While the rest ofAmerica watched a convention in San Francisco last week, the National BoxingAssociation had a convention of its own. It met first in Miami Beach, thenadjourned to Havana for a diverting change of scenery. A noticeable few whoattended the convention were somewhat distraught at the news that this timeboxing's dirty business has come under federal investigation. Mostly, however,the membership took calmly the word that narcotics agents and the CriminalDivision of the Department of Justice are looking into the activities of someof boxing's illegitimate children.
Some fewdelegates even welcomed the idea of federal investigation and in the end theconvention took a long forward step of its own in the direction of cleaning upboxing.
The associationis made up of state, county and city athletic commission members. A surprisinglot of them are ex-boxers with a flair for civic enterprise, something youexpect to see only occasionally. These are lovers of the sport, distressed atits decline in the small clubs since television and the IBC came upon thescene, embarrassed at the hold hoodlums have gained on it and very fuzzy aboutwhat they can do to help. The fuzz is a natural accumulation of solicitude forthe good name of a beloved sport and includes a tendency to regard attacks onboxing's stinkers as attacks on boxing itself. But there is also a tendency towish well of the attackers in the hope that they may succeed where so manycommissions have failed.
This isespecially confusing when you realize that men who know boxing best have, up tonow, been the least effective in the drive to sanitize it and that men who knowit least have been most effective. The three states that have accomplished mostfor decent boxing—New York, Pennsylvania and California—have done so byassigning men who knew little or nothing about the sport, and very likely caredless, to apply trained minds to a problem of sewage disposal. The averageboxing commissioner has had neither legal nor investigative training.
New York,unfortunately, is not a member of the NBA—the New York State charter seeminglyforbids surrender of sovereignty—and California has not sent a delegation to anNBA convention in many a year. It remained then for the strictly amateurPennsylvania delegation—a couple of lawyers and an ex-football player, flankedby members of the Pennsylvania attorney general's staff—to spark a movementwhich resulted in the framing of what George Barton of Minnesota presented asquite possibly boxing's Magna Carta.
The Magna Cartais simply a uniform code of boxing regulations drawn up by an 11-statecommittee of the NBA, and the like of it has never been seen in boxingheretofore. The delegates accepted it unanimously.
In the firstplace the code is unique because it is clear. Anyone who has ever read a stateboxing code must recognize that this alone is a far advance. Boxing'sdisorderly house is due in part to the fact that most state boxing codes seemto have been compiled in the way that one would sweep together a pile of trash.In addition to its clarity, the code defines and enhances the powers ofcommissions to regulate boxing. (Some commissions have arrogated to themselvespowers their legislatures never gave them. Some have been trying to operatewith inadequate powers.) It provides that licensees-boxers, managers,promoters—be "of good moral character" and "of goodreputation." Licenses may be suspended or revoked for conviction of acrime, for "unprofessional or unethical conduct," and for conduct"against the public interest." The code originally included a provisionthat a license could be revoked for "associating or consorting withcriminals, bookmakers, gamblers or persons of similar ill repute," but thiswas withdrawn in committee. The retiring president, Lou Radzienda, member ofthe Illinois commission, had in his report struck hard at the immorality of"guilt by association." Mr. Radzienda has had some association with oneof Chicago's biggest bookies.
Well, you can'thave everything, and this tidbit was stricken before it got to the membership.Its substance is in the recently adopted Pennsylvania code and those of someother states, but it may be eliminated from all state codes if the uniform codeis adopted.
This now goes tothe Council of State Governments and, if approved, will then be included in thecouncil's recommendations to the 48 state legislatures for action in 1957.
The delegates, asexpected, dropped the 10-point scoring system they adopted years ago andsubstituted a five-point system. This would give the winner of a round fivepoints and the loser somewhat less, depending on how badly he loses. A closeround would be scored 5-4 and an even round 5-5. One reason for the change isthat experience has shown that some officials do not add too well. By halvingthe total, it is hoped, they will be relieved of an intellectual burden. Morecogently, it has been found that many officials tend to score an average round10-9, rather than 10-8 or 10-7, and are then strapped when a really close roundcomes along. There is, of course, no assurance that they won't now score anaverage round 5-4, but efforts will be made to persuade them to use a widerdistribution of points.
The commissionerstook up other matters, such as what to do about Sandy Saddler and his foultactics. Solution: Whenever Saddler fights, instruct the referee to enforce therules. And what to do about the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris,president) and its tendency to put on big fights in states that curry IBC'sfavor. Solution: "If we stick together the IBC will have to stick to thelaws of decency."
This week alsoprovided boxing's lightweight division with a new champion in the tall andstately person of Joe Brown, the New Orleans Nonesuch. Last Friday night Browntook the crown in his old home town, lifting it from the uneasy head of Wallace(Bud) Smith, who had worn it with appropriate embarrassment. Smith defended hischampionship at long last, having in the last 10 months lost three non-titlelawn parties—to Larry Boardman, Tony DeMarco and to Brown himself.
Almost anyranking lightweight could have beaten Champion Smith, so low has this divisionfallen, but Challenger Brown, ranked No. 8, did it with one hand, so to speak.In the second round of a 15-round title fight he broke his right hand with astunning blow to Smith's jaw. But in the end that fist became the instrument ofa remarkable beau geste. It restored dignity to the division. With itChallenger Joe established that the essential quality of a fighter iscourage.
With 50% of hisforces depleted, Brown was committed to defensive generalship. This is not apolicy that wins wars or fights, nor did it bring the New Orleans crowd,unaware of the accident, to its feet. After 13 rounds the fight was actuallyclose but Brown needed to win the last two rounds.
"You have sixminutes to win," his corner told him.
Joe Brown made adecision. His right hand was blazing with pain. In such a situation a fightercannot grimace or grab at the hurt or, for fear his opponent will learn of it,do anything but pretend the pain is not there. Brown's decision: to punch withthe broken hand as hard as he could, to accept the agony and the possibility ofmore than temporary disablement.
He knew what toexpect—something like what you would get if you were to pull your own toothwithout benefit of Novocain. He threw the right again anyhow, harder than ever,and saw Smith go down from a right cross, then rise groggily and go down again,this time from a right, a left and a shove. The bell rang at the count ofsix.
Smith was abeaten man in the loth and there was no longer any point in getting hurt topunish him further. The challenger had established something precious—that hehad the heart, if not all the proper skills, of a lightweight champion.