, the jury deliberated. Two hours later they returned with a verdict. They found both defendants guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced both Dipley and Goldie to life in the Missouri State Penitentiary. Appeals were made on grounds that the evidence was technically circumstantial. Walter Dipley’s life sentence was affirmed, but the verdict against Goldie was overturned and she was set free. She vanished into oblivion and the mystery of whether she was the Goldie of Butte has never been solved to anyone’s satisfaction. Dickerson spent a fortune fighting Dipley’s parole, but on May 19, 1934, Missouri’s Governor Guy B. Parks granted Ketchel’s killer a pardon after 24-years of imprisonment. He died broke and alone in a fly-trap rooming house a few years later. Stanley Ketchel ended his fabulous career with a 52-4-4- ( 49 KO’s) and 4 No Decisions during his 7 years as an active fighter (1904-1910). He was laid to rest in a cemetery adjacent to the home where he was born in Grand Rapids, which had become a memorial and tourist attraction. One of the greatest fighters who ever lived, Stanley Ketchel was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954, and the Canastota Hall of Fame in 1990.
A LAST INTERVIEW WITH IKE WILLIAMS by Bill Kelly Ike Williams was more than a world-class fighter to me. Ike was a mythic. Ike was quite simply --- with apologies to Benny Leonard, Henry Armstrong, Lew Jenkins, Beau Jack, Jimmy Carter and Bob Montgomery and even Roberto Duran - the best lightweight fighter who ever lived. Fighting didn't come naturally to Ike; he mastered it, absorbed it, as he did every challenge in his life. As a kid in New Jersey I worshipped him. One of my finest hours in boxing came when I interviewed Ike in 1994. The last time I spoke with him was on August 28th. He was found dead in his home at 520 Hobart Boulevard, Los Angeles, California on September 7th. I took Ike to dinners, and fight banquets because he didn't have the price of admission. His closest neighbors didn't know they were living with one of the best lightweight fighters of all time. In 1947 a determination was made to fused the lightweight division which had been unraveled for five years, thereby crowning one undisputed world champion. The aspirants were Bob "Bobcat" Montgomery, who had won recognition by the New York Commission by beating Beau Jack on May 21, 1943, and Ike Williams. Ike was sanctioned by the National Boxing Association. He had recently dethroned tough Juan Zurita in two rounds on April 18, 1945. After that, he retained his title by knocking out Ronnie James in 9 rounds in Cardiff, Wales. Getting two champions to unify a title has always been tantamount to sending Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba where he belongs. It's a familiar ode. You are asking each fighter to give up dispensations that even a fragmentary championship brings -- and bringing Williams and Montgomery together was even more challenging since the two battlers got along like Red Foxx and the IRS. Ahab and Moby Dick. Don King and anybody. According to Ike, the intense hatred he and Montgomery held for one another reached back to their first meeting on January 25, 1944. If you like skyscraper infernos, or Sam Peckenpah movies, you would have loved the private wars of Bob Montgomery and Ike Williams. Classic grudge matches. Terrorist organizations recruit guys like these. Al Capone would have covered his eyes. Too gruesome. Ike was born Isiah Williams in Brunswick, Georgia on August 2, 1923. His family moved to Trenton, New Jersey while he was still a teenage featherweight. Fighting as an amateur, he picked up various titles around the Jersey/Philly area, winning most of his fights by knockouts. He stood 5 ft. 9 inches tall. His fighting weight: 125-150 pounds. Graying at the temples when I interviewed him, he still possessed the physique of a praying mantis. He had compiled a record of 125 wins - 60 by knockouts -- 25 losses and five draws. In the following narration, he pulled no punches. KELLY: Ike, you say you are working odd jobs? Are you broke? IKE: The million bucks I made as a fighter is gone. I'm having a tough time finding work at my age. All I know is boxing. I would like to find work connected with boxing. Jersey Joe Walcott said he would help me, but nothing ever came of it. KELLY: What the hell did you do with all your money, Ike? IKE: Bill, I was a soft touch. I loaned money and never got it back. Gave some to relatives. My managers took a lot from me. KELLY: You never invested any money? IKE: Oh, yes. I owned a couple of apartment houses but I lost them. I gambled, mostly on the golf course. I contributed money to college scholarship funds and I sponsored baseball teams, you know, for kids. When I had money, I spent it like everyone else does. KELLY: What about your managers? IKE: Connie McCarthy was a good enough manager, I guess. But he was a drunkard. I finally told him I was going to another manager and that's when he called the Boxing Guild. They blackballed me. Any fighter who tried to stand up to his manager in those days was blackballed and labeled a troublemaker. I wanted to start my own fighter's guild. I approached Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler. But they were too scared. Even Jake LaMotta was afraid to be seen talking to me. I'm not saying they were wrong. They were making plenty of dough so why stick your neck out. For a long time I couldn't get a fight in Philadelphia that's how powerful the Guild was. I had fought over 20 fights for Herman Taylor and he turned his back on me. Jimmy White, head of the Boxing Guild, said he would boycott anyone who fought me. The only man who had the guts to stand up to them was Blinky Palermo. Blinky was managing Billy Fox at the time he was training for his rematch with Gus Lesnevich. 'Listen,' Blinky said to me, 'you sign with me and I'll straighten out that Guild.' KELLY: So you went with Blinky? Was that a good move? IKE: Well, it was the only move I could make at the time. No one else would touch me. You have to eat. But, honestly, I didn't know about Blinky's reputation or association with gangsters or I wouldn't have gotten mixed up with him. But I wanted to fight Bob Montgomery again in the worst way. In our 1944 fight he bragged that he was not only going to knock me out, but knock me clear out of the ring. It was a damn tough fight. I was knocked out for the first time in my career -- in the 12th round. But he fought dirty all the way. He fouled me repeatedly. I told Blinky, 'if you can get me a rematch with that bastard, I'll sign with you.' Blinky said, 'I'll get the fight.' So I signed with him and he got he the fight. KELLY: There were fights in between. I was at ringside in Philly when you flattened Joey Peralta, and again when you knocked out Mike Delia in 1 round. I saw you beat Slugger White and Sammy Angott - twice. I lost ten bucks when Willie Joyce outpointed you -- IKE: ( Interrupts): I whipped him in a return match (January 8, 1945) then in June he decisioned me -- but it was an over-the-weight match, just like my loss to Angott later, when he stopped me on a cut. KELLY: Getting back to Montgomery. You finally did get the rematch you wanted. IKE: ( Interrupts): Yeah, it was for the vacant World Lightweight Championship ( August 4, 1947). I whipped him like his daddy. It was the greatest night of my life. I was in the best shape I could possibly get in. I knew his style by then, it wasn't like today, you can watch video tapes of your opponent. Back then, you had to learn the hard way. When a fighter's in a crouch he loses power and he has to come up, so I caught him coming out of a crouch and nailed him good. It was the most perfect punch of my career. He got up at 9, but he was out on his feet. I went after him and referee Charley Daggart counted him out. But I had a terrible cut over my right eye which took six stitches to close. I firmly believe that Montgomery was more interested in causing further damage to my eye than he was in winning the fight, the way he went after it. KELLY: When I attended a Boxing Hall of Fame banquet in Hollywood a few years back, I asked Henry Armstrong and Lew Ambers if they would pose for a picture together. Neither of them would do it. They still held a grudge after all those years. Sandy Saddler told me that Willie Pep refused to talk to him to this day. Is that how you felt toward Montgomery? IKE: No. As far as I'm concerned it's all in the past. But I understand he still carries a grudge against me. KELLY: Let's back up. What was your first pro fight? IKE: I won a four round decision over Carmine Fatta. The record books say it was in New Brunswick, but it was in the Masonic Temple in Highland Park, New York. I got ten bucks. Six months later I fought Patsy Gall to a six round draw in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and I got four bucks. There were no easy paydays back then -- not like today. These fellows pick and chose the easy fights for the big money. KELLY: So you were back on top after you stopped Montgomery? IKE: Yes. I beat Kid Gavilan, who had whipped everybody. I beat Enrique Bolanos in eight rounds. I stopped Beau Jack, then Jesse Flores. All of these fighters would have beaten any of these lightweights you have today. KELLY: Didn't Kid Gavilan beat you twice? IKE: I have a good story to tell you. When I was training for the Gavilan rematch, after I beat him, Blinky comes to me and says he was offered $100,000 to throw the fight. He advised me not to take it. I should have. I lost anyway. But you see, Blinky wasn't as bad as people think. Oh, he robbed me blind -- that's a fact. I never saw a dime of the $33,000 I was supposed to have gotten for the Beau Jack fight in 1948. I was supposed to get $33,000 for the Jesse Flores fight after that. I got zilch! Blinky took it all. He told me he was going to get his head blown off if he didn't pay a debt to some mobsters. Not only that, I had to pay the taxes on those two fights that I fought for nothing. Hell, you wonder why I'm broke? KELLY: No offense, Ike, but you were stupid. IKE: I know it. KELLY: Was Bob Montgomery the toughest guy you ever fought? IKE: No. Kid Gavilan was. But you see, I had trouble getting the money-makers to fight me -- even for the title. Paddy DeMarco and I would have sold out the Garden, but he said nothing doing. Terry Young was hot at the time, but he avoided me like the plague. Poor guy, he got shot down in a night club. Killed. Just like Al "Bummy" Davis. KELLY: Henry Armstrong told me a story about the time a set of golf clubs saved your life --- IKE: ( interrupts. Laughs). Oh, yes. How did he know about that? Anyway, in June of 1948 I was at the Los Angeles County Club and I saw this beautiful set of golf clubs that a fellow was using and I made a fuss over them. He told me he bought them at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago. So, on my way back home, I got off the plane at Chicago and went to Tam O'Shanter's in search of these beautiful clubs. Well, the plane crashed in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, killing fifty-six people. Imagine what might have happened to me if I hadn't gotten off that plane to buy those golf clubs. That's why Hank said golf clubs saved my life. KELLY: I guess that was the most frightening experience of your life, wasn't it Ike? IKE: Not really. The most scared I ever was when I went to Mexico City in 1945 to fight Juan Zaurita. I arrived the day before the fight. The crowds at the hotel where I was staying treated me like some hero. I mean, they actually hoisted me up and carried me through the streets. Everyone cheered me. That night, I called my wife, Virginia, and told her, 'Hell, I could run for president down here.' KELLY: That was frightening? IKE: Wait a minute -- after I beat Zurita for the NBA lightweight title, I was leaving the ring and some thugs pushed a gun into my ribs and took my championship belt. They would have killed me if I wouldn't have handed it over. But later I lost my title to Jimmy Carter. KELLY: Carter knocked you out didn't he? IKE: He stopped me in the 14th round (May 25, 1951). I had successfully defended my title seven times in six years. I hate to sound like sour grapes, but I injured my shoulder four days before I was to fight John L. Davis in Seattle. That was in 1950. I was fighting a kid named Walt Hayes and he threw a punch that caught me on the forearm and tore the muscles. I was never right after that. I was training for the Carter fight and Blinky comes to me and says, 'Ike. they want to give you fifty grand to go into the tank. In six months he'll fight you again and you can win.' I turned him down flat. But again, I should have taken the money because I knew I couldn't beat him with my bad shoulder. Besides, I was 21 pounds over the lightweight limit and taking it off so fast it left me so weak that by the 12th round I couldn't lift my arms. Eighteen days after the Carter fight, win or lose, I was suppose to fight Art Aragon, the Golden Boy. I knew I couldn't beat Aragon with a lame wing. So you see, I should have taken the money because I could see the end was near. But I didn't. KELLY: I think it was right after that I saw Gil Turner beat you in Philly and I couldn't believe it. IKE: He stopped me in the tenth ( Sept. 10, 1951). I was only 26-years-old, an age when a fighter should be in his prime. But I had lost three in a row because of my shoulder. KELLY: But you kept going. Carmen Basilio decisioned you (Jan. 12, 1953). There was a tough guy. IKE: Beau Jack made a comeback and fought him in 1955. In April I fought Beau Jack in Augusta and they called it a ten round draw. It was a Don King decision, if you know what I mean. A rob job. I beat him good and they robbed me. In August we fought again and I stopped him in the ninth. I was 33 years old and the boxing commission made me quit after sixteen years of fighting. They wouldn't give me a license. It was not only my last fight but Beau Jack's last fight, also. KELLY: The thing that bothers me is your loss to Chuck Davey. He couldn't break bread -- IKE: (Interrupts) Bill, I swear to you that I went in the tank for $10,000. Pride knuckled under to desperation this time. KELLY: (Astonished) You did? IKE: I never told anyone that before and I'm ashamed of it. KELLY: Doesn't it leave a bitter taste in your mouth that now that you need help none of you old cronies in the boxing game will help you out? IKE: A couple have tried. I was part of Mahammad Ali's entourage back in 1974, up at Deer Lake, Pa.; while he was training for the George Foreman fight in Zaire. When Ali went to Zaire, I stayed behind. The majority of his entourage was Muslims. One day I went to the grocery store and brought back some pork, intending to mix it with some beans for dinner. Well, these Muslims got mad because I bought pork into their camp, and some guy that I had knocked out in 1943 called Zaire and told Ali. When Ali returned he told me, 'Ike, pack up and git!' He put me on that bus of his and drove me home. And that was that. Muslims took Ali's life over. They had him brainwashed. KELLY: Did Ike Williams ever duck anybody? IKE: Yes. I turned down a fight with Sugar Ray Robinson because he outweighed me by 15 pounds. KELLY: There have been a lot of tough years, right, Ike? IKE: A broken marriage after the money ran out. My daughter, Barbara Ann, died of pneumonia in 1958. She was only 10. Most of my friends disappeared when the money ran out. And now, I'm broke and desperately need work. I know I could be a good trainer or referee. But boxing doesn't take care of their own. It's money. Look at me, no one will give me a job sweeping floors in the gym. KELLY: What, if anything, have you gotten out of boxing that pleases you? IKE: I can't say money, because I'm broke, and that's nobody's fault but my own. Some of the celebrities I've met I wouldn't have known if I hadn't been in the limelight myself, Mickey Rooney, Abbott and Costello. Some of the places I've been: Mexico City, Perth Amboy, Atlantic City, Cleveland, New Orleans, New York, Fort Wayne, Havana, Europe. I've fought everywhere. KELLY: Aside from not socking your money away for a rainy day, any regrets, Ike? IKE: I would have to say losing my Championship belt to those thugs in Mexico City hurt me very much. It was hanging in a bar in Mexico the last time I saw it and I could never get the money to buy it back. KELLY: Do you wish you were just coming up today, Ike? IKE: I would have beaten them all, easy.