Johnny Saxton may be an orphan, but no one can say he lacks for cousins in Philadelphia. Anybody who can clown his way through 15 listless rounds and still be rewarded with a world's championship must have a covey of doting relatives in the Friendly City. I am still checking on the lineal connections between the new "champion" and his benefactors, Referee Pete Pantaleo and Judges Jim Mina and Nat Lopinson, all of whom gave the defending champion, Kid Gavilan, the treatment a GOP candidate expects in Mississippi. They voted the straight Saxton-Palermo ticket. The three officials, if not blood relatives of the hitless wonder, have at the very least a touching sentimental attachment for the Riverdale foundling who plays Cinderella to Manager Blinky Palermo's unshaven Fairy Godmother.
Blinky's champion "fights," as they used to say, "out of Philadelphia." He can't move far enough out to satisfy the nearly 8,000 fans who suffered through the gruesome, gluesome twosome between him and fading Kid Gavilan in Convention Hall the other evening. Blinky Palermo, a numbers man who traffics in fighters (Ike Williams, Billy Fox, Clarence Henry, Dan Bucceroni, Coley Wallace, etc.), operates out of Philadelphia. One of boxing's top-ranking ambassadors of ill will, a field in which there is always stiff competition, Blinky is frequently identified as "The Philadelphia Sportsman." It has become a sort of private joke, especially suitable to those papers who would rather not spell spade s-p-a-d-e. In 1951 a federal district court found Blinky guilty of contempt for refusing to answer questions before a rackets grand jury. Contempt is also the word for Blinky's attitude toward boxing fans in foisting Saxton, the human grannyknot, on them as Kid Gavilan's successor.
Johnny may never have known what it is to have a real brother but he has certainly found the next best thing in Honest Pete Pantaleo, another Philadelphia sportsman, who handled the fight with such tender concern for Saxton's welfare that it is difficult for me to understand why there should have been such bitter criticism of him in the press. Extending a helping hand to an orphan boy trying to make something of himself is certainly a praiseworthy gesture. Statues of Pantaleo may yet be found in orphanages throughout America. A fitting inscription, to be engraved at the base of the noble bronze head of Pantaleo, might read as follows:
"For service to one of our own, above and beyond the call of duty, in donating the welterweight championship of the world to Johnny Saxton. Disregarding his own safety and placing himself in the greatest jeopardy by inviting the wrath of 7,909 onlookers and millions of irate TViewers across the nation, Pantaleo nevertheless persevered and proved the courage of his convictions by awarding Saxton even those rounds in which he failed to throw a single punch. Hail Pantaleo, boxing's Patron Saint of Orphans!"
November 1, 1954
The cost of this charitable project will surely be underwritten by Blinky himself. It is the least he owes Honest Pete. The debt can never be paid in full.
Not to be forgotten while we hand out these skunk-cabbage bouquets is the role of Commissioner Frank Wiener, who made quite a show of rushing to and fro, exhorting the "fighters" to cease their loving embraces and affectionate staring at each other. Wiener had already distinguished himself by announcing before the weighin that if Gavilan came in over the official weight limit, Saxton could still win the title by winning the fight. If the Kid won, the Commissioner went on to explain, the title would be declared vacant. You and I, who aren't so courant with these things, may wonder why, if Gavilan was to be asked to turn in his title, it should be handed on a silver platter to Blinky's boy, who ranked fifth in the division, below the logical contender, Carmen Basilio. The only explanation that comes readily to mind is that it was Be Kind To Saxton (and Palermo) Week and Commissioner Wiener was getting things started early.
Not since the days when Schmeling was winning his heavyweight title while reclining on his back after an alleged low blow from Jack Sharkey, or when Carnera was receiving his crown from the benevolent Sharkey, not since those sleazy days when talking pictures and smelly fights were in flower—well, I guess what I am trying to say is that Saxton can now share with Camera the booby prize for being the most undeserving and unwelcome champion in modern ring history.
GOING DOWN, BREAKING EVEN
The bloodless and—except for Gavilan's earnest final round—nearly hitless mazurka was actually a fitting climax to a prolonged shell game that really began over a year ago when Carmen Basilio knocked Gavilan down and came within a lash of depriving him of the title that had made him the assistant Presidente de Cuba. The Kid rallied to win but the smart boys looked at each other and decided that another good fighter was showing signs of wear and tear, no disgrace after more than a decade of active campaigning against Ike Williams, Ray Robinson, Billy Graham, Johnny Bratton, Tony Janiro, Tommy Bell, Paddy Young—the best of the welterweights and middleweights throughout the 40s and early 50s. When your champion begins to have trouble making the weight and his best is a year or two behind him, you look for the fattest money match over the weight. So the Kid made a pass at Bobo Olson's middleweight title, which not only produced a pleasant pay night for Gavilan, Manager Angel Lopez & Co., but postponed the agony of paring down to 147 from an aging natural weight of 155. Then, when you can no longer escape the ordeal, you naturally look for the most money combined with the easiest opponent who can pass muster as an approved contender.
Bypassing Carmen Basilio, who had been waiting nearly a year for the rematch he had earned, Angel Lopez, who does the Gavilan business, made a private deal with Blinky Palermo whereby Blinky would guarantee Angel $40,000 if the Kid would put his title up for grabs, and with Saxton how else could you describe it? It seemed strange that there should be no provision for a rematch, a customary protection for champions.
I put this down on the raised-eye-brow page of my little black suspicion book. Was it an omen? Was Gavilan so confident of winning that he disdained the usual return-match clause? Or was he getting ready to abandon the welterweight class? The Pennsylvania commission explained that it did not permit a return-match guarantee in a title fight. But after the what-shall-we-call-it, when Gavilan flew into a dressing-room rage and cried robbery, Lopez insisted that there had been a return-match guarantee after all. A secret agreement between him and Blinky. Seems as if there were as many secret agreements surrounding this fight as there were around the Treaty of Versailles. But Commissioner Christenberry cracked his whip for Basilio, somewhat belatedly, and said Saxton would have to meet the free-swinging Syracuse No. 1 boy within 90 days if he wanted to be recognized as champion in New York.
Was Gavilan really jobbed out of his title, as he so tearfully claimed, and was it a Carbo-Palermo double play? Paul John (Frankie) Carbo (not unacquainted with murder and commonly described as the undercover owner of Gavilan and dozens of other high-ranking fighters) had worked with Blinky before. They have been pointed out as the background figures the night Blinky's Billy Fox "knocked out" Jake La Motta, said to carry the Carbo colors in the grand stakes. Christenberry, in a survey of boxing that will bear rereading, described Blinky as "next to Carbo the most notorious character in the combine." Why did Carbo and Palermo have dinner together at Dempsey's restaurant a few nights before the Gavilan-Saxton? And what was Paul John, alias Frankie, celebrating in a Philadelphia hotel after the Gavilan-Saxton?
KNIGHT IN TARNISHED ARMOR
These were some of the inevitable, unanswered questions as the song was ended but the aroma lingered on.
The fight itself was not fixed, in the opinion of this trusting soul. I can't get into the tail-chaser about who won which rounds because after the second I started scoring it with an N for nothin' happened. Saxton is a nothing-happen fighter who has perpetrated this sort of thing throughout his curious career. Two of his Garden fights were thrown out as no contests, although the Minelli mess somehow went into the record books as a KO for Saxton. Like this most recent fight, and the kazatzky before it with Johnny Bratton, the only beating was the one inflicted on the spectators.
Gavilan was an aging 28, weakened from weight making, rusty from a six-month layoff, rarely using his injured right hand and frustrated by a well conditioned and accomplished spoiler. The Cuban was no longer the flashy Keed who fought in theatrical but effective spurts, incredibly hard to hurt and almost always good to watch. In recent years the spurts were shorter, the coasting periods longer. Came a night when the good fighter couldn't fight, especially in there with a stiff who wouldn't fight. Kid couldn't; Johnny wouldn't—that's the story if you only had money enough for a four-word telegram. The fix didn't have to be in. The fates have put the fix in, helped along by the wiles of Mr. Blinky and the Gavilan piecemen when they conspired to match a no-longer-boring-in Kid with an always-boring Saxton.
If Pantaleo had been a real referee instead of what he was, he would have bounced them both out of the ring after eight rounds and advised the abused paying customers to ask for their money back. Gavilan didn't earn his 40Gs and Saxton didn't earn his championship of the world. If it had to be judged as a fight I would have called it for Gavilan because 1) you can have more fun in Havana than you can in Philadelphia and 2) Gavilan has been pretty great and deserves better than to blow his title in a home-town sleight-of-hand and 3) the Kid came on to win the last round in something like his old style, shaking Saxton up and providing the only real action in the fight. All the rest of the action was handled by the books, who were swamped with Saxton money throughout the day.
SCHULBERG DECLARES TITLE VACANT
I don't know about the other ruling bodies but the Schulberg Boxing Commission, which headquarters in New Hope, Pa. but has no working agreement with Frank Wiener, refuses to recognize Saxton as champion. It saw with its own eyes such welterweight worthies as Jackie Fields, Young Jack Thompson, Young Corbett III, Jimmy McLarnin, Barney Ross, Henry Armstrong, Fritzie Zivic, Ray Robinson—yes, and Kid Gavilan. In deference to these real champions, we declare the title vacant.
The Gavilan-Saxton turkey trot deserves a thorough airing. In fact, it may be time to ask again, as responsible sportswriters have been asking so long, whether boxing is going to be a legitimate sport or a dirty business? Jim Norris, the personable president of the IBC, as an honorable man and a true fight fan should welcome an investigation of the dark underside of boxing. It can destroy the sport as the Black Sox conspiracy might have ruined baseball if an effective commission had not been set up to protect our pastime from its inside jobbers. To say this is not to attack boxing but to attack the boxing racket.
The boxing managers have their guild; the IBC is a powerful network of promoters from New York to San Francisco; even the veteran boxers are getting together. Maybe it's time to launch the Association for the Protection of the Poor Put-Upon Fight Fan. The APPPFF. The middle P's don't stand for Palermo or Pantaleo. Won't stand for them, in fact.
A PRESIDENTIAL PRECEDENT
In 1905, football was offending the public almost as much as boxing is today, largely because of excessive brutality. President Theodore Roosevelt (left), became enraged when shown a photo of bloodied Bob Maxwell, a Swarthmore star hit too hard and too often by Pennsylvania. T. R. set a worth-while precedent by calling college representatives to Washington. He told them "to make the game of football a rather less homicidal pastime." As a result, rules committees outlawed hurdling and other dangerous practices.
ARCHIE CHALLENGERS IBC
Light-Heavyweight champion Archie Moore, who campaigned for 18 years before the boxing monopoly permitted him to appear at Madison Square Garden, took his case to the public on ABC television last Saturday night. Said Moore: "It's just too tough for me to get a crack at the heavyweight title. I understand Rocky Marciano's manager, Al Weill, said, 'We'll fight Moore 10 years from now.' That's too long." Moore urged fans to write the TV sponsors, sportswriters and the New York State Athletic Commission, demanding the match. To prove his right to title shot, Moore told Sports-caster Guy LeBow he would undertake to knock out Cuban contender Nino Valdes and defeat British heavyweight Don Cockell within the space of two weeks. Promised Archie: "If I don't knock out Valdes, I'll give my purse to charity. And if I don't beat Cockell, I'll retire from campaigning in the heavyweight ranks—permanently."