There are days on which the sporting sun goes down and leaves behind a sense that an age has passed into history.
It was so in boxing on the day in 1949 when Mike Jacobs put a tremulous X (he was too sick to sign his name) to a document that surrendered his Madison Square Garden lease, to be picked up later by the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president). That act ended the Age of Joe Louis.
It was so again on Friday, April 27, when the Government rested its antitrust case against IBC.
Little more than an hour later Rocky Marciano announced he was retiring as heavyweight champion.
May 6, 1956
•CALIFORNIA ENDS CASE
In California the IBC had other things to think about. There James Cox, appointed by Governor Goodwin Knight to investigate boxing, showed that Norris and Truman K. Gibson Jr., IBC secretary, were shareholders in California Boxing Enterprises, a Sid Flaherty production. Flaherty, the Mr. Big of California boxing, emerged as the surprise witness of the investigation. He admitted he had broken about every rule in the boxing commission's book. He had, for instance, acted as a promoter, though he is manager of Bobo Olson and a stable of some 25 other fighters. Most states forbid the manager-promoter status. He had presented as many as five of his fighters on a card, though three is the limit. He had blackballed a referee who ruled against Olson.
But Flaherty left the stand with rather more dignity than many who preceded him. He had refused to lie or evade. Furthermore, Cox had checked, with some skepticism, Flaherty's reputation as a fight manager who treated his boxers with fatherly honesty. He was surprised to discover that the reputation was founded in fact, that Flaherty did indeed give his fighters the legal two-thirds of their purses (instead of the customary, though illegal, 50%). It was also true, Cox learned, that Flaherty had set up a trust for his boxers so that, on retirement, they would have an income for life. To check this, he had gone deeply into the affairs of Featherweight Gil Cadilli.
"Is your treatment of Cadilli," he asked, "typical of the way you handle all your fighters?"
"Pretty much," Flaherty answered.
"Then you are a credit to your profession or any other profession."
This made for a very pleasant interlude and, by contrast, served as commentary on what the rest of the investigation had spaded up. Cox ended it all after a dreary parade of fight promoters and commission officials had told what boxing has been like in California—a sour stew of cheated fighters, fixed fights and cowed officials. He will make his report to the governor by June.
•IBC BEGINS DEFENSE
As Rocky Marciano's championship term expired, the IBC position was being challenged as never before. It was rocked by the antitrust action in New York, involved in the revelations of the California investigation.
The Marciano retirement and the antitrust case aptly coincided. Rocky had been pretty much the property of the IBC from the day he came under the managerial wing of Al Weill, who was then an IBC matchmaker and not legally in a position to manage fighters. (The more it changes, the more it remains the same. Johnny Summerlin, the No. 5 heavyweight who could not get an IBC fight, now is scheduled for an early TV appearance. He has, according to report, recently acquired the powerful dual sponsorship of Jack Kearns and Truman Gibson, IBC secretary.)
Moreover, the antitrust case was connected, at least in its implications, with California's inquiry, where it was established that IBC bigwigs Norris and Gibson were shareholders in one of the enterprises of Sid Flaherty, the San Francisco nonpareil who manages fighters with one hand and promotes their fights with the other, an arrangement which has been profitable, unlawful, publicly known and ignored by an ineffectual California Athletic Commission.
The antitrust case (SI, April 23) was presented for the most part in documents, but a few witnesses testified to the IBC's power and its ruthless use of it. Typical among them was Samuel Becker of Fort Thomas, Ky., a clothing manufacturer who promotes an occasional fight in nearby Cincinnati. Becker, a man of engaging personality, advised Federal Judge Sylvester J. Ryan that he had just celebrated 51 years in the clothing business. He beamed as the judge wished him mazel tov. He expressed pride, too, that as an amateur middleweight he had never been defeated or knocked off his feet. And the name of Ezzard Charles gave him special delight to pronounce for he had promoted all of Charles' fights in Cincinnati. That happy relationship faded as the IBC came in.
At that time, Becker testified, he was promoting the Charles-Joey Maxim bout and thought the winner, who turned out to be Charles, might challenge Joe Louis for a world's title bout in Cincinnati. But then he read that Louis was retiring and decided to ask Jersey Joe Walcott to fight Charles for the championship. After the Maxim fight Charles, Walcott and their managers discussed the idea until 2 a.m. in a Cincinnati hotel room, Becker said, then adjourned with the understanding that they would meet again for breakfast. Next morning Becker went without breakfast. No one showed up for the meeting. Harry Mendel of the IBC had arrived and shooed Walcott and Charles out of town. Furthermore, Becker said he was told, Joe Louis had said to Charles: "If you don't take orders from me and Mr. Norris, you'll never fight for the championship."
Advised that he had to see Norris if he wanted to promote the fight, Becker went to Miami. There, he said, Norris proclaimed: "If you want to promote Walcott and Charles fighting you have to give me $150,000."
"I says, 'Why all that money? After all, I promoted Charles ever since he was 14 years old. What happened?'
"He says, 'Well, Charles belongs to me now. Mr. Walcott belongs to me.' " Becker refused to go above $100,000 and the deal fell through.
In December 1950, however, he did obtain IBC permission to promote the Charles-Nick Barone fight, but only after agreeing to pay the IBC 25% of his profit. Even so, he said, Truman Gibson refused to let him televise the fight, which was such a financial bust—a record low for a modern heavyweight title bout—that the IBC share was a mere $208. With TV fees Becker might have cleared a decent profit, and so might the IBC, but he said Gibson told him that he needed television rights reserved for IBC's own arenas.
There was similar testimony from other witnesses.
Dewey Michaels, Buffalo promoter, told of agreeing to pay the IBC 5% of the gross for the Charles-Freddie Beshore fight in August 1950. But the bout was postponed twice, interest flagged and he lost $20,000. When he blamed the IBC for the loss and refused to pay, he said Al Weill told him: "You should pay or you'll be in wrong with the IBC and won't get any more fights."
He told the court he learned this when he tried, and failed, to promote a Charles-Lee Oma title fight which was later put on under IBC auspices.
The IBC defense began this week. It was expected to take only a few days. Then Judge Ryan would, presumably, retire to consider his decision. After that, most likely, appeals.
JUDGE SYLVESTER J. RYAN,
WILLIAM J. ELKINS (standing) Government Counsel
WHITNEY SEYMOUR (standing) Defense Counsel
TRUMAN K. GIBSON JR. IBC Secretary
JAMES D. NORRIS IBC President
JOHN REED KILPATRICK Garden Board Chairman
NED IRISH (background) Garden official
ARTHUR M. WIRTZ (glasses) Norris' partner
HARRY MARKSON (glasses) IBC Managing Director