Subj: The BAWLI Papers No. 91
Date: 99-05-26 00:01:40 EDT
From: email@example.com (J Michael Kenyon)
The BAWLI Papers
(Boxing As We Liked It)
Edited by J Michael Kenyon
Issue Number 91
Sunday, May 30, 1999
New York City, New York, US of A
IN THIS ISSUE: A CENTURY OF BOXING HISTORY IN THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA
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(ED. NOTE -- The Philadelphia Daily News has celebrated a century of sport
in one of the nation's premier sports centers. The following article details
the history, past and present, of the ring game in Philadelphia.)
100 YEARS OF BOXING IN PHILLY
(Philadelphia Daily News, May 25, 1999)
By Bernard Fernandez
The last, best hope for Philadelphia to re-establish itself as a major
boxing site probably came and went in December 1995, when a combination of
factors brought former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, the sport's most
electrifying draw, to town on short notice for a bout with Buster Mathis Jr.
at the CoreStates (now First Union) Spectrum.
Tyson's presence meant a national television audience on Fox would be tuned
in, the sort of huge spotlight that hadn't been focused on America's
self-proclaimed capital of boxing since regularly scheduled cards at the
Spectrum ended in 1980. It was a chance for Philly to live up to its
pugnacious, pugilistic reputation.
"I don't even know how I got here in the first place," Tyson said after
finishing a workout in the Joe Hand Boxing Gym in Fishtown, the fight having
been rejected in Atlantic City because of promoter Don King's federal
indictment on wire-fraud charges. "But I don't believe there is any such
thing as coincidence. There's always a reason for something. We all know the
history of those legendary Philadelphia fighters. I'm just happy to be here
and to be a part of it. I can be an extension of that history."
Or maybe the final chapter of the big book on boxing in a city that once ate
up megafights more hungrily than its beloved cheesesteaks. A rusty Tyson
stopped Mathis in three rounds in front of a heavily papered crowd estimated
at between 8,000 and 10,000, although final attendance figures, paid or
otherwise, never were revealed. There was considerable speculation that many
overpriced tickets had been given away or severely discounted and that the
promotion was awash in red ink.
Another bid to jump-start Philadelphia as a prime boxing destination, and
not just the place of origination for standout fighters, also ended badly
last June 27. North Philly's David Reid, the only U.S. gold medalist in
boxing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, stopped former world champion Simon
Brown in four rounds in his much-hyped professional homecoming, but paid
attendance in the Apollo of Temple fell far below projections.
Goodbye, big dreams for recaptured glory. Hello, more comparatively
low-budget fare at the 1,200-seat Blue Horizon, which is a great place to
see a fight but is a far cry from the days when major events in the city
regularly drew crowds from 30,000 to 130,000.
"David Reid's fight was a financial disaster," said J Russell Peltz, who has
promoted boxing in Philadelphia since 1969 but was not involved in
Tyson-Mathis or Reid-Brown. "The paid attendance was under 3,000. The Mike
Tyson fight probably could have done bonanza business if they had the
intelligence to scale the tickets properly, but they overpriced the show and
that killed it. I don't care how close it was to Christmas, I don't care how
short the notice was, they had a chance to do something really special and
they killed it."
As we edge ever closer to the new millennium, boxing in Philadelphia -- once
the city's most identifiable sporting trademark -- has become almost an
afterthought. Oh, sure, there is that rich tradition, the foundation upon
which a new shrine to the sweet science conceivably could be built. But all
the attention and all the resources have been shifted elsewhere. Boxing here
is hanging on by its fingernails, as is the case in most major American
cities that do not have casino gambling.
"I think the city is seriously overlooking the benefits that can come from
boxing," said George Bochetto, the once and perhaps future mayoral wannabe
who, as Philadelphia boxing commissioner, has tried to keep the flickering
flame alive. "In terms of economic impact, if the city got more behind
boxing, if it put the emphasis on it that other sports get, we'd have more
title fights here. I really believe we'd have those crowds of 20,000, and
upward if you went outside.
"Everybody wants $300 million stadiums for the Phillies and Eagles. OK, but
we've had Olympic gold medalists and very renowned world champions from
here. What are we doing to acknowledge and support them? Not much, as far as
I can tell.
"Philadelphia is still one of the leading cities, if not the leading city,
in producing boxing talent. We have a veritable `Who's Who' of great boxers
here. But once they're done boxing, it's like no one knows them, no one
wants to know them. It's really a shame. They're revered in boxing circles,
but that's among insiders. There isn't the residual adulation from the
general population that's reserved for, say, former Phillies, Eagles and
You don't need Hercule Poirot to investigate the diminishment of
Philadelphia -- indeed, of many formerly thriving fight towns -- in a boxing
universe that has been continually downsized for almost 40 years.
The seeds of radical, perhaps irreversible change were sown March 27, 1960,
when Benny "Kid" Paret, a Cuban expatriate who fought out of New York, won
the first world title fight ever staged in Las Vegas by outpointing
then-welterweight champion Don Jordan. Boxing shows had been staged before
in Vegas, but it wasn't until Paret-Jordan that the marriage of the fight
game and legalized gambling formally was consummated. Both parties, it
seemed, had much to offer one another.
With Vegas on the other side of the continent, Philadelphia remained a
beehive of boxing activity for a while. But the local buzz began to die down
in 1978, when Resorts International opened its craps tables and slots
machines to East Coast gamblers who no longer had to hop on a plane and fly
across the country to find a little action. Atlantic City casino bigwigs
knew that boxing was a sure-bet magnet for high rollers because, well, Vegas
had stacked that deck nearly two decades earlier.
Peltz, then the head of Spectrum Boxing, remembers the immediate effect the
casinos had on his boxing operation.
"We had problems going up against `Monday Night Football,' but we only ran
on Monday nights in 1973," Peltz said. "After we changed from Monday nights
to Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we had our biggest years at the Spectrum from
1974 to '78. We averaged 7,000 to 8,000 [paid admissions] a show during
"But we got killed when casino gambling was introduced in Atlantic City in
1978. When I look back on it now and see certain shows that drew 5,000 and
remember how disappointed we were then, it's almost funny. If I got 5,000
today for a show at the Apollo, it would be a home run."
In a boxing sense, Philadelphia once launched more home runs than Mark
McGwire and Sammy Sosa in tandem. As far back as 1857, Philadelphia's
Dominick Bradley claimed the "World Heavyweight Prizefighting Championship"
by defeating Sam Rankin of Baltimore in a brutal, early-morning,
bare-knuckle contest in a Canadian cornfield. Bradley won in the 157th round
for a $2,000 side bet, and although his claim was not universally
recognized, details of the match were covered in the international sporting
According to The Ring, the Philadelphia area had 14 fight clubs in operation
by 1900 and was recognized as the leading city for purse money for
non-championship bouts. Nearly every top fighter fought here, and legendary
heavyweight Jack Johnson made more appearances in Philadelphia than in any
other city except for his hometown of Galveston, Texas. That might be
attributable in part to the city's reputation for being the most "open" in
the country to black boxers.
Philly's love affair with boxing further blossomed in 1912, when the Olympia
Athletic Club opened at Broad and Bainbridge and began a competition with
the National AC as the city's premier fight arena. That same year, future
Hall of Famer Herman Taylor -- who would promote boxing matches for 63
years, longer than any man in history -- purchased the Broadway AC at 15th
and Washington. The Cambria, whose outdoor season would last for 44 years,
became the site of open-air boxing in 1914.
With so many venues available, it really is no surprise that, over six
decades of almost unchecked growth, Philadelphia gave the world such
homegrown or adopted standouts as Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, Battling
Levinsky, Benny Bass, Lew Tendler, Midget Wolgast, Bob Montgomery, Tommy
Loughran, Al Ettore, Johnny Jadick, Harold Johnson, Wesley Mouzon, Percy
Bassett, George Benton, Joey Giardello and others. No city, with the
possible exception of New York, was more linked to boxing. It was not
uncommon for crowds of 30,000 to 50,000 to jam such outdoor sites as Shibe
Park and Municipal Stadium for big fights, and a then-record 132,000
(120,757 paid admissions) wedged into Sesquicentennial Stadium for the Sept.
23, 1926, first pairing of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey and Gene
It was a time that never will be duplicated, not unless Caesars World or
Bally's opens a casino adjacent to the proposed, new Phillies ballpark and
decides to promote, say, David Reid as a local sports hero on the level of
Scott Rolen, Allen Iverson and Eric Lindros.
"Boxing changed because the times changed," Peltz said. "Until, oh, 1960,
baseball and boxing were vying for the biggest pieces of the sports
entertainment dollar. The NFL and NBA weren't nearly as big then as they are
now. Hockey certainly wasn't. If you had a really big fight, you'd get a
huge crowd outdoors in a stadium. It's not like that now, and hasn't been
for a long time."
The last "Golden Age" of Philadelphia boxing coincided with the rise, in the
'60s and '70s, of such hot local attractions as Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, Bobby
"Boogaloo" Watts, Stanley "Kitten" Hayward, Willie "The Worm" Monroe and the
leader of the pack, Bennie Briscoe. Lumped together in the
junior-middleweight and middleweight divisions, they battled each other and
visitors from New York, Detroit and Boston in the sort of turf wars that
regularly quickened the community's pulse.
"It used to be neighborhood vs. neighborhood, maybe even more so than city
vs. city," said Nigel Collins, editor of The Ring. "That's something that's
probably been lost forever.
"I'm not saying that everything has been lost. I think boxing will continue
to be a part of the culture of Philadelphia, but I don't think big-time
boxing will ever return to the city as long as casinos are the primary
venues. That's just the economic reality. Occasionally there might be a card
with local flavor that is bigger than we're used to seeing, but that would
And the popular image of the Philadelphia fighter as a left-hooking warrior
who never takes a step backward and is composed of equal parts bile and
"It's probably always been a slight exaggeration," Collins said. "What gives
Philadelphia its reputation, from six-round preliminary fighters all the way
up to world champions, is that most Philly guys have a hard edge. You almost
never see a Philadelphia fighter who doesn't come to fight, and fight to
Peltz said that sort of atty-tood, a civic feistiness embodied in Philly's
shrinking, fraying but proud boxing community, should be nourished, even if
the casinos have chipped away at much of the grand tradition. If you can't
save it all, at least save what you can.
"I keep hearing how the Blue Horizon is a local treasure, but the city
doesn't treat it as such," Peltz said. "Other than the fans who go there to
see the fights and support the place with their patronage, the city of
Philadelphia has done absolutely nothing to help it. They pour all this
money into the Avenue of the Arts and into this and that, but not one public
cent has gone to a facility that probably gives Philadelphia as much
national exposure -- positive national exposure -- as anything."
Not that Philly is alone in its benign neglect of boxing. Once Las Vegas and
Atlantic City asserted themselves, it's almost as if other towns that had
strong links to boxing ran up the white flag.
"New York probably can compete with the casino venues, but the people who
can make it happen don't have the foresight," Peltz said. "You can't tell me
that I can sell out the Blue Horizon on a consistent basis, but they can't
put a first-class boxing program into the [5,000-seat] Theater at Madison
Square Garden and sell it out every month.
"The favorite word in boxing is 'can't,'' as in, 'We can't do it.' You can't
do anything if you don't believe you can."
Peltz believes boxing in Philadelphia can be brought back, if not all the
way, to something more substantial than what presently exists.
"Maybe a homegrown puncher who stays at home, who is developed at home,
could do it," Peltz said. "It's too late for Reid and [IBF middleweight
champion Bernard] Hopkins. You've got to build a following from the ground
up in a city."
Bochetto points to the flourishing amateur boxing scene as proof that the
sport is fighting to hold onto its local heritage.
"In the 1996 Olympics, Philadelphia was represented by three fighters --
David Reid, Terrance Cauthen and Zahir Raheem -- and Reid was the only
American to win a gold medal in boxing," Bochetto said. "Now, we have more
kids coming along who have a very good chance to make the 2000 Olympic team.
So I would say that Reid and the others have had a dramatic impact on boxing
"Reid and the other Olympic team members came up through the local gyms. You
don't think today's kids dream about achieving the same things? David Reid
is the perfect example of what a little hard work and determination can do.
He's what, a gadzillionaire? He's where all these other local kids want to
But if they get to where Reid really is, expect them to take their acts on
the road to the land of the blackjack tables and one-armed bandits.
"I'm not sure how far the Allen twins [Tiger and Rock, both of whom recently
were crowned Pennsylvania Golden Gloves champions] can go, but the better
they are, the less likely it is that they'll spend much of their careers in
Philadelphia," Collins said. "If they're as good as David Reid and win
Olympic gold medals, they'll start out with some high-powered promotional
outfit and go where the money is.
That place, increasingly, is out of town.
LEST WE FORGET . . .
(Philadelphia Daily News, May 25, 1999)
By Bob Vetrone Jr.
GEORGE BENTON (Middleweight contender: 61-13-1 36 KOs; trainer): Although he
was the No. 1 contender for 12 years, Benton never got to fight for the
title. His 21-year fighting career ended when he was shot in May, 1970. Four
years later, he began an illustrious career as a trainer, which included
developing the strategy that Leon Spinks used to offset Muhammad Ali's
Rope-A-Dope and upset the heavyweight champ in 1978.
EUGENE "CYLCONE" HART (Middleweight contender, 30-9-1, 28 KOs): This
non-champion slot could easily have gone to fellow middleweights Willie "The
Worm'' Monroe (40-10-1, 26 KOs) or Bobby ''Boogaloo'' Watts (38-7-1, KOs),
but we list Hart for entertainment value -- 36 of his 40 bouts ended by
knockout. He started his professional career with 21 consecutive wins (20
knockouts) before falling through broken Spectrum ropes during a bout on
Sept. 19, 1971. He was 9-9-1 after that.
BATTLING LEVINSKY (Light-heavyweight champion, 74-19-13, 33 KOs): And battle
he did, especially on Jan. 1, 1915, when he fought a morning 10-rounder in
Brooklyn, followed by an afternoon 10-rounder in New York City and capped it
off with a 12-round nightcap in Waterbuy, Conn. Oh, he also held the world
title for four years and fought professionally over 300 times; he fought to
many "no decisions'' and there are no records for the early years of his
PHILADELPHIA JACK O'BRIEN (Light-heavyweight champion, 100-7-16, 46 KOs):
Won the light-heavyweight title on a 13th-round KO of Bob Fitzsimmons on
Dec. 20, 1905, but never defended it, moving up to take on the heavyweights
of his time. He lost a 20-round decision to Tommy Burns for the heavyweight
title in 1907 and he lasted six rounds with then-heavyweight champ Jack
Johnson in a non-title bout in 1909.
MIKE ROSSMAN (Light-heavyweight champion, 44-7-3, 27 KOs): On the night
Muhammad Ali regained his heavyweight title from Michael Spinks, Rossman
ended Victor Galindez' 41-bout winning streak to take his title with a
brilliantly conceived, and executed, performance live on ABC-TV.
MELDRICK TAYLOR (junior welterweight champion, 34-5-1, 19 KOs): Two-time
weleterweight champion (IBF and WBA) also won a gold medal at 1984 Olympics
at age 17. Career would have been seen in an even higher light had he not
suffered a contoversial TKO loss to Mexican standout Julio Cesar Chavez in
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From: "J Michael Kenyon"
Subject: The BAWLI Papers No. 91
Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 23:52:51 -0400