More classic columns
BENNY LEONARD’S COMEBACK’ LEAVES A SOUR TASTE
(The Ring, June 1931)
By Nat Fleischer
It seems that there always is something. Boxing has had its ups and downs these last two years, and it is in need of just such a stimulus as an impressive, acclaimed comeback by a man like Benny Leonard could give to it.
But the debut of Leonard in his comeback effort against Pal Silvers threw doubt on Benny, and aspersion on the entire affair. Leonard stopped Silvers, but to most of the onlookers it seemed that the Pal person had given a most unenthusiastic and anaemic exposition of what passed for aggressiveness and willingness.
A lot of customers turned out to see Leonard for old times’ sake. They tossed $25,000 into the box office, and then they were tossed for a lot of fall guys. Yes, it seems that always there is something and that this great game must go on suffering from measles, whooping cough and a lot of other childish ailments which it thought it had left behind it back in the days when John L. Sullivan was knocking the local yokels stiff.
The less said about the fight, the better, for contests such as that are responsible for the plight into which boxing has found itself for the past two years. Silvers, after outclassing Leonard in the opening round, in which four straight lefts in a row had Benny’s face smeared with blood, apparently suddenly figured that it wouldn’t do to make Leonard look bad.
Instead of following up his advantage in the second round, he forgot how to fight and left himself open to severe criticism.
When he received three light blows on the jaw and went down after first locating a soft spot, he acted like one who was dead to the world. But when Arthur Donovan, the referee, had counted ten, up leaped Pal and dashing about the ring, sought to continue the “battle.”
To say the least, it certainly did appear mighty strange to see a fighter so full of vim, so energetic, who only a second or two before, was lying motionless, body stretched out, head resting comfortably on one glove. What a fiasco that was! And how the 14,000 fight fans who had come to greet the kingpin of all modern lights, were peeved at the sudden turn of affairs!
Leonard walked into the ring to the acclaim of a returned hero, but he left with the hisses of those thousands.
The New York Boxing Commission is to be congratulated on its action in refusing a sanction for a Leonard-Paulie Walker contest in The Garden. If what Leonard showed against Silvers is his best, then we want to remember Benny as he was when in his prime. The Leonard who “knocked out” Silvers, would be put to sleep within three rounds by Billy Petrolle, over whom he would have an advantage of 15 pounds and Jimmy MacLarnin.
“They can’t come back,” is a ring axiom that has stood the test for many years and Leonard, so far as I can see, is no exception to that rule. The only way Benny can reach the top again, would be through the kind of contest that left such a sour taste in the mouth of 14,000 Queensboro fans.
Since Leonard insists that he is in good financial circumstances and has returned to the ring, not because of his need for money but because he loves the sport, he should take into consideration the thousands of fight fans who love the sport equally as much as he does. With that in mind, he should quit now before he loses the prestige that he had gained through many years of great ring work.
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WHEREFORE A “T.K.O.”?
(The Ring, July 1941)
By Nat Fleischer
So many recent boxing bouts have terminated by cuts or through the poor physical condition of one of the contestants and have been recorded by the newspaper reporters as technical knockouts, that the fight fans are beginning to ask what constitutes a knockout. Only a few days ago a Ring reader wrote of a fight in which one of the lads was so badly beaten he couldn’t stand on his feet.
“He was leg weary, groping about the ring, his face was swollen from the punishment he was absorbing and one of his eyes was closed, and the other was beginning to close. The referee stopped the fight and the scribes came out with a story the next day that the winner scored a technical knockout. Now what I want to know is, why a technical knockout? Shouldn’t the winner be given full credit for having stopped his man and not have his record tainted with the word ‘technical’ prefixed to the kayo?”
That reader is 100 percent correct. Unfortunately too many of our present day scribes don’t understand the meaning of the word knockout or don’t know the rules of boxing. It is doubtful if there is a more pertinent question relating to boxing or one that is asked more often than the one, “What is a knockout?”
The erroneous belief is that a man must be down and out, unable to get to his feet, to be knocked out. In short he must be unconscious or subconscious.
As has been stated in The Ring often, a knockout may be scored in many ways. Here they are:
1—When a fighter is completely knocked out of time—cannot get to his feet within the prescribed limit of 10 seconds after being floored.
2—When he fails to come out of his corner to answer the bell for the succeeding round, in which case the referee counts over him while the fighter is seated.
3—When he is hanging helplessly over the ropes and cannot defend himself.
4—If he is unable to carry on during a round because of poor physical condition.
5—If he is in such distress during a round that he cannot defend himself and the referee is forced to intercede to save him from further punishment.
Until the New York State Boxing Commission amended its rules in 1936, a knockout was listed in its books as follows:
1—When a fighter is unable, after being knocked down to arise unaided inside of 10 seconds.
2—When a boxer is in distress, but still on his feet, and the referee is forced to intercede to save him from punishment.
Now those definitions were correct and conformed with the general rules of boxing as handed down from the old code that preceded the adoption of legalized boxing, under state control.
Then in 1936, for no other reason than some managers complained that the record books carried the notation “knocked out,” in contests in which their boys had to give up because of cuts or because they were in distress, the commission in New York changed its rules to read:
1—Referees and judges shall, in rendering decisions, consider and declare a contestant to be knocked out when he is unable, after being floored, to rise unaided inside of 10 seconds.
2—If a referee intercedes to save a boxer from further punishment, then he and the judges shall render the verdict, “contest stopped, unable to continue, and name the winner.”
No mention is here made about a technical knockout, yet the fighter who won that bout is shorn of the honor of having stopped his man by a kayo, which he undoubtedly did, by having the record show that the contest was halted and the scribes, writing about the fight, declare it was won on a technical knockout.
Such action is ridiculous. The man who was thus stopped was as much knocked out if he was in distress as if he were down on the canvas and couldn’t rise within 10 seconds. He simply could not continue and therefore was knocked out of time. I often wonder why the boxing scribes, especially in the bigger cities, didn’t go out on the limb for this proper interpretation of a knockout instead of sticking to the erroneous statement, “technically knocked out.”
There simply isn’t such a thing as a technical knockout and THE RING, in making up its records, and in printing them for our readers monthly, take cognizance of that point and record it as a K.O.
A fighter who cuts his man so badly that the bout must be halted, or has his opponent in such distress that he cannot go on, is as much entitled to have his record show the K.O. next to such a contest, as the fellow who halts his opponent by flooring him so that he cannot get up before the ten seconds limit. Why deprive him of such honor?
Take the case of Joe Louis. It is most unfair for posterity to have “The Brown Bomber’s” record show so many T.K.O.’s listed, when as a matter of fact, each time his fights have been halted, Joe was whipping his opponent so badly that it no longer was a contest. Such was the case in his most recent bouts with McCoy, Simon, and Musto, among others.
I blame the referee in most cases for depriving Joe of his just due by stopping the fight instead of giving the opponent the full count. In many cases the count has been up to five or even more, when the referee waived his hands indicating he had stopped the fight. Why was such action necessary?
It would not have hurt the beaten boxer to have counted him out, so long as his opponent was in no position to attack again unless the defeated fighter could get to his feet. It is a gross injustice and should be rectified by the boxing commissions throughout the country.
A change in the rules is needed where a T.K.O. is permissible. Wipe that word “technical” off the rule books and let’s get back to common sense.
The compound word “knockout” was first coined by Billy Madden when he was handling the affairs of John L. Sullivan in his tour of the country. At least he was the first to bring it forcibly to the attention of the public.
It was at the time he made the historical tour with the Boston Strong Boy when the Mighty Man of New England met all comers and offered to hand out a bonus to any man whom he failed to “knock out in four rounds.” In those days the rules stipulated that “if a fighter was knocked out of time,” that is, if he was rendered incapable of continuing for a period of 10 seconds, he lost the prize money. It did not mean then, nor does it mean today, that a fighter had to be rendered senseless to lose by a knockout.
If for any reason a fighter failed to continue the combat, either through fear, because his seconds cast a sponge into the ring as token of defeat or because the referee, as an act of mercy when he saw a fighter beaten and helpless, stopped the bout, the defeated man lost the prize money and side bet.
Recently I attended some boxing bouts out West and I saw something, which convinced me more than ever that there should be no such designation as a “technical knockout.” A fighter was badly whipped. He would have been knocked into dreamland with a few more punches. The manager, preferring to give his boy the benefit of a T.K.O. rating rather than a knockout, hurled the towel into the ring and the bout was stopped with the announcement that “Al Jiminez wins by a technical knockout.”
Under such a rule, all a manager has to do to save the knockout verdict, no matter how woefully outclassed and defeated is his boy, would be to prevent him from going out for another round and thus have his fighter lose “by a T.K.O.”
Let’s forget “technical knockouts” and designate a victory by its proper term.
When a fighter cannot continue because of cuts or bruises, etc., the scribes and commissioners should realize that such condition has been caused by his opponent. His opponent, in short, had enough on the ball to cause this condition.
The epidemic of T.K.O.’s is on in full force. Either a fighter can go on or he can’t and if he can’t then he loses by a knockout. “There isn’t such an animal as ‘T.K.O.’ in my book.”
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NEW HEAD INJURIES THEORY ADVANCES
(The Ring, September 1954)
By Nat Fleischer
I have no desire to question the conclusions of such eminent medical authorities as Dr. Harry A. Kaplan and Dr. Jefferson Browder of the New York University Medical School and members of the New York State Athletic Commission Medical Advisory Board. But I cannot refrain from commenting on their report, based on their study of the brain waves of 1,040 professional boxers in New York.
The report, read before the convention of the American Medical Association in San Francisco, stated that in their examinations of fighters who have been knocked out or otherwise suffered severe injuries “the electroencephalographs, or brainwave studies, failed to reveal any abnormal neurological features” and that if a fighter is what is commonly referred to as “punch drunk,” the chances are that heredity factors play a greater role in his condition than the head punishment he has received. “Brain wave records failed to show any significant change in boxers who lost their fights by knockouts,” the doctors told their audience.
They went on to state, however, “some fighters are more susceptible to head blows than others, but that this doesn’t mean they suffer more brain damage than others.
“Most head damage, in boxing” they continued “comes from blows on parts other than the head.” Fortunately, they added, “the blow which causes a boxer to fall backward and strike his head on the mat is very infrequent and the resilient mat in use at the present time affords some protection from this hazard. And they said, “actually a small percentage of the blows thrown in a fight connect solidly, most of them being deflected.”
This report is most interesting from a scientific point of view, but doesn’t jibe with the reports of the medical examiners who, instead of studying the brain waves of a thousand fighters over a stretch of three years, which the two eminent New York surgeons did, have examined the brains of those who have been killed in ring action and have reported their findings. Nor does it jibe with the reports of the medical examiners in cases of deaths in the ring in which no injury to the head was inflicted but body punishment caused the collapse and subsequent death.
What Drs. Kaplan and Browder told the San Francisco Convention about “glass-jawed boxers” and “punch-drunkenness” is nothing new. It has long been known to those who have followed boxing closely for many years.
It is most difficult for a layman like myself, who has watched boxing in all its phases—amateur, college, and professional in addition to having participated in the sport as a Simon pure—to take issue with such internationally famous medicos. But I cannot help asking how come so many of the “punch-drunk” battlers who gained fistic fame had no taint in the family according to the medical records of the institutions to which they were sent?
Where “punchy” conditions have prevailed, the medical reports in most cases show that blows about the head have brought on the condition. Disregard of the fighter’s unfitness to continue in the strenuous sport and avarice on the part of promoters and managers, have been contributing causes. Often a boxer who should have been retired by having his license revoked was permitted to take shellacking after shellacking until he wound up a fit subject for hospitalization.
Heredity may play a part in such conditions, but it is doubtful that the thousand or more cases examined by Drs. Kaplan and Browder in the past three years contain the names of more than a very small percentage of fighters who are generally known in the profession.
In my seven month’s research of deaths in the ring, I have found among the 317 recorded, from 1910 through 1953, a total of 18 who died from heart attacks according to the autopsies. Two died from injuries to the spleen; four fatalities were due to a burst appendix, and the remainder from cerebral hemorrhages caused by striking heads against ring floors from knockout punches.
We agree with the doctors who made their report in San Francisco, that boxing is a hazardous sport. It is not free from bodily hazard and much physical punishment is suffered, with occasional severe injury. According to the doctors, “very few blows in a single contest are solidly struck and truly effective and some fighters are more susceptible to punches than others.”
What is an effective punch? We who write about the sport say it is a blow that strikes with force and accuracy and leaves its damage. Doctors Kaplan and Browder have a different definition. They assert that “it is a punch which produces some alteration in the conscious state.”
I question that, and so do most of those who have followed boxing closely. A direct, effective blow to the stomach may cause the receiver to slow down or double up momentarily, yet it has not affected his conscious state or he would have dropped from the punch. It has not affected his power of concentration—his thinking power—yet it did hurt him. An effective punch may be a jarring straight left, a hook to the body, among other types.
If the conclusions of our medicos are supported, then Rocky Marciano and Ezzard Charles failed to deliver effective wallops, yet as all who saw the fight would admit, they clouted each other and did the most effective punching in any heavyweight fight in recent years. Yet neither showed any alteration in the conscious state.
To conclude that brain injury in the ring is rare is an assumption that is not in conformity with the facts. The history of the roped square shows hundreds of such injured brains that were brought about solely from attacks to the head.
A knockout—in the terms of the medical profession, indicates the subject is unconscious—even for a few seconds. This means that he has had a pecthial hemorrhage—about the size of a pinpoint. But continuous knockouts will eventually cause scar tissue and this is what causes “punchy fighters.”
The above was a diagnosis made for the N.Y. Commission by Dr. William A. Walker, when he headed the medical staff.
We have seen fighters take it often on the chin and head, blows that definitely injure the brain cells, while the crowd roared its approval and the commission officials sat at the ringside enjoying the spectacle as much as did the partial patrons.
Those severe beatings, absorbed in fight after fight by boxers who had no business carrying on in this hazardous profession, caused the unfortunates to “walk on their heels” long before they were forced into retirement.
Heredity played no part in the physical derangement of these poor, misguided fellows who were dubbed “good club fighters.” yet lacked even fundamental knowledge of proper boxing. The trade classifies them as “catchers.”
Why such a situation? Because of improper supervision by managers and trainers and the failure of boxing commissions to take intelligent action. Such fighters are a menace to boxing. They lack every asset except fighting courage or the will to absorb punishment.
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WHAT RING READERS THINK
(The Ring, February 1968)
By Nat Fleischer
How are things going among the readers of The Ring magazine, especially those who write in?
On the average, we get some 400 letters a month from readers the world over. This past month we have gone over the 500 mark, and all because of the Quarry-Patterson fight, which resulted in a decision for the former world champion.
Not one of our correspondents supported the decision. Exactly 348 blasted it, some of them with a vehemence seldom matched in letters from our readers.
Certainly it was a close fight. Emphatically, Patterson made the mistake of being decked twice. He had been floored twice in their previous meeting. This resulted in a draw decision which also had produced heavy dissenting mail in support of Patterson.
In ordinary circumstances the situation would encourage a third meeting.
But the situation is not an ordinary one. Having beaten Patterson, by decision, Quarry entered the semi-finals of the Sports Action, Inc. tournament under the aegis of the WBA, and was matched with Thad Spencer, who had eliminated Ernie Terrell.
Having achieved a high place in the eliminations, Quarry and his business handlers would be stupid to risk a third encounter with Floyd.
A disputed draw plus a disputed decision have left Quarry in none too formidable a state, even in the semi finals.
Nor are readers of The Ring magazine happy. They saw that second Quarry-Patterson fight over TV and believe they saw Floyd win.
However, making fight decisions on the basis of television is not a reliable method. Watching a TV picture of a fight plays up externals. There is no true index to the depth of a punch. There are no reliable indications of the nuances of combat.
And that is where we are forced to leave our letter writing protesters, with the assurances that the decision cannot be changed, the fight cannot be fought over again, and the officials are not to be impugned. The book already says, “Quarry vs. Patterson, won by Quarry.”
For quite a time The Ring’s letter box was loaded daily with correspondence having to do with the Cassius Clay case.
Much to the surprise of the editors, the vast majority of the letter writers supported The Ring’s decision that taking the title away from Muhammad Ali was completely without justification.
The Ring announced that it wanted to see the case settled in the Federal Court of Appeals, or in the Supreme Court, and there it stands.
If these tribunals support the Houston verdict of felony, with a fine, serious consideration will have to be given to setting up a new champion. Pending court action Clay still must be recognized as the titleholder.
Correspondence on that subject continues to come into our office, but at a greatly reduced pace.
The Ring finds keen resentment in England and other countries overseas against the belief of the WBA that it is in a position to make rulings meriting world wide respect.
The retirement of Vicente Saldivar, featherweight champion of the world, leaving the title open for resolution by eliminations, has brought expressions of support for the four boxers nominated for a tournament by The Ring, and quite a few others.
The Ring has named Mitsunori Seki, Howard Winstone, Bobby Valdez and Johnny Famechon to fight it out for the title. There are dissenters who favor fighters of less worth and even ineligible status. The Ring, for example, does not regard Spain’s Jose Legra as a featherweight. Jose is a junior lightweight. Nor is Antonio Amaya, of Panama, a 126-pounder.
Valdez vs. Winstone, Famechon vs. Seki, the two winners for the title, impress as a worthy setup for a championship held by so many truly great technicians.
Many readers, especially from overseas, keep sending us protests against Sonny Liston’s absence from the heavyweight eliminations.
There are rash conclusions regarding the former champion. We are assured that Liston could clean up the entire elimination field within a space of one week and that his exclusion is rank discrimination, and action without cause.
Let us say that on the basis of his second encounter with Cassius Clay, Liston does not merit continued consideration.
For one thing, Liston is well beyond the age limit for serious combat.
For another thing, Liston lacks a license to fight in many of our leading boxing states, New York in the van.
Let us, in conclusion, assure our correspondents that we do not regard Liston as eligible, and close the debate minus further ado. He is not in financial straits, and he did score two first round knockouts over Patterson. Let the record stand as is, please.
Another favorite subject of our letter writers is Buster Mathis. The pros and cons on this man just about counterbalance.
Some readers want to know why Buster has not fought anybody of known skill. Some attack the organizers of the heavyweight eliminations as being guilty of prejudice in leaving him off the slate.
Perhaps those directing Mathis assumed too easy a pace from the outset and suddenly discovered that the parade had passed them by.
In any event, Jimmy Iselin is looking for name opposition. We hope that he finds it.
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CLAY AN ALL-TIME TOP 10?
(The Ring, September 1971)
By Nat Fleischer
As I have had it listed in The Ring Record Book for some years, my all-time rating of heavyweights is as follows: 1. Jack Johnson, 2. Jim Jeffries, 3. Bob Fitzsimmons, 4. Jack Dempsey, 5. James J. Corbett, 6. Joe Louis, 7. Sam Langford, 8. Gene Tunney, 9. Max Schmeling, 10. Rocky Marciano.
I started the annual ranking of heavyweights in the 1953 with only six listed: 1. Jack Johnson, 2. Jim Jeffries, 3. Bob Fitzsimmons, 4. Jack Dempsey, 5. James J. Corbett, 6. Joe Louis.
In later years I found it necessary to expand the ratings in all classes to top 10, with these top listings: heavyweights, Jack Johnson; light heavies, Kid McCoy; middleweights, Stan Ketchel; welters, Joe Walcott; lightweights, Joe Gans; feathers, Terry McGovern; bantams, George Dixon; flyweights, Jimmy Wilde.
For some time now I have been under great pressure from some readers of The Ring magazine and of The Ring Record Book, as well, to revise my ratings, especially in the heavyweight division.
Here is a strange facet to this pressure move. It has concerned, chiefly, Cassius Clay.
Never before in the history of the ratings did I find myself pressured to revise the listing of a heavyweight, right on top of a defeat.
There was considerable pressure to include Clay among the Top 10 during his 3 1/2-year interlude of inactivity.
But the campaign became stronger after Clay had returned with knockout victories over Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. The demand on behalf of Clay became strongest after he had been beaten by world champion Joe Frazier in a 15-round contest that saw Cassius decked in the final heat.
Clay’s fight with Frazier left thousands of his admirers, who had seen the contest over television, protesting that Clay had won and that the unanimous decision of referee Arthur Mercante and judges Artie Aidala and Bill Recht, was a hoax, or worse.
Before we go any farther, let us dispose of this point. Frazier was declared the winner without a dissenting vote because he was the winner with unanimous force and unbiased conviction.
Clay never hurt Frazier. He messed up Joe’s left eye and made it look as if there had been an indecisive result, or a definite verdict in favor of Clay. Clay’s gloves reached Frazier more often than Frazier’s punches reached Clay. But Cassius lacked force.
Clay was hurt, especially in the 11th and 15th rounds. Clay came near being knocked out in the play-acting 11th. Clay’s constant retreat to the ropes was the tipoff on the fight.
I sat in the first press row in the Garden and emphatically saw Clay beaten. However, we have thousands of Clay backers insisting that he had established himself as one of the all time Top 10.
I did not regard Ali as a member of the leading 10 before he got into his argument with the Federal Courts. I did not see, in the Clay record as it stood after his seven-round knockout of Zora Folley in New York on March 22, 1967, any reason for my revising the heavyweight listing to include Cassius among the all-time 10. Nor did the Quarry, Bonavena, and Frazier fights impress me to the point at which I found myself considering ousting one of my Great 10 to make room for Clay.
Suppose I suffered an aberration and decided to include Clay among the top 10. This would mean ousting Marciano to make room for Ali as my all-time number l0. That would be farcical. Clay never could have beaten Marciano. Clay’s record is not the superior of the one the tragic Rocky left behind him when he retired from boxing unbeaten.
I even had something to do with Clay’s winning the Olympic light heavyweight championship in Rome in 1960. I spotted him for a likely Gold Medal, but I did not like the way he was training—or rather, not training. Cassius was entertaining the gals of the Italian capital, with gags and harmonica playing, and forgetting what he had been entered for.
I gave him a lecture and a warning. Maybe it had something to do with his victory. Maybe he would have won just the same. But I doubt if my talk did any harm.
After Cassius had won the title I felt that we had another Floyd Patterson in the making. He did not have Patterson’s speed of hands at that time, but he had more speed of foot. And more animation, which, of course, is an understatement. Floyd never has been a paragon of vivacity.
As Clay left the Olympic ring a champion, I saw him growing fast into a heavyweight. And I treated myself to a dream. I said to myself, “This kid could go far. It all depends on his attitude, his ability to tackle his job earnestly and seriously. Some of his laughter could be a real asset.” Ultimately it was.
Neither animus nor bias, neither bigotry nor misjudgment, can be cited against me in my relations with Cassius Clay. After he had been found guilty of a felony by a Federal jury in Houston, and Judge Joe Ingraham had sentenced Ali to five years in a penitentiary and a fine of $10,000, there was a rush to take the title from the draft-refusing champion.
The Ring magazine refused to join in the campaign against Clay, a stand now thoroughly vindicated. The Ring insisted that Cassius was entitled to his day in court, and that his title could be taken from him only if he lost it in the ring, or he retired from boxing, as Marciano, Tunney, and Jeffries had done before him.
Pressure on The Ring was tremendous. But this magazine would not recede one iota from its never relaxed policy of fighting for Law and Order.
Only when Muhammad Ali announced that he would fight no more and asked permission to give The Ring world championship belt to the winner of the Frazier-Jimmy Ellis fight, did The Ring declare the title vacated and drop Clay from the ratings.
With Clay’s return to the ring, The Ring revived his rating among the top 10 heavyweights. Not until Frazier knocked out Ellis in five rounds did The Ring allocate the vacant world title to Joe.
I do not mean to derogate Clay as a boxer. I am thoroughly cognizant of every fistic attribute he throws into the arena, every impressive quality he displayed on his way to the title and in fighting off the challenges of Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, Cleveland Williams, Ernie Terrell, and Zora Folley.
When Ali went into his 3 1/2-year retirement, he had not yet achieved his personal crest. Nor did the fights with Quarry, Bonavena and Frazier, which marked his return to action, send him any farther in the direction of fulfillment of claims of his loyal supporters.
The way Cassius Clay stands, he does not qualify for rating with the greatest heavyweights of all time. Nor, the way the future shapes up for him, is he likely to qualify. Now his hands are quick. His footwork is quick. His punch is not the type that is calculated to stop a man forthwith, no matter what he did to Sonny Liston in their second encounter, at Lewiston, Maine.
Cassius has got to wear down his opponent. He has got to flick his glove into the eyes of the opposition, the way he did against Frazier. He has a style all his own. But its sui generis quality does not make him one of the top 10.
I want to give credit to Clay for punching boxing out of the doldrums into which it fell with the rise of Liston to the championship. Liston could not get a license in New York. Liston had a bad personal record. Liston was emphatically not good for boxing. Into the midst of this title situation came the effervescent kid from Louisville, favored by conditions, by his potential, by his personality and his clean personal record.
The situation called for a Clay and, fortunately, the situation was favored with one. He was the counterpart, in boxing, of Babe Ruth in baseball, after the Black Sox Scandal.
Through superior punching power, Frazier is Clay’s current better as a ringster. But Frazier has yet to develop the overall influence that Clay exercised. Nor does it appear likely that Joe will ever be to boxing what Cassius was when he became the world champion and when he stirred up world boxing with his exploits against the best opposition available pending the development of Frazier, another Olympic hero.
I have the utmost admiration for Cassius Clay as a ring technician. Certainly not for his attitude toward the United States and its armed forces. Of that mess he is legally clear.
I do not see Cassius Clay as a candidate for a place among the top 10 heavyweights. Nor may Frazier, his conqueror, eventually force me to revise my all-time heavyweight ratings.
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REST EASY, BILLY RAY
(KO, February 1987)
By Jeff Ryan
Somewhere in the foothills of Tennessee, a father's mind is at ease for the first time since the June evening three years ago when he reached out to shake the outstretched glove of his son's conqueror and felt a taped fist covered only by a thin layer of leather. Billy Ray Collins Sr. only wishes that Billy Ray Collins Jr. could have been around to see justice carried out.
When Billy Jr. slammed his car into a cement embankment in what his father believes was a successful suicide attempt in March1984, he ended a life that had become meaningless to him after the night of June 16, 1983. It was on that night, in Madison Square Garden, that Collins was pounded unmercifully by Luis Resto, a New York clubber who was fighting with gloves that had had the horsehair padding removed from them. Collins, who was 14-0 at the time of the bout, suffered permanent eye damage as a result of the pounding, and he never fought again.
It took more than three years, but Resto and his trainer, Panama Lewis, finally went to trial for the incident, and on October 8, were found guilty of second- and third-degree assault, conspiracy, and criminal possession of a weapon— taped fists inside of an uncushioned boxing glove. At press time, they were awaiting sentencing. The conviction carries a penalty of two years and four months minimum and seven years maximum in prison. Lewis and Resto were both acquitted of a more serious charge of first-degree assault because the jury felt that while they both used the tampered gloves to enhance the chances of a victory, they didn't intend to cause "death, substantial risk of death, disfigurement, or loss of body organs."
Harold Wilson, chief Of the special prosecutions bureau of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, said of Collins, "He was just a kid from a small town who came into the big city and was taken advantage of. The public may be under the impression that boxing is well-regulated, but it's more like 'All's fair in love and war.’ Well, what this jury said is. 'That s not exactly the case.’”
It has never been the case, regardless of boxing’s reputation. And this entire incident becomes even more repulsive when one realizes that the sleaze element that tampered with the gloves thought that boxing was indeed an unregulated forum in which anything goes. If Lewis would remove the padding from a pair of gloves in order to gain an edge in a meaningless 10-rounder, to which depths would he stoop in a championship bout or a superfight? If he hadn’t been caught following the Resto-Collins fight, what other tragedy would he have been responsible for?
Even on the days that it behaves itself, boxing suffers from the same sort of discrimination that a job applicant with a prison term listed on his resume is likely to encounter. As much as one wants to believe that he is reformed and that everything will be different in the future, he just cannot be trusted. Characters like Lewis who help uphold the stereotype that the sport is a haven for crooks and shysters, are about as needed in the fight game as another ring death or another Don King-RING magazine tournament scandal.
Here's hoping for the maximum seven-year prison stretch for Lewis and Resto. In those seven years, boxing's reputation surely won't change, but at least those close to the scene, not to mention a lonely father in the Tennessee woods, will know that the sport has been disinfected ever so slightly.
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THE MARKETING OF TYSON
(KO, June 1987)
By Jeff Ryan
Boxing may be entering a new age as far as marketing is concerned, and it’s about time. For too long, companies have treated fighters as though they were all illiterate buffoons, incapable of uttering a sales pitch if it consisted of more than three multi-syllable words. Even the greats (there’s that word again) have never fared well when it comes to commercial endorsements. Sugar Ray had his 7-Up commercial, Marvelous Marvin held up a can of diet Coke and ate a slice of Pizza-Hut pizza, and Muhammad Ali told us to kayo roaches with D-Con. All did little else. Think about it, Ali, “The Greatest,” plugging roach spray, while Mary Lou Retton endorses everything except jock itch remedies and Brut aftershave. It’s enough to make you cringe.
But along comes Mike Tyson, ready to change all that. Tyson, the most popular fighter to arrive on the scene in memory, is already a mainstream star after barely two years as a pro. And corporate America has not overlooked that fact. “When Ali beat Sonny Liston, it took more than 12 more years before the public embraced him full,” one industry source told Advertising Age. “Tyson’s already a popular hero.” The endorsements have been flooding into the office of his managers, Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton, as though they were entries in a “Win a date with Victoria Principal” contest. Recently, Jacobs and Cayton struck a deal with Ohimeyer Communications Co., which will handle all of Tyson’s non-boxing-related business dealings.
What this all means is that we’re going to be seeing Tyson’s face on Wheaties boxes, car commercials, and dozens of newspaper and magazine ads very shortly, probably after he wins the unified title. For a change, a fighter will come across the tube, the airwaves, and the pages as a positive symbol to American kids. It’s an idea whose time is long overdue.
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"NO FLAWS" IN HBO'S HAMED INVESTMENT
(Boxing ’98 , April 1998)
By Ron Borges
There was nearly a beheading in HBO's throne room just before Christmas, and even though Prince Naseem Hamed avoided it, he made it obvious that he is more likely to turn into a frog than a king.
After having spent $1.75-million on advertising (that included a 22-story poster of Hamed on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and a similar banner over the Lincoln Tunnel as you leave Manhattan) after agreeing to a six-fight, $12-million contract, the suits at HBO were sagging when the British import went down on his back barely two minutes into his American debut at Madison Square Garden on December 19.
To his credit, Hamed scrambled up quickly, but soon enough former featherweight champion Kevin Kelley dropped him again. And again. And the balance-challenged Prince may have touched the canvas a few more times had he not abruptly knocked out Kelley with a left hand at 2:27 of the fourth round in a fight that had a Garden crowd of 11,954 berserk with emotion by its end.
If a show was what HBO was looking for, Hamed put one on. But if it was true greatness they sought, they may have bought another foreign fraud.
That Hamed is heavy-handed is obvious from his 27 knockouts and 29-0 record. But in between his three knockdowns of the game but shop-worn Kelley, Hamed looked like what some observers feared he might be—a heavy-handed amateur with no idea of defense and no track record to support his income.
That income totaled over $12-million in 1997 from purses and a lucrative deal with SkyTV, the British equivalent of HBO, before he ever signed with HBO. But Kelley was by far Hamed's first real test, and although Naz didn't fail it, he didn't make the honor roll either.
The fact that Hamed won might seem impressive on the surface, but in truth Kelley is a shadow of the fighter he was when he won the WBC featherweight title from Goyo Vargas in 1993, a title he lost two years later to Alejandro Gonzalez by TKO. Although Kelley had only one loss on his record when he stepped in against Hamed, he had draws with Tommy Parks and Bones Adams and was beaten half-senseless by Derrick Gainer before landing a miracle knockout punch a year ago.
At 30, Kelley had fought too many wars to be what he once was, but when he finally got the brash-talking Brit into the ring after Hamed's absurd 12-minute long, smoke and confetti filled ring entrance, he quickly showed him there is a big difference between fighting in Sheffield or Millwall and coming onto New York's big stage.
"He got off the canvas and came back, but I exposed him," Kelley, 47-2-2 (32), crowed. "He could be great one day, but he's not right now. I got news for you Seth [Abraham, HBO Sports president], Hamed is no Roy Jones. I'm telling you straight up, your boy was about finished. I was beatin' up your money, and you was scared. I told him he better watch out. This is America. It's not like fighting in England, where you can fight tuna fish and get $2-million, $3-million."
Unlike his previous fights in England, Hamed clowned only for a moment and didn't seem to enjoy himself much once the fighting began and Kelley unloaded on him in the first round. After that, things only got worse until Kelley made the fatal mistake of over-reaching himself.
"I saw the end of the fight when I had him down," Kelley said. "Instead of taking care of the present, I exceeded that thought and got caught."
Hamed showed he possesses the great equalizer—punching power—and the heart to keep getting up, but he also made one wonder if all the smoke that surrounds his entrances is there to hide a flawed fighter destined for unconsciousness sooner rather than later.
"We don't have house fighters," Abraham argued. "If we did, we wouldn't have put him in with Kevin in New York. We figured, let's find out what he has. Why pour more money in if he can't fight?
"If Kevin had won, then the return on our investment would have been with Kevin Kelley. But until somebody takes that zero off his record, it's the most important sign of Hamed's perfection. Until somebody takes that zero away, he's not flawed."
That's one way to look at it, and when you're nearly $4-million into an investment as fragile as Hamed appears to be, you see what you have to see. So not surprisingly, the young featherweight who had compared himself to Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler when he probably had no idea who either of them were, saw things the same way once he stopped falling down every two minutes.
"I knew once I hit him with my shots, he wasn't coming back," Hamed said. "It wasn't all one-way traffic. I took his best shots. Could he take mine? You got to nail me to the floor. If I'm not, you're never going to beat me."
Perhaps so, but when a fighter well past his prime staples you to the floor three times, one thing is clear: The nailing will come sooner than Hamed thinks. As Kelley so eloquently put it before the fight, "Anybody who tells you he's good and great, it means he ain't!"
Hamed is exciting and he is flashy and he is a heavy puncher at 126 pounds, but already there is talk at HBO of moving him up to fight IBF junior lightweight champion Arturo Gatti at a catchweight of, say, 133 pounds. With their styles, that would be a great show, but with Hamed's chin, it would be folly.
The two things Hamed has as a featherweight are tremendous punching power and speed. Moving up would likely rob him of both. It would also do one other thing. It would nail him to the floor much sooner than he or HBO would like.
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THE RING’S CHAMPIONSHIP POLICY COULD CLEAN UP THE WORLD TITLE MESS
(The Ring, April 2002)
By Nigel Collins
I have always felt that the role of The Ring should go beyond the straightforward reportage of the news. Unlike newspapers and other media outlets, The Ring is an advocate of the sport it covers, and as such has a responsibility to try to steer the Sweet Science in a direction that will benefit boxing.
This philosophy is nothing new. Founder Nat Fleischer used the pages of the magazine to promote fair play, especially for minority boxers at a time when the so-called “color line” was still being drawn. It was also under Fleischer’s guidance that the then-revolutionary concept of ranking boxers was introduced.
In more recent years, subsequent editors have continued in Fleischer’s crusading footsteps, battling the alphabet organizations, fending off attacks from the American Medical Association, and lobbying for stricter health and safety standards.
Now the time has come to take another step that we hope will help lead to a brighter future for boxing—“The Ring’s New Championship Policy.” Many of today’s fans grew up in the era of split titles, and have never experienced the sport the way it’s supposed to be. When I first fell in love with boxing as a boy, Rocky Marciano was the heavyweight champion of the world, no alphabet appellation necessary. But as the years went by, I was sickened as the various alphabet organizations sunk their fangs into the sport and slowly began to suck the lifeblood out of it.
Of the numerous evils these parasites have inflicted on boxing, the most damaging has been the Balkanization of world titles. As many astute observers have noted, as there is only one world, there can only be one world champion.
Sadly, the way things are today, many fans, not to mention much of the media, have absolutely no clue as to who are the real world champions. And that’s not surprising when you consider the fact that there are so many claims and counterclaims coming from various alphabet titlists.
The recent trend of title unification is encouraging, but it has been a mere spit in an ocean of confusion. Boxing needs well-defined champions in every weight class to prosper, and that’s where The Ring’s new championship policy comes into play. Starting with this issue, we clearly differentiate between world champions and alphabet beltholders.
It’s going to take a while for everybody to catch on, but I predict that in the near future, whenever anybody is in doubt and wants to know whom the real champions are, they will turn to The Ring. Or take a look at the belt a fighter is wearing, because if he’s the genuine article, the strap around his waist will have the ultimate seal of approval embossed on it—The Ring logo.