In 1955 when California's Governor Goodwin J. Knight—spurred by SI's disclosures that boxing's business was as dirty on the West Coast as on the other end of the line—ordered an all-out investigation, the boxing fraternity from San Diego to San Francisco doubled up with laughter. It couldn't have been funnier if Willie Pep took on Rocky Marciano. Boxing traditionally was impregnable to political assault.
Last week when it was announced that the governor's committee—after nine months of painstaking research—would begin open hearings, the wiseacres yawned. Newspapers buried the notice on the obituary pages. The southern California boxing czar, 300-pound Babe McCoy, was so incautious he waddled down to the hearings without even an attorney to advise him.
What happened in the next five days turned McCoy, the pale, porcine Captain Bligh of California boxing, into an angry, badly rattled man, started his recent appendectomy (slow to heal because of obesity) to bleeding afresh and prompted a hurry-up call for San Francisco's famous criminal lawyer, Jake Ehrlich, subject of the book Never Plead Guilty.
The hearings in Los Angeles then played to packed headlines. City editors, who owe no allegiance to Babe McCoy or other dirty businessmen of boxing, took charge of the story. Babe McCoy, ne Harry Rudolph, quickly became better known to the public by his FBI number than his alias. He was described to the investigators as a hot-tempered tyrant of the ring who fixed fights, wrecked careers and operated with such arrogant contempt for the athletic commission that he once forced members to come hat in hand to his apartment before he would even show them a contract he held.
April 2, 1956
The fight mob couldn't have been more shocked by an honest wrestling match. What was testified to did not surprise them. It was the fact that the indentured slaves of the boxing game had the courage to talk at all. It had never occurred to them that prizefighters had a pride in the integrity of their profession. And it was ultimately these pathetic hunks of boxing's human debris who turned on Babe McCoy and left him, at the end of one week's legal fighting, cornered and desperate.
First to break open the headlines was a quiet Negro ex-lightweight contender named Tommy Campbell, who wears special glasses to see out of eyes stabbed by too many lefts—some of which, he testified, he could not even defend himself against because McCoy forbade him.
Tommy Campbell set forth how he had been forced by McCoy to throw a fight against Los Angeles' "Golden Boy," Art Aragon, in the spring of 1950. Aragon, a semiskilled but colorful brawler, was a great drawing card for McCoy and Co. Campbell, a better fighter, was not.
Campbell testified that McCoy had assigned him to a variety of managers, culminating in a bout Campbell had with Luther Rawlings in Los Angeles. Campbell testified he was upset at being given a short purse for the fight. He and his latest manager, George Moore, discussed it with McCoy.
Testified Campbell: "It is kind of hard...to remember exactly what the discussion was, but he [McCoy] felt the fight didn't draw as they thought it would and that—He felt that I should pay part of the expenses of the fighter that he brought to fight me. And I didn't see it that way. We argued, you know, pro and con. And he eventually gave me my money....
"...He said that as far as fighting was going in California, I was through.... I believed that I was through and I tried to get a job but I couldn't get one. I mean I could have gotten a job—I don't want to make that statement, that I couldn't get a job, but I couldn't find a job that I thought I could live off. I had two children then [now three]."
Q. Then your next bout after that you boxed Art Aragon....
A. It was a bit vague exactly how it came about but I was told to—I had to lose if I got it. And I said "O.K." because I needed the money.
Continued Campbell: "I told George Moore after the fight had been signed that we didn't have to lose and he corrected me by saying that we did, he had to post the money in a bank pending the outcome of the fight."
Campbell lost the fight in a three-round knockout. He had been ordered to lose in four by McCoy and Moore, he testified, but in the second he accidentally knocked Aragon kicking and was so horrified he tried to go to Aragon's assistance. When Aragon finally scrambled to his feet, Campbell, perspiring with fear, waltzed Aragon around the ring like a rag doll for the rest of the round. In the next round, with Aragon conscious enough to swing a punch, Campbell sank in a heap with a sigh of relief and was counted out.
Campbell's first California manager, Soldier Eddie Stanley, another man with a legacy of scar tissue from the fight game, corroborated his fighter's testimony and told bitterly how McCoy had ripped the fighter from him "and rooned him." In a scene reminiscent of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, Stanley told how he confronted Campbell with the tortured cry, "But you're the No. 1 contender, Tommy. You don't have to do this!" (Campbell went on to defeat the likes of Gene Burton and draw, with Jimmy Carter before, he said, McCoy again ordered him to lose, this time to Del Flanagan in Minnesota.)
Testified Campbell with hung head: "He [Stanley] asked me what I thought about it. But I told him that you just can't fight—you just couldn't fight the promoters, you either fight or you quit. It's that way all the way across the country. You just can't buck them." He said he was to have been given the Ike Williams shot in which Jimmy Carter won the title—but Carter, whom Campbell had drawn with in New Orleans, was made champion instead.
Before the week was over, another ex-lightweight, Georgie Hansford, testified he had been sent east by McCoy, under a manager assigned to him by McCoy, to 1) lose a decision to Allie Stoltz, who was being built up for a title shot a few months later against Bob Montgomery; and 2) lose to Enrique Bolanos, who was being built up for an NBA title shot a few weeks later against Ike Williams. McCoy personally telephoned him to lose to Bolanos, he said.
While the witnesses confirmed his case, the chief investigator for the committee, a broad-shouldered iron-wristed ex- (San Francisco 49er) football player, Jim Cox, conducted the hearing to a counterpoint of abuse and heckling, not only from the toad-fat McCoy but from McCoy's boss, the man in the blue su√®de shoes, Alvah (Cal) Eaton, heavy-lidded, bald, audibly ridiculing the unfriendly witnesses throughout. Jim Cox ignored the shadowboxing in the audience. He was landing the legal haymakers on the witness stand.
THE SUMMING UP
Governor Knight's action in authorizing the probe and in placing it in the hamlike hands of Jim Cox took no small courage. Promoter Eaton is an in-law of the governor.
As the week ended, Jim Cox and his committee had adduced evidence that:
1) Babe McCoy had fixed seven fights.
2) He had taken Wrestler Primo Camera away from the manager who imported him to the U.S., where the Preem was to gross $250,000, the deposed manager getting $6,000 of it.
3) He had acted as undercover manager for fighters he used.
4) He had trafficked in fighters for managers like Jack Kearns and a Reno gambler named Bill Graham who had spent seven years in Leavenworth Prison for what Cox termed "one of the biggest race horse swindles in the history of America."
5) He had, according to the sheriff of Alameda County, spent a night in an Oakland jail with the infamous Blinky Palermo for interfering with a process server trying to serve his friend Blinky.
When the points were added up, Jim Cox was so far ahead it was questionable whether McCoy would go the route. The powerlessness of the state athletic commission to deal with the jackals of boxing was there for all to see. The fact that Promoter Eaton clearly knew what kind of a first lieutenant he had was undeniable.
Sternly warned the Los Angeles Mirror-News:
"Is the Attorney General or the District Attorney represented at the sensational hearings? No. Asst. Atty. Gen. William V. O'Connor and Dist. Atty. Ernest Roll are close personal friends of Eaton. Both attend fights frequently....
"...It's going to take more than politically popular investigations and headlines to clean it up. It's going to take strong, courageous action by public officials from the Governor to the District Attorney. With maybe a little help from you fight fans."