For U.S. boxing fans last week the best news came from New York. There a brand-new boxing commissioner named Julius Helfand—picked not so much for his savvy about prizefighting as for his success as a racket buster—began a three-year term.
Helfand's first act was to name as his confidential deputy the man who has been his aide in the Homicide and Rackets divisions of the Brooklyn District Attorney's office for 10 years, Bill Dahut. It was a pointed indication that boxing—long overdue for the D.A. approach—is about to get it. A renovation of boxing in New York, national headquarters of the sport, would be felt throughout the U.S.
The reporters dropped around at once to size up Helfand. They knew him only as the man who broke up a $20-$30 million gambling-graft operation involving crooked cops not so long ago. What did he know about boxing and what was he going to do about it?
Helfand said he didn't know any more about boxing than the average fan—the last big fight he attended was Billy Conn vs. Joe Louis—and, like millions of other fans, he saw most fights on television. "But," he added, "if I don't know all the angles after 17 years in [D.A. work], there's something wrong with me."
January 17, 1955
Helfand held his first session as commission chairman and showed a capacity for quick study and decisive action. He cancelled a Springville, N.Y. boxing card because one of the main-event fighters had been knocked out in his last three bouts. He refused a boxer's license to an applicant whose criminal record included narcotics possession, though he made it clear that rehabilitated criminals were not necessarily barred from boxing. But possession of drugs, he said, was too "heinous" to be tolerated. And he turned a hard prosecutor's eye on Irving Cohen, who used to manage Rocky Graziano and requested sanction for a 15% share of two preliminary fighters. Somewhere, apparently, Helfand had heard about undercover ownership of boxers by hoodlums. He asked if anyone else was involved. No, said Cohen. Helfand threatened revocation of boxers' and managers' licenses if it turned out differently, then granted Cohen's request.
Meanwhile, headlines bloomed across the country as the daily press began to dig into boxing's dirty business. For the Hearst papers, the New York Journal American's Hugh Bradley began a page-one series entitled, BOXING—HOW HONEST IS IT? The Philadelphia Bulletin made a survey, front-paged its startling finding: "One out of every four Philadelphia boxing figures licensed by the State Athletic Commission in 1954 has a police record."
In New York, leading sports columnists acclaimed the Helfand appointment as a major step forward on a long, hard road, and vied with each other in diagnosing the problem he faces (see below).
It began to look as though the press had found an issue worth its power.